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Glastron founder created product positioning niche

By Tim Hennagir

Glastron Boat Co. founder Robert R. Hammond was no stranger to the idea of the using unique mass media approaches to promote a product line.

Hammond’s passing early last month at age 88 in Austin, Texas, brought back plenty of memories of an industry icon.

He will be recalled as an innovator in the recreational boating industry. Hammond became a pioneer not only in the manufacturing of fiberglass boats, but also in the promotion of the sport.

Hammond brought new designs, materials, production methods, propulsion systems and marketing strategies that benefited the industry and grew his company to become the largest boat plant in the world under a single roof and the industry’s sales leader.

In 1974, Hammond resigned from Glastron to found the Hammond Boat Company. His business model was based on building a modest number of boats to high standards of excellence.

Hammond always believed that the best-run American companies were the ones that attracted and retained top management teams.

During his tenure, he followed that strategy and ensured that Glastron executives were leaders in engineering, manufacturing, marketing, advertising, promotion and financial control.

Throughout his career, Hammond identified boating’s challenges in visionary style, telling Boat & Motor Dealer in 1973, “The biggest thing the industry can do to enlarge its appeal to the public is to make boating easier, safer and more trouble-free for the consumer. This means giving a more carefully engineered and manufactured product, as well as improved after-sale service.”

In the early days of recreational boating, both dealers and the boating public were skeptical of fiberglass as a boatbuilding material, and innovating marketing techniques were necessary to sell them on the concept.

Background provided as part of Hammond’s 1998 National Marine Manufacturers Association Hall of Fame nomination contains numerous information nuggets about the company’s fiberglass boats and their appearances on screens small and large that became legendary parts of the company’s marketing efforts.

In 1955, back when Hammond was starting his career with the Lone Star Boat Company, a live broadcast of the “Today Show” from the New York Boat Show showed a 15-foot fiberglass boat from Lone Star — one which Hammond had helped produce — being dropped 15 feet from a forklift in order to demonstrate the material’s strength.

Hammond took the lesson in media attention to heart, and starting with the very first Glastron boat, ensured that his advanced design ideas had a unique look, including a distinctive bow and tail-fin treatment and the extensive use of custom aluminum castings.

Glastron sponsored a 17-foot outboard to cruise from Houston to New York City via the Intracoastal Waterway, proving the durability and sheer “cool” of fiberglass boats; this was the first of many promotions which advanced recognition of Glastron.

By the 1970s, Glastron boats were owned by such celebrities as Lyndon Johnson, Queen Elizabeth of England and Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis.

Glastron boats were featured in several Hollywood movies, including the custom-built “Bat Boat” for the first full-length Batman movie in 1966 and the “flying boat” in the 1973 James Bond film “Live and Let Die,” which set a jump record on Oct. 16, 1972. The feat was jointly promoted worldwide by the movie studio and Glastron.

The boat chase through the bayous was originally written in the script as just "Scene 156 - The most terrific boat chase you've ever seen."

Bond's speed boat jump made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for its distance of 110 feet, a record that stood for three years.

The filmed record jump GT-150 boat was built on Aug. 24, 1972. The Glastron was specially designed with redistributed weight so it would fly through the air with more stability.

And according to the Ian Fleming Foundation, two small black rails were added to the hull to keep the boat level when traveling side-to-side on the ramp.

To keep the boat balanced during the jump, the boat was modified to have the steering wheel in the center, instead of the right.

Glastron built and sold 26 boats to Eon Productions for the film. The boats came direct from Glastron in Austin, Texas.

The jump scene was almost cancelled because of failures and boat wrecks during the practice jumps.

The first GT jump captured on film was successful, was the only jump filmed and was the one used in the movie.

Damage to the record-setting boat was repaired – it was a relatively minor long fiberglass stress crack in front of the windshield.

Many Glastron GT-150s were sold after the film was released as the boats became even more popular.

However, most, if not all of those GT-150s sold after the movie came out, were 1973 versions. The new Glastron 1973 model year began shortly after filming in October 1972 and well before release of the movie in June 1973.

The company’s boats were also featured in “Moonraker” and “A View To A Kill.” The latter film was Roger Moore’s final screen appearance as British secret agent 007.

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