What Happened to Scarab?: The Fall of a Legendary Boat Brand
There was a time not that long ago that the prominent boat brand, Scarab, made a large variety of boats recognized for their racing heritage, design, and style. The brand was very powerful, yet a little confusing. Team Scarab was started in 1975 by Larry Smith, they were in fact hardcore race boats, but then they later had a partnership with Wellcraft where Smith’s designs were morphed into Wellcrafts’s lineup. You will see Team Scarab boats, and also Wellcraft Scarab boats, with some similarities but built in different facilities to different standards. After a tumultuous path of different ownership, the Scarab brand is now owned by Beneteau Group, a large multinational boat manufacturer. The current Scarab brand is a mockery of what it once was. Beneteau group purchased an assortment of brands from Rec Boat Holdings, and uses the Scarab name for a line of small jet boats that look to compete directly with Yamaha Marine’s jet boat lineup, and it’s a disaster.
One of the more famous Scarab race boats is the 38 Scarab KV, built by Larry Smith for KAAMA Race Team, raced by Betty Cook and John Connor. This boat won successive championships from 1977 to 1980. The hull was light for its size, 37’6” overall and lean with a 8’6 beam. Everything about the boat worked, and they are a stunning design. The hull became popular in racing, and that trickled to the consumer, but the greatest boost came after Wellcraft had the license with Scarab, and in 1984 the mega hit TV show Miami Vice came into the picture. In the inaugural season, Sonny Crocket drove a Chris Craft Stinger 390X, but when the show was a success, and the budget was increased, the show made a deal with Wellcraft for the 38’ Scarab, with an extremely eighties paint job. Orders for the 38’ went through the roof. Some sources say they built over a 100 38’ KV Miami Vice editions. Pretty savvy marketing for sure.
For a time, Scarab became a name synonymous with gofast boats, almost to the level of Cigarette Racing. But, in my mind, the partnership with Wellcraft, was a mixed blessing. Sales were strong early on, and the sport boats from Wellcraft were pretty cool, with the quality one would expect from a mass producer. Meanwhile, Team Scarab in California had race boats, and some consumer boats competing with the regular lineup. A good example would be the Scarab 23 SCS, and the Wellcraft Scarab 22’. Similar lines, but different boats all together. The renowned 26’ Larry Smith Team Scarab design was also used in different variations, and was an incredibly versatile design. Wellcraft was early in the performance center console game too, with a good product, but before the center console boom we have seen in the last decade or more. Now, fast forward to today, and Scarab is a line of low quality mini jet boats, so what happened?
Even before the financial crisis, Genmar Holdings wasn’t doing well, they had so many brands, quality was suffering and when sales kept shrinking, there was no way they could survive. After bankruptcy, the private equity firm, Platinum Equity acquired the stable of boat brands Genmar once held, including Wellcraft, Four Winns, Glastron and Ranger along with others. As an equity company their main focus is to extract as much value as they can from the assets. Believing in the brands, they consolidated, but kept on many key people already at these companies. Platinum also brought in a more coherent dealer network and marketing strategy; with the goal of selling the group of companies, Rec Boat Holdings, when it returned to profitability. In this kind of company, nobody cares about heritage, or history, beyond what it means for marketing purposes. So, for Scarab, the brand was simply used as a way of filling a perceived void in the market. Yamaha has had success selling well marketed mini jet boats to novice boaters, at attractive prices. When SeaDoo got out of that game, I’m sure they thought that was a space they could compete in, and Scarab’s good name was used.
There is almost no way now Scarab can recover from the devastation set on it by using the name to sell mini jet boats. In the nineties, when Scarab was strong, there was a huge trend of mini jet boats on the market, everyone made one. It was short lived, as jets suck for most types of boating. Jets are very inefficient, and slow, and their only real advantages are that they are cheap, there are no gears in the driveline (they are just simple pumps) and there is no propeller to hurt anyone when you run them over. That’s about it. Which is why the Scarab line is destined for failure, the boats are a bad product, using dated technology, and the overall designs are awful.
Ironically, Scarab had a couple different very cool jet boats back in the day, they weren’t the mini bath tub kind that was popular though, they had a line called Sprint that originally was designed by Team Scarab, then later, a 19’ version was available with a Volvo jet drive, and 4.3 V6. Both were very cool looking, and had a futuristic cockpit design. That is one thing I always like about the Scarab, they were always trying crazy designs in their consumer boats.
Although Beneteau group is a massive marine manufacturer globally, they bought a large scale business from Platinum Equity (Rec Boat Holdings) with legacy brands that are now just shadows of their former selves. Glastron now makes some of the most poorly designed and ugly boats on the water, Wellcraft just makes cookie cutter center consoles and will probably fail. That’s what happens when huge companies take over conglomerates. But, for some reason, I don’t really care about Glastron, Four Winns, or Wellcraft, but it sucks to see a brand like Scarab tarnished so badly. What was once one of the most reputable race boat and sport boat brands, now makes floating hot tubs delegated to pulling fat kids on tubes while getting about 1 mile per gallon. What a disgrace.