Right now, Raffaella Curitti is smiling. Here’s why: She’s reading about her wedding present, a vintage 20-foot Cigarette built in 1974 and restored to better-than-original condition. That’s right, the old 20-footer called Sugar, the one that gathered dust for years in an upstate New York barn—the one Curitti fell in love with—has been reborn. And thanks to her fiancé, Mark Frederico, it’s all hers.
Of course, come tomorrow, Frederico won’t be her fiancé. He’ll be her husband.
The restoration of Sugar began several months ago when Frederico asked Ron Potter of Potter Performance Engines in Sarasota, Fla., to take tackle the project. Potter, who knew Frederico from MerCruiser engine rebuilds he’d handled for the New Yorker’s 38-foot Scarab, agreed.
“I typically don’t do this kind of work, but I was willing to step up for someone I knew would commit to doing the job right, and that was Mark,” Potter said. “Like all of these old Cigarettes, this one had a story. The story we got was that (Cigarette founder) Don Aronow had built this one for one of his girlfriends known as ‘Sugar,’ so this one was called Sugar.”
Potter and Frederico decided that in restoring the 20-footer they would also upgrade and “modernize” it. The Volvo power package, antiquated steering system, plastic fuel tank and more had to go, but first the boat needed to be stripped down to its essentials, meaning a bare hull and deck. Potter’s crew retabbed the stringers and bulkheads, reglassed the entire transom—eliminating all the holes for prior hardware—and applied glasswork on the hull where necessary. After sanding the inside of the hull, they coated it with white Imron paint and installed an aluminum fuel cell.
“We had the entire hull and deck blocked, sanded, ‘epoxyed’ and sanded until it was straight as an arrow,” Potter said. “Then we had the entire hull and deck repainted and clear-coated with PPG urethane paint in the boat’s original colors. Solo Custom Paint handled the job.”
For power, Potter opted for a MerCruiser 383 Fireball engine with a Bravo drive. The Cigarette 20 was originally designed for small-block power, so it made sense to go that route with the restoration. Plus, the 383, which came with a warranty, is carbureted, and that added to the “nostalgia” of the project. In a nod to more-modern times, Potter custom-fabricated and powder-coated the mounts for the engine.
New life breathed into a vintage 20-footer—check out the slideshow above.
Brand-new rigging hardware included fuel lines, shut-off valves, battery cables and wiring. (Potter’s Darryl Hitchcock handled all of the wiring and much of the rigging.) The original Morse helm package and throttle-and-shifter unit at the left-hand station gave way to new U-Flex versions of both, which resembled the original setup but functioned far more smoothly. Custom-fabricated Gaffrig Performance gauges, made specifically to fit the original bezels that had been stripped and refinished in matte black, replaced the old Stewart-Warner instruments.
“The original gauges had black faces with white numbers, and with the black bezels it was too much black,” Potter said. “Gaffrig made the gauges with stainless rims, white faces and black numbers, so not only are they the right styling, you can read them.”
Whether or not it was fashionable when the boat was built, it’s all-blue interior desperately needed updating. Thanks to Premier Performance Interiors (PPI), it was replaced with white upholstery accents with blue-piping color-matched to the blue in the 20-footer’s exterior. Detail work included custom embroidery of the “old-school” Cigarette logo in the boat’s gunwale pads.
But some of the project’s most custom work involved replacing its teak strips on the deck and rear hatch, as well as the teak dash. Potter tapped local vendor Teak Deck Systems and a local finishing contractor, Greg Ralston, to handle those chores.
“They supplied the materials, and the finish contractor installed them,” Potter said. “They custom-fabricated all the teak pieces for this boat. Greg templated them, sanded them, put 12 coats of varnish on them, sanded them and sealed them with urethane.”
Equally custom was the replacement for the boat’s original light blue Lexan windscreen, which according to Potter was more of a “styling cue” than a functional windshield. “The more I thought about it, the more I knew it had to be blue acrylic,” he said. “So I contacted Chuck Mactavish at Waterway Systems in Sarasota. He said, ‘I’m going to have to buy a 10-foot sheet of this material and I’m not going to be able to use it for anything else.’ Well, he did such an amazing job with it—it has all these crazy bends and angles—that when a couple of fisherman here saw it they freaked out. Now he’s sold out of the material.”
As in all great restoration projects, the slideshow above shows the devil was in the details when it came to Sugar.
Potter and his crew were able to salvage much of the boat’s original hardware including cleats, hinges and brackets, which they had stripped and triple-chrome finished. Whereas the cleats originally had to been mounted on the gunwales with screws alone, they were reinstalled with custom-fabricated aluminum backing plates.
The boat’s original rubrail, however, was beyond salvation. Potter and company replaced it with a new Taco Marine stainless-steel version and, of course, improved on the original installation.
“We were able to get it to fit without miters in the corners or nose of the boat,” said Potter. “The only seams you find are there simply because of the limited length of material.”
The boat’s old carpet was replaced with a new custom-bound carpet with a red beltline strip and the Cigarette logo. To give passengers something to hang onto, Potter installed a few stainless-steel grab handles. Mounted in the seat base, the boat’s original and unsightly air intake vent was replaced with a custom-polished panel water-jetted with the Cigarette logo.
In the engine compartment, Potter went with blue and white Optx Marine LED lights. He opted for blue LEDs and “old school” white incandescent lights in the cockpit. Stainless Marine handled the 20-footer’s tailpipes, and KTM Custome Marine Canvas took care of the cockpit cover.
Once the project was nearly complete—right down to every screw and washer being swapped out for a stainless steel-replacement—Potter contacted Bill Tweedie at MYCO to produce a custom trailer.
“They had the original patterns to match the boat,” Potter said. “They built us a beautiful trailer with mag wheels, color-matched to the boat.”
But the most painstaking aspect of the project had nothing to do with hardware, materials or craftsmanship. The most challenging part of the job was keeping it a secret from its new owner and—come tomorrow—new bride.
Though the expression “labor of love” often is applied to restoration projects, never before has it been more appropriate.
“Mark’s plan is to take Raffaella to breakfast the day before they get married,” said Potter. “He kept this a total secret from her. So while they’re eating, he’s going to pull out his tablet and say, ‘Hey, honey, check out this story.’ ”
No doubt about it, Raffaella Curitti is smiling right now.