The Most Rare Lake ‘n Sea: 1959 18’ Grand Traverse Cruiser

The 1959 Lake ‘n Sea 18’ Grand Traverse Cruiser should have its own wanted poster in every fiberglass boat collector’s workshop. As of today only one is known to have been made and sold and is still missing. That boat was last seen at the New York boat show in January 1959 according to a 2003 oral history interview with the late John T. Parsons, founder and owner of the Lake ‘n Sea Division of Parsons Corporation from 1958-1960:

“I thought that cruiser would be a big deal. We put the boats in the Chicago boat show and in the New York boat show, and I thought, as I say, would be a great thing. It didn’t sell at all. I sold only of them, and that was to some guy, I believe from Boston, who persuaded my salesman to let him buy the thing from the New York boat show. I have since rationalized that by the time a person was willing and desirous of spending money to sleep aboard a boat they would probably want a bigger boat than the 18 footer.”

A rare Parsons Corporation factory image of the one and only 18′ Grand Traverse Cruiser. (Image courtesy of the John T. Parsons collection (Ms-1987-016), Digital Library and Archives, University Libraries, Virginia Polytechnic and State University, https://spec.lib.vt.edu/)

The 18′ Grand Traverse Cruiser model can be best described as a show boat and was taken to the January 1959 Chicago and New York boat shows to illustrate to consumers the most attractive and best equipped model in the 1959 fleet. Almost every major brand offered a small cruiser of some sort to give customers a good choice of models, but not this well equipped. The design for this model, like most of the 1959 new models came from the design board of industrial designer Bertil Holm, a former Ford Motor Company designer before joining the Parsons Corporation.

Ms1987_016_Parsons_B89F3_photo_007
(Image courtesy of the John T. Parsons collection (Ms-1987-016), Digital Library and Archives, University Libraries, Virginia Polytechnic and State University, https://spec.lib.vt.edu/)

The boat is basically an 18′ Saratoga model with a sleek cabin, raked double windshields, and live aboard amenities added. Company notes from a 1961 inventory indicate that there was one hull to make both the Saratoga hull and Grand Traverse hull while each model had its own deck mold. The only information other than the Parsons’ interview and the 1959 brochures was the one image and short caption provided by Lakeland Boating in February 1959 taken at the Chicago boat show. Company memos also detailed that Miss USA was hired to model with the Lake ‘n Sea boats at that show.

The boat could accommodate up to 1,200 pounds and included a removable canopy bridge top, just in case you opted for the simpler flying-bridge windshield, ventilating cabin and bridge windshields, and paneled cockpit and cabin. The cabin also included two six-foot sleeping berths, galley equipped with an alcohol stove and sink and faucet, toilet compartment, and picture window view. The transom was wider and taller to accommodate one or twin long-shaft outboard motors up to 100 h.p. total. Price ranged from $2295.00 to $3195.00 depending on the options consumers choose.

Little is noted about the Grand Traverse Cruiser after 1959. Notes concerning the 1960 line of boats did not note the dropping of the model or any modifications. But knowing how John Parsons remembered the dismal sales of the model, it can only be assumed that another was never made.

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