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Commentary: Hoping for a Baja Comeback

The first Liberty-built Baja will be a 26' Outlaw.The first Liberty-built Baja will be a 26′ Outlaw.

Of the three brands owned by Liberty Associates—Baja, Donzi and Fountain—in Washington, N.C., the one I’m most eager to see make a huge rebound, the one I see as most critical for the entire go-fast boat industry, is Baja. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pulling for the success of Fountain and Donzi lines, but to my way of thinking, Baja matters most.

Why? Very simple. Baja made its fortune as an entry-level brand. Sure, the company offered 36- and 38-footers, and even one semi-custom 40-footer. But the truth is the company sold more single-engine sport boats from 20 to 30 feet long than any production builder in go-fast marine history. Affordable—at least relative to other brands—models that presented solid values, that was the book on Baja.

“Whenever someone completely new to the market asks me what to buy, I always say ‘Baja,’” Bob Teague of Teague Custom Marine told me years ago. “It probably won’t be their last boat, but it’s a good first boat to find out if they actually like high-performance boating.”

Right now, the market doesn’t exactly lack for big-buck custom catamarans and V-bottoms. But affordably priced single-engine production-built sport boats, with the notable exception of Checkmate? Outside of the aging pre-owned market fleet, pickings are slim.

“Companies like Fountain were built on their single-engine sport boats like the 27’ Fever, but they went away from that,” Scott Shogren of Shogren Performance Marine, a former Fountain dealer in Waukegan, Il., told me earlier this week. “That was a shame. The industry has done a horrible job of attracting new customers.”

“If there is going to be a resurgence in high-performance boating, it’s got to come from the entry level,” Paul Ray of Ilmor Marine in Plymouth, Mich., told me during the 2011 Desert Storm event on Lake Havasu in late April.

According to Johnny Walker of Liberty, the first new Baja—a 26’ Outlaw—built under the Liberty banner will make its debut at the Baja Owners Club event in Knoxville, Tenn., in July. In a previous speedonthewater.com article (read the full article) Walker said 12 Baja models had been ordered, far from world-beating numbers but a decent start.

Obviously, it will take more than the availability of affordable, entry-level production sportboats to jumpstart the go-fast market. By all accounts, consumer credit has to ease considerably for would-be buyers of those models. But when that happens, the inventory needs to be there. Not the glut of inventory the market had to choke down during the past few years, but enough to give newcomers to the performance-boat market a few reasonable options.

So I’m hoping for a Baja comeback. Because the industry dearly needs it.