Dreamboat: The Evinrude Lark

The Evinrude Lark, Florida, 1956 Negative # 1984.187.150513F

Brook Stevens, American industrial designer, popularized the phrase “planned obsolescence” during a talk he gave in 1954. He defined it as “Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, and a little sooner than necessary.” In 1956, Evinrude Motors exhibited Stevens’ concept boat Evinrude Lark. At the time, he was essentially unknown in the boating world as the Lark was the first of several concept boats he would design for Evinrude.

“The traditionalists may wail,” the New York Times quoted Stevens before the 1956 National Motor Boat Show, “But this new craft will cause a furor. We are reluctant to use the term ‘dreamboat’ but it is nearly that, and certainly a prophetic design which we feel will influence other designers and builders.”

The Lark was an $11,000 custom-built boat powered by Evinrude’s 30-h.p. outboard motor capable of speeds up to 35 m.p.h. The large rear fins housed retractable water-skiing ropes. Two bubble type aircraft-inspired windshields replaced the traditional wrap-around windshield. There was an aircraft style yoke for steering and electric-starting controls were mounted in the instrument panel. Two contoured, crash-padded bucket seats were positioned in the cockpit at amidships. This was alike to the ergonomics of the sports car. He brought together space age aircraft elements, newer auto style interiors, and exterior fins.

Was this a radical design? Yes, it was. “When we introduced the Lark,” said Stevens in an interview, “We presented an extreme exhibitionist version of what might come.”

“In designing this boat, I put the gearshift in the middle, just the way it is in a Jaguar and a lot of the others. I made two-bucket seats, and added trim, coloration—the whole thing. I even went so far as to put in an airplane-type steering wheel.” Stevens went on. “The fins were there because fins were it—because fins were going to be it. This was before Chrysler. I exaggerated. I wanted a flamboyant conversation piece. But in doing it, I at least incorporated a retractable ski-tow reel inside the fins. In other words I made a functional reason for my foppery.”

While only two Lark boats were built as show concept boats, the Cadillac Boat Company of Cadillac Michigan was given the rights to the Lark’s prototype design and they produced three similar vessels labeled the “Cadillac Sea Lark.” However, the boats proved more expensive to build than expected. The “Lark” series of small boats never went into mass production. Other small boat builders such as Glastron, however, successfully manufactured many vessels with tailfins and other stylish crossover elements from the very successful automotive designs of the same period. Since only a handful of Larks were built, the Lark really was a “dreamboat” – unobtainable.

Pictured here is an advertising image of the Evinrude Lark, Florida, 1956

[See related post Heli-bout: Boating George Jetson-Style]

– Guest post by Lee Greenwood, Rosenfeld Collection Volunteer