CHRIS-CRAFT BY THE NUMBERS
By the early 40's, Chris-Craft was primarily a utility and cruiser company. We all like the true runabouts, but like convertibles and two-door hardtops true decked over runabouts are indulgences that few can afford.
After conversion in 1942 to full time military production, Chris-Craft produced in excess of 10,000 landing craft and many hundreds of military spec utilities and cruisers of various sizes. After Germany’s surrender during the spring of 1945, future contracts were canceled and production requirements eased. The writing was on the wall — the war would soon be over, and Chris-Craft needed to plan and carry out a quick conversion to pleasure craft production in order to survive.
By August 1945 when Japan surrendered and all military contracts were canceled, Chris-Craft was already preparing to produce utility models and smaller cruisers for the pleasure craft market. Runabouts would have to come later — the pre-war barrel back designs that used large quantities of mahogany were not practical with post-war shortages and there was a much larger market for utilities.
Chris-Craft commenced production of 16' “SPECIAL RUNABOUTS,” 18' “DELUXE UTILITIES,” and 22' and 25' “SPORTSMANS” as quickly as production could begin.
All four lines were based on pre-war designs and would carry Chris-Craft through 1954, when the last of the old-timers was finally replaced.
16' SPECIAL RUNABOUT “ROCKET”
The Special Runabout was not a runabout at all, but a deluxe utility with a wide center deck that created a separate forward cockpit. Called the “ROCKET” by Chris-Craft, these boats were nearly identical to the pre-war 16' Deluxe Runabouts which in turn were lengthened versions of the 1938 15-½’ Deluxe Runabouts. The Rocket was offered varnished or painted, with choices of white, black, red and blue sides. The painted hull allowed Chris-Craft to use more readily available cedar and kept costs down. Both Chris-Craft “B” and Chrysler 6 cyl. “Ace” engines were offered and the lightweight Rocket performed quite well with the Ace. 1,040 were built from late 1945 through 1948.
17' SPECIAL RUNABOUT
The ROCKET was replaced for 1949 with the “new” 17' SPECIAL RUNABOUT, a slightly stretched version of the same hull with a new deck shape, all mahogany finish and extra trim. The 17' SR was particularly handsome with its rounded front deck trim and mahogany with white seams engine cover, and was produced from 1949 through 1952. The SR was available with all versions of the Chris-Craft K series engines. Although not advertised as such, it was the lightest post-war hull equipped with the KBL and many collectors consider the 17' SR a baby racing runabout. Starting with hull No. 1041, 726 were produced before production ended in 1952.
See "Dancing Days" ------ 1949 Chris Craft Special Runabout owned by Don Peterson, Michigamme, Michigan.
The 16' SPORTSMAN was not reintroduced until late 1947 as a 1948 model and again was based on the pre-war model. A 16' Deluxe Utility was available during 1941 and 1942 based on earlier versions dating back to 1933. The littlest SPORTSMAN was only available with the “B” engine and 186 were built for 1948-1949.
By extending the bow and front deck of the 16' SPORTSMAN, Chris-Craft created the new for 1950 17' SPORTSMAN which was produced through 1952. Again, powered by only a “B,” this 17' SPORTSMAN represented the last evolution of Chris-Craft’s original 15-½’ utility first offered in 1933. 260 were built from 1950 through 1952, with an all-new 17' SPECIAL SPORTSMAN introduced for 1953.
See Member Paul Greer's 17' 1957 Sportsman
18' DELUXE UTILITY/SPORTSMAN
The 18' SPORTSMAN, as we commonly know it, was one of the original 1945 introductions and was based on the pre-war 18' Deluxe Utility hull. Called a 1946, the bow and deck received new rounded and rolled covering boards with new windshield brackets and hardware, but otherwise the basic design had roots in the 1934 18' utility. Both “B” and “K” series engines were offered and although most of the restored boats we see today are mahogany, painted hulls were available. Called the DELUXE UTILITY through 1948 and the SPORTSMAN from 1949 through 1954, a total of 1,186 were built.
To the general public, no boat more epitomizes a “Chris-Craft” than the famous U-22. In production throughout the war for government applications, the 22 has its roots in the 1934 21' UTILITY and is very similar to the 1940 and later 22' “vee” windshield DELUXE UTILITY. For 1946, the design was updated with rolled and rounded bow and covering boards similar to the 18'. A full range of engines was available, from the small “B” through the “M” series. From 1945 through 1948 most of the boats were painted and white sided SPORTSMANS are common today. From 1949 through 1954 most were mahogany. A total of 2,082 were built during the nine-year production run — by far Chris-Craft’s most popular boat of any type during the late 40's and early 50's.
22' CUSTOM SEDAN
A hardtop version of the 22' SPORTSMAN, the CUSTOM SEDAN was catalogued by Chris-Craft as a separate model and built from 1947 through 1954. Pre-war 22's had been available with a hardtop, but the design was boxy and plain. For the post-war version, Chris-Craft waited a year and designed a streamlined hardtop similar to the larger post-war sedan cruisers. The result was one of the most attractive hardtop runabouts of all time, with opening windshields, sliding side windows, and a large varnished foredeck unique to the SEDAN. As with the SPORTSMAN, most of the SEDANS built during 1947 and 1948 were painted white and most built from 1949 through 1954 were varnished. Production totaled 436.
This is it — the flagship model, the most expensive and prestigious Chris-Craft “runabout” built after the war. All mahogany, with center decks, a drop shear line, extensive hardware, leather upholstery, and powerful engine options, the 25' SPORTSMAN was advertised as capable of 40 mph. The 25' was based on the 1940-42 25' SPORTSMAN, which was an evolution of the 1936 24' SPORTSMAN. Like the 18' and 22', the post-war 25' used a rolled and rounded stem and bow cap, updated hardware, and a slightly different windshield design but otherwise was very similar to the pre-war design. The SPORTSMAN was introduced in 1945, and an optional streamlined cabin much like the 22's was made available in 1948 (although treated as an option instead of a separate model). Engine options included (for those willing to pay) a large single 225 hp Scripps and twin “ML’s” for a total of 290 hp, including both open and hardtop SPORTSMANS, a total of 208 were produced through 1950.
By 1950 Chris-Craft had introduced its all new line of Riviera runabouts, dozens of brand new cruiser designs including the COMMANDER, and it was finally time for a new series of utilities. The all-new HOLIDAYS were introduced during 1950 as 1951 models in both 19' and 23' lengths. Chris-Craft recognized the trend away from runabouts and toward luxury utilities, and the original HOLIDAYS were a huge jump in that direction.
The 1951 HOLIDAYS introduced a number of “firsts” for Chris-Craft, including bullnose bows; reverse flair sides all the way to the transom; the steeply raked vee windshields; and blond hull side highlights. Showing its position as a transition design, however, transoms remained raked forward and a true cutwater adorned the bow even with the bullnose.
To quote Chris-Craft, “Modern styling is typified by the new Holiday.”
The 19' HOLIDAY was built 1951 - 1953, powered by “K” series engines. The chrome framed vee windshield was very similar to the windshield on the U-22, and the all blond thick rounded covering boards, blond bow cap and transom details, and blond spray rails presented a colorful two-tone effect. 384 were built.
For 1954 the 19' hull was slightly redesigned with a rear sloping transom as compared to the 19's forward rake. With the rear seat in the same place, this caused the rear deck to be slightly extended and allowed the boat to be called a 20'. The rear sloped transom was to remain a HOLIDAY/CONTINENTAL feature through 1961. 101 20' HOLIDAYS were built for 1954.
The 1951 23' HOLIDAY is very similar in design details to the 19'/20', with two seats forward of the engine box. Larger in all dimensions than the 19', the 23' introduced the unique, steeply sloping vee windshield and curved rear seat back which matched the narrow rear deck. 23's were available with “M” series engines, and could be ordered with folding tops, fish box, ice chest, and other luxury options. Productions started during late 1950 as a 1951 model, and 88 were built through 1952.
For 1953 Chris-Craft advertised a “new” 24' HOLIDAY, using the same photo as the 23'. However, advertising photos for 1954 indicate a change in transom design from the 23' forward slant to a reverse slant, which would cause a slight increase in overall length. All other details appear identical to the original 23'. The original hull number series continued for 89 and 90, and then a new series ran from 1 - 54, for a total of 56 24' HOLIDAYS. Altogether, 144 23'/24' HOLIDAYS were built to the original 1951 - 1954 design. The 23' would return again in 1956, but as a totally different boat. The 1956 23' was based on the 1955 22', a new hull for 1955. The original 23'/24' was to evolve into the 25'/26' CONTINENTAL series, which will be covered in a later review.
Whereas the 1951 HOLIDAY series represented top of the line luxury utilities intended to eventually replace the SPORTSMAN series, the SPECIAL SPORTSMANS in 17' and 20' lengths introduced in 1953 were all new designs to replace the low end utilities.
By 1952, Chris-Craft was producing the 17' SR, 17' SPORTSMAN and 18' SPORTSMAN all based on pre-war designs, and all similar in cost to manufacture. A new low-priced design was needed. The 17' and 20' SPECIAL SPORTSMANS, introduced in 1953 to replace 17' SR and 17' SPORTSMAN were the result.
The “SPECIALS” were necessarily plain and simple, saving both materials and labor. Bottoms were designed from plywood inter-planking, which meant eliminating the traditional Chris-Craft concave entry. Sides were still planked in mahogany, but with very little flare or tumble home and with a simple, straightforward rake bow line using a trim strip as compared to a cutwater. Transoms were vertical and flat. Unless ordered as an option, the insides were bare without ceiling boards. Dashboards were simple with only 3 gauges; hardware was basic; and engine boxes were truly “boxes.”
The concept worked, and the 17' SS was to become Chris-Craft’s most popular boat ever, in production through 1960. The 20' continued in production until1959.
17' SPECIAL SPORTSMAN
When first introduced in 1953, the new 17' was called the “SPECIAL” to distinguish it from the previous pre-war design 17' SPORTSMAN. The SPECIAL name was dropped for 1954. The 17' was powered by either “B” or “K” engines throughout, and for 1959 and 1960 the 283 V8 was available.
Small changes occurred over the years. The 1953 - 1954 17' used raised foredeck trim and a vee windshield (1,031 produced); the 1955 - 1956 17' used the same hull details with a one-piece curved plastic windshield (514 built); and the 1957 - 1960 design eliminated the raised foredeck trim and added a blond king plank, rear deck and raised cockpit surround (1,303 built). Altogether, from 1953 - early 1961 Chris-Craft shipped 2,848 17' SPECIAL SPORTSMANS.
20' SPECIAL SPORTSMAN
The 20' was introduced in 1953 as a larger version of the 17' with an optional third seat in front of the engine box. 194 were built during 1953 - 1954; 68 during 1955 - 56; and 214 from 1957 - 1959. Available engine options ranged from the small “B” through the 158 hp “MBL,” and included both Interceptor and Chris-Craft V8s from 1957 on. A total of 476 were produced through 1959.
1955 was to be a big year. The last of the pre-war designs ended in 1954. The HOLIDAY concept was to be expanded, with new CONTINENTALS and HOLIDAYS introduced in 18', 20', 22' and 25' sizes. Only the 17' and 20' SPORTSMANS, themselves almost new designs, would carry over. The end of an era had arrived.
To follow: the CONTINENTAL era 1955 - 1961.