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Industry Notables Remember Formula’s Vic Porter

The most enduring testimony to the greatness of Formula Boats/Thunderbird Products patriarch Vic Porter, who died yesterday after a prolonged illness at 90 years old, isn’t the company he purchased in 1976 and nourished to become one of the most respected and innovative builders in the high-performance powerboat world. It isn’t the thousands of jobs Formula created during its 33 years in Decatur, Ind., its home since 1988. It’s not the broad range of products the company, which celebrates its 66th anniversary this year, has created during the years or its modern—even by today’s standards—production facility that rose from the surrounding corn and soybean fields.

Formula’s product offerings have evolved during the years, but Vic Porter’s family-business and boat-building philosophy remained constant. Photos courtesy/copyright Formula Boats

Vic Porter’s most lasting accomplishment, in fact his true legacy, is creating a family-owned business that has seen three generations of Porters involved and continues to adapt, evolve and thrive. As anyone who’s been part of a family business can attest, that’s no small feat.

Along the way—and you can learn the company’s history by clicking here—Porter collaborated with some of the most gifted folks in the high-performance industry beyond his incredible family. Talent tends to walk with talent, and among those individuals are Fred Kiekhaefer, the former president of Mercury Racing; John Adams, Formula’s exclusive designer for more almost five decades; Mike McLeod, formerly of the McLeod Design Group; and Vic Spellberg, a longtime Porter family friend and the current sales manager of Cross Chartering Yacht Transport.

Reached this morning, here’s what they had to say.

Fred Kiekhaefer
One great thing about our marine industry: Customers become friends. The Porter family members are all friends. That makes it even more painful when a man like Vic passes. Yes, he was an innovator—from an early pioneer in fiberglass boat making to building some of the most user-friendly, durable and beautiful boats on the market—Vic made an enduring mark. But his greatest contributions were his kindness and caring, which he has passed to his family and all who knew him. Vic Porter is an icon. He will be missed. Sincere condolences to his family and friends.

John Adams
Vic and I go back a long way, 48 or 49 years to when he came to Miami to buy Sigma, one of his first boat companies. He had a good vision of things, but it wasn’t a radical vision because of his very conservative roots, I think. But he was very interested in doing things that nobody else wanted to do, which is music to the ears of any designer. Our philosophies were right on target with one another. And Vic was very loyal to his people. That was one of his major contributions.

A lot of family businesses don’t make it past the first generation to the second or third generation, and Formula even has some fourth-generation Porters involved now, because they don’t operate in the right way. But the Porters have been able to take what Vic started and carry it to the next level, which isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do. Thanks to Vic, who was very hands-on when he started, the next generations at Formula have realized how to move forward. He was an industry icon, and we don’t have many of those left. I don’t know that we will see anything like him in the near future. He will be missed.

Mike McLeod
We lost an icon. I get a little choked up when I talk about it and, like everyone who knew Vic, I am still trying to get my thoughts together. There were times when Vic didn’t understand me because I’m a bit of a rebel, but that’s what made me who I am. Scott Porter is a lot like his dad—Grant Porter is more like me (laughs). But from what Grant has told me, Vic really appreciated me being on board and contributing. I looked at Vic as a father figure—I lost my dad when I was 13 years old.

I grew up on the water, so when I came upon Formula after leaving American Motors when they introduced the Pacer—I wanted nothing to do with that—I came upon Formula at boat shows and checked them out. Their quality was the best in the industry, but their interiors were the worst (laughs again). And when I met the Porters, I thought ‘Here is a family I would like to be part of.’ I did it by contributing off in the shadows and speaking with designs, and I always looked at Vic as a mentor.

Vic and Kris Porter were married for 71 years.

Vic Spellberg
Vic Porter was a kind and gentle man, extremely caring for his family, friends, employees and just about everyone who crossed his path. I had the pleasure of knowing him for more than 45 years and he always had time to say hello, check on our family and have a personal conversation. He was a wonderful family man and I counted him as a friend. We even shared the same birthday, February 3. 

Vic built an incredible team at Formula over the years, creating thousands of extremely high-quality boats and yachts that will be enjoyed for many years to come by his loyal customers. He is already building a new team to celebrate his legacy. Arlene and I are thinking of the entire Porter family in this time of sadness. He was a very special person and we are proud to have known him.

Vic Porter’s visitation will be Friday, October 29, 2021, from 2-8 p.m. at Haggard-Sefton-Hirschy & Zelt Funeral Home, Decatur. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, October 30, 2021, at First United Methodist Church in Decatur, with calling one hour prior from 10-11 a.m. To read Vic Porter’s full obituary, click here.

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