Riding the wave of vehicle restoration

Classic vehicles come in all shapes and sizes; they arrive by land, air and, in this case, sea.

The 15th annual Geneva Lakes Antique and Classic Boat show was held late last month at the Abbey Resort in Fontana, Wisconsin, near Lake Geneva. The event was presented by the Blackhawk chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society.

Participants showcased more than 150 boats whose owners came from around the area as well as Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan and Indiana. After strolling the gently swaying docks and soaking up the blue skies and gorgeous watercraft, two gleaming vessels stood out for a closer look.

Larry Lange, 1947 Ventnor, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Larry Lange first came across his 1947 Ventnor nearly 25 years ago.

"I saw it in a barn near Lake Minnetonka," the Lake Geneva resident said. "The whole top was crushed and the bottom was bad. It was a very difficult woodworking project because of the tongue and grove planking. There's no fiberglass on the boat."

Lange passed on the project and several years later embarked on a different undertaking. "I finished a 1940 Pontiac woody wagon and really enjoyed that."

With the woody complete, in 2009 he decided to call the Ventnor's owner.

"He still had it and was ready to deal. I traded him another boat for it."

After getting it home, Lange was motivated to compete the project in time for the 2011 Geneva Lakes show.

"The sides, keel, dashboard and hardware are original," Lange said. "Everything else is all new."

Honduras Mahogany was used for the top decking and the interior received new upholstery, matching the factory red and white color scheme. Power comes from a 150 twin carb Grey Marine engine that is "essentially a racing version of a flathead six-cylinder."

One of the striking attributes of Lange's vessel is the vertical fin incorporated into the stern. "Ventnor Boat Works specialized in racing and held many speed records on water. They wanted to get into the recreational boat market and this was to be their flagship."

The Ventnor, New Jersey-based company developed the design but was too early to the styling game.

"Cars didn't start having fins until the mid 1950s," Lange said. "The boat was too labor intensive and very expensive (to build). It was ahead of its time, but a little too far."

Chris Millard, 1937 Chris-Craft Custom Runabout, Carlinville

Chris Millard's 1937 Chris-Craft Custom Runabout was shipped to London, England, on Feb. 2, 1937. It later surfaced in France in 1999.

"The distributor in England didn't keep detailed records so it's been hard to find out the boat's history," Millard said.

What was clear when he purchased it was its non-factory condition. "It had been totally modified. Someone had tried to make a fishing boat out of it,' he said.

A 15-year restoration commenced, wrapping up in June of this year. Some of the many steps involved reinforcing the top deck and installing a new wooden bottom.

The A120 825-cubic-inch Chris-Craft engine was shipped to a rebuilder in Long Island, New York, for overhauling. Some original components on the vessel were salvaged, such as the steering wheel, horn, windshield and lights.

Millard had to locate additional parts like the clamshells for the fuel caps, steps and cleats. Other pieces had to be fabricated.

"The shifter is a one-year-only design. I needed a particular bracket that mounts under the floorboard. I couldn't find one anywhere."

Millard ended up borrowing one and had it cast.

"It's details like that take a long, long time," he said. yet all those tasks add up to one very satisfying end.

"It's just awesome to be out on the water, motoring around, enjoying the day in a boat."

Chris Millard rebuilt a 1937 Chris-Craft Custom Runabout.
When Millard purchased his Chris-Craft, it had been used as an old fishing boat and was in poor condition.
It took 15 years to restore Millard's Chris-Craft to its current condition.
Millard said Chris-Craft manufactured about 60 runabouts in the decade leading up to World War II, and his 1937 model is one of about 15 from that period left.
Larry Lange of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, rebuilt a 1947 Ventnor.
Lange restored a Pontiac woody station wagon before embarking on his wood boat restoration project.
The boat's sides, keel, dashboard and hardware are original.
Lange's 1947 Ventnor model is one of only three known from that year left to exist.
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