Super Yacht Times:
Insight: John Staluppi, superyachts, and Spectre
John Staluppi is the epitome of the American Dream: a straight talking Italian-American, a proud New Yorker and dedicated philanthropist, coming from nothing and building his own multi-million dollar business in the automotive industry from the ground up. Growing up in the Golden Age of the American automobile industry, his first job was as a petrol station mechanic, but it wasn’t long before he leapfrogged the ranks to business owner. His success grew exponentially over the following years after convincing the then-unheard of Japanese brand Honda that he was the right guy to appoint as the official dealer of Honda vehicles in the States and the rest, as they say, is history.
Staluppi’s success with cars stems from a fervent work ethic, but is also steeped in passion: passion for excitement, for speed and for the ultimate in big boy’s toys. His successes allowed him the financial freedom to explore this side of his character, which naturally lead to the purchase of his very first superyacht in 1985, the 36 metre Denison built For your Eyes Only. This was the first in what would become a very long line of Staluppi-owned vessels. To this date, Staluppi has owned 17 vessels, 12 of which he has commissioned himself.
Superyachts seem like a natural fit for Staluppi, and he touched on big - top secret - plans for the expansion of his empire further into the maritime industry in the near future during our interview. “We will own a shipyard soon, only big boats,” Staluppi exclusively tells us. “We’ll build 50+ metres. I’m going to make a series of boats, it will be like a production series but semi-custom, and it will probably be in Europe.”
Putting the creation of his very own brand of superyachts aside, the defining characteristics of Staluppi’s fleet are founded in two elements: speed and, rather unusually, James Bond (the majority of Staluppi’s vessels are named after Bond films). The first translates well into the other. Bond epitomises luxury, refinement, excitement. He is a character that is dangerous, glamorous, attractive and who lives quite comfortably on the edge of what is deemed possible… quite like Staluppi’s yachts. Staluppi confirms this association, saying,“I enjoy the build. I always want to create something different and something special. James Bond is exciting, everything he does is exciting, and everything we do is exciting.”
With such an extensive fleet and only a limited number of films to choose from, sooner rather than later, Staluppi is going to run out of names for his boats… but not, at least, for the next two years, which is conveniently when his next superyacht project currently under construction with Benetti is scheduled for completion: Spectre.
Measuring 69 metres - for now - Spectre is set to be a little bit different from the rest, with a substantially decreased focus on speed, and instead a new emphasis on the luxurious side of the superyacht lifestyle. Being built with Benetti - the third yacht that Staluppi has brought to the Italian shipyard’s door - and designed in close cooperation between Staluppi and his wife, the Mulder Design team of Holland and the in-house team at Benetti comprised of interior architect Domenico Gavagnin with exterior design from Giorgio Maria Cassetta Design, she is set to be the best of the bunch - and with yachts like the 61 metre Benetti built Diamonds are Forever, the 40.3 metre Heesen Octopussy and the 49.6 metre Christensen Casino Royale, that’s quite a statement.
Explaining this departure from his norm, he says, “We want a lot of luxury, but we want it to be special. We want the boat to be exciting. At the same time I wanted the boat to have a little speed, so we decided to make it 21-22 knots. I got in touch with Frank Mulder and Bas, and asked them if they would like to join me on the project… They came over, we spent a lot of time [discussing the new project].
“Bas and Frank took the project, they took it to Benetti, and said, ‘Now we’re going to build Spectre.’ The boat simply started out as a 63 metre, then it went to 64 metres, then it went to 68 metres, and today we might be 69 metres, we’re not sure. The boat is going to be luxurious, a very beamy boat, and beautiful. I think that between everyone with our input, this will be one of the most exciting boats out there. We’re very critical as to what we want. I get involved with everything; we even picked out the doorknobs and the lights.”
Regardless of Spectre being the most spectacular of all Staluppi’s vessels, this - perhaps unsurprisingly - doesn’t mean that this one is for keeps. Staluppi builds yachts to sell: he is an astute businessman, a quality ingrained in everything he does. “We’re going to keep it until a certain time, until I get tired of it,” he comments in regards to Spectre. “We build a boat for sale and for charter, it’s part of my business. But I would like to travel in that boat and take it around, they will use it in the shows… I believe that this boat is going to be special.”
With a departure from speed, a distinct shift to luxury, the aim to build the best boat to have graced Staluppi’s ownership, and the fact that, at least for the moment, there are no more Bond names to proudly bestow upon a new vessel, will Spectre mark the end of a 30+ year of boat building for Staluppi? The answer, in a word, is a resounding no. “I might decide to go faster again. We’re talking about build a 65-66 metre, something that will do about 32-33 knots. I might want to do 35 knots, I might want to cruise at 32 knots, because nobody has done that yet. That might be the next project I’m going to do.”
Based on the new Sunrise 68m by A. Vallicelli & Co, Project Skyfall was designed for one of the world's most experience yachtsmen, renowned for his spirit of innovation.
The aggressive sleekness of the yacht's lines reflects its ambitious performance targets: a fast displacement steel-hull, Project Skyfall will have a shallow draft of less than 3 metres, a top speed of 25 knots and a transatlantic range.
The yacht will also be a showcase of innovative technologies, never utilized on a yacht before, including VOITH linear jets propulsion and MME microturbines power generation.
Excerpt from: Biography - Lunch with… superyacht owner John Staluppi by Mark Chisnell
Photography: Ginny Dixon
Just like the cars he adores and the boats he builds, John Staluppi is a walking, talking embodiment of the ‘American dream’. Starting out as a petrol station mechanic in Brooklyn, Staluppi built a billion dollar business of car dealerships, before turning his hand to creating some of the most iconic superyachts ever built.
Taste for speed
Octopussy was subject of a wager with builder Frans Heesen as to how fast they could make it go.
When he finally took the step, Staluppi’s first boat was a 13m Ocean sport fishing boat, even though he didn’t much like fishing.
‘I liked the speed of it,’ he explains. ‘This fishing boat was the only thing at that time that did 30 knots.’
Staluppi raced dragsters in his teens, winning a Grand Nationals in Tennessee, and there’s a strong connection with speed right through his career – including an epic rivalry with John Rossatti, his business partner in the mall that houses Cars of Dreams. They’ve raced almost anything that goes fast: Porches, Corvettes, motorcycles, snowmobiles, cigarette boats…
The powerboat racing came to a fairly swift end after a couple of high-speed crashes. The first was a flip in California and the aftermath more unnerving still.
‘We were floating around out there in the middle of the ocean for about 20 minutes, and all I could think about was the shark coming to bite my leg,’ he recalls. ‘The couple of guys that were with me, one was bleeding and the other hurt his back.’
Staluppi’s lifeguard training came in very useful until the coastguard appeared. He built a new race boat and this one caught fire on Lake Pontchartrain, near New Orleans. Staluppi found himself back in the water thinking, ‘“You know what? Two times is a warning, three times you’re out.” There wasn’t going to be a third time.’
He had an 18m Viking by this stage, but after doing 80 knots in a racing powerboat, it felt a little tame, and he’d always wanted something better.
‘When you’re out there and riding around and see all these big boats go by, you always think, “Someday I want to have a big yacht.”’ And so the 36m, Denison-built, For Your Eyes Only was born. ‘I really wanted to have something different. I wanted to build the first boat over 100 feet (30.5 metres) that would go over 30 knots.’ The Bond movie-inspired name came because the concept seemed to match the ‘crazy gadgets, planes, boats and high-speed cars’, of the films.
Many will testify to Staluppi’s hands-on style when he builds a boat, and his attention to the detail of the engineering was evident right from the beginning. He realised that putting Detroit engines in For Your Eyes Only was a mistake.
‘Everyone was talking about water-jets and how much more efficient they would be when partnered up with MTUs.’ Staluppi did the research. ‘We pulled the engines out before the boat was finished and went to MTUs and water-jets. And I was the first one to bring MTUs and water-jets into the US in a motor yacht configuration.’
For Staluppi, 30 knots was never going to be enough. With the King of Spain and the Aga Khan looking to go faster, Staluppi wanted to do 50 knots in a much bigger boat – originally planned at 39m. He had already bought a power plant of three MTUs at 3,500hp each, before he even had a shipyard, but it wasn’t easy to find an engineer or a yard that thought it was enough power.
Staluppi kept looking and found fellow believers in designer Frank Mulder and entrepreneur turned shipbuilder Frans Heesen.
Fastest boat in the world
Moonraker, built in 1992, continued Staluppi’s twin passions of speed and James Bond.
Staluppi outlines the deal he cut with Heesen: ‘The boat has to do over 50 knots. If it does under 50 knots I don’t have to take the boat. If the boat does 51 knots or more, for every knot over 51 knots we would pay a $200,000 bonus.’
Heesen took on the challenge, building Octopussy in the Netherlands for a 1988 launch. Everyone worked hard at hitting the speed; Jeanette Staluppi’s first question when researching possible soft goods was, ‘How much does it weigh?’
When Octopussy was launched for sea trials, the coastguard cleared a runway.
‘I bought a radar gun, and we were on the boat for the first sea trial,’ says Staluppi. ‘Everybody was nervous because Frans Heesen could see his whole shipyard go out of business. He would own this boat if it didn’t do the speed. The boat does 50.5 knots, it was the first run. He was so happy.’
Staluppi still wasn’t done. ‘I said to Heesen, “Listen you could make this bonus. I would like you to cut the back corners, the chines off.” I felt the boat was running bow-down, so when the bow [went] down, there would be more drag.
‘Frans Heesen says, “No, no, no, I’m not going to do that.” I said, “Frans, you could make $200,000.” So he made me agree that if the boat went slower, I owned the boat. I said, “OK” and he cut the back of the boat off and we made 53 knots.
‘He was so happy because he got a $400,000 bonus. I was happy because now I owned the fastest yacht in the world.’
And that was something he liked a lot.
‘There’s only one fastest yacht in the world. When we pulled in there (to ports) everybody said, “That’s Octopussy.”’
The Staluppis cruised the Atlantic in her for a year and a half before selling – the competition was heating up again. ‘We got wind HH the Aga Khan was building a boat that was supposed to do 65 knots, and naturally I wanted to go faster. We built Moonraker. They [HH the Aga Khan and his boat] did 57-point-something knots and we built Moonraker and with that boat did 61 knots.’
Moonraker was launched in 1992, and the record was his again. But the Mulder-designed, Norship-built 36m Moonraker was a different boat for another reason. After Octopussy, Staluppi transitioned from building boats for a hobby into a more commercial outlook.
‘I decided to get into the boat building business, because we were familiar with it on the high-speed end, and I was selling the boats and making good money.’
It was 1998 when he formally started Millennium Super Yachts, and by 2012 John Staluppi had lifted his total to 18 boats. Nevertheless, he has a clear favourite, the aptly named The World Is Not Enough.
‘I wanted to build one more yacht which would set the standard, and make the (speed record) bar very high, very hard to achieve for someone.’
The World Is Not Enough was Staluppi’s last fast superyacht.
The World Is Not Enough was another collaboration with Frank Mulder, again built in the Netherlands, this time in a shipyard Staluppi had bought into – it has the Millennium Super Yachts label.
‘That boat was set to do 70 knots, but we could never get it to steer over 66 knots – as soon as it got to 65, 66 knots, it would either spin out to the right or the left. It was a massive spin-out, like being in a WaveRunner. We never ran that boat over 90 per cent power.’
Imagine what it’s like to wipe out in a 42m superyacht at just short of 70 knots. Staluppi admits it was ‘Very scary’. But even short of maximum power, The World Is Not Enough is a very impressive motor yacht.
‘Sport-fishing boats had started doing 42 knots, 44 knots, and some of the smaller boats did 50 miles an hour… We would go by those boats, I would have a cocktail in my hand, a nice martini and give the people a “how you doing?” Nobody could believe it.’
Staluppi believes that, pound for pound, it’s still the fastest boat out there.
It was Staluppi’s last really quick boat; since then, Millennium Super Yachts has changed direction.
‘We decided to build yachts for luxury, and the new boats we’re building for charter more than for resale. I see a nice business in the charter market.’
Staluppi’s Diamonds Are Forever is a step away from speed and towards luxury charter.
Since The World Is Not Enough there has been Casino Royale, a 49m Christensen, and Quantum of Solace, a 52m Benetti. The newest boat is another Benetti, the widely profiled 61m Diamonds Are Forever.
‘We’re intending to charter that boat three to four months a year. My ultimate goal, depending on the way the economy goes, is to have two or three of these boats for charter.’
The new business occupies a lot of Staluppi’s attention: ‘You have to be hands-on to make it work properly.’
He has two partners to help him run Atlantic Auto Group, which occupies about 50 per cent of his time, with the boats taking up the rest of a 14-hour day, six day a week routine. He also believes the marine industry has plenty it could learn from the car retail trade.
‘The boating business needs to learn how to handle customers like we do in the car business – more customer-friendly building of yachts would make a big change, and I see some of the brokers starting to use car dealer techniques.’
It’s not just the sales and customer relations that make a Staluppi boat special, though: the engineering that supported his early career is still very much his thing.
‘What we bring to a shipyard, no other owner can bring,’ he asserts.