The third-generation owner of Miller Marina in St. Clair Shores, Mich., Chip Miller lives and breathes powerboats. He’s particularly well-known in the high-performance powerboat community as the best friend and neighbor of Skater Powerboats wheeler-dealer Ron Szolack. And he’s as skilled behind the wheel as anyone you’ll find.
Given Miller’s deep roots in the marine industry, which began with his grandfather, William who started the marina business in 1934, and was passed on to his father, Jerry, before it reached him, it’s no surprise that the 49-year-old appreciates vintage powerboats of all kinds. His current—and newest—everyday boat is a 48-foot Baia cruiser built in 2001.
Chip Miller had this 1981 Magnum 27 Starfire restored to perfection. Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
But Miller also owns a fleet of classic powerboats including a 1979-model 22-foot Donzi Criterion Donzi built for William Clay Ford of Ford Motor Company, a 1971-built 28-foot Bertram Baron that his father used for racing and is next up on Miller’s restoration list, and his first boat, a 1970-model 20-foot Bertram center console.
“Yeah, I like old boats, ”he said, then chuckled.
Among Miller’s most recent acquisitions is a gem of 1981 Magnum 27 Starfire sportboat originally powered by twin 280-hp MerCruiser 350 engines with TRS drives. He purchased the boat and began restoring it last summer.
“I bought from an owner who had it since the mid-1980s,” he said. “He had it in our rack storage and then moved it to a storage building in Detroit. Like anything stored for 20 years, it had dry rot on the hoses and interior. It ran, but all three fuel tanks had to be flushed. But the gelcoat was in good shape.
“We ran it toward the end of last summer and had an oil pressure problem and hurt a crankshaft,” he continued. “Come to find out, there was rust inside the engines. We tore apart the bad motor and found the crankshaft was wasted.”
An outfit within Miller Marina, Lakeshore Boat Top Company handled the 27-footer’s immaculate new upholstery.
Rather than try to rebuild the Magnum’s 30-year-old powerplants, Miller tasked noted offshore racing engine builder Frank McComas to build a new set of new 400-cubic-inch, electronically fueled-injected mills for the boat. The new engines produce 380 hp and 500 foot-pounds of torque a piece, which made rebuilding the TRS drives particularly essential. So that’s what Miller and McComas did.
To replace the 27-footer’s rotted interior, Miller turned to an outfit—Lakeshore Boat Top Company—within his own marina.
“We went with tuck-and-roll upholstery with pearl white accented by red and silver stripes,” he said. “Livorsi Marine hooked us up with a beautiful set of gauges with black dials and chrome rims, kind of traditional gauges for that era.”
In a contemporary nod, Miller mounted the instruments in a carbon fiber panel. The panel is the 27-footer’s most modern element.
“That kind of updated the dash a little bit without losing the boat’s old-school vibe,” he said. “And now we have a reliable, turnkey package with a little more performance than it originally had.”
Said Miller, “I love old boats.”
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