David Smith, the President of Elite Craft, has been involved in the boating industry for most of his adult life. His special interests has always been classic, mahogany inboard speedboats. Growing up near Lake Michigan, he developed a deep appreciation for their varnished beauty and graceful design, their precision craftsmanship, and the unmistakable rumble of a powerful inboard engine.
Smith’s appreciation of the old runabouts grew to the point where he began to collect and restore them in the 1960’s. He soon was aware that not withstanding the desirability of the classics the constant time consuming and laborious maintenance such as re-planking, caulking and varnishing greatly diminished the enjoyment and made it impractical to own a classic “woodie”. Owning a modern fiberglass runabout, however, was an unacceptable compromise. Although they were easy to maintain, the grace and elegance of the classics were sadly lacking.
Smith decided that a logical alternative would be a handcrafted, classic-design inboard with the look of varnished mahogany but without the need for constant maintenance. But how to blend such seemingly irreconcilable goals? If oak and mahogany construction were used, again the boat would demand much maintenance. Besides, marketing experience told him that the cost of such materials and the labor required to manufacture such a boat would make the price out of reach of all but a few buyers.
The solution would be an innovative technique in which fiberglass is given the appearance of highly varnished mahogany. Developing the process was time-consuming and painstaking, but eventually it was perfected. The entire structure is a thick, tough, rigid, yet lightweight sandwich of fiberglass and foam core along with other key materials. This sandwich would be further strengthened by a rigid network of bulkheads and stringers.
During the time Smith was perfecting his process, Jay L. (Skip) Bregand, a friend and an electromechanical engineer, joined him to form Elite Craft, Inc. in 1978. Bregand had over 20 years experience in designing, building and testing boats which began in his early teenage years. He received much early support form his father, who also built and raced boats throughout the country in the ’40’s and ’50’s.
Smith and Bregand agreed that an Elite Craft boat must capture the spirit of a wooden runabout from the era when they enjoyed their most popularity. Above all it must be of exceptional quality that will endure.
Studies were done on the designs of all the well-known runabouts of the period, and a boat was created to incorporate the best features of the various makes and model years. The first Elite Craft was a 20 foot, twin-cockpit-forward inboard; production began on a limited basis in 1978. This boat earned phenomenal dealer and customer acceptance, which convinced Smith that Elite Craft was a boat the discriminating buyers wanted: a classic design mahogany inboard with all the charm of the original, yet with little of the maintenance.
Elite Craft has a large model line of boats, all of which capture the charm and elegance of the classic-design inboard runabout. “The quality of construction and materials will never be cheapened,” Smith says. “We constantly are upgrading our craft. They are overbuilt, and that’s the way we want it. We will never compromise on our hand labor or choice of material, nor will we change a boat design because of the whims of style. The purchaser of an Elite Craft can be assured of the highest possible quality standard in the world – in a classic boat – both now and in the years to come.”