The Unheralded American Influence of Galaxy vs. Galaxie & Mandella vs. Rayson-Craft
In my over forty years in the pleasure boat industry, there have been literally thousands of boat companies and brand names of boats in North America.
Some of these were and are strictly regional brands not known or recognized in the rest of the continent but many were national and even international brands known to most of us diehard boaters.
It is those well known and recognized brands that are no longer with us that I look forward to examining in this series.
These brand names may still be corporately held in reserve but are not known to currently be in production.
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As this series is quickly coming to an end, I want to pay tribute to some US brands which many of us will remember but, in some cases, on which very little information is available.
I was researching into Galaxy boats when I also came across Galaxie boats. I thought perhaps it was a typo but further digging has revealed at least two and maybe more separate boat companies.
Galaxy with a “y” is said to have started in Columbia, South Carolina in 1972 building runabouts, fishing boats, and cuddy cabins including Executive, Superior, and Funliner models. In 1985, Galaxy offered 12 models from 17 to 25 feet, including bowriders, cuddy cabins, walkaround fishing models, and express cruisers. By 1991, the lineup had grown to 21 models which included all of the above plus sport models, dual consoles, and weekenders.
In the early 1990’s, Galaxy became part of the Global Motorboat Corporation. By 1993, its model lineup had grown to 30 models from 18-26 feet. As mentioned in Part 4, Global Motorboat Corporation had by this time purchased Winner Boats and gave the Winner name to some Galaxy models. Both the Winner and Galaxy names disappeared around this time.
There appear to have been two manufacturers of Galaxie boats with an “ie.”
An obituary has revealed that in 1968, Don Dacus purchased a very small Galaxie (spelt with an ”ie”) Boat Works in Jacksonville, Texas and started building just one model of a 15-foot outboard runabout. The lineup of boats increased to around 10 models of bowriders, deck boats, center consoles, and fishing boats ranging up to 30 feet. The company built its own trailers so that a complete package could be offered. The company liquidated its assets in the spring of 2009 following the financial crisis. Don Dacus died a few years later.
Corporate records indicate a second Galaxie boat company with an “ie” was started in the early 1970’s in Anaheim, California building mainly sterndrive but also jet and outboard powered performance-oriented ski boats and family bowriders and sport boats. In 1985, it offered 19 models from 16-25 feet. These were mainly sport boats but also included a cuddy cabin, an express cruiser, and a flybridge cruiser.
By 1990, they were up to 23 models and had added a Banshee 21-foot inboard-powered ski boat. Many of the boats took on what would be the popular Starion or Starcruiser model names. By 1995, there were only 10 models in the lineup from 15-22 feet. They were almost all sport and ski boats and included the new and popular 15-foot Flash jet-powered sport/ski boat.
The company was apparently taken over by Jim Earnhardt and his son in the mid-1990’s and moved to Fontana, California. In the early 2000’s, following the 2001 sales decline, the lineup had been thinned out to only seven models from 15 to 22 feet plus a 25-foot cruiser model. Around this time, the company moved to Ventura, CA but appears to have shut down in early 2005.
To add a little more confusion to the Galaxy/Galaxie name, there is a Coast Guard record of a Galaxy with a “y” company having built several cruisers in the 36-foot range in the early 1970’s. No further information seems to be available.
None of these names are to be confused with a brand new line of Galaxy PRO Grade rigid bottom inflatables by GALA Inflatable boats which are on the market today.
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As the muscle car phenomenon exploded during the 1960’s so did “muscle” boats – primarily flat or almost flat-bottomed, low profile, usually two-seaters, with no windscreens, fancy, fancy paint schemes often with metal flake. Most importantly of all was a huge American V-8 of minimum 350 cubic inches but often of 500 or more cubic inches and all polished and chromed to the “nines” with open exhaust headers and facing backwards in the stern of the boat. It was attached to a forward protruding driveshaft that ended in a V-drive gearset located immediately beside the knees of the driver and passenger.
These boats were capable of anywhere north of 70 miles per hour and were suitable for strictly inland lakes with little to no chop. The flat-bottom versions became the boat of choice for the new sport of organized drag boat racing, a sport which followed up on the new-found sport of drag racing for cars, a sport springing up throughout the country. The very slightly V-bottom versions of these boats were the high performance waterski boats of the day. As expected, California was the hotbed and nurturing grounds for many manufacturers.
As the 1960’s turned into the 70's with its first gasoline crisis, the jet drive started replacing the V-drive, thus allowing seating for four or five persons, and sterndrives and outboards with much lower horsepower started the progression toward deeper-V hulls with their increased safety factor and ability to handle wave action better. The financial crisis at the end of the 70's and into the early 80's, as well as new technologies in boating, signaled the demise of many of the builders of this style of boat. There are literally dozens and dozens of these builders. Here is the story of just two of them.
Joe Mandella of Pasadena, California was known for the craftsmanship and quality of his planked mahogany Mandella runabouts. As his reputation and the demand for speed grew, he started building speed boats from plywood to make them lighter. He also changed the location of the engine from a centrally located “box” utilizing a straight-drive to a stern location to shift the weight back to allow more of the boat to be out of the water while utilizing a V-drive to deliver the power.
Joe Mandella died in 1956. Ernie Orrin bought the company from the estate. Ernie’s nephew Harlan Orrin started building his first wooden Mandella’s in 1957. Harlan would later go to work for Rayson-Craft. Lou Brummett then took control of Mandella and transitioned it from wood to fiberglass in the early 1960’s. He was a boat racer as well as a builder and was killed in an 18-foot Lincoln-powered Mandella in a California endurance race in 1970. But the So-Cal sleek, sexy, gorgeous, super fast and loud performance ski boat business was well under way.
In 1971, Mandella offered eight models from 16-23 feet in short deck and long deck configurations, and of which only one was jet powered. By 1976, the changes in the marketplace were reflected in the Mandella lineup of nine models from 18-23 feet. At this point, four were jet powered, one was sterndrive powered, and one was labelled as a “day cruiser.” By 1980, in a further market shift, two of the eight models were labelled as “fisherman.” The restoration business apparently thrives but there are no records of new Mandella fiberglass boats being built after the early 1980’s.
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In 1950, eighteen year old Rudy Ramos bought his first boat from Joe Mandella. It was Joe’s first plywood flat-bottom v-drive ski boat into which Rudy installed the flathead Ford V-8 that was in his roadster that had been featured on the cover of Hot Rod magazine. This boat was later featured in the 1953 issue of Speed & Spray magazine. Rudy Ramos became hooked on speed and promotion.
In 1958, he started building fiberglass boats in a back portion of his father’s aluminum foundry in Gardena, California. He called his company Rayson-Craft Boats. Rudy Ramos and his boats became pioneers of the So-Cal performance, waterskiing and boat racing phenomenon that surged in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. And he not only loved and lived for racing of every kind as both a builder and a driver, he recognized full well the value of "win on Sunday and sell on Monday." He did both in spades.
As sales grew, his production facilities grew but his model lineup stayed pretty much the same, offering seven hulls in four lengths; 16, 17, 18, and 20 feet. These were available in flat bottom as preferred by the drag racing fraternity and v-bottom hulls for skiing and circuit racing. The “V” consisted of little more that ten or twelve degrees of deadrise. Full-width fixed cavitation plates or adjustable planes (think - trim tabs) were often installed depending on speed and purpose.
Much later, a 20-foot Cabana “cruiser” was available and it included a raised deck, accommodation, galley, and marine head. Ramos would offer his boats to be purchased in any stage of construction and offered to build to the customer’s specifications. Any graphic designs and colours were available both inside and outside and seating was available in back-to-back, all forward, and with full-width seating or individual buckets. Sitting in the aft-facing buckets meant that your legs would be stretched out one side of the motor of the other. Rayson-Craft had a huge dealer network throughout North America as well as Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Rayson-Craft, often with Rudy as driver or co-driver, won multiple 300 and 500 mile marathon races, was multiple time sanctioned APBA National SK closed course champion, multiple marathon waterski champion like the 52-mile Catalina Island waterski race, and set several records several times as the World’s Fastest Fiberglass ¼ Mile Drag Boat Racing Champion, in early 1960’s at 132.08 mph. His boats won the Miami 100 Grand National race six years running. In 1963, Rayson-Craft was the Official Inboard Tow Boat for the World Waterski Championships.
Later, in the mid-1960’s, Ramos built perhaps his signature boat. He took a 20-foot reinforced v-bottom hull and installed a 1710 cubic-inch displacement, 1000 horsepower, Allison V-12 aircraft engine along with beefed-up gearcase, V-drive, and propshaft and all water-cooled and utilizing a dry-sump oiling system. He called the boat Cream Puff and it became a legend winning the 1964 Salton City 500 mile marathon an hour and a half ahead of the second place finisher. He and his co-driver repeated the feat in the same boat in 1965.
Rudy Ramos was a builder, racer, innovator, and possibly the biggest name in V-drive boating history. His Rayson-Craft boats are much sought after to this day. By the end of the 1960’s and into the early 70's, there is little information available about the company and its disposition.
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