In Gar Wood’s words, “The Fastest Stock Runabout in the World”, has lived on Lake Winnipesaukee for 80 years, in the plain view of many collectors, yet virtually no one realized what it was. Few things in collecting are as exciting as discovering an extremely rare item that others have seen and walked past.
Around 1982 I heard a rumor that there was a 28 foot Gar Wood, stored away in a boathouse on Lake Winnipesaukee. Twenty five years ago I heard that the rumored boat had actually been pulled from her boathouse and was being restored across the Lake. At that time, I too was restoring a 28 Ft Gar Wood… so I drove around the Lake to see what I could learn. What I found was a Gar Wood Time Capsule, fresh out of a boathouse where she had been for decades.
As it turns out she had always been boathouse maintained, hung and blocked up, in a hoist over the water and had never spent a night outdoors!! If you think about this concept, a boat kept hoisted in a boathouse since 1932, with 600 hours running time, would mean that the boat may have only been in the water for (600/24) = 25 days over its 80 years. Compared with a similar aged boat kept in the water for 4 months for 80 years = close to 10,000 days in the water. Getting your head wrapped around this concept, you can begin to understand, how pristine a boathouse maintained boat can be.
The big Gar was being refinished for what appeared to be the first time. I noticed several things were different from the 28 Gar, which I was restoring for a client in Michigan. The fuel tank was oriented fore and aft and the engine hatches were as long as a country mile. The restorer questioned a legend surrounding the boat that she had at some time been powered by a Liberty aircraft engine. This set off a bell in my memory, and I quietly realized that this was a very special boat. Gar Wood made a specially built hull to accommodate the aircraft engine. The fore and aft fuel tank was to allow enormous 5 inch exhaust pipes to run down each side of the tank and the longer hatches were for the 12 cylinder Liberty behemoth. At that moment she was powered with an impressive V12 Scripps engine, certainly no slouch.
Previous to this, I had many late evening conversations with Dick Clarke of Sierra Boat Company at Lake Tahoe. Dick had confirmed that the Gar Wood Factory had built a handful of their famous 28 footers, especially modified and powered with their 425HP marine converted Liberty Aero engines. The factory called these boats the 28-55 and claimed the astounding speed of 55 MPH. Dick’s Sierra Boat Company was restoring the only known 28-55 to exist.
Vinnie Callahan, owner of Channel Marine on Lake Winnipesaukee had been a Gar Wood dealer back in the day. Vinnie was retired and used to come by my shop to chat and look at the Gar we were working on. He confirmed that the boat I had seen was the same boat Vinnie had raced in Alton Bay after WWII. Vinnie explained that she had come from the factory with a Liberty V12 and her name was WILDCAT IV in her racing days on Winnipesaukee. The WILDCATs were a locally famous series of boats of Glenroy Scott, who raced at Weirs Beach and Alton in the 1920’s & ’30’s.
Shortly after I first saw her, the big Gar got back into the water around 1988, in the hands of the Fox family that had loved and cared for her since 1955. They launched and used her on rare occasions and brought her out to local antique boat shows. Over the years, I never heard the words “28-55” or “Liberty V12” mentioned. I visited the Fox boathouse several times to help diagnose small issues with the Scripps V12 engine. It seemed that she had not been seen on the water for some time until one day when I heard that the boat could not be launched because she wouldn’t float reliably. Over the years, I let the owners know of my interest in seeing their boat get repaired and back in the water.
Last fall turned out to be the precise moment when they were ready to sell the boat. A deal was struck on the spot. Then began the adventure of how to get a boat that wouldn’t float into the water and across the Lake without sinking. Visions of having to raise the boat from the bottom of the lake gave me nightmares. In the event she sank at the end of our tow lines, I even had phone numbers for salvage divers! Vince Bober, a graduate mechanical engineer and latent 9th grade mad scientist & experimenter saved the day by planning out an “upside down” shrink wrapping exercise. The whole event went like clockwork and we had the boat on the trailer within an hour of launching.
Back safely at New England Boat & Motor, we inspected the condition of the V12 Scripps. It hadn’t run in several years, but I had heard that the big V12 had been totally rebuilt. We looked into the cylinders with a bore scope, oiled the cylinders, turned it over, took a deep breath and fired it up! Great clouds of white smoke bellowed out and she settled into a smooth idle, typical of the big V12. We checked the compression which was great. Not leaving stones unturned we found the rebuilder, called him and learned that the rebuild was completely gone through and done to very high standards.
We feel it best to let her future buyer choose an engine. An informed owner will want to make the personal decisions regarding upholstery and power plant, to guide the completed boat to be detailed exactly as they wish. They may want a modern V8, the Scripps V-12 or a World War I Liberty V12 aircraft engine. How she is to be used will easily dictate the powerplant. We have been fortunate to find absolutely perfect African Mahogany to match the finest wood used originally. The woodworking on the big Gar is completed now and finishing work will be next.
Avid collectors feel that all 28 foot Gar Woods are the most desirable triple cockpit runabout to own. So the 28-55 may well be the pinnacle of 28 Gars. This National Treasure Gar Wood, now completely rebuilt, she is ready for a new owner to fulfill the dream of a lifetime. At a price of $300,000., she may well follow all the other great Gar Woods in their exodus toward the West Coast, where collectors covet Gar Woods, as the pinnacle of antique speedboats. The rare opportunity exists for an enthusiast to own the “Holy Grail of Gar Woods”.