Until 17 months ago, a boat was a boat and, by and large, looked like a boat. Today, as the picture-on these pages-show, things have changed; boats have begun looking like something else, namely automobiles, and the musty traditions of speedboat design have been all but drowned in a welter of glittering chrome and swept-back, high-finned bodylines.
It all started with two exhibits at the New York Boat Show in January 1956. Over at one end of the hall that year, the Lone Star Company of Grand Prairie. Texas introduced the Meteor, a blunt-nosed little runabout with the look of a Porsche that wandered into a marine exhibit by mistake. It had auto headlights, a low stubby bow, tail fins and a sporty cockpit for four people. Across the floor at the same show, the Evinrude people trotted out another seagoing hot rod. This one, designed by famed Auto Styler Brooks Stevens, was called the Lark. It featured a pair of soaring tail fins, bucket seat-and matched chrome hardware.
Viewing these phenomena, a lot of traditionalists stepped back and held their noses. But a lot more nonconformists stepped forward holding large clusters of dollar hills. According to Evinrude, the Lark was the hit of the show. Lone Star was just as happy with its little speedster. More impressive to the men in the industry, however, was the fact that no less than 38 accredited boat builders wrote Evinrude asking for the plans of the Lark. The rush to auto styling was on. And when the 1957 Boat Show opened at the New York Coliseum, instead of two lonely prototypes the place was filled with automotive hybrids.
"When we introduced the Lark," said Stevens recently, "we presented an extreme exhibitionist version of what might come. By January of 1957, that exhibitionism had become a production reality." He then proceeded to pinpoint the man most responsible for the whole auto-styling revolution.
"I would say," he offered, "that I inspired it."
Any self-proclaimed pioneer is on shaky ground in the design field, where a flat claim of a first in styling will always bring people striding down from pedestals or crawling out from under rocks waving the plans of the streamlined something they whipped up in 1910. But Stevens is quite fearless in expressing his ideas and, in this case, he has some weighty historical arguments on his side.
In pre-World War II days, he had earned a name for himself as an industrial designer, particularly in the automotive field, where he styled an impressive collection of custom car bodies, trucks, buses and land cruisers. Then he branched out into outboard motors, as a style consultant for Evinrude. That led to experiments in the modernization of boat design.
"In 1941," he said, "I did a prophetic rendering of what I felt the postwar boat would be. It had the first wraparound windshield with which we predicted the trend not only in boats but in automobiles too. We also began to integrate deck hardware—instead of taking a cleat from here and a chock from there, we made it all to match. And the bow was different. It had an extreme downward curve. Finally, we predicted the idea of the swept-down sheer line—and you can see it today in that big speedboat with all the fins, the Aquilifer (see page 42). This was the first concept of this type of design. Four years later we developed it into a final product in the Globe Mastercraft."
The Globe Mastercraft, designed in 1945, was, according to Stevens, the first successful auto-styled boat ever put out on a production basis. As the original drawing at the top of the page shows, the Globe picked up and developed the idea of the convex sheer line, wrap-around windshield and integrated hardware, and introduced a number of other new concepts as well, all of which, when molded together, added up to a speedboat that was years ahead of the competition. "The crash-padded cockpit," said Stevens, "was certainly the first of its kind in a production boat. So was the styled plastic steering wheel. This was also one of the first uses of two-toning in major hull areas, rather than the random strip planking of different tones that was popular at the time. And we definitely pioneered in the curved, airfoil rub rail. You'll notice how it widens as the tumble home of the boat narrows down and how it goes all around the stern.
"This whole line was introduced at the New York Boat Show in 1946, and again at Los Angeles later the same year. At Los Angeles we won a prize for the best contribution to boat design, or something."