Anthony Mollica Comments On The Mysterious Aluminum Sedan – “Tin Can”


On March 8th, 2011 Woody Boater ran a story on “Tin Can”, a rare all aluminum streamlined sedan which we understand was originally built as an experimental boat, either in the late 1930’s or 1940’s. We ran the story for two reasons,

1. “Tin Can” is a beautifully designed, beautifully restored 19’6″ deluxe runabout which, from all indications, was built to very high standards of quality & craftsmanship in terms of early aluminum boat construction. Aircraft aluminum panels & formed structures connected by perfectly aligned rows of rivets in symmetrical patterns, possibly reflecting aircraft design / technology from either the pre-war or post-war periods.

2. To assist Jeff & Laurie Knudsen, the current owners of “Tin Can”, in their attempt to learn more about the history of this rare and unusual boat. The lack of hull / serial numbers, historical documentation or photography makes this an exceptionally difficult task and we are reaching out to the antique & classic boat community for any information or clues as to it’s origin that may be available.

“Tin Can” was discovered and purchased from Fisher Marina south of Detroit in the 1970′s. They remember the boat but have no sales documents to trace the previous owner. The boat was brought to Lake Oakland in Michigan where it operated under the name of “Minnow”. It was sold to a friend who commissioned Mayea Boat and Aeroplane Works of Fair Haven, Michigan to do the restoration which was completed in 2009, and was purchased by Jeff & Laurie Knudsen from Holland, Michigan later that year.

To date Woody Boater has received a number of comments and suggestions from the community and we appreciate everyone’s input so far. Those comments and story updates can be seen on the original story as listed on the right side of the Woody Boater home page dated March 8, 2011 titled “A Gar Aluminum Sedan.”

On Thursday, March 17th we were excited to receive a response to the “Tin Can” story from Mr. Anthony (Tony) Mollica Jr. For those of you who don’t know him, Anthony is a well known author and noted antique boat historian, with a number of publications to his credit including Gar Wood Boats, Classics of a Golden Era (1999) and his most recent book, Building Chris-Craft: Inside the Factories (2010) with Chris Smith.

Anthony Mollica Commented…

I first learned about the “mysterious aluminum sedan” when the Mayea’s were working on this boat several years ago. They were curious about its origin and asked me if I ever found anything in my Gar Wood research that indicated that Gar Wood experimented with building an aluminum boat. My Gar Wood references are very extensive and include the Gar Wood Sales Ledger that listed every boat that was built for their pleasure boat market from their first 33-foot Baby Gar runabout to the last 16-foot Ensign in April 1947. In all of the records there is not a single mention or indication of the Boat Division building a prototype aluminum boat. Gar Wood’s brief involvement with the William Stout’s bus was with Gar Wood Industrial Division, not the Boat Division even though the buses were actially fabricated in the Marysville plant for a short time.

The aluminum boat appears to have a Gar Wood instrument panel. However, this instrument shows up in other boats of the same period. The custom boat building firm of Fitzgerald & Lee built several Hacker-designed boats using Gar Wood dash panels and Gar Wood hardware. So we can’t be influenced by such items appearing on this boat. It appears that the 20-6″ Gar Wood sedan of the 1939-1941 era had a strong influence on the design of this aluminum boat. But there are dramatic differences. If you look carefully at the shape of the transom to immediately realize that no Gar Wood ever displayed this style. It is totally out of character with the traditional design of a Gar Wood transom.

Even the bow chocks, covering board vents, transom vents and aft cleats are not typical Gar Wood hardware. The aft fender cleats appear to be Chris-Craft hardware. Even the cabin window design is not the same as Gar Wood sedans of the period. The cockpit coaming is capped with mahogany and that is not the way Gar Wood did their trim on their sedans.

I think that the boat is a very attractive design and very well executed. It’s a fine looking boat. It would seem that tracing back through the previous owners should reveal clues to its origin. Whoever built this boat did a wonderful job and should be identified and remembered for their skill at design and construction.

I hope you will keep me informed on any new information on this boat. I haven’t read the lengthy article you attached yet. However, I will certainly do that and will provide you with any new information I find on this interesting boat. Regards, Tony Mollica

Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance judge Brian Robinson, from Robinson Restoration in Fallbrook, California has also been following the “Tin Can” story and submitted the following comment to Woody Boater earlier this week…

Brian Robinson Commented…

Well, just wrapped up three long days in the Gar Wood archives at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, NY. I promised Texx I would do some digging on this boat and I went through everything. The entire ledger, every photo album, every document… everything. I found nothing on Tin Can. I even tried to track the engine serial number – not listed. Sorry. I tried.

Thanks to both Anthony Mollica Jr. and Brian Robinson for sharing your comments with us here at Woody Boater. I spoke to Jeff Knudsen on Thursday and he agrees with Anthony, that the next step may be to continue to work backwards through the list of owners beginning with the most recent and see where that takes us.

In the mean time, if anyone has any additional thoughts or information they would like to share with Jeff Knudsen on “Tin Can”, we would appreciate hearing your comments. The story of “Tin Can” continues to be a mystery, but is far from over and is certainly a story that will hopefully be told some day.


3 replies
  1. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    Supper addendum to the original story, Texx. It is great when everyday hobbyists comment on such an interesting boat in such a constructive way, but I was really hoping for both Tony and Brian to give us their remarks. The input and experience of experts like Tony & Brian is so valuable – this is their livelihood and they have to know their stuff.

    I totally agree with Tony’s summation, in which he states the builder should be identified so due credit can be ascribed to him. I think it is a wonderful boat and really hope to see it live sometime. How about the International at Lake Geneva?, Jeff? Good luck in your efforts to chase down the history of Tin Can.

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