The ships were special, however. I remember back in the early 80's getting a Lego firefighting ship; and yes, the hull was three large red sections, with studs only on the deck (and some stud receptacles for the keel underneath). Nothing else.
But the thing is, the ships were intended to float in a bathtub (or wherever) --- and I have many fond memories of building all sorts of ships for bathtime play. Had the ships been build ground-up from bricks, they wouldn't have floated -- which defeats the whole point.
Fast-forward to today: last Xmas, I visited my mother's house and unearthed all of my Lego in her attic. I packed it into two suitcases, took it home, and now my young daughter plays in the bathtub with the ship. That, and builds moon bases and pneumatic diggers and the like. To me, that's a real testament to Lego as a product, but also to the fact that not everything Lego needs to be a small brick.