Rebirth of Buehler

Made famous by 007's Thunderball, its association with JFK and Jackie, used by the Secret Service and pioneer of jet propulsion, the legendary Buehler Turbocraft brand has been revived after 50 years dormant.

Written by Jeni Bone
Photography by Buehler Turbocraft

10 May 2017


After a break of close to 50 years, the preferred craft of James Bond, the Kennedy family, the CIA and even the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev has been revived and reimagined, poised for relaunch in 2018.

The Buehler Turbocraft brand, which famously appeared in the 1965 James Bond movie Thunderball, is back in the form of a superb retro-modern superyacht tender and dayboat.

After three years in development, the 11.76-metre Thunderclap 38 is the first proposed model from the new owners, whose backgrounds comprise superyacht design and prestige brand marketing.

The new boat is conceived as a perfect superyacht tender and day boat: low draft, light weight, functional boarding steps and an unmistakable silhouette, complete with the hallmark “flash side” signature panel which can be customised in different finishes: tonal, colour, gold, copper, carbon fibre.

John Clapot is at the helm of the business. He was inspired to research the brand while watching Thunderball. He tracked down the brand’s owners and re-registered the name.


“Buehler Turbocraft boats are iconic,” he said. “They were sleek, leading edge and attained cult status, thanks to their pioneering use jet propulsion. We vow to bring the brand back – new and better than ever!”

Launched in the late 1950s, designed by acclaimed automotive designer, Virgil Exner, Buehler was the first US boat brand to turn to inboard engines and jets to propel its fiberglass boats and the first to collaborate with Hamilton Jet of New Zealand.

Its instant acceleration, manoeuvrability and sporty lines of caught the imagination of the public.

In 1960-62, the Buehler Colorado River expedition reinforced its reputation as the only boat to make it up and down the Colorado River rapids and subsequently fueled a craze for jet propulsion in boats designed for lakes and rivers.

This new technology allowed the boat to run in water as shallow as 7.6-centremetres (3 inches) without risk of damage to the propulsion device. 

After a decade of success, Buehler Turbocraft faded from prominence. 

Now, under the determined direction of John Clapot, Buehler Turbocraft will be revived and reinstated as the connoisseur’s choice.

The first project, which he’s dubbed the Thunderclap 38, is fully engineered for cold-molded construction. 

“We have a perfect mix of ingredients to be successful in the marketplace: a famous brand, elegant design and focus on innovation,” Clapot stated. “The Thunderclap has a very shallow draft, just 60cm! You can beach it. That is the beauty of the waterjet system.

“It will feature a beautifully designed V-berth cabin forward, with a central cabinet for the bar, grill and fridge, a retractable screen, large sunbed and a large swim platform with an electric step ladder for access to the water and a proper passarelle as part of the design. There’s not a single boat out there on the market that offers this.”

Depending on selected power options, the boat will have a cruising speed of around 32 knots and top speed of 41 knots, with a fuel capacity of 900Litres.

Alongside the Thunderclap 38, the company’s team of designers and architects is working on an innovative project with the code name “Transformer” – “the villain’s boat to the Thunderclap”, as Clapot described it.

“We are finalising negotiations with a selected European yard. They are not production yachts. The finish and quality will make them connoisseur craft. Our aim is to create 10 or 12 units per year. It’s crucial to work with a yard that understands the concept.”

The new management team walked away from crowd funding and instead chose the path of family investment and taking private investors onboard to launch a protoype, which will be on show at the Cannes Yachting Festival or Monaco Yacht Show in 2018.

Clapot said all those involved in the new project “have a passion for brand building and risk taking, and appreciation for the history and spirit of adventure behind the project”. 

“Our aim is to stick with those few investors who understand where we are coming from. This way, we have taken the path to our first boat prototype. It’s real and more impactful.”

Thunderclap has already garnered massive interest from potential customers, including an enthusiastic Kiwi.

“It’s perfect for places like Australia and New Zealand. The Kiwis are very interested in the design and water jet propulsion system. They see it as the ideal beach house boat for its environmental characteristics and seaworthiness. We have met the guys from Hamilton Jet and they are thrilled to revive the brand in a new piece of history.”

The Thunderclap will likely be priced at €800,000, comparable to a Riva.


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