Crazy Bout A Mercury – I’m Gonna Buy Me A Mercury And Cruise It Up And Down The Lake!


collage5 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


Restored 1955 16′ Mercury Sabre Instrument Panel

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…

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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!

Jacob Rockhold

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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.

25 replies
  1. Matt
    Matt says:

    Oh great, now the song is in my head. Maybe all the comments today should be in the form of a song! A song song song! Cause I love a commenting!

  2. Troy
    Troy says:

    From the pictures it looks like a real nice find.

    The only advice I can give is that you will need patients.

    If you are going to do the work yourself you will learn gobbs of stuff (Join the CCABC and read their forums), if you are going to have the work done, most pro’s work at their own pace because they want to get it right.

  3. Rick
    Rick says:

    If you’re going to do it yourself I have no advice, if you will have it professionally done buy a nice new wheelbarrow so the money you bring down doesn’t get dirty. Oh and find a way to get there that the spouse does not see you and say “Didn’t you bring down a wheelbarrow of money just last week?”. Best of luck because it’s all worth it. Don’t forget the 5 gallon bucket, its the least expensive part and is invaluable under the right circumstances.

  4. Randy Rush Captain Grumpy
    Randy Rush Captain Grumpy says:

    Looks like a decent boat, my kind of a boat project. I guess it really comes down to what you paid for it and what you can afford to pay others to do on it,

  5. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    Nice find and you’re doing the first right thing with the boat and that’s having a nice covered garage. That’s what I recommend to start with, next stay away from a belt sander. I met this couple at the 2nd boat show in Sanford, Fl before it moved to Mt Dora. They were so proud of their Capri they had restored themselves. After a resto seminar Saturday afternoon, they left the show in tears (the wife was, anyway) when they had found out they had just about ruined the topside planking stripping the varnish with a belt sander.

    • Randy Rush Captain Grumpy
      Randy Rush Captain Grumpy says:

      Funny that’s exactly what I did on my first boat, almost chewed right thru the plywood decks.

  6. Jacob Rockhold
    Jacob Rockhold says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone! I’m really excited about the boat. Sounds like I have my work cut out for me. I’m a very hands on kind of guy, so a majority of the work is going to be done by me. The engine will probably be overhauled by a mechanic in the family tho. I want to do this restoration correctly so I’m trying to gather all the info I need to start. Thanks again for the comments! Keep em comin!

  7. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    Read “The Complete Wooden Runabout Restoration Guide” by Don Danenberg. Why reinvent the wheel, this book assumes you have more than basic woodworking skills. You’ll probably have to buy the kindle version as hardcopy is out of print.

    I’d go to woodworking classes, if you haven’t been already. It should include basic as well as intermediate and advance skills on how to use/tune a plane, table, chop, hand and band saw, how to measure, understand, and prepare wood for use. If you don’t know that a pencil line has “width” then you are not ready to do woodworking at this stage. You should understand and know how to use a marking “knife” and why, etc.

  8. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    I worked for free as an apprentice at a small boat shop after my regular job in the evenings 5 nights a week and then half day on Saturday until my wife said enough already. It was invaluable experience. Learned traditional boat building methods along with new methodologies using adhesives such as 3M 5200 and West System epoxies.

  9. David
    David says:

    Patients? Well, I guess you will need both patience, to do it slowly and accurately, and patients to sucker into helping you.

  10. CJP
    CJP says:

    That’s one sweet looking boat, great lines! As to advice, well I’ve chosen to have work done by the professionals when during those rare instances I have a little spare cash lying around. Good luck with the project, today’s “banner boat photograph” is a wonderful example of the potential outcome…good luck transforming her into the beauty she can become!!

    Hey Texx, as to the song, The Steve Miller Band did a pretty nice funky pop version also; oh geez now I’ll be humming this all day long 🙂

  11. Arnie
    Arnie says:

    Pictures – get your digital camera going and photograph everything and how it fits in relation to other items. You’ll need almost every picture when you start reassembly in 3-4 or more years if you go by our typical schedules!!!

  12. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Heartland Classics Chapter of ACBS has a great workshop every year in Feb. near Langley, OK. You’ll meet other restorers who share techniques, products, etc. Watch for information. In the meantime, our chapter has a member who does his own restorations from grey boats to completely finished show boats. He lives in Olathe, KS and would be a great resource for you. I’ll give you his contact information if you email me at or call me at (four one seven) seven three nine – two one two four

  13. 51Resorter
    51Resorter says:

    I would suggest joiningg Don Danenberg’s restoration forum at There is lots of information there about boats, and Don and others reply to posted questions.
    Don’s books are out of print and difficult to find, but available as an ebook. They are the bible of restoration methods.
    51 Resorter

  14. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    My favorite version of that great American tune is by David Lindley, didn’t care for the funky Steve Miller version as much as the heavier guitar in the Lindley take on it.

    Great project boat by the way! Nice, simple lines.

  15. Troy
    Troy says:

    I’ve been singing the darn Mercury song all day long.

    Hey Alex:
    Do you have a Mercury yet?
    Better find one.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Although we have never actually seen it, our reliable sources have told us that Alex has a small Chris-Craft logo tattoo in an unmentionable area. So it may be tough to get him to add another classic marque (like a Mercury, or Century) to his collection.

      He does have a Boston Whaler but only uses it at night, for trips to Mac Island. Just sayin’

  16. Texx
    Texx says:

    All great comments so far today.

    Jacob – Over the years, the one thing we have learned is to not get in a hurry with your first (or any) wooden boat project. Take your time and do your research first, develop some reliable contacts, understand what your real costs are even if you plan to do the work yourself, and determine what your objectives are for the boat when it’s done.

    Kathy’s comment (above) is perfect, a wonderful opportunity to make some contacts and begin your research by getting involved with a local ACBS Chapter like the Heartland Classics Chapter. They will help get you started with good advice, and you will be able to find someone there who can help you decide if the existing wood on your Sabre is reliable for safe service on the water.

    Mercury boats had a solid reputation for being well manufactured, and the Greymarine engine is reliable and powerful, like a tank. So hopefully your are starting out with a good baseline boat, at a reasonable cost to get her back in service.

    The Danenberg book is a must read, if even for reference and to understand the restoration / preservation process, terminology, etc and it’s great to hear that you can get the electronic version of the book.

    Those Mercury stern lights are rare and very cool.

    Good luck Jacob and please keep us posted.


  17. Jordan Heath
    Jordan Heath says:

    Jacob, looks like you picked up a nice boat there. We are having a great time here at Tahoe this weekend with a space set up at the swap meet. HA! in fact we are the swap meet as all the other spaces are boat for sale.

    By the way we have just reproduced the Mercury globe pictured above in an exact 3D printed copy. We also carry step pads from the original moulds and more Mercury hardware will be coming soon! Look forward to helping you on your project.

  18. jerry berg
    jerry berg says:

    in 1966 a neighbor took me to Clear Lake California. Richardson Park resort. I was eleven, the song Light my Fire by Doors had just came out. I had met the most gorgeous girl from Petaluma Ca. who was regular at the park. She was about fifteen, she adopted me and I fell in love. Her father haf a purple metalflake Glasspar with 125 ho black Mercury Outdrive. she had a black and yellow bikini. I spent the summer applying baby oil with iodine in it on her laying on the dock. Every guy with a boat between 16 and 50 tried to get this girl to go for ride with tgem. Well one day two guys came idoling in a 1951 17′ Chris Craft with a lemon deck. they killed the motor jumped up and yelled “would u like to go for a ride?” She jumped up had me button her top and she skiped across the deck landing in the front seat. I said, ” when I grow up
    I will have one of those wooden boats” .
    In 1988 in the parking lot of the grocery store was a 16′ Mercury Sabre with a Chris Craft 1958 V8 283. Lemon Deck and all for sale. i bought the boat for $6500.00. I wanted to know everything there was about these boats. i found nothing for years.

    In 992 I went to Sierra Boats in Tahoe, they sold me a copy of Real Runnabouts II. I searched everywhere for Bill Nollenberger. I was told he died. in 1993 I got a call from. Don Curtis in Benicia who had restored a Sabre in 1992 and it won first place at the concoarse in Tahoe. Only 29 miles from home in Napa was GinnFizz , the 16′ Sabre in his shop. I raced there as soon as I hung up. Don told me Bill was in Oregon on the Idaho border on the Snake River. I went to library got a phone book and there was a number. I called Bill, his wife Dolly answered the phone. We sent letters back and forth with photos.

    I installed a new Mercury 350 310 hp Mercruiser power pack in boat and my neighbor Don Foss helped me get the boat varnished and running. In 1995 I rented Rooms for the boat show and offerred to fly Bill and Dolly to show. Bill had a hip replacement in June. He had a friend drive him to show. I had shirts and Jackets made with the Mercury logos and a embroddred Sabre with Bills name on them for everyone. Bill had started two boats in his shop in 1990. They were boats he had in his head for 50 years. Bill and I took my Sabre for a ride, he didnt like the idea of a GM motor in his “Ford” boat. he swore it was propped wrong. He took the prop off took a hammer and repitched the prop on a rock in the courtyard BBQ dinner.

    The next day we launched the boat. It had a Mercury Aquameter in it with a designation to 55 mph. i had a foot pedal throttle in the boat. Bill floored it, i swear in 30′ i was glued ears back speedo pegged. We were flying! and passing everything on lake. Proud as hell Bill pulled up to Sierra boat gas dock. Everyone there for years had told me that I had a piece of junk, they wanted to sell me a Chris. The guy at dock told us people had come in and talked about this crazy guy and utility out on the lake that was flying around at 70 plus mph. Well we clocked it at 73 mph.

    Bill and I had a long relationship until his death in 2002. i went three months prior to his death and stayed a month with him. He had found a 1956 Mustang he had built for John Wayne in Jackson California. He made me promise to go buy that boat. He said he refurbished it in 1962. Bill gave me everything he had left from the original plant. i recorded about 3 hours of Bill at breakfast before i left. i wrote hin a check for $200o.00 and packed ecerything i coukd get in boxes to ship UPS home.

    I went home contacted the owner of the Mustang, my grandson and I were off asap and bought the boat. Bill told me everything he could remember about how the boat was when he buikt it. when re reworked it it was redone much like the later models with Vinyl decks and seat layout. I was fortunate and the owner still had the 312 Ford Intercepter and sliding Landeau top that Bill installed originally.

    Recently i met Jirdan Heath. He led tge recreation of the rare lost light globes, i gave Jordan the original step pad molds and copies of the original literture and some hardware molds. Most important I gave him the original pre war rodder mold with the 1/3 forward blade Bill so proudly invented along with his 2/1 beam to
    length ratio which made his boats do what he called “tge Mercury Dead Spin”. Jordan visits me frequently. i have the decks bottom and power plant to the 18′ John Wayne Mustang completed. Someday i hope with Jordans help to finish the recreation of this legend boat.

    I have provided both Jordan, Sierra Boats and Obextures Boat Works with copies of my original Mercury Boat Literature. It is nt desire to someday write a book about this creative ingenious man. The book wont be for everyone as Bill was quite mystical with many theories and exagerations.

    if you desire copies of Mercury Boat literture you can contact me at
    Jerry Berg Napa, Ca.

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