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Project Allison: From One Best Friend to Another


With exceptions of course, restoring a pre-owned boat costs less than buying a new one. But budget—or the lack of it—isn’t the only reason to give an old boat new life. Sometimes, the restored boat has sentimental value to the owner. Other times, the reasons go even deeper.

Such is the case with a beloved 1995 Allison 20-foot outboard-powered sportboat recently brought back to life by Pier 57 Marine in Gurnee, Ill. But the project wasn’t funded by the boat’s owner, Doug Padera, who has a place on the shores of Petite Lake in Antioch, Ill. It was paid for by his close friend, Daniel Spata, of nearby St. Charles, and was done to honor Padera, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease 10 years ago and is no longer able to run the 20-footer.

Padera and Spata have been friends since 1989. Padera was the best man at Spata’s wedding, godfather to his daughter and a partner in the company in a company Spata runs today.

“Above all and most important, Doug is and forever will be my best friend,” says Spata. “Alzheimer’s disease has taken away his ability to rip around behind the wheel, but it has not taken away his love for being on the water.”

For the past eight years, the 20-foot Allison has been parked on a trailer on Padera’s driveway. The elements took their toll on the boat, and the decay was something Spata couldn’t tolerate seeing his best friend’s cherished ride.

“It became my mission, my dedication to my best friend, to restore Doug’s 1995 Allison and take him back out on the water,” said Spata.

About a year ago, Spata brought the boat to Pier 57. Service manager Alan Gordon took the boat—the project was dubbed “Project Allison”—from there. While the surgery required was mostly cosmetic, the project, which the Pier 57 team attacked for a couple of hours each week, took about a year.

“When it got here, it looked like a teal and white chalkboard,” said Gordon. “But we were able to wet sand it and buff it, and bring new life to it.”

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To watch the transformation of the Allison project take shape, check out the slideshow above.

With color replacement seating and interior appointments built by the Allison company, Pier 57 completely replaced the boat’s interior and added new stickers (also from Allison) to the exterior. The boat’s early 1990s, 200-hp six-cylinder Johnson GT 200 outboard engine hadn’t been fired up for several years, so it needed to be refreshed. That included tearing down the engine and rebuilding all six of its carburetors, stripping off the original black paint and repainting the engine white to give it a “more modern” look, and thoroughly cleaning the boat’s fuel cell.

“Most of what we did was cosmetic,” said Gordon. “There was no damage to the bottom or anything like that. I was able to find Johnson decals for the engine online. We replaced the entire interior, added a new windscreen from Allison and added a new rear sunpad. We also restored the trailer for the boat.”

Padera said he is delighted with the results and grateful the efforts of everyone, particularly Gordon, at Pier 57 Marine. But his real pay-off came the day he took his Padera for his first ride in the resurrected 20-footer.

“I have many great memories of being on the water with my best friend Doug during the past 25 years, but the best of all was his first ride back in his fully restored Allison,” said Padera. “He was like a kid on a roller coaster for the first time, hands in the air, screaming and hollering and living his love for the water. I will cherish that memory forever as the one that meant the most.”