BY THE NUMBERS - POST-WAR CHRIS CRAFT RUNABOUTS
HOW MANY IS A LOT, AND WHAT MAKES A BOAT RARE
20' CUSTOM RUNABOUT
17' DELUXE RUNABOUT
THE RIVIERAS - 16', 18' AND 20'
19' RACING RUNABOUT
17' ROCKET RUNABOUTS
(Ed Note: for a larger view of any of the photos below, click on the image to see a larger size)
Production Numbers - The question of how many were built has always intrigued collectors and is often a consideration in establishing value. Somehow, "one of fifty" always sounds more special than one of 50,000. For those interested in collecting and restoring cars, production numbers are often readily available and regularly publicized. For us old boat nuts, the information is often difficult to locate and in the case of many manufacturers, simply unavailable. Tony Mollica's new book, Gar Wood Boats, provided Gar Wood production numbers for the first time which corrected many myths concerning Gar Wood's production.
Fortunately, when it comes to Chris-Craft wooden boats, the company maintained accurate records from the beginning (1922) by retaining "hull cards" as the boats were produced. Chris-Craft itself maintained no production summaries, but by reviewing entire hull card files researchers can determine how many of what type were built and when the boats were shipped. These records were donated to the Mariner's Museum and are available to researchers. By reviewing every hull card of a particular model, exact numbers, options, colors and deliveries can be determined and summaries prepared. For production summary purposes, the first hull number and final production hull number can be noted to determine the approximate production. (Contact Mariner's Museum to Order your Hull Card)
This issue, we'll take a look at production numbers for post-war Chris-Craft runabouts. In later issues we'll review utilities and express cruisers.
Chris-Craft's runabouts were all new after World War II, and the queen of the fleet was the 20' CUSTOM. Produced from 1946 through 1949, the CUSTOM introduced blonde two-tone deck designs, all new streamlined hardware, and featured an expensive "bubble" transom. With the folding windshield from the pre-war barrelback, heavy chrome hardware, leather upholstery and "big-block" M-series engines, the CUSTOMs were and remain the grandest of the post-war runabouts. 366 were built.
Click to see ACBS Members John & Connie Linneman's '47 Custom Runabout "Clementine" as seen at Lake Tahoe.
The always popular 17' DELUXE was introduced along side the CUSTOM in 1946 but was much simpler in design. During the first two years of production "Spanish cedar" was used for planking and the screw holes were puttied instead of bunged. All hulls were finished with one-color stain without blonde highlights. The windshield brackets were pre-war 17', but the remainder of the hardware was all new CUSTOM-style. A total of 1,880 DELUXES were produced through mid-1950.
The RIVIERAS were introduced late 1949, as 1950 models, expanding the CUSTOM theme into a full range of sizes. The baby 16' was beautifully proportioned but unfortunately underpowered with only enough space under the hatch for a "B" four-cylinder engine. 174 were built before the 16' was terminated during 1951. See Frank Mester's 1951 16' Riviera "Beats Workin".
In contrast, the 18' "RIV" was very popular, and today is recognized as the quintessential 1950s runabout with its blonde decks, graceful proportions and excellent performance when powered by higher horsepower "K" engines. 1,210 were built between 1949 and 1954, when RIVIERAS were replaced by CAPRIS.
The 20' RIVIERA replaced the 20' CUSTOM, similar in appearance but much simpler in construction and content. A fixed windshield replaced the CUSTOM's folding windshield, the difficult to shape "bubble" transom was gone, the interior was simplified, and the bottom flatter. Essentially, the 20' RIV was a big 18' and 288 were built before production terminated in 1954.
In 1948 the 19' RR was introduced, joining the CUSTOM and DELUXE. For the first two years, all 19's were painted, which allowed for the use of lower quality woods while mahogany was in short supply and simplified construction with puttied screw-holes. Starting in 1950 through the end of production in 1954, all RRs were varnished mahogany. The post-war 19' RR was based on the pre-war 19' Racing Runabout, but was not the same boat - the bottom was wider and flatter, the transom wider and flatter, freeboard taller and decks flatter, and the rear cockpit was finished for passengers. All pre-war 19' Racing Runabouts were powered by small block engines - either Lycomings, Grays, or Chris-Craft "Ks" while the post-war 19's were almost always powered by big M-series engines. These highly desirable runabouts were the production "hot rods" of the day, with 503 built during the six year production run.
The 17' ROCKET RUNABOUT was introduced in 1953, a true runabout based upon the less expensive 17' utility hull and with simple hardware and furnishings. The ROCKET was intended to fill the lower priced slot left open after the 17' DELUXE and 16' RIVIERA were retired. The ROCKETS were distinctive with their "square back" styling, essentially a decked-over utility. 243 were built during 1953 and 1954.
The ROCKET name was dropped in 1955, and the vee windshield replaced with a one-piece curved plastic unit. Simply called the 17' RUNABOUT, 94 more were built during 1955 and 1956. Finally, for the 1957 model year the hull was redesigned from the cockpit back, creating a pleasant "barrel back" transom with additional crown added to the engine hatch and aft deck. A total of 236 "barrel back" 17' RUNABOUTS were built during 1957 and 1958, with blonde deck trim and the curved plastic windshield. Altogether, 573 17' "ROCKET" based runabouts were built between 1953 and 1958.
More on the Rocket Runabouts, sometimes referred to as the "Special Runabout" See John de Sousa's "Harvey J"
1955 was a big year for Chris-Craft when all of the runabouts were replaced with new models. The 18' RIVIERA was replaced by the 19' CAPRI; the 20' RIVIERA was replaced by the 21' CAPRI; the 19' RACING RUNABOUT evolved into the 21' COBRA; a new single cockpit 18' COBRA was added; and even the 17' ROCKET RUNABOUT was revised with a matching curved windshield. Although generally considered separate models, the CAPRIS and COBRAS all shared design features and hardware and presented unified styling.
As a replacement for the 18' RIVIERA the 19' CAPRI utilized the same basic hull design with an extended bow, two-piece curved plastic windshield, and similar hardware. The largest engine continued to be "K" based, first a KBL and later the KFL. 786 were built from 1955 through 1958.
The 21' CAPRI was an extended bow 20' RIVIERA, with the CAPRI windshield and styling features. A major change was the addition of optional V-8 power along with the M-series engines. 170 were built during 1955 and 1956, at which time the original RIVIERA-based 21' CAPRI was retired.
The COBRAS, both the 18' and the 21', were Chris-Craft's attempt to update the racing runabout concept with mid-50s styling, including the famous tail fins. The little 18' was loosely based upon pre-war 16' racing runabouts with the top engine option a 131 hp "KBL." The 21' was based upon the 19' racing runabout with an extended bow and both M-series engines and V-8 options. The Cadillac powered 21' COBRAS were Chris-Craft's first post-war attempt at true high performance runabouts, with top speeds easily exceeding 50 mph. Unfortunately, handling problems ensued. With their labor-intensive fiber glass fins and deck lids, the COBRAS were never intended for large scale production and were only produced during the 1955 model year. A total of 51 18's and 55 21's were produced.
See Bob Ragone's 1955 21' Cobra,
hull # BR-21-041. This boat has the factory installed CM-285/Cal Connell Cadillac engine serial # CCC 1256R. Purchased in 2002 in Michigan- it is believed only 18 remain. (click photo for larger image)
21' CAPRI (V-8)
For the 1958 model year (introduced mid-1957), Chris-Craft replaced the RIVIERA-based 21' CAPRI with an entirely new model based on the new 21' CONTINENTAL. These boats were known for their automotive based styling details, including white tail fins, sloping aft decks, and interiors which appeared to be direct copies of the latest from Detroit. With large V-8s, these boats were heavy and fast, and were in fact the last of the large Chris-Craft runabouts. A total of 44 were built from mid-1957 through 1959, making the tail fin CAPRI the rarest of all post-war Chris-Craft runabouts.
18'/19' CAPRI (V-8)
An all new 18' CAPRI was introduced for 1959, based on the 1957 18' CONTINENTAL hull and hardware. Chris-Craft's new for 1959 283 V-8 was the engine of choice and the characteristic bullnose was replaced by a more traditional "clipper" bow. "Ks" were still available, but most of the 65 produced for 1959 were shipped with V-8s.
For 1960, the aft deck was stretched a few inches so that the final Chris-Craft runabout could be called 19'. Finally, for 1961 the hull side trim was slightly revised, with a painted white panel added near the stern, but otherwise the design remained the same. 112 were built for 1960, and 60 for 1961. Altogether, 237 18'/19' CAPRIS were built for the 1959 through 1961 model years, ending 40 years of runabout production by Chris-Craft.
Whoever owns CAPRI # 19-CRB060 owns the very last true runabout built by Chris-Craft. The numbers tell the story. Chris-Craft built 1880 17' DELUXES; 1210 18' RIVIERAS; 786 19' CAPRIS; and finally 237 18' CAPRIS. By 1960 runabouts were out of fashion and consumers were interested in high performance de luxe utilities, often configured for water skiing, a trend which continues today.
Altogether, Chris-Craft produced 6,337 runabouts from 1946 through 1961.
Chris Craft by The Numbers - Post-War Runabouts