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Innovators in Boating - William 'Buck' Pegg & Chaparral Boats

Chaparral Villain boat
The Chaparral Villain

The pleasure boat industry is chock full of the most interesting of people -- hard working, dedicated individuals and families who have often put their life’s savings and full-time energies to fulfilling their dreams of creating the boats we know and love.

These are their stories.

William “Buck” Pegg grew up with his family in Union Lake, Michigan where he was known to salvage ice-damaged abandoned wooden boats in the spring and patch them up. At 15, his father retired and moved the family to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Not staying retired for long, in the early 60's Buck’s father established Fiberglass Fabricators producing small parts utilizing the newly emerging technology of fiberglass reinforced plastic. By 1963, Buck’s father had taken on a full equal partner in the business.

Buck had studied dentistry for a couple of years at university, but in 1964 he dropped out to join his father’s fiberglass business. Shortly afterwards, a small local upstart Florida boat manufacturer contracted Fiberglass Fabricators to build some molds, hulls, and other parts for them. The following year, Fiberglass Fabricators decided it would de-emphasize producing parts and pieces for others and instead concentrate on building their own brand of boats. It started with a 15-foot tri-hull runabout.

Following an employee naming contest they chose Chaparral for the new boat line -- ostensibly after the American-built world famous Can-Am race car, which was mostly unbeatable from its introduction in 1962 until 1970. The Chaparral race car was itself apparently named after the fast-running ground cuckoo “roadrunner” bird, the chaparral.

That first 15-foot Chaparral tri-hull runabout sold for under $700, but it established early standards of quality construction and purposeful design for the company. That model continued in the Chaparral line-up for over 15 years following a production run that saw some several thousand boats being produced.

By 1968, Fiberglass Fabricators introduced a new 18-foot model. At the same time, Buck Pegg had been introduced on the paddleball court to Florida native Jim Lane, a graduate accountant and CFO in Miami. Lane was already a boater, and with him and Buck being the same age, they hit it off. Lane eventually purchased the first twin-engine Chaparral from Buck.

By 1972, Chaparral was offering 14 models of outboard and sterndrive-powered runabouts from 15-24 feet in “Standard” and “Deluxe” configurations, as well as a couple of cuddy cabin models. By 1976, the lineup had grown to 20 models in the same configuration and same size range, but “V” hulls were also added to the mix. By 1987, the model range included 29 models up to 30 feet and included some dedicated “Fisherman” models and the acclaimed Villain performance models.

By 1976, Fiberglass Fabricators and the Chaparral boat brand was flourishing and more manufacturing space was needed. Expansion of its existing facility was considered when Buck learned of the pending bankruptcy of a boat manufacturer in Nashville, Georgia. It would be vacating a purposefully constructed boat manufacturing facility. Buck wanted to buy it. His equity partner however, who had joined his father back in 1963, did not want to move to Georgia.

Buck explained the situation to Jim Lane, who agreed to buy out the partner’s interest and together Buck and Jim became partners in acquiring the 37,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Nashville, Georgia. They closed the Florida facility. At the same time, they changed the corporate name to Chaparral Boats, Inc.

Buck and Jim together made for a natural partnership. Buck was the hands-on production side of the team: the boat-builder, the design implementer, the quality and production control innovator. Jim’s background in accounting kept him happy in the office concentrating on sales, profitability, finance, purchasing, and human resources. Chaparral Boats Inc. grew in sales and profitability almost exponentially year over year into the 1980’s. The physical size of the boat line also grew to satisfy the market demands for both small and wide-bodied cruisers.

In the midst of this growth, and with the objective of solidifying the long term financial stability of the company, in 1986 Pegg and Lane sold Chaparral Boats, Inc. to RPC Inc., a Rollins family petrochemical field servicing company in Atlanta. As the Rollins family had no interest in the day-to-day operations of a pleasure boat company, and since they were obviously happy with the direction it was headed, Buck Pegg and Jim Lane continued to run Chaparral as before with little interference from RPC.

Chaparral continued to grow, and by 2000 its manufacturing facilities in Nashville, Georgia were 10 times the original size. With annual sales now over $100 million, it was recognized as the third largest fiberglass pleasure boat company in North America. In that same year, it was decided to separate the oil field servicing portion of RPC from the boat manufacturing. Chaparral was spun off and became a subsidiary of newly-formed Marine Products Corporation (MPC) and continued under majority ownership by the Rollins family.

In 2001, Marine Products acquired the highly respected but faltering offshore fishing boat manufacturer Robalo from industry giant Brunswick Corporation. Started in 1969, Robalo had never been a huge player in its market niche. Brunswick had owned Robalo since 1991 and it had been a part of Brunswick’s US Marine division.

Robalo had virtually ceased production by 2001. It was nursed back to healthy respectability by the team at Chaparral and is still part of the Marine Products lineup to this day. Originally built in its own facility in Florida, Robalo is now built in the MPC facility in Nashville, Georgia, claimed to be the largest single location boat-building facility in the world. For 2023, Robalo offers 19 models of center console, dual console, bay boats, and walk-arounds ranging from 18-36 feet.

Soon to celebrate 60 years as independent boat manufacturers, Chaparral has accumulated untold industry awards for innovation and customer satisfaction. For 2023, Chaparral offers 20 models of both outboard and sterndrive powered bowrider sport boats and wake surf boats from 21-34 feet.

Chaparral and Robalo Boats are part of Marine Products Corporation, a public company since 1987 traded under the symbol MPX on the New York Stock Exchange. Its annual financial reporting is available to the public and its results have been growing and consistently positive over those many years.

Having expanded the size of its Nashville, Georgia manufacturing facilities some 30 times from the original 37,000 square feet to more than 1.2 million square feet, Chaparral and Robalo are one of the largest employers in southern Georgia and were named among Fortune Magazine’s 100 Fastest Growing Companies in the nation in 2018.

Founder Buck Pegg turned eighty years old on August 9, 2022. His friend and company President, Jim Lane, died of leukemia in March 2016.

The massive Chaparral and Robalo manufacturing facility in Nashville, Georgia

Don't forget to check out our full series covering all the Innovators in Boating.

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