By Mike Gridley

Before the days of big inboard ski and wakeboard boats, outboard powered ski boats were the boats to own. Brands like Sidewinder, J-Craft and Checkmate are some of the big names of the era, but there was also another brand exclusive to Canada:Panther.

The Panther line of ski and performance boats was built by Quinn’s Marina in Pefferlaw, Ontario.

While these boats were branded Panthers, they were essentially Checkmates. That’s because when Checkmate was updating models, they sold the old moulds to Quinn’s. They then renamed their Canadian built boats, Panthers.

This summer I was fortunate enough to test a pair of original, non-modified Panther Ski Mate 3s – a1980 model and a 1989.

Pamphlet page from the origianl production run of these boats.
Pamphlet page from the origianl production run of these boats.

A trip to 1980

The1980 model, with its original metal flake finish and low curved windshield, is a real standout on any lake. The multi-coloured graphics on the deck emphasize sweeping lines and graceful curves from the bow to the cockpit. There isn’t much hardware on the boat so as not to distract from its overall form.

This minimalist approach continues into the cockpit as well. The helm gives you the basics: speedo, tach, trim, fuel – all set off by the bright gelcoat designs on the black base colour of the hull and deck. The driver has the wheel to grab, while passengers get a handle.

Seating in the 1980 is basic and functional. Simple twin buckets, secured to carpeted bases, match the fully carpeted deck and hull sides.The transom seat is a modest bench with storage in the base. With the ski pylon in place, the seat can accommodate one passenger as a spotter.

In 1980, performance ski boats were all about hull design, outboard power and speed, not luxury. You got the essentials for skiing and going fast and little more.

1980 Helm
1980 Helm

Fast forward to 1989

This 1989 Panther is a different breed of cat. She’s not only larger, her design reflects many of the styling cues of some of the performance and offshore boats of the era – like the deck and gunwale grab rails. The lines are crisp and angular with many flat surfaces. The 1989 sports a more protective skiff style windscreen, too.

The original interior is plusher with more detail in the stitching, coloured inserts and piping. The helm seats are more comfortable and adjustable as well. The transom seat curves into the cockpit sides, enhancing passenger comfort and the embroidered Panther motif is a nice detail. The cockpit and hull sides are still carpeted but the gunwale storage is appreciated.

While still basic, the helm instruments are covered by a plexi-glass shield. In nine years, a battery gauge and stereo were added – nowupgraded since cassettes are hard to find. The driver grips an upgraded wheel and the passengers get larger grab rails. Its long bow allows for a large open space under the deck. Complete with a cushion, the area is perfect for catching a nap out of the sun.

Taking advantage of the extra length there is a small sunpad across the transom, with grab rails to aid access into and out of the water from the starboard swim platform ladder. The newer-style ski pylon inserts into the deck aft of the transom seat, no longer interfering with passengers.

Nearly a decade of production later, it is still about the hull, skiing, power and speed.

1989 Helm
1989 Helm

Performance Differences

The 1989 Panther not only makes a terrific ski boat, it is also adept at cruising smaller cottage country lakes. She planes at only 2,500 rpm at 25 miles per hour. The hull, with its multiple strakes and hard chines, makes these low speeds possible. One can enjoy a relaxed cruise or keep the speed down in rougher water. Cruising is comfortable at 34 mph or around 3,500 rpm.

The hull design also ensures tight, smooth turns that instil confidence.

But hey, these boats are all about performance!

Acceleration runs ticked through 20 mph in five seconds and 30 in just seven seconds. Pinning the throttle and trimming out the Mercury Racing 200 TwoStroke, the Panther averaged 60 mph over several passes. According to the boat’s owner, under ideal conditions, this boat is capable of 65 mph on GPS.

Idling away from the dock in the 1980 Panther Ski Mate, taking time to warm up the Mercury 200/225, it was evident that this was going to be the bad boy. The owner of this Panther told us the Mercury 225 had been rebuilt using parts for a 200 so the exact specs and horsepower are a bit allusive.

Warmed up and ready to run, this trimmed Panther planed in five seconds with careful throttle advancement. Turning a cleaver prop, the Mercury 225 revs a bit then hooks up, accelerating to 20 in five-point-three seconds. She quickly jumped 10 mph more in one-point-two seconds and hit 40 in just seven-point-eight.

Trimmed up, the hull loved to run at 41.6 mph at 4,000 rpm, its sweet spot.

High speed runs at 5,500 rpm yielded speeds averaging 62.3 mph. A bit of a chine walk in the crosswind kept me from pushing through to the Panther’s reported top speed of 74mph. Regardless, the 1980 model is just outright fun to run.

Buying a modern high-speed performance or ski boat is a big investment, but not so with these classics. Depending on the condition of the boat and motor and the level of restoration work needed, you can obtain a classic ski boat at quite a reasonable price.

If it needs major hull, interior and outboard repairs you can buy a restorable boat for $1,000 to $2,500. Ready to run right off the trailer increases the price a little – starting from $7,500 and going higher.

Regardless of your investment, you will not only end up with a truly fun boat, but with one that will appreciate with time. These older “FiberGlassics,” as they’re called, are becoming quite collectable and are now showing up at many antique and classic boat shows.

Power Comparison

1980 Panther Ski Mate

TEST BOAT ENGINE

Mercury 200/225, 2.5 L (153 ci) V6 TwoStroke

ACCELERATION

0-20 / 5.3; 0-30 / 6.5; 0-40 / 7.8

CRUISING SPEED (rpm/mph)

3,000 / 26.2

TOP SPEED (rpm/mph)

5,500 / 62.3

LENGTH: 17 ft 1 in / 5.13 m

BEAM:  7 ft 5 in / 2.22 m

WEIGHT: 810 lbs / 360 kg (plus motor)

FUEL CAPACITY: NA

Used Boat Price Range: $2,500.00 – $10,000.00

 

1989 Panther Ski Mate

TEST BOAT ENGINE

Mercury Racing 225, 2.5 L (153 ci) V6 TwoStroke

ACCELERATION

0-20 / 5; 0-30 / 7

CRUISING SPEED (rpm/mph)

3,000 / 30.2

TOP SPEED (rpm/mph)

4,800 / 60

LENGTH: 19 ft3 in / 5.8 m

BEAM:  7 ft6 in / 2.25 m

WEIGHT: 1,100 lbs / 495 kg

FUEL CAPACITY: NA

Used Boat Price Range: $2,500.00 – $15,000

 

This boat review is featured in the Winter 2016 issue of Boats&Places. These two boats will be featured on the 2016 season of PowerBoatTelevision.

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Mike Gridley is a Producer and Host of PowerBoat Television and contributor to Boats&Places Magazine, BoatTest.ca and BoaterNews.ca. A lifelong boater, Mike started on the water with a 12-foot Peterborough cedar strip. Graduating to fibreglass, he has owned a series of boats from cuddy cabins to cruisers. He has come full circle back to wood with the purchase of a 1964 Greavette.

After graduating from Ryerson University, Mike joined Molson Breweries where he spent 17 years in a variety of sales, marketing and promotions positions. He went on to hone his marketing communications, creative and advertising skills as a Senior Account Director with several national advertising agencies for clients including Bank of Montreal, Petro-Canada, Canadian Tire and Polaroid.

In pursuit of his love of all things boating, Mike joined Lifestyle Integrated in 2004 and assumed the role of Producer in 2006.

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