We asked Sunseeker International Sales Director Sean Robertson to select the 10 most iconic past models and help explain why they made the cut...
Nobody knows Sunseeker quite like Sean Robertson does. Having worked there for 34 years and made his way up through the ranks from head of new boat testing to sales director, much of that time alongside founding partner Robert Braithwaite, he is as well placed as anyone to pick the 10 most iconic Sunseekers ever made.
The only rule was that he couldn’t pick anything from the current or future range to ensure the salesman in him didn’t colour his selection! Here are his 10 choices, arranged in date order.
The boat that started it all had to make the cut. The hull may have been designed by the American Brunswick corporation for the defunct Owens brand but Robert Braithwaite saw its potential, bought the moulds with the help of a £5,000 loan from his friend and founding co-partner John Macklin, and built what is now acknowledged as the very first Sunseeker.
At the time the company was still called Poole Powerboats and the simple 17-footer was a far cry from the super glamorous sportscruisers Sunseeker would become known for, but the Sovereign 17 set Braithwaite and the company on the path to future glories.
This is the boat which Sean credits for putting Sunseeker on the world map. With its steeply raked windscreen, forward-facing radar arch, bullet-hole air vents and Don Shead-designed deep-vee hull it not only looked good, it went well too, clocking a comfortable 34-35 knots from a pair of 200hp Volvo AQAD41s.
Its long cockpit and convertible sunbed were perfect for day boating but it also had a proper galley, heads and berths for four. It proved to be an instant hit, selling more than 250 units in five years and opening up new markets for Sunseeker all over the world, but especially in the Med. The even prettier Portofino 32, which followed, was essentially the same boat with a rounded screen and integrated bathing platform.
“Abso-bloody-lutely marvellous,” was how our sister magazine Motor Boats Monthly kicked off its boat test of the Tomahawk 37 in 1989, going on to praise almost every aspect of what many still regard as the original high performance Sunseeker.
It wasn’t actually the first, the XPS34 preceded it, but the Tomahawk was a far sexier proposition. With its slender race-bred hull, svelte wraparound screen and flicked up winglets, it looked like it was doing 60 knots at standstill. In fact it was available with a wide range of engines from a relatively modest pair of 300hp diesels up to 500hp 7.4-litre petrol V8s for top speeds of 35-55 knots.
It was so popular that in some South of France marinas, entire pontoons were given over to Tomahawks.
Everything about the Renegade 60 was excessive. At the time it was the biggest boat Sunseeker had ever built and cost over half a million pounds – an enormous sum back in the 1980s. But even that paled into insignificance next to its drivetrain – a pair of 22-litre MAN V12s pumping out 1,000hp each linked to Riva Calzoni waterjets.
At its top speed of 47 knots these dustbin-diameter jets were kicking out 120,000 litres of water a minute – and burning almost as much fuel in the process! “To be honest the jets were challenging,” admits Robertson. “They worked beautifully when they were clean but as soon as they got dirty they were less efficient.
The last four boats were fitted with Arneson drives instead.” Whatever the propulsion method, it got Sunseeker noticed, selling 28 units as far afield as the US and Japan, and kick-starting the market for the Predators that followed.
Just as the Tomahawk 37 wasn’t the first Sunseeker performance boat, the Manhattan 58 wasn’t its first flybridge – the Jamaican 35 takes that honour. But like the Tomahawk, the Manhattan 58 caused such a sensation when it did arrive that its predecessors were soon forgotten.
With an overtly sporting exterior and a radical futuristic interior designed by superyacht specialist Ken Freivokh, it made all its competitors look outdated overnight. Out went the usual teak and beige carpets and in came glass staircases and many of the design details we now take for granted.
This was revolution not evolution, setting the tone for Sunseeker’s transition from a purely sporting brand to a world class builder of luxury motoryachts.
Look at it, just look at it! Do we even need to explain why this is on the list? Subtle it was not, but with most of those 80ft being given over to that monstrous priapic bow, it was the ultimate expression of ‘90s excess. It wasn’t under-endowed in the engine department either, thanks to triple 1,100hp MANs on Arneson surface drives sending up a rooster tail that must have been visible from space.
Robertson credits the Predator 80 with being the first sportscruiser in the range to feature an integrated hard top. It also holds a special place in his memory after he got iced in on one for 48 hours en route to the Düsseldorf boat show. “There was no generator, no heating, all the strainers were frozen and the propellers were sticking out above the ice. It was so thick we could walk around the boat on it,” recalls Robertson.
After years of building ever bigger more extreme boats, Sunseeker pulled a blinder in 1996 by launching a pocket rocket version of the sensational Superhawk 48. With the same perfect proportions and drop dead gorgeous curves as its big sister, here was a superboat that even the moderately well off could aspire to.
A starting price of around £100,000 and a wide range of engines, encompassing everything from fuel-efficient KAD 42 diesels to fire-breathing petrol V8s, meant it appealed to everyone from newbies to speed freaks. It also featured in the Bond film The World is Not Enough as the star of a dramatic boat chase along the Thames. What more could any prospective buyer ask for?
The Predator 108 was the first Sunseeker sportscruiser to break the 100ft threshold and many people still consider it the best-looking superyacht it has built to date. It featured in the 2008 James Bond film Quantum of Solace as baddie Le Chiffre’s private hideaway rather than a getaway boat.
Perhaps the idea of filming a chase scene in a multi-million pound superyacht was a little too rich even for the Bond franchise. Shame, because with triple 2,000hp MTUs on Arneson surface drives it was more than capable of holding its own with anything MI5 could muster. The difference is that it could do all this while packing a jacuzzi on the foredeck and the kind of accommodation you’d normally find in a 5-star hotel suite.
28 Metre Yacht
Even by Sunseeker standards the 28 Metre was a rule-breaker. With its high bow, swooping sheerline and distinctive wraparound glazing, it looked different to any other boat in the range while still being instantly recognisable as a Sunseeker.
Nor was that glazing a mere styling gimmick, it formed an integral part of the structure, allowing the designers to do away with the chunky, obstructive GRP pillars usually needed to support a large flybridge. And what a flybridge it was, measuring almost 10m long and topped by a carbon fibre hard top.
Robertson reckons it felt more like a 120-footer than a 90-footer and describes it as a “real bruiser of a boat”. With twin 1,925hp MTUs giving near 30-knot performance, he has a point!
We’re bending the rules a bit to count this as a past model, since the Manhattan 55 which replaces it this summer is an updated version of the same boat. However, we decided to let it slide on the basis that it’s simply too good a boat and too important to the success of the company to ignore it.
Boasting exceptional volume and striking looks with a wealth of innovations such as bow seating and the first iteration of the beach club stern, it was the right boat, at the right time and the right price. It still holds the title of the fastest-selling Sunseeker of all time, with 100 built in the first 18 months, and continues to bring dozens of new customers into the brand – many of whom go on to buy bigger more expensive models.