In the late Fifties, the hot rod scene was a little more than ten years old and it was all jumpin.’ Engines were being built to go as fast as possible and the magazines of the era – the only medium that was effectively reaching this crowd – were reporting that it really didn’t matter what vessel they were bolted into. Hot rods, salt flats racers, dragsters, minibikes, go-karts…and even boats.
Now, the boat thing was a natural fit for the Southern California lifestyle that hotrodding was born into. It didn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense to the guys building hot rods, say, in the southern states or regions of the country with ‘traditional’ winters, but by the early Sixties, the drag boat was a force to be reckoned with.
In the December ’65 issue of Rod & Custom, three months after Hot Rod ran its first and only hot boat cover, an article on Chuck Craig’s Aqua Craft was introduced with, “This boat, along with many others, is an example of the ‘branching out’ of many car builders into the hot boat field.” And that summed up what was happening in those days: custom car builders, fiberglass kit car companies, speed parts shops and dragster brands were all dabbling in multi-purpose flat bottom boats that could be used for drag racing, water skiing, lounging, partying and showing. Just about everything a hot rod was used for, but on the water.
Names like Mandella, Stevens, Aqua Craft, Hallcraft, Kinsvader, Howard, Schiada and Sanger and others were all neck-deep in the hot boat scene and these v-drive flatbottoms were taking on the characteristics of their landlubber counterparts. In many cases, these were guys making businesses for themselves out of building custom fiberglass bodies and selling them through little classified ads in the back of custom car magazines and realized they could shape and sell boat hulls, too. Custom paint, Hemis, Pontiac big blocks, Nailheads, big Fords, finned aluminum speed parts…hell, even the trailers that pulled the boats to the water were custom with polished aluminum Americans or Halibrands and skinny whites. It made total sense: a big, hot motor bolted to a shallow slab of fiberglass was nothing short of a hot rod on the water.
The boat thing never died off, but it went off in its own direction and became a culture separate from hotrodding for decades. If the Sixties was the heyday for the drag/ski/show boat, the Seventies saw the division between the growing street rod movement and the boat lifestyle. And for the next thirty years or so, never the two would meet – at least not in automotive media…
But in the real world, the flatbottom was still a healthy member of the family for many hotrodders and custom guys (and the vanners, too, but that’s a whole ‘nuther story). Those v-drive flatties were repainted, upholstered again, motors swapped out and trailers rewired over and over again while hot rods went through the Street Rod scene, Pro Street, Fat Tub, Pro Parking Lot, Billet, Rat Rod, “Traditional” and the present day amalgamation of custom, lowrider, chop, etc. On the uglier side, there are plenty of those old flatties just warping away in the sun, long-since pillaged for their righteous motors.
And now, the hot boat is back, son. For the very first time in late 2012, Billetproof featured a flatbottom section. Some of the most influential names in hotrodding – Jimmy White of Circle City Hot Rods, Jimmy Shine of SO-CAL Speed Shop, Billy Whishart of The Road Zombies CC, Mike Smith of California Hot Rods, Paul Borrmann, Rob Struven of Garage Ink, Pat Lash, Dave Tanimura, Frank Corpening, Alan Galbraith of Billetproof and others we’re still uncovering are not only snapping up these old boats to add to their collection, but some were born into it and never really left.
We’re seeing more and more of us scouring Craigslist and Ebay and the local Boat Trader for these old gems and they can be had for a relatively low initial investment right now. A neat body with old paint, a bitchin’ motor with lots of go-fast goodies and a trailer with vintage wheels? For under $5K? Sounds kinda like the car we’re all always looking for, right? But these are vintage boats that’ll fit in the garage and add a whole new dimension to a hot rod summer.
The AUTOCULT offices finally snapped up its own: A 1965 Howard with a big Ford 390 and a mystery repaint complete with custom pinstriping dated to 1983. It’s a whole new dimension to underground car culture for a generation that loves just about everything coming out of So-Cal hotrodding in the Sixties. These things are simple, small, cheap (for now) and a natural progression for the largest and most influential generation of car culture. We’ll not only be out on the water this summer at some new shows, but we’re working on an event that incorporates these vintage flatbottoms into what you’d expect from a great car show, too. You’re gonna dig it. Hell, if there’s a boat, it’s a party, right?