The History of Cigarette Founder Don Aronow

The History of Cigarette Founder Don Aronow

Fast Talk

Everyone who knew legendary Cigarette founder Don Aronow has a story to tell about him. We collected some of the best.

Don Aronow
Don Aronow

The Crew
Michael Aronow: son
Bob Saccenti: builder of Chief Powerboats and founder of Apache Performance Boats
Phil Lipschutz: former Aronow contractor and current Miami-area Cigarette dealer
Allan “Brownie” Brown: former acquaintance
Michael Peters: contracted designer 1981-1986, hired full-time 1987

They just don’t make ’em like Don Aronow anymore. During his quarter-century-long reign as the undisputed king of Thunderboat Row, Aronow was a lot of different things to a lot of different people. He was a hero and a genius, a ballbuster and a bully. A world-champion boat racer who enjoyed wild success in business, he was also an unapologetic playboy and fabled bon vivant. 

But Aronow may have possessed a darker side that even he could not outrun. And in the end, he wound up as nothing more than a target for an assassin’s bullet. This is his story in the words of some of the men who knew him best.

A tough, athletic, Jewish kid from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, by age 21 Aronow found himself married and about to start a career in his father-in-law’s New Jersey construction company.]

Brown: Shirley was his first wife. Her father was extremely wealthy and Don once told me he was going to take Shirley to California if the old man didn’t cut him into the business.

Aronow: After he was working with the family for a few years he went off on his own and started building homes, then shopping centers, industrial parks, all over northern New Jersey. And he eventually became aggravated with the business. The weather was cold and he was getting ulcers and he said, “I can’t do this anymore. I can retire and let’s go to Florida.” This was in 1961.

Brown: Everybody has their own idea about why he was in Miami. Some people say he was hiding from the mob. I can’t imagine that though, he was pretty easy to find. He thought he was going to semi-retire to Florida and skin dive and fish, but he got bored.

Peters: Aronow looked the part. Guys wanted to be him. Six foot three, real good looking, lots of swagger. He was right out of a Hollywood script. He’s the only person I’ve ever known like that. He was larger than life. And he liked to get the best of people.

Saccenti: When he came to Florida, he got hooked up with the greats, and he definitely made his mark. People said whatever Don touched turned to gold. 

Aronow: Forrest Johnson was originally his fishing buddy. They become friends and Mr. Johnson told my father about the Miami-Nassau race and my father became really interested in it. He competed in the race in April ’62 and led until the end, but they [blew] a clutch and had nothing left. The boat coasted in fourth. And he became hooked on racing and that’s how it all began.

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By Kevin Koenig
Photos by Getty Images

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