Starlight Express – Realizing A Childhood Dream (Part 1 – The First 33 Years)
This is a remarkable story about fellow Woody Boater Randy Mueller and his 55 year dream to some day own a perfectly restored Matthews Martinique Express. I first met Randy at the 2010 Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance, he was there with his freshly restored 1955 Aristo Craft Torpedo “Saving Grace.” While visiting with Randy at Lake Tahoe that year, I also learned that he owns “Miss Madison” an iconic 1959 Staudacher 30′ Unlimited Hydroplane that will one day be restored to her former glory. We spent so much time talking about vintage hydroplane racing that we never got around to talking about one of Randy’s other wooden boats, in particular his Matthews Martinique Express.
Later that year, my friend Robert DaPron said to me “You need to see Randy Mueller’s Martinique, it’s an amazing restoration.” At the time, I can honestly say that I didn’t even know that the heck a Matthews Martinique was… But Randy and I stayed in touch and last week he sent us this wonderful story.
“Starlight Express” Realizing A Childhood Dream
by Randy Mueller
Hello Texx – Well, here it is (FINALLY)!
I was surprised this past year with all the interest on the Woody Boater site regarding the MATTHEWS Martinique model. I had written an article about the Martinique that appeared in the Nov/Dec 1998 issue of Classic Boating magazine, but prior to that was unaware of any information out there that really profiled this very scarce and unique model. So now we have “The Rest of the Story.”
As kids growing up near the water in Seattle during the 1950’s my brother and I were always bicycling around to the local marinas and boat dealers. I was simply in love with boating, even to the point of spending part of my allowance each month on various boating magazines to read the articles and dream over the advertisements for stylish runabouts (especially the Aristo Craft’s and Switzercraft Shooting Star) and larger cruisers.
One of my favorite family outings was when we took our outboard down to Ray’s Boathouse and clamped it to the transom of one of their rental boats. I believe it was about 1955 when my parents took the big step by purchasing a new 16-foot Norseman utility outboard and 35 hp Johnson motor. That essentially sealed my fate! Not long after that I bought my first boat at age 10 from the same dealer (who became a family friend); it was an old wooden 11-foot utility hydroplane with a 7-1/2 hp Evinrude. It wasn’t very fancy, since my allowance was not all that much, but to me it was beautiful and it was MINE!
I recall that about this time I also started writing to different builders for brochures to dream from. And I became an avid “day dreamer”, carrying it beyond what anyone could even imagine. Then in October of 1956, a mere 3 months past my 11th birthday, IT happened! I received my first set of brochures from the MATTHEWS Company in Port Clinton, Ohio with a nice letter from their sales manager, R.E. Reynolds. (Click on the image to enlarge)
That package included brochures on all their models, but when I first saw the Martinique Express it was love at first sight. The sleek lines of that 42-foot “runabout” simply captivated me, and it still does today some 55-years later.
Something else that impressed me was the fact that here was a prestigious boat builder that took the time to respond to a scribbled request from a youngster. I vowed that someday I would own a Martinique. I continued requesting brochures from MATTHEWS up through 1960 to keep track of the styling changes.
One change made to the Martinique that I did notice was in 1958, when they removed that wooden runabout style windshield and replaced it with a shortened sedan style open cabin. In most of the brochure pictures they also showed it with a fishing bridge, which altogether changed the look that I loved. At the time I had no idea why they had done this to my favourite boat, but figured that when the time came I would just go find my convertible Martinique Express to satisfy this obsession. I made all the checkmarks on the price lists back in 1956 when I was selecting how I wanted my Martinique outfitted. Now “THATS” thinking ahead don’t you think? I still have all those old MATTHEWS brochures!
After graduating from college and having cruised on my parents successive powerboats over many years, the sailing bug bit. Several sailboats followed which I cruised and raced both locally and offshore. Then in early 1986, with a declining shipbuilding industry in the Pacific Northwest (my profession), my wife and I decided that I should accept a position with the Department of The Navy in Washington, D.C. We felt that in a few years we could return to the Northwest, but meanwhile had an incredible opportunity to visit the many historical sites available on the east coast. We never regretted that decision.
Naturally, wherever we visited we would gravitate toward the water. I knew there were no Martiniques in the Pacific Northwest, but with a greater number of old wood boats “back east” the thought of finally locating a Martinique began haunting me. I contacted several brokers at old established firms who were familiar with the MATTHEWS Sedan and Double Cabin Flying Bridge (their most popular models), but none were even aware of the Martinique model — that was really discouraging. At that point I began to wonder if I would ever find one. Then, on one of our many trips to the Annapolis area we met and got talking to a MATTHEWS owner who suggested I might find what I was looking for by contacting the MATTHEWS Boat Owners Association (MBOA).
So began the first step down the long road in search of this childhood dream. A tremendous amount of information and history was available from MBOA and, by attending several of their summer rendezvous, we were able to talk to relatives of the company founder and learn first-hand of the development behind my “dreamboat”. In early 1955 MATTHEWS began working on a unique new model called the Martinique Express for introduction to their 1956 line-up. It’s hull and below deck accommodations were identical to that of their very popular 42-foot Sedan model, but that’s where the resemblance ended.
Above deck, instead of the long enclosed deckhouse/cabin of the Sedan, the Martinique was capped with a wooden runabout style windshield and a nearly 20-foot long open cockpit. It could be ordered with a sliding bow and frame canvas soft top or a short hardtop. It was targeted for waterfront homeowners who desired a large open ‘day’ boat for outside entertainment or casual fishing, similar to the ‘picnic’ boats enjoying popularity today.
I have to commend MATTHEWS for their foresight and courage in producing such a boat, which was well ahead of it’s time. By the 1980’s numerous builders were successfully imitating this style and it is still enjoying a great deal of popularity today. For it’s inaugural year of 1956, a total six were sold, and in 1957 only one was ordered. With such low demand MATTHEWS considered just dropping the Martinique altogether if sales did not increase. So for 1958 they decided to add a short open sedan style cabin to the Martinique, completely changing that awesome “runabout” look that I so admired. Sales of the Martinique did greatly increase with this change, plus most were ordered with flying bridges and taken sport fishing offshore.
The Martinique model continued in production until the early 1970’s when the MATTHEWS plant in Port Clinton, Ohio finally closed. New company ownership about this time was slow to transition to fiberglass, plus the quality of workmanship declined in their attempt to keep financially solvent. This profoundly affected customer loyalty and repeat sales, which contributed directly to declining sales and MATTHEWS eventual demise.
Of the seven Martinique Express models produced in 1956 and 1957 we were able to locate only two still “alive”, both 1956 models. In retrospect, two ‘survivors’ out of seven is probably a pretty low attrition rate for a rather unusual boat that never shared the popularity of the other MATTHEWS models.
After three years of searching for the Martinique of our dreams, we finally purchased one of the two remaining survivors in 1989 at Montauk, Long Island, NY. The boat was then named “Knee Deep II”.
MBOA (MATTHEWS Boat Owners Association) was able to obtain all the factory records and brochures back in 1990 when the owner auctioned everything off in the plant. It took MBOA several years to catalogue it all. From this MATTHEWS owners can obtain copies of all records for their hull number, which I did.
From the original purchase order I learned my Martinique was ordered new by Walter F. Rozek of Buffalo, N.Y. on August 4,1955. He was the owner of Rozek Pharmacy, located at the “Cor. Bailey & Walden Ave., Buffalo 11, N.Y.” Someday I would like to try to locate any of his relatives to see if they had any memories or old pictures of the boat — named “RX V”, obviously in reference to his profession, and his fifth boat.
He picked up his new Martinique at the MATTHEWS plant at Port Clinton, Ohio on April 20, 1956. I can imagine that was some day — it sure would have been for me! Price new was $35,218.50 which was well beyond what I could afford on my income at that time, which was probably around $15 a month (allowance, chores, and paper route).
In our move back home to Gig Harbor, Washington in 1989 we had our new (old) boat transported by truck from Long Island to her new home in Washington state.
That ended, at the time, a 33-year long childhood quest and began the hard reality of a slow, lengthy and expensive restoration of “Starlight Express”. Randy Mueller
Thanks Randy for sharing the first 33 years of your story with us here at Woody Boater.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of Randy’s story, the next 22 years of the Martiniques life including the boat’s arrival in Gig Harbor, Washington, the long 17 year restoration process, the re-launch and finished product which is spectacular!
Great story. I had a friend that owned a Matthews sedan for many years, and I always loved the boat. I am really looking forward to tomorrow’s part ll.
Can’t wait for tomorrow! WOW! I know how much upkeep and work a small runabout takes, but a cruiser like the Matthews is almost beyond comprehension! Beautiful boat!
As many of you know this is one of my top 5 boats of all time. They are amazing and with twin hemi’s have all the goodies that make life worth living. This is the closest thing to a cruiser runabout and the PERFECT layout.. Dang. Double dog dang
Is this the same boat listed on Trading Dock or is this her sister? http://www.tradingdock.org/2531
No. But the guys name is randy as well.. Small world..
I think that’s the other surviving 56 that’s for sale in Ohio.
The Martinique currently for sale in Ohio was the first one we found at the 1987 MBOA Rendezvous at Mystic Seaport. I was elated at the time as none of the old Matthews family members were aware of any Martiniques’ outside of this one. It was named “UNICORN” and owned by an old couple in Toledo. I contacted them but at that time were not interested in selling. The following year he changed his mind, but after a survey it had a few structural issues that he was not willing to negociate into the price. So, since I had waited this long figured I could ‘wait him out’. It was only about 8 months later that I found the other Express. It was originally ordered as a soft top model, and was available for MUCH less $$$. Figuring I could convert it back to whan I wanted, a deal was made.
Randy Mueller – would you mind contacting me email@example.com – have some questions about the survey you had done on the first vessel you looked at in Ohio.
Thanks for your time.
Dave – I will make sure Randy is aware of this request. – Texx
Matt, isn’t there one of these in the yard at Crunch’s?
John in Va.
Truly a story of passion becoming Lifestyle. Can’t wait to read Part II tomorrow. Not many of us come to reality with our childhood dreams as Randy has. That’s wonderful!
What a boat! I will own a Matthews one of these days.
Matt…we had a conversation about these at the Mariners Museum, I believe your neighbor has one?
my neighbor has a later model that has more roof line, amazing boat
I grew up 1 ½ blocks away from Rozek Pharmacy, located at the Cor. Bailey & Walden Ave.
I always thought, what a great design for a cruiser. I thought about trying to locate one, but ended up with a Elco Cruisette. Great job Randy, I know how much work and money it takes to keep these up, Scooter
Great story! What a pretty boat. How about that galley!!!
Gold standard masthead today Matt. For sure, you are good on the tools mate.
Great story! The Martinique has gorgeous lines! Kudos to Randy for keeping his childhood dream alive. I hope to
meet you & see your gorgeous boat one of these days.
Yes, great job Matt. The masthead is one of my favorites!
Ditto on the masthead, story, and Randy’s dream. Wonder who the Matthews’ designer was? Reminds me of my close friend who dreamed of owning a Stinson Gullwing radial powered plane when he was 8 or 9. Got his wings in the Navy and pursued his dream finding and restoring one similar to this: http://www.vintageaircraft.org/featured/2006%20-%20Vol.%2034,%20No.%2010%20-%20Stinson%20Gullwing.pdf
Restoration culminated on the cover of pilot magazine but then he sold it and bought a Hatteras. Not quite as gorgeous as the Matthews tho.
That was an amazing story. This has truly inspired me to consider restoring the boat Ijust purchased. I have a 1955 Matthews moored in Chula Vista Ca. I am not even sure what the size it. I believe it’s 42 or 43 feet. I am considering restoring it but have some worries. It looks t pretty similar to the Martinique. I am trying to find out history on this boat and hopefully will get more info on it later. Thanks so much for sharing this amazing story.
Thanks Alex for sending me here from another story.
What a BEAUTIFUL Cruiser!
I can’t believe you actually have a full sized fridge on there.