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.
Beautiful boat, but having grown up on an island, I have come to the following conclusions:
B.O.A.T=Bring On Another Thousand
A boat is a hole in the water you pour cash down.
If it floats or flies, rent it.
It is funny when I take my daily walk past the local marina here, only a few minutes from my home. So many large boats, 40’+ that have locations on them such as “Edmonton Alberta” or “Regina Saskatchewan.” These boats are inevitably for sale because the flatlanders that bought them have, after a season or two, found out what it costs to run them. Want to see fuel being burned? Open up a 350 and get one of these babies on the plane. See ten gallons per hour disappear, or more.
I like to crew other people’s boats. Saves a lot of time and money!
My former Cessna 172 partner always used to say “I never got into aviation to save money.”
I couldn’t agree more as to the sensibility of boat ownership, but damn is it fun to have. The out of the way places to go camping, the sense of being all alone on a remote lake or river island with nothing to call you anywhere. At my coastal place, just having the kayak for the Salmon river estuary was special. I guess we humans each have foibles and give in or resist in our own way. Most in my family also think of cars as tools, and look at my modest collection with bemusement, while really thinking it a waste of time and money. It really does take all kinds to make a world. Viva la difference!
I love the old wooden boats. I grew up in northeast Indiana lake country, and there were still quite a few of the old wooden classics on the big lakes through the 1970s and 80s. Although I have always wanted one (really, really wanted one), I have never pulled the trigger.
Right after I got engaged, the now Mrs. JPC and I drove up to visit my Dad at his lake cottage. As we drove past the marina, there on a trailer was an all-wood 1951 Century with an inboard Chrysler flathead 6. I tried reasoning with my intended that since the boat cost almost exactly what her engagement ring had cost, it would be a quick trade and we could enjoy the boat for the rest of our lives. She was not buying, however, and today we still have a ring, but no boat.
I hate to think how much gas that big one with the twin 427s drank. Oh, well. I am happy that your family has received so much enjoyments from the big Chris Crafts. And you get to avoid all of the work on the wood hull. A win-win.
The first and sixth photos remind me of the S.S. Minnow on Gilligan’s Island. I wonder what kind of car Gilligan would drive?
@I wonder what kind of car Gilligan would drive?
Interesting question. Not much money, not very bright, and not very cool. Studebaker Lark? Or else, if he was all of the above but still considered himself young and hip, maybe a Rambler Marlin?
A Nash Metropolitan.
A Honda 50 of 1965. He would look right at home on one of those red and cream step-through styles. But don’t typecast him as just the fool – remember he was the limo riding kingpin who bought the goods from Peter and Dennis in Easy Rider, allowing them to finance their journey.
I miss my trusty Chris Craft
that itsy bitsy skiff
with topsiders and chinos
freshly pressed and stiff
Beautiful specimens, Tom! I’ve always admired Chris Crafts, though I’ve rarely (if ever) seen the classic wooden hull models… surrounded by salt water here.
I love the classic old boats and especially the big cruisers, its true, they do no make them like they used to. I spent a lot of time around boats as a teen, had a lot of wealthy freinds who’s parents had some huge boats. Last time I went to a boat show, it seems that they all look tacky and garish these days. Nice for today, but they will be dated in 5-10 yrs. I guess buyers at the price level don’t care about the longevity anymore.
The owner of the company I work for has a Chris Craft wooden cabin cruiser, but not as large as the specimen shown. It’s parked outside our doors to our cutting table room, inside the building. One of the younger family members is currently working on it and doing paint/refinishing work.
Nice boat, thankful I don’t own it.
Would love to see an article about strange and unusual boat engines
In general for smaller boats the engine(s) for either inboard or stern-drive are some sort of repurposed car or truck engine. Larger boats used diesels, the bigger the boat, the bigger the diesel of almost any brand (Cat’s, MAN’s, etc.). For race boats, when they needed something bigger than a car engine, they would use water-cooled aircraft engines, like the Liberty, Merlin or Allison 1710 after that, again marine diesels.
The second happiest day in my life is when I bought my boat.
…and the first was when you sold it yukyukyuk
My in-laws took the bow from an old wooden Chris-Craft cabin cruiser, brought it into their basement and made it into an amazing bar. I can just imagine the creative language involved in getting it downstairs, but it was well worth the effort.
It was the probably the late 50’s, my uncle had a 65′ Chris Craft Constellation with twin twin four barrel Chryslers. I was maybe early teens. After a weekend on the boat we were at the fuel dock. I watched the dollars click over to 135. More money than I ever envisioned in my life! Something I’ve never forgotten. I was astounded!!
In the ’80’s my Parents’ watch a pretty big cruiser (50′) pull up the the fuel dock. This was when gasoline had topped $1.35/gal. During the course of fueling, they took on $600 worth. My Dad asked the attendant how long that would last. The reply, “If he keeps it under 20(mph/knots) it’ll last all day.”
Seeing how I live in a little seaside tourist trap town on Lake Huron, there are a number of nice older boats that get docked at the marina in town. If the snooty people that own them aren’t around, I’ll try and snap a few pics and share this summer, though I don’t know much about boats…
Once the call of the water gets you you’re done. We never had anything as nice as a Chris Craft but there were a few smaller rigs.
The first was Dad’s Grady White 16’er that a neighbor “garbage picked” with a 35 horse Chrysler . Then an 18′ VIP with an 85 horse Force and ending with a 70s vintage Invader Tri Hull and 75 horse Merc.
I still want this little house just outside Cordova that sits on the river..
My uncle bought a used Chris Craft cabin cruiser in the early 60s and restored it in his tire shop. It was probably only a 24 footer. It had twin Gray Marine 6 cyl engines (think Chrysler flat head). He moored the thing in New Boston, IL, a town that Abe Lincoln once practiced law in on the Mississippi. Frequently, after dinner, he would say that we needed to check the moorings. We would then hop into his school bus yellow 53 Jeep pickup with a 318 and mosey on down to the boat. We would then take it out to the river just south of Lock and Dam #17, suck down a couple of brews, listen to the radio traffic all the way down to New Orleans, and watch the sun set. I don’t think that life has ever been more perfect.
Todays CC Clue – me looking for this review… I Love The Table For card Gamrs , Bonding
Beautiful boat! I purchased a 1968, 35′ Chris Craft Commander late last year and slowly trying to restore it to its original or better condition. It doesn’t have the original engines..someone dropped in twin Crusader Model 270’s in her…lots of little issues but the hull is in great shape and this was confirmed by survey.
Would love any helpful advice you might have as I progress on this adventure.
Tim, I own a 1969 35′ Flybridge Commander. I repowered with 8.1 L Crusaders. Fuel injected, very nice. I would recommend joining the Chris Craft Commander Club, if you have not already done so. Many willing contributors to answer any questions you might have. Enjoy your boat. They are stout and wonderful. We cruise Lake Michigan every summer, from our home port of Sturgeon Bay, WI. Best of luck. John.
My knowledge of boats is practically nil, but in college I had a fairly well to do college friend that lived on the water in Long Island. When I visited he took me out on Long Island sound in his family’s boat, a Hacker. Never heard of that brand before and dont’ think I’ve heard about it since. He was certainly impressed with it and would shake his head over my nautical unsophistication.
Can any fellow CC’ers shed any light on the Hacker.
Hacker-Craft was a contemporary of Chris-Craft and Century, producing a wide range of speedboats. The company is still in business too!
These are a thing of beauty. I’m still at an age that I like to play with my boat and having family and friends use something like this hard would not be a good thing. I really appreciate that there are folks out there keeping them going so I can see them on the water occasionally.