HomeCar CultureFrank Hagerty shared his passion for old cars and wooden boats

Frank Hagerty shared his passion for old cars and wooden boats


While many people saw old wooden boats as nothing more than “floating pieces of firewood filled with gas,” Frank Hagerty saw them for their historic beauty and value. That vision led Hagerty and his wife, Louise, to start their own insurance company to help owners of wooden boats protect and preserve such craft.

When Hagerty discovered that many of his company’s clients also owned old cars, he added them to the coverage provided by Hagerty Insurance, which would become the world’s largest insurer of classic cars and boats.

Frank Hagerty died this week at the age of 79 after a battle with cancer, Hagerty Insurance announced.

Frank Hagerty in one of his wooden boats | Hagerty Insurance archives
Frank Hagerty in one of his wooden boats | Hagerty Insurance archives

More than merely insuring old vehicles, Hagerty and his company worked to assure the future of the classic vehicle hobby, supporting many and even creating educational programs to teach restoration skills to a new generation of enthusiasts and to share the appreciation of historic vehicles and their role in American culture with everyone — starting with his own family.

Hagerty was born in Detroit but in his early 20s moved to northern Michigan. He had gone to Michigan State University to study agriculture and planning to becoming a cherry farmer on the Traverse City area, where his family often visited. But he switched to business studies and in 1956 started an independent insurance agency.

In 1981 he sold that business so he and Louise could start Hagerty Insurance, which they launched in their basement in 1984. Hagerty’s hometown newspaper, the Traverse City Record-Eagle, reported that the Hagertys started their own insurance company because Frank couldn’t find suitable insurance for his own wooden boats.

Hagerty not only insured historic wooden boats and classic automobiles, he was a passionate owner and restorer as well. To share that passion with his children, he offered each an opportunity to choose and restore their first cars. His daughter Kim selected a 1960 Corvair Lakewood station wagon. His daughter Tammy picked a 1960 Porsche 356 B roadster. His son McKeel found a 1967 Porsche 911S.

The values he taught – the importance of preserving history, working hard and taking care of people…” — McKeel Hagerty

“Those restoration projects were purchased for less than $500 apiece, and they were all incredibly rusty and non-running, but they gave each us lots of time with Dad and an appreciation for restoring and preserving cars,” said McKeel Hagerty, who was a seminary student when his parents asked him to come home to run the insurance company.

“Growing up working in the garage with my dad taught us that hard work and perseverance can bring a big reward,” said McKeel, now the president and chief executive of Hagerty Insurance. “Some of our greatest joys were hearing an engine fire up for the first time.

“But he also taught us the importance of taking care of the less fortunate. He was incredibly generous to people even in his final days,” McKeel added. “The values he taught – the importance of preserving history, working hard and taking care of people – eventually allowed us to grow Hagerty from a single employee in the basement of my parents’ house to a team of more than 600 employees worldwide.”

Frank Hagerty retired more than 20 years ago but remained very active in the classic car and wooden boat hobbies. In 2012, he found an original Dunesmobile, a 1948 Ford convertible that had been set up on balloon tires to chauffeur tourists on the Michigan’s famed Sleeping Bear Dunes. Hagerty restored the car, which won best in class honors among “beach cars” at the recent Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.

“Frank’s last ride in a collector car was to accept that award,” the insurance company said in announcing his death.

Here’s a video about Hagerty’s 40-year search for the Dunesmobile.

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. So sad! My condolences to the Hagerty family, which includes the staff as well. I know they all feel like a big family. I met Frank at the Hagerty collection a couple years ago when the Great Race started in Traverse City. What a charming, interesting, dedicated fellow. His is a great loss to all.

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