The All American 23 kicks off Larson’s second 100 years in style
Author: Alan Jones
When Paul Larson sold his first boat in 1913 — a wooden double-ender duck boat — it’s doubtful he could have envisioned the evolution his company and its boats would undergo over the course of a century. The All American 23 is the latest page in the Larson history book and is a retro throwback that takes the best of its company’s heritage and melds it with modern technology.
During Larson’s first 100 years, there were some standout models that still turn heads, such as the Falls Flyer we saw at a display to commemorate Larson’s centennial. Unveiled in 1939, the Falls Flyer had a space-age aero/hydrodynamic look that was far ahead of its time. Later outboard versions of the model featured a helmet-like engine cowling. In 1956, Larson entered a new era with the first incarnation of the All American — its first boat made of a new material called fiberglass. Fast forward 57 years, and a new All American is launched that’s destined to become a classic in its own right. It sports a dramatic swoop-down shearline accent that plunges at the rear third of the boat to align with the generous extended swim platform, which is clad in faux teak like the integrated platform and centerline walkover. A set of standard fill-in cushions for both the walkover and the step-down into the cockpit, often an option on other brands, have dedicated storage: in the pull-out drawer under the stern bench or in the storage bin inside the engine compartment.
The entire stern area is given over to passenger lounging, as the low-slung sunpad sits the proper height above the rear deck to provide a comfortable rearward facing seat or a boot-up station for skiing. The boarding ladder is tucked under the extended platform and pulls out from the side, which is a bit unwieldy but creates a clean look. The grabrail is awkwardly placed against the transom at a 90-degree angle to swimmers, so less-athletic reboarders might need help up. Many will probably grab the adjacent pull-up cleat.
Our test boat features the tan color scheme (the other is a Hilfiger-like navy blue with red accent). I initially wasn’t crazy about it, but as I entered the cockpit and saw the stunning white and matching tan upholstery, it really made sense; it provides a unique aspect. A real statement is the oversized coaming pads with a pleated look that is retro-cool and adds a superior level of comfort.
Talking to the Larson support staff, we heard that the engineers had been toying with putting a giant 8.2L MerCruiser into the model, but that hasn’t shown up on the option list yet. Frankly, you don’t need it. Our test boat sports the MerCruiser 350 MAG ECT, which displaces 5.7 liters and puts out 300 hp. It’s the perfect engine for the All American 23. With the Bravo III dual-prop outdrive providing plenty of bite, it was on plane in 2.8 seconds with very little bowrise. Accelerating smoothly, it reached 30 mph in just 5.6 seconds, which proved to be its happiest cruise speed with the engine loafing along at 3000 rpm and registering a quiet sound level of 82 decibels. Top speed on our run along the Mississippi River at the Larson plant in Little Falls, Minn., was an all-you-need 51 mph.
One of the coolest places on the All American is at the helm behind the slim, wooden tilt steering wheel. The dash is retro-cool with gauge pods that channel an earlier automotive era, but it’s not just old-school cool. It has modern features such as lighted toggle switches and an in-dash Lowrance GPS for navigation. The curved windshield has a fat chrome header and sweeps back aggressively, looking like a convertible at a drive-in. The extra-wide captain and co-pilot bucket seats grip you with side bolsters that are set wide. One of the best things this boat has going for it is not just its head-turning looks but the way it rides and handles.
Although it weighs around 3,500 pounds, it feels heavier — in a good way, giving it a Cadillac-like feel. But when you turn, the All American morphs into a sports car, allowing the driver to crank it hard-over to carve a perfect arc. It doesn’t have an extreme amount of lean during cornering thanks to its relatively shallow 16 degrees of deadrise, which gives it excellent side-to-side stability. Conditions on Old Man River were benign, so we didn’t get a chance to bash it around in waves, but the shallow deadrise will probably result in a ride that’s a little rougher than a boat such as the Sea Ray 23 SLX, which has 21 degrees of deadrise. But for old-school slalom ski fans, the shallower deadrise means a flatter wake.
It’s built using VEC technology, which is a closed-molding process that is environmentally friendly and produces a very consistent product.
One of the outstanding features of the All America 23 is the bow layout, which transforms it from a kid zone into an all-purpose social area thanks to the trio of feet-on-the-deck seats that appear when the filler cushions are removed. The modular cushion design allows riders to use a seat bottom to bridge the gap to create twin bow-riding recliners that have the perfect amount of backrest recline. Add the rest of the jigsaw puzzle pieces to create a playpen for sunning. The tall gunwale height throughout the boat is a great safety feature.
Almost all American boaters love to ski, and the 23-footer is ready for action with a port-side stern ski locker and a standard transom ski tow, and there’s an option for a forward-swept tubular wakeboard tower. Plus, its 8-foot, 6-inch beam and a stern bench mean you can jam four biological ballast units (humans) in the backseat to plow up a bigger wake. The 32-gallon fuel tank is a bit small for extended skiing and cruising for a boat this size with a V-8 engine, but the flatter deadrise gives you better fuel economy at cruising/skiing speeds, which helps the tank “grow.”
In addition to a factory trailer for road trips or parking in front of your house, to show off your new boat, there are a few other must-have options. In order of necessity: a Bimini top for shade, bow filler cushions, a transom shower and a premium stereo system for extreme entertaining. Also high on the want list are the optional cockpit and bow tables, which are made of teak instead of the molded white plastic you usually see. Dual battery switches will allow you to crank the stereo at anchor without having to get the “jump of shame” at the end of the day.
Although you can save a little more than $2,000 by going with the smaller 5.0L 260 hp engine, which will run the boat decently (skip the 4.3L V-6 option), the MerCruiser 350 MAG ECT seems to hit the sweet spot.