Scott liked the idea, and Stevens went to work on a set of plans. He based his whole concept on sports-car design. "How could I go wrong?" he asked. "Look at the way people were going for the Jaguar, the MG, the Mercedes-Benz and for our American offerings, the Thunderbird and the Corvette. Why not a sports boat, for a guy to take his blonde out in? In designing this boat, I put the gearshift in the middle, just the way it is in a Jaguar and a lot of the others. I made two bucket seats, and added trim, coloration—the whole thing. I even went so far as to put in an airplane-type steering wheel.
"The fins were there because fins were it—because fins were going to be it. This was before Chrysler. I exaggerated. I wanted a flamboyant conversation piece. But in doing it, I at least incorporated a retractable ski-tow reel inside the fins. In other words I made a functional reason for my foppery."
With the Lark Runabout, there is no doubt that Stevens tickled a very delicate nerve in the American public. "People saw the romance of the fast-looking boat," said Stevens, "the chic boat for the youth of the nation. And," he added, "there are plenty of 60-year-old youths riding around up in suburbs with hats on.
"I know that in retrospect these things do sound egotistical, but when the exhibit first opened, I stood there near the Lark, almost fanatical, 10 hours a day to hear what the public said. The first day or two there was interesting public acclaim—gee whiz; hey, dad; look, mom. But I also at first got a lot of really scathing comment from the boat boys. But I expected it. I wanted to jolt the industry and feel them be jolted. And I felt they'd come around. I mean, how could they be so ostrichish when the other 100,000 were coming forward with the greenbacks?
"So, after three days, they came around. I think it was three things: one, the initial shock wearing off; two, the exhibit had unquestionably drawn more comment than any at the show; and, three, it was, 'Look, fellas, shall we fight this thing when it's what the customers want?'
"The point is, you absolutely must consider public acceptance of design trends and the merchandising ability of any design—that is, whether it can ring the cash register. And I'm very much in favor of the cash register. I'm only on a minor crusade for art, because I won't live long enough to change the entire public concept of art. But we can see the results of the Lark design everywhere, and I think we can say that this thing did its job, that it caught on."
The furor over the Lark had hardly commenced, however, when Stevens and Outboard Marine began laying plans for their big shocker of 1957 (see drawing above). This time it was Howard Larson, Evinrude Director of Sales, who had the idea. He suggested they project something for the fisherman and told Stevens to go all out with the most radical design he could think of.
"And he really meant all out," said Stevens. "He told me he didn't care if it was round. That idea stuck. Round. Why not a round boat? Especially with all the business of flying saucers. How silly could I be not to take a ride on that one?"
The reaction at the 1957 show was, again, a bonanza for Stevens and Evinrude. "We got bushels of letters," said Stevens. "I got one from a guy—you never heard such a thing. I was not only a charlatan, I was dangerous. I was likely to take people out and drown them. But do you know, we had a launching on the Milwaukee River the other day, at the Evinrude test station, and that thing handled like a dream. It can turn on its own axis, and you can walk around it just like on a yacht. Now, this doesn't mean we're going into the round boat business. But Evinrude has requests from resort owners who are thinking in terms of fishing discs. We had one resort owner from northern Wisconsin who wanted to buy half a dozen of them, just on the strength of the exhibit at the New York Show."
With the public already sold on auto styling and apparently willing now to consider even a flying saucer, Stevens is working harder than ever—toward his next big shocker. In fact, he is at this moment getting ready to build the bomb that Evinrude plans to drop on the 1958 Boat Show. "We've got it approved and ready for construction," he said. "I'm amazed that no one thought of this idea before. But they just don't think these things out. I don't think some of these guys ever tried to live aboard a cruiser. I can't tell you what it is, but I can say this. With the Lark, I created something futuristic and fanciful. With the saucer, I was way out in left field. I mean, it has some practicality but basically it was a shrieker. Now I'm reverting back to a practical level. And this one is so good that when it's shown, everybody is going to jump on it, because this thing is the answer."