By Tony Boudos, Blackhawk Chapter

My grandfather owned a marina on the Calumet River in a suburb just south of Chicago and, of course, he had a boat, a 36-foot 1964 aluminum Chris-Craft Roamer called the Sta-Shu III.  So, it’s no surprise that our family was into boating.  We took many boat trips on Lake Michigan and along the river. Besides having fun, we learned to be safe and courteous boaters. 

In the winter of 1985, a friend of a friend was selling a 1969 18-foot Donzi. At 24 years old, I was ready to buy a boat and, though I had yet to see it, I trusted my friend’s judgment. Plus, the $2,000 price for both boat and trailer sounded good. 

That spring, I picked up the Donzi from the seller in Island Lake, Illinois, about 50 miles from home. I wasn’t disappointed though she obviously needed some TLC and was missing the outdrive. She had her original engine, a 289 Ford Interceptor. At the time, I didn’t know a lot about Donzis, but I learned quickly that I had a pretty cool boat. As it turns out, she’s actually a 1966 18-foot Donzi 2+3. I learned through Donzi Forums that the 18-foot 2+3 triple hatch barrel back with a sharp keel and strakes the length of the bottom, were only produced  for a short period of time, less than a year, and that was 1966. To my knowledge about 100 were built, so a fairly rare boat.

Soon after I got the Donzi, my brother Mark and I became partners. We made a great team because we were both experienced boaters, had basic mechanical skills, and he had become as obsessed with the Donzi as me. We planned to repaint her and reupholster the seats but, boating season is short in the Midwest, the painting and upholstery could wait. We bought a used outdrive, installed it, and we were on our way. Our younger brother Paul joined us and we were on the water every weekend that summer. We became known as the “Donzi Brothers” by the other boaters on the river.


We finally repainted and also repowered her. We kept the original colors as when we got her, a crisp white overall with a green center stripe on the bow and stern and along the hull’s water line.  We had the upholstery redone, keeping those eye-catching green and white candy stripes.  Two years later we replaced the motor with a 351 Ford Windsor that a friend of ours built, which she still has to this day.

After many years of summer fun, Mark moved on to bigger boats including a 30-foot Formula and 38-foot Cigarette. Paul became a licensed captain with access to many high-performance boats.

I hung on to the Donzi. I loved that I could take her anywhere—from the waters of Lake Michigan to smaller area lakes. Through the years, I’ve made minor fixes but always kept her integrity.

I got married in 1997 and my wife and I continued to enjoy summers on the Donzi. In 2001, I became a father and fatherhood took precedence. I stored the Donzi away for about 7 years—much longer than I had planned! By 2008, I was anxious to get her out again. 

Once out of storage and prepped to go, I took my family for a ride. However, years of summer fun and some heavy-throttling had apparently taken their toll. The fuel tank was leaking and that had to be addressed before we could use her again.  

Replacing the fuel tank would be a challenge because of its location under the top deck which would have to be removed to get access. The deck was already soft from the separation of the fiberglass from the balsa wood underneath, pretty much as it had been since the day I got the her. It didn’t make sense to take the boat apart just to get to the fuel tank. Now would be the time to get the balsa wood replaced and the bow re-glassed to make the deck as strong as new. See woody guys, even us fiberglass guys have issues with wood!

I had a big decision to make, sell the Donzi to someone who would appreciate it like I did and restore it, or have it restored myself, a potentially time-consuming and costly project.

Knowing the history of the Donzi and that she was a classic, I decided to restore her. My Dad and I removed all of the hardware including on the dash board and basically stripped her down to the fiberglass form. I brought the Donzi to a well-known and highly-recommended boat repair shop. There the top deck was removed from the hull and we were able to access and remove the fuel tank from under the bow.

While the shop went to work on replacing the balsa wood and fiberglass on the deck, and also smoothing out the bottom from years of being stored on a roller trailer, I got to work on the fuel tank. I measured the existing tank, sketched out a diagram, and sent it to a fuel tank fabricator for a custom-built aluminum replacement. 

Once I got the new tank, I brought it to the shop to be reinstalled so the boat could be put back together with its newly restored and repainted top deck, hull and new stainless steel rub rail. I also bought a new trailer, no more hull damage from those rollers! Mark, my nephew Zack, and I finished the restoration by adding a new wiring harness, and installing the re-chromed hardware, steering, and outdrive. The Donzi was as good as new!

The entire process took about seven months. That fall, I entered her into the Blackhawk Chapter of Antique Classic and Boat Society’s show in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. At the time, fiberglass wasn’t an official category but the Donzi was a showstopper none-the-less. In 2009, fiberglass became an official entry category, and the Donzi won first place. In 2010, the fiberglass competition grew and she placed second.

Since then, we have continued to enjoy summers on the Donzi along with family and friends. In the last 14 years, she’s become a true classic and continues to turn heads. We take her on Lake Michigan and put the throttle down when the lake is being nice! She’s still fast and formidable.

The restoration has held up well and that doesn’t happen on accident. We wash her before she goes in the water, and wipe her down and dry her when we’re done for the day. She also gets detailed frequently. Yes, we baby her as much as possible. 

The love of boating continues in my family from my parents, to my siblings, extended family, and to my daughter, now 22, who is the first one to ask in the spring, “when are we getting the Donzi out?” And by the way, the Donzi never needed a name. She’s simply “The Donzi.” 


  1. We had a friend in the 70’s had red a white sweet 16. Seeing yours brought those beautiful summer days back. Your Donzi is still a beautiful work of art. You’re love and shows. Keep the story going!!

  2. Love the story and your dedication to preserving such a great boat. I have a 78’, 19ft. Chris Craft Lancer I’ve owned since new and I’m also finding soft wood and other issues. She may miss her first season so I can take care of it. Keep up the good work!

  3. I also had a Donzi “Baby”. A yellow ‘67. Fun, fun! It came with 2 motors. 1was a 289 hi-po prepared by Richard Petty Enterprises. Amazingly it pumped out 500hp and would go 100mph with a Volvo outdrive and OJ prop with 2 blades. OJ was out of business and a replacement was not available. Michigan wheel props would spin the rubber cushion if I really got on it. Enjoy.

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