The need for speed ... in an old classic

Bluffton resident to show unique car, boat in Concours d'Elegance

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comOctober 23, 2011 


  • The Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d'Elegance begins Friday with the Savannah Speed Classic at the Westin Savannah Harbor.

    The festivities continue at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn on Hilton Head Island the next weekend.

Nearly four decades ago, Chuck Mistele was in Algonac, Mich., when he saw an old boat with a sign for a fishing tournament hanging from it. It was a 30-foot wooden power boat with no engine. It looked like it was about to fall apart. But it was a piece of boat-racing history -- the first boat to go faster than 100 mph.

He ended up buying it, and, more or less, became an aficionado of speed. Several years later he also bought a Depression-era car that topped 100 mph. It's not so much the speed he's interested in. It's the history.

Mistele of Bluffton will show his 1930 GarWood race boat and his 1936 Auburn 852 speedster at the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d'Elegance the first weekend in November.

Within the ranks of the wooden boat collectors, his powerboat is legendary. American motorboat builder Garfield Wood built Miss America IX, as it's called, and raced it in the prestigious Harmsworth trophy (the America's Cup of power boat racing). Just skimming across the water in the Detroit River, Miss America IX finished first in 1930 and 1931, only later to be disqualified in the latter race by jumping the starting gun.

It had the reputation as one of the fastest boats in the world, as Wood also topped it out at 102 mph along Florida's Indian River in 1931.

By the time Mistele came across the boat in 1970, it had no fittings and the original 12-cylinder engines were missing.

He'd been an avid sailor at one point and still maintained an interest in boating. He walked up to the owner and gave him his card. He told him to give him a call if he was looking to sell.

"I was 25," Mistele says now. "No brains but a lot of swagger."

Two years later, the owner called. Mistele drove up with family from southern Michigan on a foggy day and bought it, his wife, Diane, not exactly pleased with the purchase.

"Someone has to preserve and protect this boat," he told her then.

"It doesn't have to be you," she had replied.

"But it's history," he said.

Another piece of history soon found its way into his garage.

Mistele bought the car in 1972 from his father, who, in turn, had received it in a trade for a Ford Model A in 1960. His father was a car connoisseur, to say the least. At one point he had 26 classic models, some stored in neighboring garages. His wife got frustrated with the enormity of the selection, so he had to pare it down. One of his favorites was the 1936 Auburn 852 speedster, the sixth last of the kind to be made. A plaque on the dash says it got up to 101.2 mph on a factory test drive. The test driver was none other than Ab Jenkins, a multiple land-speed record holder.

Mistele was stunned when he heard his father was thinking about selling it. His father clarified. He was selling it... to his son.

Just two years after buying the boat, he really couldn't afford the car. But his father wouldn't take no for an answer. Sure enough, Mistele bought it and paid it off over eight years.

He's had it restored over the past three years in Michigan. It was black, but it was sand blasted to reveal a bold red underneath. They took it down to the basics and built it back up, even restoring its original color and getting custom-made white wall tires. He recently took it out on the road for the first time in 35 years.

He's shown the boat before at the Concours, but this will be the first time both car and boat will be on display.

He travels cross country with his boat to display it at wooden boat shows. He doesn't mind taking it out for a quick spin, the engines growling while it glides gently across the water, just like its heyday.

"It's a piece of history," he said. "And it can still go fast."

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Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival and Concours d'Elegance

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