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Glastron celebrates a half-century

Born when fiberglass was still new technology, the runabout builder reaches a milestone

Born when fiberglass was still new technology, the runabout builder reaches a milestone

In 1956 a 27-year-old former aircraft designer from Austin, Texas, had an idea for a new boat company. He envisioned fiberglass boats with tailfins, side spears and two-tone color schemes — designs inspired by the automotive industry. Not long after, he found investors, developed a stylish prototype and Glastron Boats was born.

“I think my curiosity about new technology in the fiberglass industry and interest in all facets of design, fabrication and marketing of boats led me to think that perhaps I could build my own designs,” says 77-year-old Bob H. Hammond, co-founder and designer of Glastron Boats. “I wanted to head up my own company and to make the boats to my own standards.”

Celebrating 50 years in business this year, Glastron has sold nearly half a million boats and — with its industry-first closed-mold fiberglass process called Virtual Engineered Composites — remains at the forefront of innovation in fiberglass boat design and production.

Hammond’s wife, Bettye, who had worked as an advertising copywriter, reportedly suggested the name “Glastron.” The “Glas” refers to fiberglass and the thinking in the 1950s was “tron” had a high-tech sound to it. The company has consistently prided itself on innovation, beginning in the early 1960s when Glastron’s engineering department developed a process to create two-tone gelcoat hulls.

At the onset of the 1962 model year, Glastron launched the first sterndrive propulsion system, offering the Volvo-powered V-164 Bayflite and the OMC-powered V-154 Futura. In 1969 Glastron acquired California-based Carlson Boats and launched its first tri-hull line called the Swinger Series. The boats were wider and more stable than deep-vee models. “You could have five people on one side of the boat and one person on the other and not feel like the boat was going to tip,” says Glastron vice president and general manager Bruce Sargent.

Sales continued to increase in the 1970s with Glastron’s annual production reaching 24,000 units — an average of 96 boats per day. The company introduced its Super Stable Vee hull in 1977. The hull combined the stability and quick-planing characteristics of a tri-hull with the smooth ride of a deep-vee hull, the company says.

Glastron moved its operations in 1984 from Austin to new manufacturing facilities in New Braunfels, Texas. Not long after, in 1987, Glastron Boats was purchased by Genmar Industries, headed by Irwin Jacobs.

Glastron’s operations were relocated again in the 1990s to Genmar’s larger, more modern facility in Little Falls, Minn., where the company continued to focus on producing boats priced for the family market. In the 1993 model year, Glastron introduced a redesign of its product line, reducing the use of wood components by 50 percent. Molded composites and nylon rotocast materials were substituted.

In 2000 Glastron engineers unveiled the industry-first closed-mold fiberglass process called VEC. Glastron says this computerized manufacturing system enables it to produce lighter, stronger, more uniform hulls faster and cleaner than before.

“VEC enables us to make thousands of products before having to replace a mold,” Sargent says. “We’re able to create a new hull every two hours.” This year, the company says, four out of five Glastron models made in Little Falls will be built using VEC technology.

Looking back over the last 50 years, Hammond says he’s proud to have contributed to Glastron’s success.

“It’s incredible to see how far the industry has come technologically,” Hammond says. “It’s great to see the present Glastron management continuing to take chances with innovative ideas and strive for leadership.”