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Vintage Luhrs 320 is better than new

You’d never believe it to look at it, but Harry Ruppenicker’s 30-year-old Luhrs is not a museum piece.

You’d never believe it to look at it, but Harry Ruppenicker’s 30-year-old Luhrs is not a museum piece.

Far-Thing is a 320 Flybridge Cruiser in mint condition with its original engines and original gelcoat intact. It has traveled more than 35,000 miles, Ruppenicker estimates, and he uses it to this day.

He paid $33,000 (including tax) when he bought the boat new in 1976. This included the base price with a pair of 250-hp Chrysler engines, and optional equipment such as an extra bilge pump, stall shower, hot water system and teak swim platform.

Like so much else on the boat, the teak platform being used today is the original. Ruppenicker, the proprietor of Harry’s Marine Repair in Westbrook, Conn., is trying out a new product [Amazon Teak Lustre] on the platform. Far-Thing has been a guinea pig for many such projects.

He modified the 32-footer’s engine compartment in several ways, and then made a couple of those changes to similar-vintage Luhrs boats.

The engine compartment hatch contained balsa that would rot, so he reworked and sealed it. He replaced the original carriage hooks, which invited leaking onto the engine, with flush hatches.

He also built up and laminated-in new engine beds to avoiding a rotting problem that could occur at the original limber holes.

“We’ve done a lot of work making up for the mistakes the boatbuilder made,” says Ruppenicker, 66. “After 10 years you figure out what’s wrong with it.”

He replaced the galvanized fuel tanks with stainless steel ones after about five years, and believes all similar models should have had them replaced. “I’d say we changed at least a dozen of these boats,” he says.

Stepping inside through the original, well-varnished aft entry door, the saloon and galley contain the most noticeable modifications.

By removing a storage box at the forward bulkhead, the starboard side of the cabin is shifted forward about a foot. The end result is more room to work in the galley; his wife can open the oven, for example, without stepping into the companionway.

When it was being built for him, he stopped Luhrs from completing installation of a couple of covering boards in the galley, resulting in more counter space, and bunked double and single berths replace the standard convertible sofa and outboard shelf. There are drawers under the double berth.

“You’ll never see another 32 like it,” Ruppenicker says.

On the port side, he added an access door to the dinette’s under-seat storage compartment, which caught the attention of Luhrs engineers. It ended up on 1977 models, he says.

Ruppenicker also beefed up the boat to better handle rough seas. A 1-3/4-inch support column in the saloon was replaced with a 3-inch-by-6-inch column, and he ripped up the floors and bolted everything up so weight would be transferred to the stringers. Without this modification, the V-berths were breaking out of similar models. “And it’s made a big difference in the running of the boat,” he adds.

He found all the weak spots, he says, running Far-Thing at 11-1/2 knots over 6-footers in the Gulf of Mexico around 1986 or 1987.

Not surprisingly, Ruppenicker made a handful of changes to the forward V-berth. He added shelves, a tube from the anchor locker to the bilge to prevent leaking onto the cushions, and fabricated a new opening hatch to withstand the force of a wave. However, in all the years he has run the boat he has never taken a wave over the bow.

He describes the hull as being narrow at the stern and wide at the bow. “It’s a great sea boat, and it’s a great boat for coming through an inlet,” says Ruppenicker, who was in the Coast Guard at Station Shinnecock, N.Y. “I’ve never had a wave go over that swim platform.”

That’s not for lack of opportunities. Ruppenicker has made many trips to Canada and Florida aboard Far-Thing. When his three children — now grown — were young, they joined Ruppenicker and his wife. He and his wife also took her “around the block” — the Great Loop Route through the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi River, through the Gulf of Mexico to Florida and back up the Atlantic Coast.

The hull bottom is 7/8-inch thick, he says.

“They laid up a lot of glass,” he says. “They overbuilt them, but I don’t think so. I think they built them right.”

A great deal of carpentry work has gone into the flybridge, and the foredeck hosts some custom hardware, such as fender storage designed by Ruppenicker. The original helm seat is still in use, fitted with a Sunbrella cover.

One secret to keeping the gelcoat in pristine condition has been keeping a pair of dedicated boat shoes on board at all times.

The boat still has its Modar radio from 1977, though a Northstar GPS plotter has replaced the LORAN.

He also just removed an 8-track player, and installed a DVD player and flatscreen TV in the saloon.

The various modifications have added weight, Ruppenicker says, but not enough to make a difference. The twin Chrysler 360s, connected to V-drives and producing 265 hp, have the power to carry the extra weight.

Far-Thing usually cruises around 20 mph at 2,700 rpm, and hits a top speed of about 40 mph.

“These engines are good for over 3,000 [hours] if they’re well taken care of,” says Ruppenicker, a master marine mechanic who used to be a Chrysler dealer.

“I’ve made a lot of modifications to these engines,” he says. He rebuilt the oil system, for example, with dual oil filters and oil coolers.

On long trips — 1,500 miles or more — Ruppenicker runs the boat eight to 12 hours a day, day after day.

“It just always performs,” he says. Even with all the years of use, Far-Thing took home the trophy for the best-kept boat award at a Luhrs/Silverton rendezvous three years ago.

Other boats might have rotting stringers, water getting on the engine through unsealed hatches, or gelcoat beaten up by shoes that aren’t kept on board, but Ruppenicker continues working away at — and using — his Luhrs.

In addition to the major projects — such as one that found him removing the bow rail, and pulling apart the hull and deck joint to bulk it up and prevent leaks — there is the regular maintenance.

Once a year he waxes the hull with Collinite Wax, and he refinishes up top twice a year, working around the flybridge in sections.

He has put about $75,000 to $100,000 into the boat, in addition to the labor and expertise — but quickly points out that that is spread over 30 years.

“You’ve got to keep working at it,” he says. “You’ve got to put money in it every year.”