The Little Ship Of Dunkirk – The Story Of A Rare 1927 Baby Gar Jr.
And as we know, Chris Smith and Gar Wood were at the forefront of the market in the mid to late 1920’s, amongst a number of smaller boat builders, all fiercely competing for sales. Unfortunately, many of those smaller builders didn’t survive the Great Depression which began in 1930 – but Chris Smith and Gar Wood were the exception.
Sold as a 1927 model only, the 26′ Baby Gar Jr. model was offered by Gar Wood as an entry-level runabout – junior to the now legendary 28′ & 33′ Baby Gar. The Baby Gar Jr. was offered with a 100HP Scripps Model F-6 marine engine (good for 30-32 MPH) or the 150HP Scripps G-6 marine engine (good for 38-40 MPH).
A total of 103 Baby Gar Jr. models were produced for 1927 (Hull No. 2701-27103), 78 open runabouts and 25 sedan models. The open runabouts sold for 3,500.00 to 4,000.00 depending on options & engine choice.
Gar Wood Boats being a relatively new company, for 1927 they also produced an impressive 19-page catalog specifically for the Baby Gar Jr. model, to promote the Gar Wood brand and also the features and benefits of the Baby Gar Jr. – we have included a few of the pages from the 1927 catalog in today’s story which came courtesy of Baby Gar Jr. owner Giles Briggs in the UK. Very impressive for 1927. – Texx
Gar Wood historian Anthony S. Mollica Jr. best describes the history and development of the 1927 Baby Gar Jr. in his book Gar Wood Boats – Classics of a Golden Era
In 1927 Gar Wood had introduced a totally new boat that they would call the Baby Gar Jr. It was a striking 26-ft runabout with speed options to 40 miles per hour and offered at one-third the price of the 33-foot Baby Gar. There was also an elegant sedan model of the 26-foot Baby Gar Jr. that would account for nearly 25 percent of the year’s sales.
The 26-foot hull was planked in choice African mahogany, upholstered in French blue Spanish leather, had all monel metal fittings and was finished with eight coats of clear lacquer. This was the first mention of the use of lacquer by Gar Wood. The brochure stated that “Lacquer is a radical improvement in boat finish, unaffected by the sun, ice, gasoline, salt water or exposure to ordinary heat or cold. More durable than any varnish.” The use of lacquer was a surprising, but short-lived, alternative to varnish.
In 1927 alone Wood built and sold 103 Baby Gar Jr. runabouts and sedans. It was a remarkable sales record for the new company. The company also introduced another model in midyear (1927), a 28-foot runabout called the Baby Gar 28. The company built only seven of the 28’s that year, but it was a superior boat to the popular 26-foot Baby Gar Jr.
A cost analysis showed that the 28 could be built for slightly more cost than the 26-footer and would command a much higher selling price. In a move that must have surprised observers, Wood decided to drop its best selling boat for 1927 in favor of the 28-foot Baby Gar. – Anthony S. Mollica Jr.
And now that we have you up to speed with the history of the 1927 Baby Gar Jr. model, here’s the rest of the story.
Last year we were contacted by fellow Woody Boater Giles Briggs from Cheltenham in the UK who has a 1927 Baby Gar Jr. that he pulled out of a barn in Bristol in 2010, where she had been since 1952.
We did some research and although 103 of these models were produced by Gar Wood for the 1927 model year, to our knowledge only three are known to exist today. One is “RUMBA” owned by Carlos and Susie Rodriguez of Newcastle, CA. This beautiful example of a rare 1927 Baby Gar Jr. appeared at the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance in 2011.
The current whereabouts of the second Baby Gar Jr. is unknown, but was confirmed in a 10 year-old record by Tony Mollica Jr. And the third is the UK boat that Giles currently owns. Here is the remarkable story on the Baby Gar Jr. he calls “The Little Ship of Dunkirk”…
Hi Matt & Texx, hope you can help.
I have a 1927 26′ Baby Gar Jr. here in the UK, she needs full restoration. There are two amazing things about her history.
1. She was supplied to the UK and was owned by Betty Carstairs who I am sure you know raced against Gar Wood in the late 1920’s. After inheriting a fortune through her mother and grandmother from Standard Oil, Carstairs also purchased her first motor boat. Between 1925 and 1930, Carstairs spent considerable time in powerboats and became a very successful racer, although the Harmsworth Trophy she longed for always eluded her. She did take the Duke of York’s trophy and establish herself as the fastest woman on water.
2. She served throughout WW2, the most remarkable part was she took part in Operation Dynamo when the British Army were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk and had to be rescued by civilians from the UK in their own boats.
For me the Dunkirk story is amazing and to think she is not just a rare Gar Wood but a famous “Little Ship of Dunkirk” is just incredible. The British force that first went into Europe was 250,000 strong and had to be rescued off the beaches of Dunkirk shortly after, the government at the time refused to send the Royal Navy large ships to save them because of mines and the German air supremacy. It was left to the requisitioned now called “Little Ships of Dunkirk” to save the men, many boats made the trip to both UK and waiting ships three times under heavy fire, 68,000 troops never made it back.
She is still wearing her navy paint and was on a 1940s Bofor anti-aircraft gun carriage when I pulled her out of a barn in Bristol in 2010 where she had been sitting in storage since 1952. Giles notes:
“The old guy I purchased the boat from said he purchased it off the quay side in Brixham in the 1950’s. Interestingly enough this is where your US troops were based before the D day invasion. Brixham was protected by anti-aircraft guns take off their carriages and dug into the cliffs above the town (they are still there), and I think this is probably why my Gar Wood was on a gun carriage just simply because it was surplus to requirements.”
We only found a stamped number “28” on the hatch, the main beams the engine sat on have been replaced to fit the wider DUKW engine, there might be some more numbers, but I think they will only be found when the boat is restored. The transom has been striped but in bright sunlight you can still just make out her name “Thunderbird”.
These two parts of her history make her very unique and the reason I am contacting you is although I don’t really want to sell her, but I don’t think it is fair to leave her unrestored in a barn in the UK. I realize now that I may have to let somebody else bring her back to her former glory.
It would be great if you could do a story on her as I would love to try and uncover more of her past as I think she is historically important and her future should be secured.
Kind Regards – Giles Briggs
Battery Megastore UK LTD.
Although we are not in the business of selling boats here at Woody Boater, we thought that this was an interesting story with a ton of history and if we can help Giles find a new home for the rare Baby Gar Jr. that would be great.
Thank you Giles and Texx for an interesting story about a living piece of history. She has certainly earned a proper restoration. It would be great to keep her hullsides painted as part of her service record.
Great idea WoodyGal.
I nominate Alex to purchase and restore this boat. He has been a bit quiet lately and I think a project like this is just the thing he needs to spice up a cold northern Michigan winter.
Wow !…Interesting find….She needs to be restored. …although I’m not sure to what extent…in order to preserve her history.
There was another “Little ship” described on the back of the 1947 Chris Craft Catalog. I don’t have the catalog any more and can’t remember if she made more than one rescue trip to Dunkirk. A check of the Chris Craft archives will reveal we did a story on her in conjunction with a Dunkirk anniversary, back when I was doing The Brass Bell.
I would consider this to be more of a public service announcement than it is helping Giles sell a boat.
God save the Queen and the boat!
So very interesting, thanks guys.
Since I am looking for my next boat, I decided to do a cocktail napkin commercial restoration budget, I assumed a shop rate of $80/hour….please tell me how far off I am…unfortunately, this boat is much more than I choose to afford.
Shipping to California 10,000
Replace bottom 40,000
Re-wire 12 volt 2,500
Strip (50 hr) 4,000
Deck woodwork 10,000
Side woodwork 15,000
Fab windscreen 3,000
Engine prep 5,000
Restore gauges 8,000
(25 hr/ coat)
New trailer 7,500
Yes, it is a worthy project for someone so inclined – the history is indeed very interesting. I would also nominate Alex for this task, as I don’t believe he has a triple in his collection.
It is well beyond my means at the moment, and if it was me I would attempt to find a period correct Scripps, though the 208 would move the boat beautifully.
With respect to Chuck’s estimate, I can only suggest he is light – substantially so. Based only on my experience as an owner of several restored project boats and the observations I have made and continue to make along the way, I think one would be lucky to get through this for less than $200k, and it could easily be more, depending on the usual variables. Given the heritage and rarity, it is probably worth it, but I can’t see it being possible to do this for $135k. Because an unlimited budget is required, I would again second M-fine’s nomination of Alex for the job.
Thanks for your thoughts, I have viewed both your CC Barrelback and Sportsman Sedan at the Tahoe Concourse and have been truly impressed.
Could you please expand on your comment “depending on the usual variables”. I am somewhat of a newbie and have ideas about the usual variables, but want to get a better understanding before I purchase my next boat.
Paul, you are absolutely correct — I would guess closer to $250K to restore her. You would also have at least $20,000 for a first class trailer.
Although restoration costs can range considerably – In todays market, a professionally restored “grey” Post-War 20′ Chris-Craft Custom or Pre-War 19′ Chris-Craft Barrelback (restored to show quality condition) can easily cost between 150K to 175K or more all-in.
The challenge with the 26′ Baby Gar Jr. restoration, along with replacing all the wood, is to locate period correct hardware, running gear, steering, etc. Period correct upholstery materials and installation can also add up quickly.
So I would guess that 200K (with a healthy contingency) would be a good starting point if restored professionally. – Texx
If anyone is looking for a SCRIPPS 202 get in touch with me.
Seems to be slight hogging of the hull at the point where it was stored on the “yard trailer”above the rear axle. Sure hope someone can put together a plan and the funds to bring her back. The historical significance and provenance should elevate the value above the comparable models, I would think.
Thanks for this article Texx, Absolutely excellent, as usual.
As for restoration costs , I’m persuaded that the provenance of the Thunderbird (if it’s fully documented) should be worth a tidy amount all on its own, certainly more than the sums advanced above…. after all how many open runabouts actually participated in the Dunkirk (Operation Dynamo) evacuation let alone an American built craft that was once owned by an plucky (and well known) female race boat pilot who flew by the handle ‘Joe’ Carstairs .
Now I’m not at all sure what reaction a restored (or unrestored) “Thunderbird” might receive if she materialized at Amelia Island or the annual Clayton show, after all the Dunkirk extraction is a largely uncharted story south of the Canadian border.
On the other hand, if this particular Baby Gar were displayed at the Gravenhurst (Ontario) ACBS event I am convinced that the crowd would be abuzz; not only because she was one of the “little ships” but because Carstairs actually spent much of the summers of both 1929 and 1930 on or near Lake Muskoka.
During that Joe and her crew worked diligently with Herb Ditchburn and Burt Hawker in a mad scramble to iron out the kinks in her three boats (Estelle III (1929), IV and V(1930) before shipping them to Detroit for two successive attempts to wrest the Harmsworth from… you guessed it the indomitable Garfield Wood.
Image Courtesy Getty Images- Hulton Archive Douglas Miller
Thanks CK for closing this story out for me – the additional history about Betty ‘Joe’ Carstairs is perfect. Sounds like she led quite a life… – Texx
Thanks Texx for letting everyone know her story it has been bothering me that I have just hidden her away again and very glad you all seem to like her.
The WW2 history that the old guy told me should not be to hard to prove because the Royal Navy made a list of all boats requisitioned for Operation Dynamo and it is kept at the British Maritime Museum, it is named after the guy who did the requisitioning LT Col Orde (list).
Pretty sure a trip to the museum in Brixham will also reveal what she was doing there and what part if any she had in D Day.
I am sure all this will help to uncover more history and more motivation for a restoration which is what she deserves.
Giles – you have been wrongly advised. Lt Col. Orde did NOT do the requisitioning. No one man could have done so.He didn’t actually get involved until AFTER 1945! In September 1939, all beaches and estuaries were closed to un-authorised civilian marine traffic, and private water-craft use prohibited “for the duration”. small pleasure craft had all been laid-up in boatyards small ports, creeks, rivers, and hauled out at taken home to owners’ houses all over the Country. How could one man have kept track of it all. No, what happened was that the 4th Sea Lord, Admiralty [responsible for providing all small craft for the Fleet,both embarked and for service as “minor naval vessels”] realized in April, 1940 that – if they were to re-create the Naval Coastal and Harbour Patrols that had been available between 1914-1918; – they would again need to requisition civilian vessels. Accordingly, Churchill [wearing his ‘2nd hat’ as Minister For War] authorised the Ministry of Shipping [MoS] to make a Small Craft registrtaion order on May 10th, 1940; for the owners of all suitable vessels to register them at the nearest RNR HQ or with the nearest Fisheries Officer. After prodding by the Admiralty, the MoS asked the BBC to broadcast notice of that Order on May 14th. The intent at this point was to have additional boats requisitioned for use around the coasts on inshore patrols, and around naval bases as auxiliaries and harbour service launches. All clear so far?
In France at this point, the BEF was not yet in serious trouble. With the collapse of the french on one side and the Belgians on the other, only 6 days later the BEF was in trouble, and was at risk of being encircled if it remained holding Positions. the BEF’s CinC Lord Gort therefore instructed a fighting-withdrawal to the Coast. After that, the situation deteriorated like a collapsing house of cards, and by May 26th, Admiral Ramsay Flag Officer, Dover was sending destroyers to Dunkirk to embark as many of the BEF as possible. On the same day 26th May, Adm. Ramsay instructed Adm. Sir Lionel Preston, the Director, Small Vessels Pool, at Sheerness, to begin collecting as many small craft as he could from all the Southern Naval Dockyards and sending them to Dover and Ramsgate, where – they could be towed across the Channel for use during the evacuation “because he thought that soldiers might have to be evacuated from the beaches”. Within 24 hours the situation had become even more urgent, and Adm. Preston brought in the MoS Small Craft Officer, Mr Briggs, – and gave an order to requisition as many of those seaworthy civilian craft as could be supplied – “we need at least 40-50.” Throughout May 27th, 28th small craft were being requisitioned using Adm. Form T691, collected fuelled, privisioned, crewede until the navy ran,out of small-craft-trained personnel in the Thames Area, -ansd sent off towards Dunkirk. By 29th May, civilian Owners were being asked to volunteer to take their own boats across. The First little ships actually arrived off the beaches at around midnight 29th/30th, and those that survived worked until 0430hrs, on June 4th, when the last one – and RNLI Lifeboat greater London, left Dunkirk Harbour having collected 61 soldiers and also helped to the stranded HMS Kellet [with 200 soldiers aboard] free from an obstruction.
You are now better informed than you were earliet today! Everything i have related to you is documented in the Official records or one of the 3 books i have mentioned.
I have just finished writing a Paper about my Father’s Fleet of beach-excursion boats from Southend on Sea, – 7 of our fleet and 29 in total from the 7-mile-long foreshore that were requisitioned for Operation Dynamo. And I hvae to tell you that
Lt.Col Orde’s List was incomplete and he knew it was incomplete. Richard Collier had another attempt at the back of his 1961 Book – “The Sands of Dunkirk”, then Walter Lord tried again in 1981 in “The Miracle Of Dunkirk”, [he’d identified a few more “little ships”]; – and the most recent attempt at a comprehensive Listing has been Russell Plummer’s 1991 Book “The Little Ships that Saved An Army” in which the Author has managed to identify 1300 “Little Ships”. I have copies of all three, plus a copy of Lt. Col. Orde’s List – and I’m sorry to tell you that there is no listing for an M/L named “Thunderbird” in any of them. However, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”; and all four Authors were careful to write that they did not think their Lists were complete, and that there were probably more “little ships” still to be identified. One fact about the little ships that has always messed-up listings right from Lt.Col. Orde’s first attempt – is that the first Lists were based on vessels’ names listed against numbers of rescued soldiers LANDED AT Dover, Ramsgate, and Margate. Initially, this method of Listing omitted large numbers of small craft which collected soldiers from the beaches and ferried them out to bigger ships in deeper water – half a mile and more from the HW mark. Lt. Col Orde’s first List was then expanded by additional documentation fro Tough’s Boatyard, from the Director Small vessels Pool, from the Naval Control Officer Thames and Medway, in Command of HMS Leigh [Southend Pier, commissioned as a Naval Shore Establishment. Later historians were able to note additional small-craft names from survivors stories, from ships logs, from the memoirs of rescued soldiers and ex-navy personnel, and also from the archives of the Small Craft Section of the Ministry Of Shipping. So, although your “thunderbird” is not yet listed anywhere that I can see as having been present off the beaches rescuing men from the shore and ferrying them out to larger ships [the only work she’d would have been any use for] – do not give up hope of being able to prove that the oral history you have, may yet be confirmed from contemporary documents. Until that is so, however, I regret that you will not be able to claim that “Thunderbird” IS a Dunkirk Little Ship and hence a Member of the World’s most exclusive Yacht Club!
Giles, since sending you those helpful messages yesterday, another idea occurs to me. You’ll have a better chance of tracking-down any 1940-contemporary documantation which mentions “Thunderbird”, if you can discover where her Owner was living in May, 1940, and where she’d been laid-up. Each area that contributed boats under the Small Craft Control Order Registrations of May 1th, 1940, would have made it’s own set of Returns to the Small Craft Section of the Ministry of Shipping. So that would narrow-down the number of files you would have to search through. Most of those records will be in the National Archives at Kew, – and NOT in the care of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, as you seem to think.
Giles, – if “Thunderbird” DID have any WW2 Service, there would have been documentation for it, as you contend. The first step would have been the completion of a T98 Requisitioning Form by the Naval Officer in Command of the Area in which she was found in 1940. So, – if her owner lived in London or the Home Counties, for example, and Thunderbird had been “laid-up” at a Thames Boatyard [and she would have been laid-up – due to Petrol Rationing], – that Requisitioning paperwork would have been signed by the Naval Control Officer, Nore Division, or one of his Delegated Deputies. A copy of the T98 Form would then have been sent to the Small Craft Division of the Ministry of Shipping, which would have arranged payment of an agreed Charter Fee. If the Navy had decided to retain the “Thunderbird” for further War Service, then the MoS would have sent the owner a T691 Forms package, to agree a “fair & reasonable” valuation of the vessel, and arrange for the payment of Compensation at 1939 Book Rates. If you are to prove either requisitioning just for Dunkirk Evacuation Service, or for additional War Service, you’ll need to research those Official Files [or have a paid researcher do it for you] – which are in the care of the National Archives at Kew. If any of the three Books, I referred-to in my earlier messages, listed “Thunderbird”, you wouldn’t need to do this, their Authors having done the prior research in contemporary documents already. Since there is no mention, – having someone look in those Official Files is your only remaining recourse; no-one else will have the Documentation you’d need to prove your Theory. If you can contact Russell Plummer, – he may be interested enough to look into his own research Notes, and send you the Correct National Archive’s File Numbers that will need to be examined.
I needed to look-up this info. anyway for some personal research I’m doing.
I make you a gift herewith of the Public Record Office File numbers, cited by W.J.R. Gardner, of the Naval Historical Branch, Ministry of Defence, March, 2000 – in his book “The Evacuation from Dunkirk”.
Operation Dynamo – principal Official Sources
Public records Office File No’s
abstracted from War Bulleting No 41, -a confidential internal Report prepared in 1949 for the Naval Staff College, internal circulation only, and then later republished as a MoD Naval Staff History.
M020721/40 – List of Ships which took part in “Operation Dynamo”, 26th May to 4th June [from F.O.CL.,Dover,26/10/40]Case5458 [6 volumes
M.o17681/40 – Ships lost during “Operation Dynamo” report [from F.O.CL.,Dover, 5/9/40]
Case 5458 [6 volumes] Admiralty Record Office – “Operation Dynamo”. Evacuation of troops from Dunkirk, May to June, 1940 [Contains reports of individual ships, “Dynamo” Maintenance Officer [ acting-Commodore A.Taylor ( R.Adm, Rtd. & re-employed for duration), based at SVP, Sheerness], S.N.O., Dunkirk, etc/]. Referred to as “R.O.I. IV”
T.O.9436/40 – “Operation Dynamo” Small Craft. (Ministry of Shipping, 5/6/40.
T.M. 6213/40 – Voyage reports by Master or crews of ships and small craft which took part in the Evacuation of the B.E.F. From Dunkirk. (from the Ministry of Shipping, Sea Transport Dept., 2/8/40)
T.O. 9436/40 – “Operation Dynamo” small craft. Prodcedurefor settlement of Claims.
N.L.5097/40 – Compulsory reporting of small craft – the proposed “Small Craft Registration Order” as originally drafted from the Small Vessels Pool, 16/4/40)
“Little ships of Dunkirk” (in manuscript) – reports of small
craft collected by Mr. J.D. Casswell, K.C.
The latest attempt to list all the boats which help save the British Expeditionary Forces in 1940, from evacuations at Dunkirk, and other french ports much further South was published in 1999, and for my own research purposes I’ve just obtained a copy. “B.E.F.Ships – before, at, and after Dunkirk” by John de S. Winser. I’m disappointed to have to tell you that Thunderbird isn’t listed in his small craft section either, though he has managed to extend the work of Richard Collier  and Russell Plummer  in identifying a few more small craft not previously listed by them. My own feeling is that – even if “Thunderbird” WAS requisitioned by the Navy around 28th May, 1940, under a Charter Form T98; – with her small seating capacity, she would have been judged “unsuitable” for the Dunkirk evacuation, and more likely been retained for Harbour Duties by the Director, Small Vessels Pool, Sheerness – and she might have been deployed to any fleet anchorage from there. In a Navy Role, it is unlikely she would have kept her name; more likely she would have been painted battleship grey and assigned a Number, like all the rest of the Fleet’s Fast Motor Boats. Since she was a non-standard design, with a non-standard engine for which the Navy would have had no spares, it is unlikely in the extreme that she would have been assigned aboard a larger Warship. Which leaves Harbour Duties.
Hi Julian, thanks very much for all your very detailed information, it would be great to get incontact with you directly. I have lots of avenues I would like to explore, to find out her true history, although you can just make out the name Thunderbird on the transome it does not mean that has always been her name.
The 93 guy who sold her to me said that she took part in Dunkirk, that she was owned by Betty Carstairs and that he purchased her off Birxham quay side in the 1950s,,,how true any of tht is I am yet to find out. But what I have found out is there was a Garwood dealer in Cowes, and that Carstairs and the guy I think owened the Garwood dealership were founding memebrs of the Royal Motor Boat Club,,,,the do have an archieve that I have viewd but I fully expect my Garwood will be listed and the owner wether it was Carstairs or not,,I think this would hopefully shed some light her war service.
almost funny I share the same surname as the Small carft officer Mr Briggs
be great if you could get in contact my email is firstname.lastname@example.org