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A Bevo Boat

The Bevo Boats

By Richard Heseltine

Coachbuilding is an artform, and one I find fascinating. I was recently asked to write a feature on the most creative metal-wielding firms of yesteryear and, remarkably enough, the makers of the ‘car’ pictured here didn’t feature among their number. Nevertheless, I love the backstory behind its creation and those of several replicas.

The Bevo Boat

The Bevo Boat – or rather Boats - were dreamed up E. Anheuser & Co of St. Louis. What’s more, this brewing company also constructed as many as eight of them in its own workshops. It had plenty of practice manufacturing bodies, having made horse-drawn wagons from as far back as the 1850s prior to constructing its own fleet of trucks.

Scroll back to the late 1920s and early ’30s and saloons and speakeasies weren’t the most reputable of places. August A. Busch, who succeeded his father Adolphus as head of the family business, went so far as to build a restaurant called Bevo Mill near the brewery which was accompanied by a new beverage that was only half of one percent alcohol. This, he reasoned, would appeal to families in communities where higher-alcohol content drinks were outlawed due to prohibition. There was just the small matter of drumming up publicity for this new venture.

Who, precisely, dreamed up a road-going boat as a PR tool is lost to history, but the first ‘car’ was completed in 1918 on a Pierce-Arrow chassis. Six more were then completed on P-A frames, along with a wilder still variation on the theme based upon a 1930 Cadillac Model 353 platform which is pictured here. Each vehicle featured the corporate red and white livery.

Some of the more memorable outer trinkets included Woodlite head and cowl lights, two large chrome anchors, a life raft on each flank, a propeller on the transom, and elaborate tail lights with red-lensed lanterns hung beneath them. There were no doors, either, access to the red leather-clad cabin being by means of projecting step plates sited below the life rafts. Some Bevo Boats also featured Winchester Arms 10-gauge cannons mounted to the rear wings, complete with opening breeches and firing pins…

The Bevo Boats, or Land Cruisers as they were often referred to in period, were used extensively during the 1930s, with promotional tours spanning much of North America. They were also pressed into service during World War 2 for recruitment purposes, and also to drum up support for War Bonds. Not only that, the firm’s coachbuilding division became a profitable sideline to the extent that it created a raft of vehicles for public consumption. These included everything from horseboxes to highly elaborate ‘motorised homes’, or RVs in modern parlance, before the factory was shuttered in 1933. Do any Bevo Boats survive? If you know more, do please get in touch.

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