Secondhand buyers guide: Best classic boats

Nick Burnham picks out four classic boats on the market with quality heritage, classy styling and modern cruising ability

Philips 50

Built: 1967
Price: £99,000

Early in the 20th century, the Philip & Son boatyard on the River Dart turned out everything from Trinity House lightships to tugs and tankers. In the early ’60s, before Princess, Sunseeker and Fairline had even been thought of, this once-prolific yard turned its tools to luxury motor yachts.

Going straight in at 50ft, the twin-diesel Philips 50 was constructed using laminated Iroko frames planked with teak below the waterline and mahogany above. The superstructure was varnished teak with a sheathed plywood coachroof deck and wheelhouse roof. Launched at £20,000, six were built of which four remain – two of them on the Dart. This is one of them.



An aft-cabin layout creates space for three separate sleeping cabins, the master cabin aft with twin bunks, one each side. A large and well-lit saloon sits forward of the wheelhouse with the galley on the lower level forward, but what’s impressive is the heads opposite, which features an actual (if half-sized) bath! Varnished teak gives the interior a warm period feel.

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An L-shaped seating area dominates the aft deck, with plenty of room to walk around the outside of it. With its wide side decks, there’s room to walk round the outside of the whole boat.


Twin Perkins 6.354 140hp shaftdrive diesel engines mean speeds are stately rather than speedy. MBY tested the very first Philips 50 to hit the water, recording an admirably precise 9.91 knots in pre-GPS times. Eight knots is a comfy cruising speed.



I experienced this classic boat’s sister ship out of Dartmouth, and it’s quite different compared to modern planing 50-footers. Very much a gentleman’s motor yacht, she’s slower, obviously, but rock steady. It’s boating for the pleasure of being at sea rather than racing to the next port in a ball of spray.


Length: 52ft 8in (16.5m)
Beam: 14ft 7in (4.4m)
Draught: 4ft 6in (1.4m)
Displacement: 35 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 900 gallons (4,091 litres)
Engines: Twin Perkins 6.354 140hp diesel
Contact: Wooden Ships

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VIDEO: Project 31

Princess Yachts celebrated its half century with a stunning restoration of an original Project 31. Nick Burnham shows you around

Morgan Giles Monaco 38

Built: 1968
Price: £37,500


Francis Charles Morgan Giles was a boat designer based at Hythe. In 1920 after the Great War, in which he served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, he purchased Teignmouth Shipyard, renaming it Morgan Giles Ltd.

It quickly gained a worldwide reputation for its very high standard of workmanship. In 1939, a new shed was built that could take vessels to 100ft and the yard won many Admiralty contracts for military launches. Morgan Giles launched the Monaco range of fast motor boats in the 1950s, many of which campaigned in the Cowes-Torquay race.


Another aft-cabin layout taking full advantage of the length of the vessel, the Monaco 38 has two single berths and a small ensuite back aft of the open-backed wheelhouse. The forward accommodation is very simple, the main saloon has settee berths either side and a heads and galley in its aft corners. A separate forward cabin has vee berths.



The shape of the Monaco 38 is absolutely classic 1960s motor boat styling, with just enough curves to its otherwise set square-shape profile to give it real elegance. Ergonomics in the ’60s weren’t what they are today – note the throttles positioned on top of the helm console!


Hard chine planing hulls and multi-diagonal glued mahogany plywood planking on mixed sawn and laminated rock elm frames kept the weight down (comparatively anyway) and the speed up – these were proper planing boats. Top speed with the twin Perkins 145hp diesels should be about 18 knots – super fast by ’60s standards!



The Monaco range of boats came with racing pedigree as standard; these were designed to be proper offshore boats.


Length: 38ft 6in (11.6m)
Beam: 12ft 3in (3.7m)
Draught: 3ft 0in (0.9m)
Displacement: 10 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 150 gallons (682 litres)
Engines: Twin Perkins 145hp diesel
Contact: Sandeman Yacht Company

Project 31

Built: 1974
Price: £12,950


‘Classic boats’ conjures up images of Rivas and Faireys. But is there a place in the classic boat pantheon for something a little more prosaic? I think there is and I think this is it.

When David King and his colleagues realised their fledgling motor boat charter business wasn’t going to work, they sold the boat they’d fitted out from a hull and deck moulding and accidentally kick-started one of the most successful boatbuilding companies in Europe.

It was the demand for that boat that encouraged them to build more. They bought another hull and deck moulding and the Project 31, and with it Princess Yachts, was born.


There’s a wonderful honesty to classic boats of this era. They’re not pretending to be sleek racers, so cabin roofs are high, windows are big and layouts are basic. You get a small heads, a galley opposite a dinette and vee berths up front. There’s nothing clever about it, it just works.

This boat has been revamped, bringing it a little more up to date. White bulkheads replace the original heavy mahogany, there’s modern flooring and a new galley.



On the Princess 32 that replaced the Project 31, the cockpit had a flat floor. On this model there was a step up, resulting in a long aft seat. On this boat, the owner has removed the upholstery and fitted a rather natty-looking sofa instead. Further forward, there are a couple of captain’s chairs beneath the open-backed hardtop.


The Project 31 came with a variety of engines, from twin diesels that gave it planing speeds down to river-friendly small diesels. This classic boat has the latter, a single Volvo Penta AQD21A, giving 75hp for about 8 knots.



Out at sea and on the plane, a rather flat hull gave a somewhat harsh ride but at displacement speeds, that’s not an issue. A single outdrive will make it susceptible to strong crosswinds.


Length: 32ft 2in (9.7m)
Beam: 9ft 1in (2.8m)
Draught: 2ft 7in (0.8m)
Displacement: 4 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 110 gallons (500 litres)
Engines: Volvo Penta MD21 75hp diesel
Contact: TBS Boats

Riva Aquariva

Built: 2002
Price: £249,950


Does a boat have to be old to be a classic? Or can classic boat status be conferred upon it by dint of heritage, style and sheer class? I move that it can and I present exhibit A: the Riva Aquariva. If it’s true that money talks but wealth whispers, the Aquariva must be nigh on inaudible.

It murmurs about heritage, riffing off the classic Riva speedboats beloved of ’60s movie stars like Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers. As for the style and sheer class of the thing – well, it speaks for itself.


It might be 33ft long but it’s unashamedly a dayboat. There is a cabin under that gorgeous teak-laid foredeck, but it’s little more than a beautifully appointed cuddy with just enough room for two to lie down, and a loo under the bed in the centre.



Outside is where it’s all about, soaking up the sunshine and the adulation in equal measure. A huge swoop of U-shaped seating wraps around a central pedestal that acts as a small table and a convenient grabrail.

Up ahead is a large double seat at the helm and back aft, a recessed sunpad tops the engines. If it all gets too much, a concealed bimini top rises electrically to provide some shade.


Providing the go to match the show are two Yanmar 6LYA STP 375hp turbo diesel engines married to twin-speed gearboxes. Shove the delicate stainless-steel column-mounted throttles to the stops and about 11 seconds later you’ll be doing 40 knots with another 2 or 3 knots still to go.



Put the helm down at speed and the proper straight shaftdrives and rudders (rather than outdrives hanging off the back) offer the kind of graceful curves entirely in keeping with this classic boat’s effortless style – this is no point ’n shoot RIB. It’ll power through the rough stuff without shaking the martini too.


Length: 33ft 0in (10.0m)
Beam: 9ft 2in (2.8m)
Draught: 3ft 1in (1.0m)
Displacement: 5.5 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 105 gallons (480 litres)
Engines: Twin Yanmar 6LYA STP 375hp diesel

Our verdict

The Philips 50 is the epitome of a classic boat: rock-solid wooden build, statesmanlike looks, tremendous period accommodation and even a bath. What more could you possibly want? Well, a little more speed perhaps, something that the smaller but equally elegant and equally nostalgic Monaco 38 provides.

But the Project 31 demonstrates that you don’t need wooden construction or a huge budget to go boating in a bona fide classic – as the genesis of Princess Yachts, it’s a boat that earns its classic boat tag yet is a usefully practical and affordable river runner.

But sod the cost. Sod the age too, the Riva Aquariva might be modern in both years and materials but just look at it! That’s a solid-gold classic right there and is my choice.


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