Thunderboat Row: Miami’s Secret Boatbuilding Capital

Northeast 188th Street—a once-unsuspecting plot of Florida swampland that followed the Miami dream. It started from nothing and quickly came to be one of the most iconic names in offshore powerboat racing.

Originally owned by the Clyde Beatty Circus, a traveling band of performers who made their names fighting ferocious animals, 188th made its first foray into becoming a boatmaking paradise with Don Aronow’s 1963 purchase of a plot of land there. Soon, the street would be home to a completely new kind of untamable beast.

It was on that land that Aronow founded and headquartered Formula, named after the racing cars. With the help of two veteran boatbuilders, Don quickly transformed his young company into a force to be reckoned with, largely by following his creed that the only way to market boats properly was to have them win races. And so he did, claiming his first first place title in 1964. Not only did his personal Formula place first, Formulas that he had sold to other racers placed second, third, fifth and sixth. 

The land that would come to be called Thunderboat Row, Gasoline Alley or Fleet Street in the community may have appeared undesirable to others, but it was perfect for what boatbuilders and offshore racing teams—Aronow, Ben Kramer and their peers—wanted to achieve. The street was built on marshy territory and dead-ended to the east, which meant it was infrequently trafficked, inconspicuous and compound-like. It was flanked by canals that both fed into Biscayne Bay—a perfect marine testing ground.

188th had its underbelly too, with stolen (or “stolen,” depending on who you ask) becoming the norm. With everything heavily insured, each burglary may have been a sale—the thieves made off with what they were looking for, and the builder would collect from their insurer. 

Despite its undercover nature, Thunderboat Row couldn’t stay a secret forever. It was in these builders’ natures to show off what they had worked for—especially to their clients. Soon, N.E. 188th Street became a buzzword in celebrity circles, with everyone from actors to musicians and world leaders visiting their favorite boat manufacturer’s at their Miami headquarters. 

Today, the street maintains its legendary status to those in the know. It is remembered for both the good and the bad—here, the two are inseparable. Its icons have come and gone, but its place in the history books has remained unchanged.

Read more about Thunderboat Row in Véhicule 2020.

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