Gar Wood and Chris Craft

Gar Wood started in his winning ways on the water with the purchase of the 1916 successful Gold Cup race boat that was “a broken, battered hulk after the race, fit only for junk” put up for sale by Chris Smith, 53, who was down to seven cents in his pockets after losing in a poker game. Gar paid for the hunk with a $1,000 down payment and a note for $800.

That racer, Miss Detroit, had been built by Chris from a design by Joseph Napoleon “Nap” Lisee, who worked for Chris Smith’s C.C. Smith Boat & Engine Company. Right after buying the boat and engine of Miss Detroit, he went to the Smith factory and brought controlling interest in it. He figured that he could keep others from racing against him via this investment as it came with the talent of Chris Smith, his sons, Jay and Bernard, and “Nap”.

Next he commissioned the building of Miss Detroit II, a new race boat, using the 250 Hp. engine from the original hunk of Miss Detroit. That new boat set a speed record of 61.724 MPH while racing the next year. The first photo shows the 20’ single step 250 Hp. Miss Detroit II with Jay .W. Smith as the riding mechanic.

miss detroit chris craft 1917 record breaking wood race boat

seabuddy's photo of the Mainer's Museum Chris Craft photo

Together, Chris Smith, “Nap”, and Gar Wood won 5 straight Gold Cups from 1917-1921 and 2 Harmsworth trophies in 1920 and 1921.

But by February of 1922, Smith bought out Gar Wood and started a new company, the Chris Smith & Sons Boat Company in a new location. Chris, his sons Jay, Bernard, and Owen each owned 25% of that boat building company and started fresh with a new piece of land and and they built a brand new factory on it. In the deal, Gar Wood got the old C.C. Smith &Engine Company boat building plant. He built his race boats, the 33’ “Baby Gar” runabout that had been developed by “Nap” while still at the old company, high performance cabin cruisers, and the 28’ Baby Gar runabout model.

The 33’ Baby Gar was a outstanding design. It was a good riding, safe runabout that was a triple (3) cockpit boat and it’s bottom used all of the characteristics of the his Miss Americas race boats with the step. Gar Wood sold his boats to Edward Noble, William Randolph Hearst, John Dodge, Col. Vincent and P. K. Wrigley. The Chris Smith and Sons Boat Company sold more wooden boats to a broader range of successful folks.

These boats soon outgrew the boat building production plant. Thus, Gar Wood Boats moved into a new factory in Marysville, MI in 1930. This plant was capable of making 1200 top shelf wooden boats per year. Now 22’, 40’, 28’, 33’ boats were made. Some of these lengths were offered in a variety of model configurations. Later 16’, 18’, 19’, 22.5′, 24’, 32’, and 25’ models were added. Production of boats for Gar Wood peaked just before W.W. II.

Gar Wood, himself, retired to Miami at the age of 60, and the new management of Gar Wood Industries ordered a restyle of the boat line up and engaged Norman Bel Geddes, a noted industrial designer, for a new post war feeling.

post w.w. II bright finished wooden runabout on the chesapeake bay

Show winning 1947 Gar Wood 22.5' wood runabout

With high new design and jig costs, quality wood shortages, hardware out-of-stocks, and a somewhat distant management running the company, the company closed down in 1947. My Seabuddy photos show a restored 1947 Gar Wood 22.5’ wood boat in the brackish waters of the Chesapeake Bay. She is an ACBS award winner down from CT.

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