By Bob Mullarkey, Northern California/Lake Tahoe Chapter

Early mornings at Lake Tahoe, before others are on the lake. I step on the gas pedal and her bow rises above the horizon. Wildwood seems to levitate above the water as scenery flies by. Looking back, I see spray coming off the fins as exhaust trails just above the stern. It is a magical experience.

Photo credit: Greg Smith.

We have enjoyed our StanCraft torpedo stern runabout for over twenty years, since I met Syd Young, a graduate engineer in the aerospace industry, who decided to move to Post Falls, Idaho and start a wooden boat business. Why, when fiberglass boats were leading the market, would Syd decide to start a wooden boat business? Syd is not a typical boat builder. His flair for beautiful design and extraordinary craftsmanship means his boats are built to the highest standards. It is as if Chris-Craft contracted Peninfarina to design a new line of boats. They are sleek and sculptured to an art form, and most likely house a very powerful motor(s). GQ Magazine ran an article on StanCraft Boats designed by Syd as something everyone should own during their lifetime.

I called Syd in 1999 about another boat and he mentioned the owner of a torpedo stern runabout, in storage for ten years, had decided to sell. Would I be interested in buying it? 

We moved our new boat to Lake Tahoe. Because of its very artistic styling, the topside planks are twisted and bent to create the torpedo stern, we named it Wildwood. Although beautiful, it needed refreshing after years of neglect. We disassembled the boat and returned it to StanCraft for restoration work. At the same time we had the motor rebuilt, and upholstery and re-chrome work also performed. 

Wildwood was built in 1954 for a Montana resident who wanted the fastest boat at his Yacht Club. It is the first of four torpedo stern hulls constructed with a new bottom design that look like “fins” when the boat is in the water. It was ordered with a Chrysler M45S Hemi through Mr. Dan Foster (Gold Cup Champion) of Detroit, Michigan.

Wildwood’s original motor, a M45SP high performance marine engine introduced in 1956 featuring two four-barrel carburetors, chrome valve covers, etc. Not available to the public at the time it was shipped to StanCraft.

The motor was delivered to StanCraft with duel four barrel carburetors and other speed equipment. The goal of the new hull design was to improve handling. I believe Stan Young used his 20-foot duel cockpit runabout design below the waterline and the torpedo stern design above. From the rear cockpit to the stern, which protrudes 19-inches past the full transom, the topsides taper to a point while curving like a barrel stern. 

Most if not all of the Philippine mahogany planks are original in spite of their being tortured into their beautiful shape. The gap at the waterline caused by the full transom and tapering topsides was planked while the trailing edge was shaped to flow into the torpedo stern, giving a sculpted look. From under the water the bottom looks like a normal 20-foot hull but seen from above the boat looks like it has fins at the waterline. Ducks seem to enjoy resting on the fins, which are also handy when opening the hatch. During the restoration process I had to decide if we would restore the boat to original or make it more show appealing with modern upgrades.  I chose to restore the boat as it was delivered new with the exception of a 12 volt system and fiberglass bottom.

Hoisted out of the the marina at Sierra Boat Company after a Concours show. Note the unique bottom and transition to torpedo stern.

Stan Young built a full line of wooden boats on Flathead Lake, Montana beginning in the 1930s. During the 1940s, while in Seattle, Washington, he designed a beautiful torpedo stern runabout prototype. After returning to Montana he built six production torpedo stern boats between 1946 and 1953.  All of the torpedo stern runabouts are 21-feet 9-inches in length, powered by six cylinder motors. The first production boat, built in 1946, named Big Sky, has won numerous awards at the Tahoe Concours and more People’s Choice Awards than any other boat. Of the six original boats and prototypes, only three are known to exist today. Two were lost to fires and the others are missing.

Four second generation boats were built between 1954 and 1956. They have a wider beam and larger topsides with a full transom and the appearance of fins at the stern. Of these four hulls only three are known to exist.

I enjoy hearing “nice boat” from visitors at boat shows or while launching Wildwood at the marina.  I am glad they appreciate these water born sculptures as much as I do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.