We have a good number of classic boats in the Chesapeake Bay area. This racer is a Switzer Craft Shooting Star. Amazingly, this 16-foot boat with all its curves and tall fins is built from molded plywood. The design was so sleek—complete with high fins and twin bubble windshields—and so ahead of its time that it inspired the “Batboat” in the Batman TV series.
It took a woodworking artist to not only build this boat but also restore it. The Switzer family had her completely restored between 2000 to 2003 by the local builder that actually hand-crafted this boat nearly 50 years earlier! Finishing touches during this restoration process included its wood, paint, chrome, and hardware.
This black and white racer with red and white vinyl upholstery is powered by a fully rebuilt 40-hp Mercury Mark 55E. Since the restoration, the boat has only been in the water once for test purposes. It has been displayed on land ever since.
Switzer Craft was started in the basement of the Switzer’s Chicago home in 1946. Dave Switzer created a sailboat, but unfortunately it didn’t work well because it couldn’t sail upwind.
When Dave was drafted into World War II, he left the sailboat behind with his younger brother, Bob, who didn’t want a sailboat at all. Bob was all about speed. He wanted a motorboat. Bob had a problem though because he didn’t even own a boat motor.
Determined to save up and buy himself a motor, Bob took on a second job at a butcher shop, where he made $7 a week. After six months he took the $60 he saved, visited Chicago boat dealers one Saturday and found a 1934 Evinrude 5.4 motor for $50. Bob bought the motor and wrote a letter to his brother asking if he could turn Dave’s sailboat into a motorboat.
With Dave’s permission and the help of their father, Russell Switzer, Bob built his first motorboat. Unfortunately, his boat wasn’t as smooth on the water as he hoped it would be.
While in Hawaii waiting to return home from the war, Dave sent Bob and Russell a 13-inch scale model mahogany carving of a speedboat.
Russell decided to surprise Dave by actually building his version of the motorboat. Russell was more of a mechanic than a wood worker, so it was shoddy craftsmanship. When Dave saw the boat his father and brother had created, Dave said he would have built it differently. Russell then told him, “If you’re so smart, then why don’t you build a boat!” And that’s how Switzer Craft began!
Sifting through and experimenting with decades of ingenious designs, Bob and Dave Switzer created many cornerstones of today’s high performance boat designs. Dave, the quiet genius, and Bob, the enthusiastic racer/promoter, did more with less than you can imagine, standing the boating world on its collective ear repeatedly.
After the war the Switzers got serious and built custom wood racing runabouts for the burgeoning stock outboard classes in the 50s. Their early success gave them the impetus to build larger pleasure designs all bearing Dave Switzer’s often quirky vision. The models ranged from sleek runabouts with 50s-style tail fins, to larger cabin cruisers and fishing boats.
In those days travel and delivery costs kept the majority of boat sales in the Midwest and isolated dealer-centric pockets elsewhere across the country. That’s why it was so rare to find this boat on the East Coast.
Today Bob Boardman is the owner of this classic Switzer and a member of the ACBS Chesapeake Bay Chapter. He loves the chapter and attends many of its events. Among his several classic boats Bob also owns a Chris-Craft Cobra, which is an outstanding craft. I have seen this Cobra Chris-Craft in the water underway at the Chesapeake City, MD, ACBS event.
Enjoy the abundance of these special boats during this classic boating season and all the events up and down the East Coast. Go for a special cruise or attend a classic boat show.
By Chris “Seabuddy” Brown