Motor City

26 July 2014

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Lot 132

1930 Gar Wood 28' Triple Cockpit Runabout "Katie's Choice"

  • Engine no. 15945
  • Hull no. 4-2048

Sold for $275,000

Model 28-40. 200 bhp, Scripps Model 202 six-cylinder engine. Beam: 7 ft. 2 in. Length: 28 ft.

  • Originally built for Logan T. Wood, the brother of Gar Wood
  • Documented by the Gar Wood Society
  • One of a few 28-40 Open Runabouts built for 1930
  • Powered by its original Scripps Model 202 engine
  • Beautifully restored and presented

Garfield Arthur Wood was one of the first “rock-star” industrialists in America. After inventing and patenting the hydraulic mechanism for dump trucks, Gar Wood Industries became a successful enterprise. World War I increased demand for the hydraulic devices, as army trucks that were building and repairing roads under enemy fire were able to deposit their loads quickly and avoid harm’s way.

It was not until after war’s end that the Detroit-based Wood began to realize his dream and passion of dominating powerboat racing. He purchased Miss Detroit, the winner of the 1915 Gold Cup, which began a six-year boat-building partnership with Chris Smith, of Chris-Craft. Gar Wood would go on to win the Gold Cup Championship from 1917 through to 1921, at which time the rules committee outlawed the use of aircraft engines to try and lessen Wood’s domination of the sport, but they were unsuccessful.

Behind the speedboat racing champion and boat-building entrepreneur was his equally talented family. Together, his eight brothers were all very much involved in both Gar’s successful racing career and his industrial activities. Logan T. Wood, one of the younger brothers, was extremely important to Wood’s remarkable success, as he was the one who took on the responsibility of running and managing the daily operations of the Wood Hoist Company. He was a brilliant businessman, a tireless administrator, and a skilled negotiator, who expanded the business and turned it into a major manufacturing operation. It was also Logan’s business skill that allowed his brother, Gar, to devote great amounts of time and money into advancing his racing skills and pursuing his true passion without restriction.

As business was booming, Gar Wood Industries opened their purpose-built manufacturing plant in Marysville, Michigan, on New Years’ Day in 1930, just two months after the stock market crashed. Optimism was in order, as the boat company had built 224 boats in the old, cramped facility in Algonac the previous year. The full effect of the economic crash had not yet been felt, but the new facility was judged capable of accommodating two to three times the previous production volume. However, only 193 boats were produced in 1930, and six more years would pass before Gar Wood surpassed that production volume again.

This 28-foot Open Runabout was one of those boats built at the new plant. More importantly, it was built exclusively for Logan Wood, president of the Gar Wood Industries at the time. As documented by Anthony Mollica, president of the Gar Wood Society, this Model 28-40, equipped with a 200-horsepower Scripps engine, was completed and shipped to Detroit, Michigan, on April 9, 1930, which is also corroborated by the original sales records in the society’s possession. Only 52 examples of the 28-40 Open Runabout were produced in 1930, and at $4,700, it was a handsome sum to pay even for the most well-to-do during the Depression era. As the boat was earmarked for Logan, it was built with several non-standard features, such as heavy-bottom construction, a one-man top, wing windows, and a foot rest in the second cockpit, as well as a locking engine hatch and gas filler cap. One option not included was the ice chest, as it seems that Logan was a tea drinker. Nevertheless, Logan enjoyed his Runabout for five seasons, until 1936, when he received a new 28-foot Runabout.

With Logan running the industrial operation, Gar Wood was making vast sums of money. However, when Logan suddenly passed in 1938, the industry he guided so astutely would never reach the same level of brilliance or profitability again. Ultimately, Logan Wood was the quiet hero behind the scenes of his brother’s great business and racing success.

Following Logan’s ownership of this boat, it has resided with a number of respected enthusiasts in the hobby. In the late 1960s this boat was acquired by Ted Valpey, of Vintage Boat & Motor Car Company in Holderness, New Hampshire. Ted acquired this example, as well as several other Gar Woods, from a boatyard in Detroit. Following Valpey’s tenure, this vessel was acquired by William C. Smith, of Morristown, New Jersey, in the early 1970s. Smith, a founder of the Antique Classic Boat Society (ACBS), and his wife, Barbara, placed the 28-foot boat into storage at Morgan Marine Base on Lake George. The boat, then known as Zelda, sat in storage for the better part of 30 years, until it was purchased by Maria and Roger Johnson from Mrs. Smith.

The restoration of this Triple Cockpit Runabout was started in 2003, and it was completed to the highest standards by Lance Wilson, proprietor of Runabout Restorations, who is considered one of the foremost vintage boat restorers in the world. From the wind wings to the engine compartment, virtually every detail has been inspected carefully by the professionals at the Antique Boat Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, who consider this to be an authentic, show-quality boat throughout.

Aside from its lovely presentation, the boat was fully sorted mechanically in preparation for its photography session in the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair in early June of this year. As expected, the boat performed flawlessly, with both RM and Antique Boat Center specialists present. Also on hand were the descendants of Logan Wood, who thoroughly enjoyed being reunited with a tangible piece of their extraordinary family history.

Along with the finest Chris-Crafts and Hackercrafts, Gar Wood’s boats aren’t only attractive, they also benefit from the pedigree of one of America’s greatest sportsmen. Gar, a gentleman racer, won countless Harmsworth Trophies and Gold Cups, and he was intimately connected to the industrial might of the Motor City. The offering of Katie’s Choice, his brother’s personal boat, is certainly a special opportunity for any enthusiast.

Please note that specialists from both RM Auctions and the Antique Boat Center are on hand at the auction to answer clients’ questions regarding the maintenance and easy operation of such wooden boats.

Alexander Weaver

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Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

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David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

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Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

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Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

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Michael Squire

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Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

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As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

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Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

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Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more