In 1960 Cornelius “Connie” Ray teamed with college friend Arch Mehaffey in a fiberglass boatbuilding venture. They took over an existing builder — Carr Craft, which also made fiberglass coffins — moved into an abandoned potato warehouse in Oxford, Michigan, and got to work.
They produced six models under the Sea Ray name, the biggest just 17 feet. But Ray had grand plans and three basic tenets: A heavier fiberglass boat delivers a better ride, a boat’s interior matters, and a solid dealer network is essential to success.
To spice up the boats and create some buzz, Ray hired Harley Earl Associates — Earl also designed the Chevrolet Corvette — to go over the current models. Soon new Sea Rays were coming out with upholstered seats, an automobile-style dash and wheel, plush interiors, and blue, tan and red color schemes. And quality was the byword. “If it has my name on it, it has to be the best,” Ray insisted.
The SRV 240 had all of these elements when it was introduced in 1968 as the new Sea Ray flagship, setting the company on a course to become the most prolific boatbuilder in the world. The SRV 240 came in Cuddy-Cabin (pictured here), Weekender, Sportbridge and Hardtop versions. Options included the new OMC and MerCruiser sterndrives, a covered cockpit for sun protection, a wood-grain dash and wheel, teak flooring, a galley and a marine sanitation system. Ray sold the boats like cars, relying on a strong dealer network and top-flight customer service.
The design became not only Sea Ray’s biggest seller, but also the “main template upon which Sea Ray would build for years to come,” writes Jeffrey Rodengen in his company history, Commanding the Waterways: The Story of Sea Ray. Imagine, the largest Sea Ray was just 24 feet. Now one of Brunswick Corp.’s boat brands, the builder offers 33 models, from the 19 SPX sportboat to the L650 motoryacht.
This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue.