By: Scott Way
Cigarette Racing has been a hallmark of the Miami go-fast boat scene since its inception in 1970. Founded by the iconic Don Aronow, Cigarette was one of several central figures of the infamous Thunderboat Row on Miami's Northeast 188th Street throughout the 70's and 80's, where other Aronow projects like Magnum, Donzi, and Formula also operated under the veil of secrecy, luxury, and influence.
In the 51 years since its launch, Cigarette Racing has persevered through its share of ups and downs. In 2002, after a period of struggle following the dissolution of Thunderboat Row and the Miami go-fast scene, the company was purchased by Skip Braver, who brought it back from the brink with refocused go-fast designs and new offshore center console fishing boats. The company also built a new production facility in Opa-locka, Fla, just 10 miles from its original stomping grounds on N.E. 188th street, to further resurrect the brand.
By 2007, Cigarette was back in the mix. Its influence grew once again when it partnered with Mercedes AMG to produce an annual design campaign involving a go-fast boat to match AMG's latest go-fast car. For 2021, Cigarette built a one-off custom 41 Nighthawk with five Mercury 450 hp outboards to match AMG's 4.6L V8 GT Black Series supercar.
Then in May of 2021, the company was sold to billionaire John H. Ruiz and Miami-based Lionheart Capital. In the press release announcing the purchase, Ruiz stated: "I have been an avid fan for decades. I personally own numerous Cigarette hand-crafted powerboats and believe that the brand is on the verge of a new wave of acceleration."
That acceleration is gaining momentum as this week the company let slip it has hired designers to produce a 130-foot superyacht, as well as launch its own line of personal watercraft (PWC's).
In an interview with Robb Report, Ruiz told the publication, “We plan to build a 130-footer and also a line of personal watercraft. You’re going to see a lot more products in the brand, with an even more sophisticated build process. We have many new concepts that are patent pending.”
The funding to support the growth is coming via Lionheart Capital and it's owner Ophir Sternberg, who added: “We’ll use our own capital to take it to the next level. We see this as a long-term investment, and are looking to acquire other brands.”
The timing couldn't be better as the current demand in boating is at an all-time high. The pandemic has generated a huge influx in first-time boat buyers, as well as providing the impetus for current owners to upgrade or invest deeper into their hobby. Couple that with a resurgence from one of boating's most recognized brands, and you have the ingredients for accelerated growth.
The pairing between Ruiz and Lionheart may seem unusual on the surface, but there is no shortage of confidence from Sternberg who told Robb Report, “I’m a big fan of acquiring and owning great companies. We concluded that Cigarette is best in class, with a lot of legacy around it. It also has a great international following, and we tend to keep it that way.”
For his part, Ruiz's passion for boating will undoubtedly help to mesh Lionheart's business acumen with Cigarette's hardcore customer base. “I’ve been boating since I was 15 and captain my own boats,” he said. “I’ve driven go-fast Cigarettes to 130 mph. When you’re out in the open ocean, a Cigarette performs like no other boat. They’re very rugged—it has an incredible ride that ploughs through the ocean. I believe it offers the safest method of transportation. I feel confident in bringing my family on board.”
As for Cigarette's plans in the superyacht market, Ruiz has already hired Italian designers. “It will have a European look, with fine, elegant lines. I think people will be ready for a Cigarette superyacht. They want style and performance in one yacht, and we can do that.”
On a semi-related note, the current record holders for world's fastest yacht include the 136-foot Foners with a top speed of 70 knots, and the 139-foot World Is Not Enough at an estimated 67 knots (although some state it has also reached 70 knots). If any company were to make a run at the record, Cigarette would be an obvious choice.
There is currently no word on that other brands Cigarette may be looking to purchase, or what their plans may be for the PWC market, but there will be no shortage of options. Boat brands are currently switching hands at a record pace, and a growing trend towards electric power options may see Cigarette and Lionheart pursue alternative powered options to keep pace with the current market.
Until then, you can check out Cigarette's latest collaboration with Mercedes AMG in the video below:
(h/t to Robb Report)