Captain's ReportReport by Mike Smith (No relation)---
The Launch 20 is one of three models this size from Chris-Craft and maybe – bite our tongues – the most practical, because of the open bow. (The other two, the Lancer 20 and limited-edition Silver Bullet 20, are traditional runabouts.) After an endorphin-pumping ride across the bay – top speed with a 5.0L MerCruiser is more than 54 mph, according to Chris-Craft (we haven’t tested the boat) – the bow is an ideal place to unwind with your partner. Forget about it as a kid’s playpen: This bowrider is adults only. Kids would get it dirty. (Nor would they appreciate the sheer beauty and design sophistication of this boat.)
The Back Story
Chris-Craft is arguably the world’s most famous boatbuilder, or at least the one with the most famous name. But that’s all today’s company shares with the one founded by Christopher Columbus Smith around the turn of the 20th century.
Smith and Wood Make Hay
Chris Smith built his first boat, a skiff for duck hunting, in Algonac, Michigan, in 1874. By the early 1920’s, racing legend Gar Wood had won a half-dozen Gold Cups in Smith’s boats, called Chris-Crafts; the two men were famous enough that regular folks wanted to buy a Chris-Craft, too. To meet the demand, Smith developed “standardized” models, built en masse at the factory and sold as complete vessels. Rather than waiting months after placing their order, customers now could lay down cash and drive away the same day. Was Chris-Craft the first production boatbuilder? If not, it was certainly one of the first, and definitely the most successful.
Most Famous Boatbuilder
The boating public responded by buying millions of dollars worth of Chris-Crafts. By 1930, the line-up included boats from 22 to 48 feet; today, refurbished 34- and 38-foot Commuters from this era are favorites with classic-boat aficionados. When Christopher Columbus Smith died in 1939, Chris-Craft was the world’s most famous boatbuilder, with several factories and even its own railroad to haul finished hulls from the Algonac plant to Detroit for delivery worldwide.
Chris-Craft At War
During World War II, Chris-Craft built more than 12,000 vessels for the government; legend says a Chris-Craft was the first landing craft to hit the beach on D-Day, although we suspect it was a Higgins. (Can any WWII vets help on this one?) Chances are that many of the men who bought Chris-Crafts in the postwar years were introduced to the company while in uniform. By 1959, when company chairman Harsen Smith appeared on the cover of Time magazine, illustrating an article on “The New Boom in Boating,” the Chris-Craft line encompassed 72 models, from 17 to 52 feet, some built out of wood, others out of steel. Experiments with a newfangled material called fiberglass hadn’t worked out, though.
So Long, Smiths
In 1960 the Smith family decided to sell. A conglomerate bought the company and in the next decade added more boats, expanded manufacturing to more plants, continued building in wood and steel while adding aluminum and, finally, fiberglass. Yes, at one time the company was building boats in all four materials; the only one missing was ferrocement. And if you remember ferrocement, you are too old for this boat. But you might want to buy our Woodstock poster.
The first all-glass Chris-Craft was the 38 Commander in 1964, and the last wooden boat was a 1972 57 Constellation. To cover all bases the company developed a line of sailboats, and even a couple of houseboats. By 1970, whether you wanted sail or power, to fish or to cruise, or to putter around on a houseboat, there was a Chris-Craft just for you.
End of the Line -- Almost
In 1981 self-made West Virginia coal millionaire G. Dale Murray bought the company and renamed it Murray Chris-Craft. He cut many models, and added three Stinger high-performance boats to entice the go-fast crowd; they were some of the flimsiest high-performance boats ever built. Lots of ink was dedicated to proclaiming a new era of Chris-Craft. But early success was short-lived, due to poor management and growing competition in the go-fast market. In addition, widely publicized quality-control problems (that’s a euphemism for “the boats were junk”) made Chris-Crafts a hard sell. In December 1988 the company declared bankruptcy and was purchased by OMC – that was like leaving the Titanic to board the Lusitania.
No OMCs, Please
OMC’s share of the engine market, at one time inviolable, was in jeopardy in 1988, both from super-reliable Japanese outboards and MerCruiser inboards and stern drives. To combat this, OMC bought several boat companies, intending to create a captive market for its motors. Unfortunately, nobody asked the buying public, who continued to prefer MerCruisers and Japanese outboards. OMC sold few boats, and more than a few of them had engine problems. In 2000 the company wagered everything on a new outboard technology called FICHT, which promised to improve fuel efficiency and reduce exhaust emissions. But early FICHT motors were disappointing. In December 2000 it filed for bankruptcy. Genmar Industries bought OMC’s boat companies and subsequently sold Chris-Craft to Stephen Julius. He brought along his friend from Harvard Business School, Stephen Heese, as company president.
The Man From Riva
Stephen Julius wasn’t a typical starry-eyed romantic hoping to make a killing in the boatbuilding business. Before buying Chris-Craft, he spent two years in Italy resurrecting Riva, at one time builders of the world’s finest mahogany runabouts, bar none. The world’s most opulent megayachts carried Riva tenders, and in the 1950s and ‘60s, any starlet who wasn’t photographed riding around the harbor at Cannes on a Riva wasn’t worth her bikini top. They were also mind-numbingly expensive – the Rivas, not the starlets; their prices varied.Julius, who is still chairman of Chris-Craft, sold Riva after a couple of years, but you can see the influence of those boats on today’s Chris-Crafts. The new owner’s vision was to recapture the glory days of Chris-Craft and up-date those classic lines ever so slightly with the curves and sex appeal coming off design boards in Northern Italy’s lake country.Like the Launch 20, the entire line of Julius’ boats exhibits sleek Euro-influenced styling, take-no-prisoners details and an elegant attitude that would be equally at home in Nice, Bellagio or Nantucket. Base price of the Chris-Craft Launch 20 is $47,882, but a typical boat with options will run you about $55,000. Expensive for a 20-footer? Yes, but it’s a real nice boat, one that will make people sit up and notice you. There aren’t many built each year, so the Joneses can take a powder. These boats are a collector’s item almost from the moment they leave the dealer’s showroom floor. So comb your hair.
Standard and Optional Features
|Outlet: 12-Volt Acc||Standard|
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