Wood boats and British roadsters, an unlikely duo. Yet it’s a combination that Gary has been perfecting for decades. As the former president of the Mastercraft boat company and an avid English car enthusiast, Gary was delighted by a discovery he made while researching famed racing driver Stirling Moss and his relationship with the UK auto industry. Buried deep within the book he was scanning was a photo of a small, wooden runabout, constructed by one of his favorite marques, Austin-Healey. Upon further investigation, he also found that both the sports cars and boats were produced in the same facility and would often be equipped with the ubiquitous 55-hp 4-cylinder Healey engine. He had to have one.
By 1995, Gary had located a 14-foot 1956 Ski Master model and had it shipped back to his home in Tennessee. The next few years brought about some restoration work, and also a burning desire to add to the collection. He eventually did, finding two Sports Boats tucked away in a small English museum, which were promptly shipped to the U.S., noting that the 1958 model was actually a Mother’s Day present for his wife.
However, obtaining these crafts was only the beginning. As with most hobby enthusiasts, Gary’s found enjoyment in attending car and boat shows. It certainly helped that his matching set of land-and-sea Austin-Healeys had the subtlety of an air horn in Sunday Mass. Needless to say, the amount of attention generated required some additional assistance, thus shows became a full-on family affair.
His most memorable event occurred some 13 years ago, resulting in a well-earned nickname for his 1956 Ski Master. Gary had enlisted the help of his son while displaying his collection at a local in-water/on-land combination show. Hundreds of attendees came to admire the cars and boats, but a certain young woman had sparked a conversation with his boat-sitting son. Entertained by the starry eyed pair, Gary encouraged them to take the boat out for a quick spin around the lake while he and his wife continued to field questions about their unusual fleet. So off they went, zipping over the waves until they were out of view from shore.
Hours passed and the sun began to set in the late-summer sky. By 10 p.m., most of the participants were beginning to fire up their rides and head home. It wasn’t until this point that Gary began to think to himself, “Wait, those two never made it back to the dock today!” A frantic search ensued, only to be called off at 2 a.m. when the little Ski Master had safely drifted back to shore, filled with two exhausted boaters and an empty tank of gas.
A quick debriefing revealed that the boat had run out of fuel shortly after taking off from the dock, leaving the couple stranded. But life on the open sea wasn’t so bad, as the two enjoyed each other’s company, talking for hours as they gently floated to shore. Six months after the fateful voyage, Gary’s son and the adventurous young lady were married, resulting in the Healey’s new nickname: Love Boat.
What started as a potentially terrifying disaster, instead fueled both a long-lasting relationship and a fantastic adventure. Gary still attends shows with his road-and-water-going Austin-Healeys, frequently recounting the origin of Love Boat’s befitting title. He might even be up for going on a short cruise now and again – after quickly double checking the fuel level, of course.