Every few months, we either hear about or run across a Mercury wooden boat that just seems to pop up at a local boat show, or we receive an e-mail from a viewer who has one, or is interested in gathering some information on these relatively rare west coast classics. And if it’s information or history they are looking for, the first thing we do is refer to the always informative book The Real Runabouts Volume II by Bob Speltz which has a great section on the Mercury marque from the early 1930’s to 1964.
If we can’t find what we are looking for there, we can also call our friends Jordan Heath and Chad Knickerbocker from Pleasure Bent Boats in Castro Valley, California, who specialize in post war Mercury boats.
From Volume II of The Real Runabouts – Mercury wooden boats date back to the early 1930’s when Bill Nollenberger began building small wooden outboard hulls designed for tiny electric outboard motors. After a short time of building this type of craft, Bill decided to switch to building plywood outboard fishing boats for Sears and Wards.
Figuring out that the cheap boat business was still not his bag, Nollenberger switched over to experimenting with all-mahogany inboards. That move was a wise one, as from that time on orders always far exceeded output. Even into the mid-1960’s, Bill and his crew held on still building excellent wooden utilities and runabouts even though fiberglass boats had almost taken over in the pleasure boat business.- Bob Speltz
Mercury produced some amazing wooden boats, including a very stylish 17′ pre-war twin-cockpit barrel stern runabout model called a Skyliner, as well as a larger 21′ barrel stern runabout model similar to the Chris-Craft designs of the pre-war (1940’s) era. But it was the post war models that that solidified the Burbank, California boat builder as a major player, with their powerful (for the time) Greymarine engines.
One of those popular Mercury models was the 16′ Sabre, which featured a new streamlined bow with a wraparound plastic windshield. The Sabre was introduced by Mercury in 1954 and was advertised as the “hottest” true pleasure boat that year. By 1959 you could even buy an 18′ Mercury Sabre that sported a big 430 V-8 and also a V-drive on some models in the early 1960’s, like the 17′ Super Sabre with a 250 HP V-8 that could reach 44 MPH.
Bob Speltz noted – West Coast boaters were not that interested in mahogany inboards anymore by 1961 and on, so by 1964 the last Mercury all-wood boat was built. Rising supply costs, labor fees and changes in buyer interest finally forced Bill Nollenberger to close down his operation for ever.
But the real reason we are talking about Mercury boats today is because last week we experienced one of those “Mercury Moments” when we received an e-mail from Jacob Rockhold in Lee’s Summit, MO titled “A New Woody Boater.” It went like this…
My name is Jacob Rockhold. I live in Lee’s Summit, MO. This week I bought a 1964 Mercury Sabre. It has a 225hp Grey Marine engine. The boat seems to be in decent shape for being stored in a garage since 1997. I’ve been trying to do my research on beginning to restore/repair the old boat.
I’ll attach some pictures (which includes the today’s cover shot). I’m seeking help on where to begin. My biggest question is whether or not the wood on the boat needs to be replaced. I believe it is in ok condition to where it does not have to be replaced.
If you can help me get set in a direction to start, I would really appreciate it!
But rather than Matt & I giving Jocob information on how to proceed with his new project (which may be questionable at best considering we don’t have the best track record when it comes to starting a wooden boat project) we thought it would be better to reach out to our many viewers, amateur and professional restorers, and wooden boat collectors to help provide Jacob with some inspirational ideas and direction as he moves forward – and to avoid those dangerous pitfalls with restoring or preserving a 50 year-old wooden boat.
As he noted in his e-mail, Jacob would appreciate our help. We don’t want him to end up with the “Mercury Blues”…
In September 2012, we published a story on the impressive restoration of a rare 1955 16′ Mercury Sable by the folks from Pleasure Bent Boats, which won First Place at the 2011 Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegannce – which you can see Here.
By the way, I can’t get this song out of my head now…
Well if I had money,
Tell you what I’d do,
I’d go downtown and buy a Mercury or two,
Crazy bout a Mercury,
Lord I’m crazy bout a Mercury,
I’m gonna buy me a Mercury,
And cruise it up and down the road (lake)…
“Mercury Blues” is a song written by K. C. Douglas and Robert Geddins in 1949, and first recorded by Douglas. The song, originally titled “Mercury Boogie,” pays homage to the American automobile, which ended production in 2010. The song was later popularized by fellow Woody Boater Alan Jackson in 1993 and again by Dwight Yoakam in 2004.