By: Richard Crowder
A retrospective look at the peak of Doral, Thundercraft, Magnum, Cadorette, Sunray, & Peterborough
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.
* * * * *
I began Part 1 of this series with the loss of an unsuspecting name as a boatbuilder -- the gigantic Outboard Marine Corporation, OMC, which stopped building boats to concentrate on its prime business of building engines. In Part 2 we had a deep dive into Chrysler Boats and the 'performance craze' of the 70's and 80's. In Part 3, I want to look back at some of the better known brand names of family-oriented boats that are no longer with us. There were hundreds and I know I am going to miss lots of them. Also, some of the names you will see here built a full line of boats including runabouts, cuddy cabins, and cruisers while others concentrated on runabouts only depending on their markets.
* * * * *
Doral boats started in the late 1970’s as a small regional Canadian builder of runabouts. It quickly grew into a major builder and its model lineup increased both in function and in size. Doral not only expanded into cuddy cabins and small express cruisers but also expanded its dealer territory across Canada and the United States, and then into Europe and Australia.
In the late fall of 1988, I was asked to water test the prototype, and at that point the only finished example and the test bed of its new first wide-beam twin engine cruiser, the 30-foot Prestancia. The boat was launched in the St. Lawrence River near Doral’s new manufacturing facilities in Quebec. I was on board with two factory representatives, and all three of us in foul weather gear and warm gloves and toques. It was miserably cold and I was told to take it easy because would be no one around to help if anything went wrong.
I put the Prestancia through most of its paces and was quite impressed with its ride and handling. The test did not last nearly as long as it normally would as it was a nasty windy day with spray from the three to four footers in the river, which constantly soaked everybody and everything on board. That wasn’t as serious, though, as the ice forming all over the rails, deck, and the cockpit. We gently headed back to the launch ramp and eventually a warm shower, change of clothes, and a satisfying sampling of great French-Canadian hospitality. The Prestancia became a huge sales leader for Doral.
Doral Boats became Doral International and continued to grow and its yachts, gradually morphing into a more elite and upper end brand in the marketplace. It kept building its bread and butter runabouts, but not the smaller ones, and with more of the European flavour that it instilled into its cruisers and yachts. It tried to be all things to all people with classy cruisers up to 35 and 40-feet and gorgeous yachts up to almost 50-feet.
Unfortunately, just as it did to many other boat manufacturers, the financial crisis of 2007 led to the demise of Doral first in 2010, and finally in 2012. Gone were some model names we grew to know so well, names like Tara, Spirit, Cavalier, Citation, Mirage, Eclipse, Prestige, Monticello, Elite, Intrigue, Elegante, Boca Grande, and Alegria, as well as the Prestancia.
* * * * *
Thundercraft Boats was an extremely popular Quebec-built brand in the 70's and 80's that reached throughout Canada and parts of the United States, mostly in the northeast. Family runabouts and small ski boats formed the bulk of its business. The seventeen-foot Wildcat ski boat was a favourite.
As Thundercraft grew, so did its lineup as it ventured into larger cuddy cabins and finally mid-cabin express cruisers under the Magnum brand name. The Magnum 230/240, and then the Magnum 280/290, were very popular. Eventually came the 350 Express. It all came tumbling down as a result of the 1991 financial downturn and Thundercraft was purchased by one of its major competitors -- Cadorette Boats. Other popular Thundercraft model names included Diablo, Legacy, and Temptation.
One of the most vivid memories of the many boats I have tested over the years is that of a 16 or 17 foot Thundercraft runabout in the late 80's. Again, it was very late fall and this model had just been developed in preparation for the winter boat show season.
Thundercraft had installed the most powerful sterndrive available at the time and had raised the engine to accommodate raising the outdrive higher than what would be considered normal. This was to reduce drag and increase speed. It made me concerned, and so I started out tentatively. The boat was very fast and started chine-walking as I approached three-quarter throttle. This is not good for a boat intended for family use, as many people would not know how to safely exit this situation.
I regained control and began maneuvers to assess the boat’s turning and handling characteristics. It is always necessary as a tester to probe the limits of various aspects of a boat so that the buying public will know what to expect. In this case, specifically because of what I considered the overpowering of this boat, I slowly worked up to testing of the boat’s limits as I performed my usual turning and cornering maneuvers.
As I turned tighter and hardly above half throttle, suddenly, very suddenly, and with no warning whatsoever, the hull hooked violently and sent me flying right across the inside of the boat from the driver’s seat to under the passenger bucket seat. I was badly bruised and shaken up, and immediately returned the boat to the launch ramp while nursing my pain. Because of what I considered a couple of dangerous handling conditions if the boat was in the hands of a novice driver, I asked the owner of Thundercraft to please not pair that engine with this particular hull. He agreed to comply, and it appeared at the boat shows with lower power and the drive at the proper height.
* * * * *
Cadorette started crafting canoes and other small boats in the 1930’s and became arguably Canada’s first user of fiberglass in the mid-1950’s. It produced a range of small runabouts, but only became widely known in the 1980’s as pleasure boating expanded, as did Cadorette’s dealer network and model lineup. Around this time, it started a second boat line, Cador-Mat, which produced only small runabouts.
Cadorette’s Skipper and Capri bowrider and closed deck runabouts gradually grew the model lineup into Nuova cuddy cabins and its popular Holiday line of cuddies and mid-cabin express cruisers, which grew to its 280/290 model. Cadorette also tried to establish a foothold in the pseudo-performance market in the late 1980’s with its Eagle lineup which went as long as 27-feet, but that didn’t survive long. As noted above, Cadorette took over Thundercraft in the early 90's but it didn’t survive, and its name eventually disappeared from the marketplace.
* * * * *
The 1970’s and 80's spawned a multitude of family boat builders in the province of Quebec bordering the mighty St. Lawrence River. In addition to the really big ones like Doral, Thundercraft, and Cadorette mentioned above, the following were huge in the Canadian market while maybe not so much so in the US.
Part of the reason for this surge in Canadian boatbuilding was two-fold: one was the value of the Canadian dollar, which meant that Canadian boat dealers could buy a Canadian-made boat for one hundred cents on the dollar, whereas buying from a US builder meant their dollar was worth only sixty-five or at the most seventy cents. Secondly were the import tariffs on boats from the US that could add an additional15% minimum, or if the boat was over 30 feet, then up to a 30% import duty applied! All of these duties have since been rescinded.
Also, the provincial government of Quebec welcomed new industry (and jobs of course) with open arms and financial incentives. One of the next largest boat builders perhaps that is no longer with us is Sunray/Princefib. Sunray built a full line of fiberglass family runabouts starting at 14 feet as well as a 13-foot pram. It built family v-hull closed deck runabouts as well as cathedral hull bowriders and fishing-oriented boats.
One of its biggest sellers was the well priced 14-foot low profile, closed deck, performance looking ski boat simply labelled the "145." Sunray gradually built larger models as the market demanded cuddies and cruisers. It offered model names such as Allegro, Ciera, Infinity, Mirage, and right up to a 32-foot Corsaro mid-cabin express cruiser. Unfortunately, the build quality and workmanship were not necessarily the best and Sunray ceased building in the late 80's or early 90's.
Lucat was another builder in Quebec that built a range of small runabouts and eventually some small cruisers. One model it built was unashamedly called the Mini-Cigarette and at 13-feet, was intended as a mini performance boat, a category being addressed at the time by many builders everywhere. Lucat started in the mid-80's and was all done by the late 90's.
Marvac was another Quebec brand around the same time as the others mentioned so far. It concentrated on small family runabouts but also had a range of runabout fishing boats as well as some small centre console models. Marvac was out of production by the very late 90's.
The Peterborough Canoe Company was once Canada’s largest manufacturer of boats and exported throughout the United States and elsewhere in the world. See my article Before Fiberglass – Central Ontario & Peterborough Boats.
By the late '50s, both fibreglass and aluminum started to supplant cedar strip and mahogany boatbuilding by utilizing mass-production techniques and less labour content per boat. The Peterborough Canoe Company finally closed its doors in 1961, but it had an extremely large following and was purchased in 1965 by the makers of aluminum Princecraft Boats and moved to Princeville, Quebec.
Peterborough was moved into a vacant fiberglass boatbuilder’s facility and gradually switched to building fiberglass utility, runabouts, and then cuddies and small cruisers. They became very popular and sales flourished across Canada and parts of the US. In 1982, in an effort to streamline its business, owners Alcan Marine Products realigned its activities and closed its Peterborough fiberglass products division to focus solely on aluminum boats. Gone were the models that customers loved such as Playboy, Sunliner, Seebreeze, Cadet, Lark, and Fury.
Traveler Boats was a huge and respected brand in the 1950’s and 60's, a name that evolved from the original wooden boat builder, Arkansas Traveler of Little Rock, AR. It started in 1947 and was one of the first fiberglass boat builders when it introduced its 12-foot, Small Fry model in 1952 at the Chicago Boat Show. Over the course of its short history, it became a subsidiary of a couple of railway equipment manufacturers.
Eventually shortening its name to simply Traveler, the Wall Street Journal reported that it had built 14,000 boats in 1958 alone. In 1959, it set up additional manufacturing facilities in Quebec and the Traveler name and its models such as Cub, Scout, Explorer, Ranger, Comet, Angus, Atlas, and Vanguard became very popular. By the mid-60's, its models ranged from 12 to 17feet and it had added a plant in Wisconsin but was unable to hang on and was gone by the late 1960's.
Stay tuned as this series has literally hundreds of brand names of boats no longer with us and which will be gradually revealed over the next number of weeks at BoatBlurb.
Don't forget to check out: