Secondhand boat buyers’ guide: 4 of the best practical classics for sale

Our resident used boat expert Nick Burnham picks out 4 models that combine classic styling with a practical streak

Boats are like cars. They start off brand new and the latest, greatest thing. Then they become ‘the old model’ when the latest, greatest thing comes out. A few more years and they’re at decidedly second-hand levels and there they remain unless they are a Fairey Huntsmen or an E-Type Jaguar.

But in the car world there is a sub level of classic, the ‘practical classic’. These are the cars your dad used to drive while dreaming about that E-Type, and unlike the E-Type, they now offer a reasonably affordable and fairly practical way to drive something nostalgic and interesting that still works pretty well as a car. Think 1980s BMW 6 Series, 1990s Mercedes SLs, that kind of thing.

So what of the boating equivalent? Well here are four heroes of yesteryear that offer an interesting practical classic route into prestige marques.


Fairline Turbo 36

Built: 1988
Price: £59,950

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So popular was the Fairline Turbo 36 back in the 1980s that it was often referred to as the ‘Solent Sierra’ as a nod to the fact that you couldn’t go into a marina without seeing one (just like every car park had a Ford Sierra in it at the time). In fact Fairline made two versions of the 36. The Sedan was a conventional aft cockpit flybridge boat whereas the Turbo had an aft cabin. The latter was far more popular.


The defining characteristic of the Turbo 36 is that aft cabin. Occupying the full beam of the boat, it is more like a bedroom than a traditional master cabin, with a central double bed, en suite and masses of storage. At the other end of the boat, guests get vee berths in the fore cabin and use the day heads just outside, opposite the galley.

In the centre is the raised saloon. Originally this would have had a dinette to port and a settee opposite to starboard, but on this boat the settee has been swapped for a couple of comfy looking armchairs.


Large boat-spanning aft cabin with central double bed and ample storage


That aft cabin means that the aft cockpit of the Sedan is replaced by a high flat aft deck and steps lead down through a sloping door to the saloon rather than it being on the same level. However, although it’s more exposed, a big advantage of this set-up is that the flybridge is a couple of easy steps away, rather than having to climb a ladder as you do on the Sedan.


All twin Volvo Penta, a few of these boats got the smaller 40 series engines, either TAMD 41 at 165hp each or the later TAMD 41 at 200hp. Although Fairline quoted 22-26 knots with these engines they are considered a little light for regular offshore work. The twin TAMD 61 306hp engines of this boat are a better bet, lifting the top speed toward 30 knots when new.


Raised saloon, with dinette swapped for armchairs, prioritises relaxing over eating


Shaft drive and a Bernard Olesinski hull combine to give steady predictable handling and a decent ride at planing speeds.


LOA: 36ft 6in (11.1m)
Beam: 13ft 4in (4.0m)
Draught: 3ft 4in (1.0m)
Displacement: 8.5 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 1,055 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta TAMD 61 306hp diesels
Lying: Essex

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Princess 366 Riviera

Built: 1994
Price: £62,500

An evolution of the Princess 346 Riviera (key differences, a longer bathing platform and a change of interior finish), this model replaced the 36 Riviera and utilised a pair of Volvo Penta’s then new and most powerful sterndrive engine, the 230hp KAD 42 (the 36 Riviera used twin shaft drive TAMD 61 306hp diesels). As a result, despite being a smaller boat it had a roomier interior (and far more headroom).


The layout is the standard master cabin forward, second cabin underneath the cockpit formula. The big difference with the 346/366 Riviera is that the second cabin is longitudinal, rather than athwartships. This creates space for two single berths rather than the usual fixed double, which is great for families.

Between the cabins is a fairly upright dinette opposite the galley. Princess experimented with what it referred to as a ‘superyacht finish’, burr maple woodwork in high gloss. It can be quite a ‘busy’ look but here it’s used in small enough quantities to work well.


The cabin set-up is perfect for families


That longitudinal mid cabin on the starboard side leaves space for something you rarely find on sub-40ft sportscruisers, a huge lazerette capable of swallowing a rolled up dinghy and an outboard. Another unusual but very beneficial feature is twin double helm seats, allowing four crew to sit together facing forward behind the shelter of the windscreen. Behind them is a decent dinette and wet bar.


One of the last Princess models to be offered with twin V8 petrol engines, the vast majority, including this one, actually got twin Volvo Penta KAD 42 230hp diesel engines. These send their power through duoprop outdrives, which are more efficient than shafts but do require more maintenance. Top speed when new was low to mid 30 knots for a mid-20 knot cruise.


Small dinette trimmed with Princess’s high gloss burr maple woodwork


Another Olesinski hull, and a good one even by his standards. The Princess 366 Riviera revels in rough conditions, with a soft ride and agile handling.


LOA: 36ft 10in (11.0m)
Beam: 11ft 6in (3.5m)
Draught: 2ft 10in (0.9m)
Displacement: 6.9 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 668 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta KAD 42/dp 230hp diesel
Lying: Bray


Formula 242SS

Built: 1990
Price: £23,500

A family run business, Formula is now in its third generation of the Porter family. Grandfather Vic Porter became president of Thunderbird Products, builders of Formula boats, back in 1973, acquiring all the company assets in 1976. By the time this boat was built, Thunderbird was operating out of a new 345,000 square foot factory in Decatur, Indiana. And the boats it was building were sleek high quality high performance muscleboats stretching out to 40ft and down to the smallest at 20ft.


Strictly a cuddy cabin, accommodation is just what’s found beneath that low pointy foredeck. There’s space for two to sleep however, and a chemical loo under the centre cushions. Two seats face each other just inside the door and there’s even a sink and a TV.


The Formula sleeps two in a cuddy cabin beneath the foredeck


Formula made two versions of the 242, the SS and the LS. The SS was a traditional muscleboat cockpit, a pair of bucket seats ahead of a bench seat aft and a large sunpad over the engine. For the LS, Formula eked out a little more room by making the sunpad shorter and pushing the bench seat further aft.

It left space for a back-to-back seat to port instead of the single bucket seat which, as well as creating more seating, also folded flat to create an additional sunlounger. Ski storage is under the cockpit sole. Graphics on the outside are Imron striping, not glued-on vinyl stripes.


Sat under that shorter sun lounger is a 7.4 litre Mercruiser V8 petrol engine producing 330hp. It’s enough to give a top speed of 60mph, according to the broker – over 50 knots! A Silent Thunder through-hull exhaust enclosed within the swim platform gives bark to match the bite.


There are two bucket seats in the SS’s traditional muscleboat cockpit


That muscleboat racing experience allowed Formula to put a great hull under the 242SS. A 24-degree deadrise at the transom cleaves the water at speed allowing you to maintain a fast cruising speed even in choppy conditions.


LOA: 26ft 0in (7.9m)
Beam: 8ft 0in (2.4m)
Draught: 2ft 8in (0.8m)
Displacement: 1.9 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 363 litres
Engine: Mercruiser 7.4 litre V8 330hp petrol
Lying: Poole


Sunseeker Portofino 32

Built: 1993
Price: £54,995

In 1986 Sunseeker replaced its 31 Offshore with the rakish looking Portofino 31. A four-berth cruiser that majored on cockpit space and performance, it was a big hit, selling over 300 units. So when Sunseeker came to replace it in 1991, it was very careful not to mess with a winning formula.

The result was a thorough update that kept the basics of concept and layout intact. The bolt-on platform was swapped for a permanent moulded-in unit, the angular windscreen made way for a sweep of curved stainless, a door appeared in the transom and the radar arch grew the winglets that mark out Sunseekers of this era. This one has had a refit too – new interior and exterior upholstery and fresh cockpit canopies.


Most sportscruisers are split 50/50 between cabin space below decks and cockpit space above. The Portofino 32, like its forebear, is more like 40% cabin and 60% cockpit, but it’s still a perfectly useable interior. Forget a forward cabin and enjoy a large dinette that converts to a double. The small galley is split across the boat and back aft a separate mid cabin sports a double berth running transversely.


The dinette converts to a generous double berth


The result of minimising the cabin is felt in the cockpit, which is vast for a 32ft boat. Two double helm seats nestle behind that beautiful curve of stainless windscreen frame and back aft, seating for at least eight wraps itself around the coamings.


This Portofino 32 runs the same engines as the Princess 366 Riviera above but in a smaller, lighter boat the performance is another notch up again. Top speed should be up around the mid-30 knot region, and with enough grunt to pull a monoskier out of the water.


The cockpit is extremely spacious for a 32-footer


Don Shead designed the hull so expect serious offshore ability to go with that high performance. And thanks to those twin KAD42 diesels it shouldn’t be too expensive to fuel. This is a Sunseeker you should be able to buy and run affordably.


LOA: 32ft 2in (9.8m)
Beam: 10ft 0in (3.0m)
Draught: 2ft 1in (0.6m)
Displacement: 5.5 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 470 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta KAD 42 230hp diesel
Lying: Southampton

First published in the March 2020 edition of Motor Boat & Yachting.


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