Gar Wood, Chris-Craft, and “Nap”

Miss Detroit II

Miss Detroit II

Joseph Napoleon Lisee was the hull designer behind Chris-Craft and Gar Wood race winning days. He was nicknamed “Nap”. He was a master builder, designer, pattern-maker, wood turner, and had a reputation as a  real perfectionist.

He was born in 1891, died in 1946. He started working for Chris Smith in 1905. He designed Smith’s 1916 successful Gold Cup raceboat, Miss Detroit. That racer was “a broken, battered hulk after the race, fit only for junk”. After the race, Smith lost a poker game and only had pennies in his pockets.

Gar Wood brought Miss Detroit from Chris Smith for $1,000 cash and a note for $800. Soon after Gar Wood also bought a controlling interest in the C. C. Smith Boat & Engine Company, what we now call, Chris-Craft. “Nap” as well as Chris’ sons; Jay, and Bernard came with the percentage ownership interest in the company.

“Nap” designed another racer (Miss Detroit II) to use the 250 HP engine from the hunk of the original Miss Detroit boat. That was also a successful single-step Hydroplane. She was 20 feet long.  Miss Detroit II set a speed record of 61.724 MPH. Jay W. Smith was aboard as the riding mechanic when the record was set. All of the Miss America hulls were a “Nap” design, including Miss America X, which set a record of over 124.42 MPH.

Gar Wood had “Nap” design the hull of the famous “Baby Gar’s”. They were a 33 foot long and had triple cockpit layout, brought to market in 1922. They were the cream of the crop of luxury runabouts.  A second, Baby Gar, at 28 feet in length was introduced in 1927. In 1930, a 22’ speedboat came along. By 1931 an 18 and 25’ models were added. By 1934 a 16’ sports racer was offered, primarily in the Clayton and Alexandria Bay area. A 40’ commuter was also offered.

Open cockpit or a Utility cockpit design came in 1936 in two lengths 18’ and 20’. By 1937 a 24’ model was available.  Later 19’, 22.5’, 24’ , 25’, 32’ models were added.

Chris Smith exited his ownership relationship with Gar Wood in 1922. He built a new factory and Gar Wood got the old C. C. Smith & Engine

company location. Smith’s sons (Jay, Bernard, and Owen) stayed with him.” Nap” stayed with Gar Wood. Chris Smith, born in 1861, died in 1939.

By 1930 the demand for Gar Wood boats outstripped the old plant. A new plant in Marysville MI was built from scratch. They could build 1,200 boats per year here. Demand for Gar Wood peaked just before World War II.

Gar Wood born in 1880 and died in 1971. He retired from racing in the fall of 1932, and retired from his business interests in 1940. He bought Fisher Island in Miami, FL in 1946 for his retirement home. He invented and tinkered until near his death.

After War II, the people that ran Gar Wood boats had noted industrial stylist, Norman Bel Geddes, restyle decks of the hulls of “Nap” to update them. Gar Wood boats closed in 1947.

Miss America X

Miss America X

Gar Wood Baby Gar

Gar Wood Baby Gar

Gar Wood Baby Gar engine

Gar Wood Baby Gar engine

1946 22.5 Gar Wood

1946 22.5 Gar Wood

1946 Utility Gar Wood

1946 Utility Gar Wood

bow photo 22.5 Gar Wood

bow photo 22.5 Gar Wood

 

 

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