Automakers Designing Boats - Power & Motoryacht
There is a long history of automakers dipping toes into boatbuilding. Will this newest wave succeed?

Driven By Design

Automakers have a long history of trying to dip a toe into boatbuilding. Thanks to manufacturers like Lexus and Aston Martin, they might just start making waves.

As sexy as Daniel Craig with his shirt off and as elegant as Sean Connery in the casino at Monte Carlo, it’s no surprise that a crowd gathered around the sharp metallic blue boat at the Miami boat show. The surprise came from what it said on the nameplate: Aston Martin.

From its metallic blue hull to sophisticated leather details, the Aston Martin AM37 exudes secret-agent style. 

From its metallic blue hull to sophisticated leather details, the Aston Martin AM37 exudes secret-agent style. 

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The new Aston Martin AM37 is just the latest effort by automakers from Chrysler to Ferrari, Lexus to Mercedes, to dip their toes into the yachting scene. Some have been successful, others not so much, but all have brought an interesting land-sea flavor to these most popular of toys: boats and cars.

The AM37 is a piece of arm candy less Walther PPK and more Pussy Galore—and the “gran turismo” model is luxuriously appointed, while the faster “S” version can chase Spectre villain Ernst Blofeld at over 50 knots. However, Bond fans may be disappointed to learn that the power is not V-12s but, rather, a pair of 520-hp Mercury diesels. Nevertheless, James Bond has had a long-standing love affair with Aston Martin in the various 007 films, and this seagoing Aston clearly draws on that heritage.

Starting from a clean sheet of paper, automakers are designing some seriously shapely boats, like the Lexus Sport Yacht.

Starting from a clean sheet of paper, automakers are designing some seriously shapely boats, like the Lexus Sport Yacht.

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One of the features that would intrigue Sean, Daniel and Roger—beyond the Mako Blue Aston Martin paint and the Cream Truffle leather upholstery—is the electric champagne bucket that can be activated from your iPhone (thanks Q), presumably while en route in your Aston Martin DB-11. You would, of course, have a Bollinger ’75 in the bucket.

While Aston Martin’s Chief Creative Officer, Marek Reichman, collaborated with naval architects Mulder Design, the yacht came not from the Aston Martin factory in Gaydon, England, but from Quintessence Yachts, a Dutch firm with a shipyard in Southampton, England. Says Reichman, “The AM37 is a pure translation of the Aston Martin DNA into an entirely new maritime concept. The powerboat reflects our values in terms of power, beauty and soul.”

Henk de Vries, director of Feadship and chairman of Quintessence Yachts supervisory board, says, “It’s a logical move for Aston Martin, as it shares many of the same clients that own and love boats.”

Drawing on the speedboat aura of the classic Riva Aquarama, the AM37 features planked teak decking fore and aft, a retractable carbon fiber Bimini top and retractable swim platform. The wraparound windscreen is a single piece of sculpted glass, and a three-panel sliding deck unfolds to protect the cockpit when not in use. Other necessities aboard this uber-luxe day boat are a Nespresso machine and a remote-controlled anchor winch, a must in the absence of bowrails or even a forward hatch for foredeck access. You, too, can be 007, starting at $1.6 million.

There are, it seems, two kinds of auto/boat crossovers. One involves the parent automaker in the styling and construction decisions, while the other might best be labeled “decal engineering” since the automaker’s involvement begins and ends at putting its name on the boat. This is the nautical equivalent of “badge engineering” on cars, such as the Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade—name changes made to the same basic platform. Such cooperative branding is common in the industry, with a boatbuilder taking advantage of a carmaker’s image to market its product.

Long a symbol of fast and sexy cars, Ferrari collaborated with Riva in 1990 to create the Riva Ferrari 32. It’s especially hard to miss in flaming Rosso Corsa red, or the traditional color of Italian racing cars, while the big Formula One wing cantilevered forward over the cockpit is more “gee-whiz” than necessity in my opinion. A total of 30 were built, and the styling is pure Ferrari Testarossa, with slat-like air intakes on each side. Sadly—or perhaps wisely—the 32 wasn’t powered by Ferrari 4.9-liter V-12s with 48 valves but by twin Italian BPM Vulcano 390-hp engines with surface drives, certainly less temperamental powerplants in the marine environment. With a top speed of 54 knots, Sotheby’s recently sold one for a quarter of a million dollars.

Dipping its three-pointed star in salt water is Mercedes-Benz with the Arrow460-Granturismo Edition 1, a collaboration between the Mercedes-Benz Style studio, Silver Arrow Marine of Monaco, and Baltic Yachts of Finland. Unlike other concepts, the 460 is actually in production, with Hull No. 1 already cruising the French Riviera.

Inspired by race cars of the ’30s and drawn with an eye towards the future, the Silver Arrow from Mercedes is attracting attention in the Med.

Inspired by race cars of the ’30s and drawn with an eye towards the future, the Silver Arrow from Mercedes is attracting attention in the Med.

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Named for the legendary “Silver Arrow” Mercedes racing cars of the ’30s, the 46-foot coupe wears Mercedes racing silver, of course, but from there takes a sharp turn towards pure luxury over speed.(Rather than 1930s Silver Arrow V-12s, it makes use of 440-hp Yanmar diesels good for 30 knots.) This is a stylish day cruiser, with everything from automobile-style retracting side windows to a most decadent wine cellar. The interior features eucalyptus wood and leather trim, with wraparound seating for 10 people, which is essential since the cockpit has only two seats. There is also a bedroom suite and an opening “pergola” roof forward that hinges the entire windscreen upwards. Only 10 Edition 1s will be built, with each going to a different country, so plunk your $2 million down soon.

Toyota took an entirely different tack in 2014 with its aluminum-hulled Ponam 31, which it labeled a “Sports Utility Cruiser,” also popularized by the unfortunate acronym “SUC.” Sporting a large flybridge with mezzanine seating, the V-bottom hull is powered by a pair of 3.0-liter turbo diesels from the Land Cruiser Prado which, in the U.S., is the Lexus GX. Marinized with different turbos and cooling, the yacht bears spoiler-styled wings on the bridge and transom. Toyota first launched a Ponam 28 in 1997, naming it after the Maori name for New Zealand’s South Island. The price for the 31 is about $275,000 in Japan.

Toyota also made an earlier foray into boats with a line of waterski models in the ’90s called Epics. Using the 4-liter V-8 engine from the Lexus 400, the series started with a 21-foot closed bow that was recalled when drivers lost control during turns because of a twist in the original mold. Next came an open-bow 22-footer that featured an auto-ballast system, but the line was dropped during the economic downturn of 2001.

Lexus, the luxury love child of Toyota, launched a waterborne version of its cars when CEO Akio Toyoda was testing one of the Toyota Marine Ponam yachts and decided to have Lexus designers create a sporty luxury yacht. The Marquis-Carver Yacht Group in Wisconsin built a carbon-fiber prototype using a pair of 440-hp V-8 engines from the Lexus RC F and LC500. Visible through a unique clear engine cover, these push the Lexus Sport Yacht to 43 knots. The styling is drawn from the 200-mph Lexus LFA supercar, as are the colors of bronze and the gunmetal gray of carbon fiber. Inside, the full-headroom cabin for two includes galley and head with shower, all finished in Lexus woods and leather. Sadly, this build in particular won’t see production in the foreseeable future, however Lexus has just announced a three-stateroom 65-footer also built by Marquis-Carver slated to debut in the U.S. in 2019.

Launched in 1990, the Riva Ferrari 32 has become a collector’s dream.

Launched in 1990, the Riva Ferrari 32 has become a collector’s dream.

It wasn’t cars but motorcycles that encouraged Yamaha to introduce the world’s first sit-down personal watercraft in 1986. Afterward, the company leveraged the jet concept into the current Yamaha series of 19- to 21-footers, center consoles geared towards watersports and wakesurfing.

Another Japanese carmaker to test American waters was Datsun, which, through a Southern California-based dealer, offered the Sundance 16 in the 1970s. Shaped much like the flat-bottomed ski boats running on the Colorado River, the Sundance used a Datsun 2.0-liter 110-hp 4-cylinder with a Hamilton waterjet. Uniquely designed, the helm was centered on a single bench seat. Light enough to tow behind the smallest of cars, it had a burst of popularity until builder Conqueror Marine closed down. Today, it remains a highly prized score for Datsun mini-truck enthusiasts.

Across the pond, Donald Healey, founder of sportscar maker Austin Healey, launched Healey Marine in 1956, primarily because he and his best friend, racing driver Stirling Moss, wanted a boat for waterskiing in the Bahamas. The first was a 14-footer with Scott Atwater outboard power. The next was a 16-footer, the Sports 55, with a BMC 4-cylinder 60-hp inboard. A later boat, also made with marine plywood over mahogany frames, was the 13-foot, 6-inch Sprite, a name familiar to sports car aficionados. Over some six years, Healey Marine built more than 1,750 boats.

Cigarette Racing has had a 10-year relationship with AMG, which is the performance tuner for Mercedes-Benz. AMG started 50 years ago when Mercedes dropped out of racing, and three engineers formed a new company to produce powerful engines and suspension tuning to make various Mercedes models into serious competitors on the track and street. The discreet AMG badge on a Mercedes suggests you think twice before challenging one at a stoplight.

With the Ponam 31, Toyota opted to build a boat that’s less sexy and more utilitarian.

With the Ponam 31, Toyota opted to build a boat that’s less sexy and more utilitarian.

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The current 51-foot Cigarette Racing Team Marauder GT-R is a tribute to the Mercedes-AMG GT-R sports car, with ample use of decals and a dark green color called Green Hell—a reference to the dangerous north loop of Germany’s legendary Nurburgring race track. For the AMG version of the standard Cigarette Marauder, the use of carbon fiber has lightened the boat by more than 1,300 pounds and a new deck was created, making room for additional guests. Power comes from a pair of staggered Mercury Racing quad-cam four-valve dry sump engines that can produce up to a total of 3,100 hp for a top speed of 122 knots.

Not to be left out, Porsche contributed its design talents to Miami-based Fearless Yachts, which launched in 2007 with a 28-footer and plans for yachts as large as 150 feet. Not inexpensive ($350,000), it was powered not by Porsche engines but by a single 525-hp Dodge Viper engine that gave it a 70-knot top speed. It was touted as having European curves, but with bucket seats for two plus a rear bench and no cabin. Only four boats were sold.

Porsche wasn’t done, however. It signed on with the Royal Falcon Fleet, a Singapore-based fractional yacht owner program, to design an aluminum-hulled 135-foot catamaran that would be divided among 10 owners who apparently didn’t, ahem, appear. The very odd-looking yacht—which Porsche called “a spaceship on the water”—was never finished by the also oddly named Kockums shipyard in Sweden. Today, it remains unfinished in a cavern-like underground naval base in Sweden, with a current price of $40 million.

Porsche still wouldn’t give up. From there, it hooked up with Dynamiq, a Monaco-based company with a yard in Viareggio. The first yacht, the GTT 115, was spotted in Monaco, and has a reversed bow featuring an odd, snout-like chine forward. Using a pair of MAN V12 hybrid diesels linked to Fortjes pod drives, the GTT 115 has a speed of 21 knots and a claimed 3,400 nm range.

The first GTT 115, appropriately named Jetsetter, is priced at $13.4 million and has a houndstooth fabric décor as a tribute to Porsche 911s of the 1970s. Other car-like touches are a Recaro racing seat for the skipper and lighted racing numbers on interior doors.

And still such carmakers continue to lust for the sea. Bugatti, French maker of the Chiron that can ostensibly break the 300-mph range for a street-legal production car, has linked with famed boatbuilder Palmer Johnson of Wisconsin to offer the Niniette, named for the late Ettore Bugatti’s daughter. A 66-footer, the Niniette will feature such necessities as a cockpit firepit as well as a Jacuzzi spa, presumably to provide water should accidental fires occur. Axopar, the Finnish builder of military-style sportboats, has teamed with Brabus, a Mercedes-oriented performance company similar to AMG, to create the racy Axopar Brabus, a 36-footer capable of 50 knots. And Jaguar, which offers its XF Sportbrake as a fast and nimble four-door wagon, has created a concept sportboat that draws heavily on the XF lines.

Whether any of these will ever reach your local waters is a question worth asking. But, nevertheless, automakers continue to view the sea as a venue to showcase their talents, merging two of our favorite toys under a single name.

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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