Keaton Boats

Featured Boat

1963 Keaton Utility 312 Interceptor
Fully Documented Restoration


    This is the story of Keaton #SF 6301 as I know it.  The pictures are in chronological order (to the best of my recollection) beginning in ’99.  The boat was advertised in the Sac. Bee so I called and went to see it. The man said he had bought a building and all of its contents at an estate sale and the Keaton was one of the items inside. He knew nothing about the boat including what kind of engine it had. Once we opened the engine cover I thought,  boy that sure looks like a Ford Y block but the side-draft carbs were peculiar. And it was painted GM orange!?  Keep in mind that I knew very little at this point about Keatons and even less about the 312 Interceptor. I didn’t buy the boat that day. Instead I went home to do some research on the engine. After confirming it was, in fact, a Y block with dual side-drafts, I had to have it! I called right then and made arrangements to buy it the next day. When I arrived he graciously started it for me and it seemed to run ok so it was a done deal. As we were finishing up the paperwork an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair rolled over to us from a nearby mobile home and said “buyin’ Waynes old boat huh?” The registration named Wayne Willy as the owner.  “Yeah… we got our boats at the same time. Brand new they were. I ordered mine with the skiin’ pole but he just wanted the tow hook.”    I kick myself every day for not spending more time with the old guy. He knew the whole history and probably had some pictures too! One of the fellows mentioned that Wayne had sold or given the boat to his son about 10 years ago. That would’ve been about ’89. But that’s all I know about that. It was registered till ’92.

    I took the boat home, smilin’ the whole way. I couldn’t wait to take it up to Englebright! I had just bought a small houseboat there. When I got home I began to look her over more closely. As you can see from the photos, the boat was “pretty good”. The rub rail was intact but badly dented. The chine boards were attached but had large chunks taken out of them and very little varnish. The swim platform was even worse. The paint job was ok but had some scratches and the engine cover was covered with small cracks. Like I mentioned the engine was painted orange as an assembly! I mean EVERYTHING was orange. The hoses, belt, clamps, alternator, all the hardware, everything! Orange! But peeking through the peeling paint was the original blueish/green color of the engine. The fuel gauge didn’t match the rest of the dash as it was below the recessed area and black plastic. The seats were ok. It had a swiveling seat in the right front but it was so small only a child could sit in it and there was also a small jump seat facing the rear behind the driver but also too small for an adult to sit in. BUT…no worries, I had a Keaton!

    I spent that whole summer using the boat and having a great time. I had the right seat widened but then it couldn’t swivel. Of course the water pump impeller failed the second time out. The carbs leaked like crazy (into the bottom of the boat). And something I hadn’t experienced before… At low speeds, around 10-20 mph., the boat wouldn’t turn. It would try to roll the opposite way, digging the chines in and counter steering itself. Not fun when trying to retrieve a skier! I had to either stay in the gas and power it through the turn or slow to idle and turn around then gas it again. The rudder was a narrow “cleaver” type.  It also pulled right enough to crash you into the bank if you let go!                       No worries right? I had a Keaton!                                                                                                               

       As the summer drew to an end I began disassembling the boat. By this time I had discovered that some of the larger scratches looked like there was purple underneath. When I got the seats and carpet out the entire inside of the hull had purple overspray. As I stripped the old finish away it became clear that this was a purple and white boat with a black metalflaked dash.  It was settled. No more blue. This boats goin’ purple! Later I decided maybe a nice 3 stage burgundy would look better. The boat was probably formed in white and then painted by whoever the dealer was. The prefix S.F. in the hull number means it was someone other than Jack but I don’t know who. First there were repairs to make. The plywood crossmember under the front seat had beaten on the side enough to make some large cracks on the outside of the boat so I cut it back a little and glassed in a reinforcement. Then repaired the outside. I was surprised to find a second set of holes under the windshield. I’m sure it was removed when the boat was painted blue, but replaced? Not sure. Knowing that there was a handling issue, I bought a larger rudder and decided to move it over 1 inch to the left. There are several boat builders that do this so I thought, “cant make it much worse.”  I glassed in a reinforcement, filled the old hole and drilled a new one. Fairly simple. The boat now drives like a dream. Straight as an arrow and turns on a dime at any speed. What a difference! I also filled in the hole from the gas gauge. I intended to move it to the left of the steering wheel but my repair didn’t take and after some time a ring showed up where the gauge was. I decided to just redrill the hole for now. Someday I’ll redo it.

    When I stripped the old finish I was very careful to keep the sanders flat. The original surface was very wavy and I wanted to flatten it out. Then a heavy catalyzed primer was applied and that was all blocked by hand for the flattest finish I could get. I painted the dash separately to simplify things and the bottom as well. The color I used is a 3 stage wineberry over violet. Much like a candy color. Once those colors were down I pulled some tape lines and painted the white, then cleared it all. After color sanding a polishing the result was a nice glossy finish.

    Next was the engine. It ran really strong so I was hesitant about rebuilding it. After pulling the pan and the heads it was clear that there were few hours on it. Possibly rebuilt when the boat was “fixed up” the first time, but the boat only had 700 hrs on it so I cant be sure. Each part was stripped of it’s orange and repainted. The parts were then reinstalled with new hardware. Much of it stainless. I had Pete at Pete’s Marine Engines rebuild the carbs. He knew all about them and how to keep them from leaking. (almost).                        Since the 312 Y block is what Ford used in the T-Birds of the 50’s I couldn’t resist putting some aluminum T-Bird valve covers on it. Of course they didn’t fit because of the strange intake and upward exhaust but after trimming some things down I finally got them on there.

    The oil, temp and amp. gauges where in good shape so I reused them. After searching at many swap meets I finally found a gas gauge to match them. The speedometer was badly faded and the tach was not a match. It was wrapped with tape to keep it from falling through the hole. I found a pair that I liked at Shipwreck Marine. They are not S.W. but they look ok.  

    The deck trim and windshield were put back on with new stainless hardware and I began to make the chine boards. I cut all 4 of them out of 1 piece of mahogany. I soaked them thoroughly and hung weights on them over a bench to try and put some curve in them. They were sanded and varnished every day for a 2 week period. A total of 13 coats, then top coated with automotive clear. The swim platform was trimmed across the rear edge to get the gouges out and then varnished about 5 times. That’s a lot of sanding!

    When I went to install the boards, the left one just didn’t want to make the curve. It snapped and my heart just sank. For now I’m using it but had to use washers on 3 screws.

Only 1 thing left before upholstery… the rub rail.  I was unable to find anything like the original stuff so I decided to make them out of stainless. I bought enough to do the job and began calling around to find someone to make the 3 corners for me. The rear is especially tough because they’re not only compound curves but arched across the transom. One guy said “sure…I could do that for you”. So I took it over there. He came out, took one look and said “oh! I cant do that”. You have to go see so and so. After being sent all over town by this guy and that guy I finally came to the conclusion that I was on my own. I welded 2 pieces of 4” angle iron back to back so I had a standing V. Using a standard H press and a 7/8 socket for a dye I pressed the molding into the V until it was just the right shape. To make the arched transom piece, I cut a groove in my V shaped base so the molding could lie across it without tipping at all. Then just fed the molding in, pressing it a little every inch or so and it worked! I cut the rear corner joints and was ready to weld them together. Here we go again…I don’t have a TIG welder!

I called up the first guy that looked at it and told him what I had done. He was glad to weld them up for me. I ground them flat and polished them and I’m pleased with how they turned out.

    I found it hard to find someone that was willing to make the seats. They had to be built from scratch. I decided to just do 2 bench seats and found someone to do it. This is the only thing that I had to leave to someone else. So far I have had complete control over how things looked. I was very nervous. I checked in with him everyday to make sure things were going well. I’m pleased with how they turned out but would have done a couple of  things differently.

    This project has taken me 7 years to complete. I’ve moved 4 times, gotten divorced and remarried. Always taking the old girl with me.  The boat’s been wet about 6 times now. I absolutely love this boat! I’m working on the trailer now. It’s in really bad shape. It’ll be white with chrome wheels and 3in whitewalls. I had to change the catch at the front. The old one had been run into so hard it was turned to the side. The launch ramp at Englebright is very steep so I went with a larger catch to power the boat into. I’m very excited about the upcoming summer. See you on the water!!




                                                                                                  Matt Thurston

                                                                                                   Rancho Cordova, CA