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.”