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Profile: Donzi 38 ZRC—Welcome Back, Stunner

Flashback to fall 2002: Bob Teague, Powerboat magazine’s lead test driver, can barely contain himself. He has just piloted the new Donzi Marine 38 ZRC with Mercury Racing HP500 engines through a photo shoot, followed by an hour of testing, on Southwest Florida’s Sarasota Bay.

“It’s perfect,” he said, then paused to reconsider and rephrase. “No. It’s bitchin’.”

As anyone who’s ever shared the cockpit with Teague can attest, that is his highest compliment.

donzi38zrc 20A

Powered by staggered Mercury Racing 860 engines, the Donzi 38 ZRC returns in fine fashion (click image to enlarge). Photos courtesy/copyright Donzi Marine/Iconic Marine Group.

Flash forward to last Tuesday in Washington, N.C. Accomplished offshore racer Billy Moore, who works for Donzi and Fountain, speedonthewater.com co-publisher Jason Johnson and I have just returned from testing the new 38 ZRC—the first to be built in more than 10 years—powered by staggered Mercury Racing 860 engines on the Pamlico River.

“OK, that was a blast,” Johnson said.

I agreed. “Especially when you sit in the center bench seat,” I said, then laughed.

Though the blast I jokingly referred to was related to my predictably breezy seat, the overall experience was just as I recalled it when running the first 38-footer with Teague some 17 years ago. Back then, the 38 ZRC provided my first sit-down V-bottom experience. I expected the boat to deliver a beating. But it didn’t. It was a revelation.

But that was then, back to now.

Though we saw 119 mph on the boat’s GPS recall, we ran the 38-footer to 113 mph as we were losing daylight by the time we got to that portion of our tests. But there was plenty of throttle left and we have no trouble believing the naturally aspirated, quad cam four valve engines can power the boat to 120 mph.

But here’s the thing: Because you sit somewhat low to water in the cockpit, the 38 ZRC feels faster than it is. The sensation isn’t alarming in any way, especially given the boat’s uncanny stability, but it is pronounced. If you’re sitting in one of three wraparound rear bench bucket seats, the roar of the onrushing wind and engines make it even more so.

Check out the slideshow above to enjoy more images of the Donzi 38 ZRC.

Likewise thanks to its low-to-the-water profile, the sensation of swooping and carving through turns is significant in the 38 ZRC. Cliché that it is, the term “on rails” best describes its handling characteristics.

Aesthetically speaking, the 38 ZRC’s hull and deck lines have not changed since the boat was introduced. And in my view, that’s a good thing. I’m all for contemporary styling and updates when needed. I like new stuff. But the 38 ZRC is timeless. (I’d use the word “classic” Donzi has already applied that one to another offering.) Significant changes to its hull and deck lines would be tragic.

Last week in North Carolina, the new 38 ZRC was a bit of time machine. The burgundy-hued stunner with a plush and elegant tan interior took me back to the introduction of a model that heralded the new era of sit-down V-bottoms.

But forget nostalgia. Than was then. The 38 ZRC is a compelling ride right now.

Editor’s note: Look for a comprehensive review of the Donzi 38 ZRC in the November/December 2019 Speed On The Water digital magazine.

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