A lot of us here at CC love the classic land yachts of the 1950s through the 1970s. If you feel the same, you’re in luck, because the subject of this article is a real boat.
Chris Craft was a powerhouse in the first half of the 20th century. Originally headquartered in Algonac, MI, their hand-crafted mahogany cruisers and speedboats were some of the most beautiful status symbols around. Starting in 1964, Chris Craft made the startling move to fiberglass-hulled cruisers. Chris Craft, of all companies! But their reasoning was sound. Recreational boating really took off in the Fifties, and customers were tiring of the high-maintenance wooden hulls. The Commander series was the first move toward the new material, though the Constellation series would remain wood-hulled for several years.
My dad has always loved boating, having grown up in a town right next to the Mississippi River. He’s had many boats, but Chris Craft is far and away his favorite. In the ’70s and ’80s he had two, a wood-hulled 1962 32′ Constellation with twin Chryslers and a ’59 Capri speedboat. Like many, he soon tired of the constant maintenance that was part and parcel of wood boat ownership, and sold the Connie.
It was replaced with his first fiberglass Chris Craft. A 1967 38′ Commander Sedan with a flying bridge, to be exact. While Dad did have to do a lot of work on the inside – he completely sanded, stained and varnished all the interior mahogany trim – the hull was no trouble at all. Purchased in 1988, we enjoyed it very much. As the years went by though, we used it less and less, and it was sold in 1996.
Fast forward about ten years. My folks had decided to build a new house on the river, and Dad decided he had to have another vintage Chris Craft cruiser. We had other boats between 1997 and 2005, but none was a Chris Craft. His buddy at the marina just happened to have a ’66 27′ Commander. It was immediately purchased and the ’86 Sea Ray 260 Sundancer was sold to the next door neighbor. We all thought that was that, but there was one wild card in the deck.
As nice as the 27′ was, he missed that big 38′ Commander, with its twin 427 Fords and flying bridge. An acquaintance of his had a 35′ Commander that Dad loved; it was literally his dream boat. He told Arthur that if he ever decided to sell it, to let him know first. Well, just before the 4th of July weekend in 2010, he got the call. In short order, it was dockside.
The 35-foot Commander was introduced in 1968, and 125 were built that year. They had a 13-foot beam, 36″ draft and grossed between 13478 and 13994 lbs. Power was supplied by twin 327F small-block Chevy V8s, with 210 hp. Later versions had the 327Q Chevys, with an extra 20 hp per engine. The top engine choice was twin 300 hp 427 CID solid-lifter NASCAR engines, which our ’67 Commander had. While not quite the hot rod the 38′ was, Dad’s 35′ is no slouch, as the engines have been bored out to 350 CID and are much more powerful than stock. I can tell you it is really cool to see a 45 year old cabin cruiser get up on plane and take off. This boat does it easily.
As you can see in the pictures, our Commander has the optional flying bridge, which was probably the deciding factor in its purchase. There is nothing like being at the helm of such a powerful boat, fifteen feet above the water. I love it.
The 35′ Commander was built until 1972, but about halfway through the production run, all the beautiful mahogany trim on the inside was replaced with fiberglass trim, losing the last vestige of the all-wood boats of the not-too-distant past. Now that Dad has his dream boat, it’s not going anywhere! They just don’t make them like they used to.