These classic fibreglass hulls have the same lines and sensibilities as those oversized land shark cars that prowled the highways blasting out Elvis and The Beach Boys in the late 50s and early 60s.
To our mind the boats are even better now. Beautifully restored, they run on quiet electric motors rather than roaring around the lake with thumpety thumping 2-strokes dripping oil slicks and gas fumes in the water and the sky.
The concept came from the mind of John Sharar of Retro Boat Rentals, in the quaintly named holiday town of Saugatuck, Michigan, population 925. Along with twin city Douglas, Saugatuck is home to one of Conde’ Nast Traveler’s “Top 25 Beaches in the World” and has been recognized as one of the USA Today newspaper’s selection of “Best Small Coastal Towns”.
Speaking with the Sentinel paper of nearby Holland, Sharar told reporter Austin Metz “I had a passion for these old fiberglass boats, Between the fins reminiscent of a ’57 Chevy, the chrome, and all the different shapes and vibrant colors, I just wanted to do something fun with them.”
He literally scoured the US to find the boats, many of them vintage Glastrons, with some coming from as far as 1500 miles away. They hulls and upholstery have all been restored and buffed up to show off their pink, aquamarine and cherry red hues, and the electric motors have been dropped under the cowlings of old classic Mercurys, Evinrudes and Johnsons.
Each boat has its own ’60s’ female name
Each of the beauties has a female name that harkens back to that more innocent era. Names like Dottie, Ruby Stella, there’s even a Gidget. The Saugatuck operation started in 2017 and now supplies boats to Retro Boat MKE across Lake Michigan, in Milwaukee, where the names for two of the boats are…you guessed it. Laverne and Shirley.
Although the boats were originally built for speed, they fulfill a totally different need now. As it says on the website:
“Our quiet and eco-friendly electric boats are meant for cruising and sight-seeing. We ask that customers keep the speed at 4 mph to obey the no wake zone in the channel.”
They also have coolers and ice, and a wide selection of adult beverages, including champagne, available at the rental dock’s restaurant bar, ‘The Old Boat House’.
People seem to love it. Their tripadvisor rating is almost straight ahead 5 stars, with comments like:
“So much fun! Wonderful staff that took the time to explain how the electric boats operate (I’ve never driven a boat) and where to explore.”
“The staff there was nothing short of amazing.”
“Perfect afternoon. The boat was easy to drive and it was a perfect way to see all the beautiful houses on the water. Such a fun afternoon.”
You can find out more about the operation and see the full gallery of all these brightly coloured classics on the Retro Boat Rentals website.