Classic Wooden Boats In All Their Elegance On Lake Tahoe

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From the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey to the American Century Golf Classic filled with celebrities, there are a lot of summer traditions that happen around Lake Tahoe. Back in the 1930s & 40s, Carnelian Bay was a popular spot for boat racing and recreational boating. Formal boat racing no longer takes place, but there’s still a really cool event featuring classic wooden boats of that era.

Where This Idea Came From

Concours d’Elegance…what? The literal translation is “Competition of Elegance.” To really understand what it is, you need to go back in time – all the way back to France in the 17th Century. At that time, the aristocracy would parade around in the parks of Paris in extravagant carriages on summer weekends and holidays. A friendly competition was born to see who had the most extravagant carriages and who maintained them the best.

Concours D'Elegance - Image taken by Steve Natale
Concours d’Elegance – Image taken by Steve Natale

Over the centuries this then translated to the “horseless” carriages or cars, which would be judged on the appearance of their vehicles. The Concours d’Elegance then migrated from land to sea and classic wooden boats joined the tradition. These events really gained traction as competitors and fans alike were eager to see the fine vessels judged in such a strict fashion.

Not The Average “Boat Show”

First, the judges must be experts! It’s a must to know and understand each and every component on EVERY boat based upon year and model. Only those entries that are considered perfect in every way are even considered eligible for a trophy. Specifically, what do these judges look at? They often look at everything from upholstery, paint, plating, and mechanical restoration to see if they meet or exceed the standards of the boat when it was new. No after-market parts or even parts from a different year can be used to replace broken pieces on entries in this competition! This is truly the gold standard of boat competitions.

The “Super Bowl” Of Wooden Boats

In its 49th year, the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance is the shining example of what this style show is about. This “Super Bowl” of Wooden Boat week in Lake Tahoe comes with multiple social gatherings and judged events that determine which boat in its class fit these extremely tight standards. The boats that win are not just considered great but world class. This week of fun is also open to the public and gives everyone the opportunity to “judge” for themselves.

The two major days to check out the classic wooden boats are as follows:

Friday, August 9th, 2024

Show: 10am – 4:30pm
Awards Ceremony: 6pm (reservations required)

Saturday, August 10th, 2024

Terry’s Show: 8:30 am
Show: 9am – 4:30pm
Roar-Off: 4pm (separate ticket required)

A Vintage Wooden Boat Introduction & Beginner’s Guide

The roar of a classic engine, the reflection of sunlight off of shiny brass fittings, and the sparkle of lake water splashing against a meticulously cared for mahogany hull. These characteristics make classic wooden boats, built in the 1920’s to the 1960’s, an amazing sight to see. At the same time, these features also make them some of the rarest classic items on the planet. To help introduce beginners to this world, here is a quick guide to some boat manufacturers you might see at the Concours d’Elegance.


Just think about what these boats are made of. Wood is organic meaning that it expands/contracts with the weather. The boat manufacturers from this era built wooden hulls to last approximately six to eight boating seasons not fifty or sixty. The brass that these boats use for their ornaments and fittings is also one of the softest metals. There is always a good chance it can bend or break. When you get an opportunity to see a mint condition wooden powerboat in real life, check it out. And remember those facts.

Want To Rent One In Real Life?

1958 Century Coronado a classic wooden boat on Lake Tahoe parked on a beach
Image appears courtesy: Alpenglow Boat Company

If you’ve ever wanted to experience one of these in real life our friends at Algenglow Boat Company rent a 1958 Century Coronado out of the Tahoe Keys Marina. They’re offering our readers a chance to experience a classic wooden boat AND save a few bucks. All you have to do is let them know Local Freshies® sent ya, and you’ll get $15 off of the rental. Wondering what it’s like? Let’s just say you get to Be James Bond For A Day With A Tahoe Keys Boat Rental.


Started in 1874 & based in the Detroit area, this company originally made power boats for the likes of Henry Ford and William Randolph Hearst. They also were the first to mass produce power boats, making ownership of a boat not just for the wealthy anymore. The middle class could actually afford to buy one too! By the 1950’s, Chris-Craft was still considered one of the finest boat manufacturers in the world and offered over 159 models covering the entire spectrum of people’s incomes.

Century Boat Company

Century Classic Wooden Boats Garb Tahoe South Wooden Boat Show Concours D'Elegance
Photo by: Local Freshies®

Started in 1926 in Milwaukee, their company specialty was its ability to make extremely fast wooden plank hulls. They were so fast that one of the hulls set the world record in 1930 with their boat called Century Hurricane, recording a speed of 50.93 mph. That’s fast in a wooden power boat!

Garwood Industries aka “Gar Wood”

Garwood Classic Wooden Boats Garb Tahoe South Wooden Boat Show Concours D'Elegance
Photo by: Local Freshies®

Garfield Wood, the owner of Garwood Industries, was what you could consider the classic 1920’s “showman.” He was always trying to drum up business with a new gimmick or a flashy way to do what he loved doing most… going fast. Garfield personally broke the world speed record five times in a boat and won five straight Gold Cup races between 1917 and 1921. He continued to build wooden power boats until 1947.

Hacker Boat Co.

An example of the many classic wooden boats at the Concours D'elegance - Split Second – 34' Replica of a 1927 Hacker Race Boat on Lake Tahoe
Split Second – 34′ Replica of a 1927 Hacker Race Boat – Image courtesy Steve Natale

The oldest builder of wooden motorboats in the world was founded by a man named John Ludwig Hacker in Detroit. He was a naval architect and one of the most famous motorboat designers in the world. His out of the box thinking for engineering and motorboat design is still seen in all boats today. The most famous design is the “V”- hull. Before Hacker motorboats had round narrow hulls, which caused the boat to “squat” instead of “plane” through the water. People thought “planing” was dangerous and needed to be avoided at all costs. He proved everyone wrong by building the “Au Revoir” with his revolutionary V-hull design. In 1908, it was considered the fastest in the world. With this success, Hacker Boat Co. was born.

Big thanks to Steve Natale for the great photos & education. Can’t get enough? Go here to see more of his amazing photos!

One thought on “Classic Wooden Boats In All Their Elegance On Lake Tahoe

  1. I have an older wooden Chris Craft. About 21 feet. single engine. It has two fins ( fiber glass ). what is the model? Trying to decide whether to restore it or sell it.

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