9 February 2017

Top five wooden boats with hot rod hearts

“Holy smokes,” he exclaimed, “is that a Ford Interceptor?” Sure enough, nestled in the bilge of a mid-‘60s Century utility was one of Ford’s muscle car gems: the mighty 427. My coworker, Kyle Smith, and I had been walking the docks of the Les Cheneaux Islands Antique Wooden Boat Show when we encountered the high-powered Resorter. The event, hosted every August in Hessel, Mich., was his first exposure to the wood boat scene. But his reaction opened my eyes to the crossover between “car folks” and “boat folks.”

Ultimately, a gearhead is a gearhead. It doesn’t matter if the engine is in a speeding metal box, or in floating mahogany furniture, a proper muscle car motor will always grab our attention, regardless of the wrapper. Following are Hagerty’s top five wood boats with hot rod hearts.

  1. Century Resorter – 427-cid Ford Interceptor
    Who doesn’t love a sleeper? A vehicle so common and plain that most folks would never imagine the power lurking beneath. Ford was famous for such cars, dropping its “total performance” 427 Interceptor into 1960s Fairlane and Galaxie boulevard cruisers. Thankfully, the sleeper-spec 7-liter wasn’t only limited to Ford’s full size offerings. It also found its way into a number of unassuming Century boats – including the relatively-compact Resorter. In aluminum-intensive marine guise, this engine offered significant weight savings when compared to General Motors’ Big Block engines, while still producing a healthy 300-hp and 438 lb-ft of torque. With output like this, it’s no wonder Century calls itself “the thoroughbred of the boating industry.”

  2. Chris Craft Super Sport – 327-cid Chevrolet Small Block
    “She’s got a Corvette motor.” How many times have you heard this familiar line as the hood is popped on a classic GM muscle car? It goes without saying that there is a certain level of pride in having a ‘Vette-spec engine between the fenders – especially if the vehicle has a stealthy exterior. It’s true in the wood boat world, too. Under the lid of this Chris Craft’s utility sits Chevrolet’s 327 Small Block. Waterskiers beware, as this V-8 is synonymous with early ‘60s performance and is certainly more than qualified to deliver the “sport” in this boat’s name.

  3. 1965 Riva Super Aquarama – Twin 440-cid Chrysler Big Blocks
    Excess is the muscle car kingdom’s golden rule: Excessive style, excessive size and, most importantly, excessive power. Well, this Riva’s got all three covered. Style? Check: Italian design with polished chrome, white interior and teal accents. Size? Decks of Philippine mahogany, 29 feet long should suffice. Power? Oh yeah. Under the beautiful varnished engine hatch are not one, but two Chrysler 440-cid V-8 engines. With each big block putting out in the neighborhood of 330-hp, we’re fairly certain this falls in the “excessive and then some” category.

  4. 1936 Ditchburn Runabout - 221-cid Ford Flathead V-8
    Hailing from Lake Muskoka, the Canadian marque Ditchburn is renown for its beautiful dark mahogany runabouts produced prior to WWII. However, one lesser-known feature is its thumping heart, the Flathead Ford V-8. At a time when most wood boat manufacturers were installing large displacement inline-6 engines, having the granddaddy of the hot rod movement as your power source is definitely notable. While these earlier 21-stud models produced only 84-hp, their visual presence and distinctive burbling exhaust note more than offset any deficiencies in power or refinement.

  5. Chris Craft Cobra – First Generation 331-cid Chrysler Hemi V-8
    Chrysler’s letter cars weren’t the only machines graced with early Hemi power. Chris Craft powered 21 of its sporty, gold-finned Cobras with a 331-cid version of the legendary engine in 1955. A detail that few may recognize rests on top of the hulking cylinder heads. Marine versions of this engine required slight bumps in the chrome covers due to the increased valve-lift over their automotive counterparts. These changes helped produce a solid 250-hp at a sustained 4400 RPM — remember, revs don’t tend to rise and fall as rapidly in boat applications.  So to answer your question, “Yeah, it’s got a Hemi.”

11 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Doug McDougal Harrison Twp., MI February 15, 2017 at 16:09
    My 36' Pacemaker convertible sedan cruiser was owned by my Dad when, in 1972 it was repowered (from 2 - 327s) with 2 Crusader 320 hp engines with a reduction gearing. Still going strong today with a ton of hours on them from cruising Lakes Huron, Michigan, Erie, and home port Lake St. Clair.
  • 2
    Paul Allen Toronto ON February 15, 2017 at 18:55
    I remember touring the Ditchburn factory in Gravenhurst, Muskoka. Great boats. Greavette Boats also made in Muskoka were more streamlined - and with small-blocks!
  • 3
    Mike Holmes Seattle February 15, 2017 at 19:43
    Check out the Stancraft Torpedo. 625hp Ilmor Viper. Not an old boat, but definitely a performer.
  • 4
    mark hopkins dayton oh. February 16, 2017 at 09:23
    Here are a few errors in the feature: #1 Early hemi valve covers with clearance bumps. Most early hemis had hydraulic lifters and did not need clearance bumps in the valve covers. All the hemi letter cars had solid lifters. They were also used in some of the marine and industrial engines. The clearance bumps were there for the exhaust valve rocker arm adjustment screw and lock nut. You could install a very high lift cam using solid lifters, adjustable push rods and hydraulic rocker arms and no need for the special valve cover clearance. Both Dodge and Chrysler offered early hemi engines with solid lifters. The Desoto hemi never had a solid lifter engine. #2 The Ford 21 stud engines were made from 1932 until early 1938. from mid 1938 until the end they were 24 stud. Your photo is clearly a last generation 24 stud 239 CID (1948 -53 truck and 1949 - 53 car) # 3 the first year Chrysler offered the 440 engine was 1966. In 1966 most of the 440 application were automobile only. The 1966 trucks, rv, industrial and marine kept the 413.
  • 5
    Vince Ciganik Jr. Pennsylvania February 17, 2017 at 00:23
    I worked for Skyline Motors in Beaver Falls, Pa. in the late 50's. One of our customers had a Century Coronado with the Cadillac motor. Mr Stienfeld was having some guest's for the weekend and so I was instructed to clean, gas up and moor the boat. As I was nearing the slip, I asked myself, I wonder how fast would it go. Being young and foolish and a need for speed, I went up the Beaver river, which is narrow and flows into the Ohio. After mooring the boat, I went to our office, which was five miles away to clock out. My boss asked was the boat ready for the weekend and I said yes. Then he asked me this question, did you happen to take it for a ride? OH BOY. I put my head down and nodded yes. In a slightly elevated voice, he said, don't you "EVER" do that again. It seems that on my trip up and down the river, it caused quite a wake and the other boat dock owners were not happy. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!
  • 6
    John Kersnik Gravenhurst, Ontario, canada February 18, 2017 at 11:46
    You have to see the boat show up here in the summer, beautiful old wooden boats, I'm trying to restore my 1964 Mandela race boat with the pontiac 389 v drive flat bottom , was riding in this when I was 14 years old , then puchased it, never got around to it till now, can turn on a dime at high speed with open exhaust, nice sounding,only 18 feet long, with shark fins on the bottom....any buddy know about these race boats? I think the person that built these was named Louis something and they even put 427 Fords in them for boat drag racing and competion coarses............
  • 7
    Jeff Peterson Fort Worth February 19, 2017 at 11:15
    In 1991 I purchased and restored a 1968 Chris Craft 20' Grand Prix. It was boat number 11 of 35 built in '68 which was the last year Chris Craft produced wood runabouts. The two engine options offered in the Grand Prix were the 327 or the 427. Mine was equipped with the Ford 427 300 hp iron block. I don't believe an aluminum block Ford 427 was ever used in the marine application. Oh, and by the way, nothing sounds better than the Ford 427 inboard motor with the water gurgling out of the 3 inch copper exhaust pipes!!!
  • 8
    Bill Hirschey Texas March 31, 2017 at 16:39
    There were a handful of Century Coronados made in 1965-66 with the 427 Ford Intercepter engines equipped with dual quad carburetion that made 400hp.
  • 9
    Paul Hopkins Lake Of the Ozarks April 1, 2017 at 15:14
    I just had a 21' 1964 Chris Craft Continental Super Sport restored with a 431 Lincoln.. I believe the 427 Ford has a little more hp but the torque and sound of the 431 makes for a great"sleeper" but when it fires over it's a head turner...and hats off to Paul Cundiff and his team in Ky on the restoration
  • 10
    glen campbell redmond,or April 13, 2017 at 02:16
    In the early 80's I restored a 1960 Chris Cavalier 17' utility runabout. This boat came with a 1960 corvette engine. We were able to restore the boat, engine and all. Made a very nice ski boat
  • 11
    Paul Boardman Danville, CA April 14, 2017 at 00:24
    To John Kersnik Gravenhurst, Ontario, canada I own a 1965 17'10" Howard flatbottom V Drive powered by a NASCAR 421 4 bolt main Pontiac. The 421 NASCAR Pontiac was a $2,500 engine option offered by Howard Brown. I bought the boat in 1970 upon my discharge from the US Marine Corps and still own her. Mandella flat bottoms were popular around the same time and could be found with Ford,Chrysler,Buick,Chev or Pontiacs. My hull model driven by Howard Brown with a Keith Black built engine set a world flat bottom speed record of 134 mph back in the mid sixties. These boats are quite a thrill to drive. Mine is still sound with no delamination of the fiberglass. It has never missed a summer on Lake Shasta or the California Delta and still shows like new. The boats were primarily all fiberglass with some wood laminated into the bottom and stern. Stringers were wood encased fiberglass.

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