By Lee Wangstad
In the late fifties, when most of the players in the recreational boating market had either sputtered to an inglorious halt, or had elevated themselves into that group that were writing their success stories, Luger Industries of Minneapolis made a bold move that would launch them into the winners circle.
The kit-boat market, never really feared by the front line boat manufacturers, was about to change with the introduction of Luger’s new fiberglass boat kits. Before this, the kit-boat industry was composed almost entirely of boats made of marine grade plywood fastened to hardwood frames.
At the start of the post World War II boating boom, these kits were extremely popular, not only with the average do-it-yourselfer, who felt that he could build anything better himself, but also with those boaters who now had the leisure time and necessary skills to build their own boat out in the garage. Looking back at the market, these home-built plywood outboard boats were very comparable in both looks and performance to the professionally built outboard boats turned out by the manufacturers.
While not for everyone, this was boating at a cost level that almost everyone could enjoy. Maybe this is also where the habit of leaving the family automobile outside over those cold Minnesota winters began, leaving enough room in the garage for a nice sized boat shop. The garage would become a place where the guys in the neighborhood could come on a cold winter evening and discuss the merits of the Johnson versus the Mercury, or more likely in this atmosphere, the Buccaneer and the Wizard.
For those inclined to think that kits were the only avenue for those whose skill level matched their desire to be on the water will have to look towards another market: boat plans. This built from scratch approach, while seemingly more economical, took vast amounts of skill, and by the time you were finished, had every bit as much money invested as the kits. Some of the plans could be bought as frame kits, so at least the general shape and structure of the boat had the potential of being correct.
Towards the end of the fifties, the recreational boating market had changed dramatically. While fiberglass and aluminum boats were a novelty in the early fifties, within a few short years they had taken over the market. While a kit boat looked right at home in 1955, by 1958 the kits were looking slightly behind the times.
The new fiberglass kit line from Luger would change the way kit boats were perceived by the boat buying public. They were easy to build, cost up to 60% less than a manufactured boat, and most importantly, had all of the good looks and styling features of a professionally built boat.
Their initial offering in 1959 had three models: the Skylark, an open utility type boat; the Royal Lancer, with seat backs and a walk-through front seat; and the Le Continental, their top of the line runabout with all of the features expected to be included on a premium boat in this market.
The basic kit came in three pieces: the deck, the hull, and the upper hull. Luger advertising claimed that it could be “easily assembled in one enjoyable evening!” The three main pieces were interlocking and after assembly were screwed together with stainless steel screws. The joints were then reinforced from the inside of the boat with fiberglass mat and resin. The only tools needed were a screwdriver and a hand drill.
The Luger boats came with decks available in any of three color options: Tropic Coral; Bali Blue; or Harbor Green, all with a Harbor White hull.
The boats featured molded-in flotation chambers in the seat bottoms, full length molded fiberglass stringers, and a transom consisting of two layers of 3/4″ plywood with a 1/4″ layer of fiberglass between them. This transom would hold either two 45 hp engines or one 90 hp outboard.
How far you wanted to take your Luger boat was entirely up to you and your budget. The back pages of their catalog had every accessory item imaginable, from windshields to deck hardware all the way to life jackets and upholstery kits. Of course, you could do any of these things through a local upholsterer or buy your hardware through a marine dealer, but it was made available through Luger.
The boats were designed by Orm and Ren Luger in collaboration with leading industrial designer Charles Butler & Associates of New York. The boat came to you with a molded-in gelcoat finish, relieving the builder of the hardest task in building a kit boat: a professional looking finish. The styling given to this boat is still as fresh and crisp today as it was in 1959.
“My brother Ren and I started Luger Industries in our garage in 1950,” remembers Orm Luger. “We had another company make the kits to our design, and we sold them.
It was just part time at first, until we became too busy. I was first to quit my job to work on the kits full time. Ren soon followed, and we were in business.”
“The boat business was just starting to gel at the time. We were just in the right business at the right time with the right product,” claims Orm. “We had always had an interest in boats while growing up.”
“In 1959 we developed the first fiberglass kit boat,” says Orm Luger. “The fiberglass industry was still in its infancy back then, so we did the fiberglass work ourselves. We used all hand lay-up. After we started to sell fiberglass boats, there were no more wood boat kits developed.”
Just as the rest of the marine industry had seen great changes in methods and materials during the fifties and sixties, the boat kit manufacturers also had to adapt. At one time there were over fourteen boat kit producers in the market, but by the 80’s this number had dwindled to just three, with Luger still among them. Ren and Orm sold Luger Industries in 1986, but both continue their involvement in boating today.