by Terry Parkhurst
(expanded by allpar)
Chrysler’s line of marine engines, initiated in 1927, blossomed into a full line of inboard and outboard boat engines, along with powerboats and sailing craft, in the 1960s.
In 1965, Chrysler Corporation — already a leader in marine engines — bought West Bend Outboard, giving them 29% of the U.S. marine engine market and a factory in Hartford, Wisconsin. West Bend, which also sold as Elgin and Sears, became a new division dubbed the Chrysler Outboard Corporation.
George Shahovskoy, former Contributing Editor for Power and Motor Yacht, wrote that the West Bend outboards “looked great but had a horrible reputation and were awfully noisy.” However, Laing’s Outboards noted, “The Chrysler engines were always good sellers, known as good running, basic, uncomplicated engines.”
Chrysler commissioned a new line of power boats, its first, from Don Mortrude, and bought Lonestar Boat of Plano, Texas in 1965, renaming it the Chrysler Boat Corporation. Hot Boats reported that sales shot up on Chrysler’s purchase of Lone Star, which they attributed to marketing and name recognition; for a while, at least, the boats were sold as “Chrysler Lone Star.”
Lone Star had already started making, in 1964, the Barracuda — a 13 foot boat designed by Gus Linell (according to sailboatdata.com). It arrived in the same year as the Plymouth Barracuda car.
Chrysler combined these companies with the Marine Division and the Industrial Products Division, to form Marine and Industrial Products Operations — part of Chrysler’s Diversified Products Group.
Lonestar had used a process called Foam-Pac on most of their fiberglass boats, both riveting and sealing deck and hull sections; coating surfaces with gelcoat and ultraviolet absorbing agents; and putting a rigid polyurethane foam between the floor and hull. This foam, strong and impervious to fuel and oil, made the boats stronger, quieter, and virtually unsinkable.
Aluminum boats got Armor-Hull; hull and deck sections were formed on a thousand-ton press, with strippet-punching equipment mating parts and heli-arc welders producing smooth seams. Paint was heat-treated to resist corrosion; and, again, polyurethane foam was poured in between the floor and hull. Chrysler extended these processes to every boat they produced.
See the 1966 Chrysler boats!
To secure its reputation, Chrysler sponsored several racing boats, including the Miss Chrysler Crew, a hydroplane powered by dual, supercharged 426 cubic-inch “Hemi” head V8 engines built by Keith Black, each putting out an estimated 1,000 horsepower; owner and pilot Bill Sterett took the boat to victory in the World Championship race in Detroit, with an average speed of over 100 mph.
In 1966, Chrysler also launched trailers, custom fitted for every Chrysler boat, to be the first company with a complete package of boat, motor, and trailer.
More importantly, Chrysler brought out the new “Hydro-Vee” hull design, a deep V hull with sponsons for lateral stability. The first hull designed by Chrysler itself, it came in six forms, from 14 to 23 feet in length; each boat had different styling and shapes.
Hot Boat, in a 1967 article posted at ChryslerCrew, listed the 16 foot Chrysler Charger (with a Hydro-Vee hull) at $1,495, with 183 cubic feet of interior space, a hull weight of 820 pounds, and a capacity of 1,380 pounds. They called the Charger “a soft rider with flatter corning ability than a deep V” and noted that the finish and detail were “excellent;” the foam also made it quieter than competitors. The boat was measured at 0-42 mph within ten seconds, getting 5.5 mpg at 2,500 rpm — 4.6 miles per gallon from 3,500-4,000 rpm.
Hot Boat concluded that the Charger was “a well executed and beautifully conceived job” that “accelerates like a bomb” with its 96.5 cubic inch engine; gas mileage wasn’t bad. The steering wheel was taken, appropriately enough, from the Dodge Charger.
No surprise, then, that Chrysler ended up with 45.5% of the marine market.
1967 was a good year for Chrysler, which also brought out Dick Anderson’s Cathedral Hull, the foundation of a full line of boats named after Chrysler Corporation cars; the metallic vinyl covered boats included the 16 foot Fury and Sport Fury runabout and bowrider, and the best selling 15 foot Sport Satellite bowrider.
The Buccaneer 18-foot sailboat was added in 1968, followed by a Lone Star 16-foot sailboat in 1969.
By 1969, Chrysler Boat Corporation sold 46 different models of boats from 12-foot fishing boats to a 24-foot cabin cruiser; and in addition to their own motors, they had a Chrysler-Nissan marine diesel engine (likely a Nissan diesel modified for marine use by the company). The hull capacity was added to the boat name, so the Chrysler Charger 183 had a hull capacity of 183 cubic feet.
George Shahovskoy commented, “The boats were so far ahead of their time, it is sickening!
Full foam flotation was required by the Coast Guard in later years to keep consumer boats from sinking completely... letting the passengers stay with the vessel until rescue.”
Chrysler Outboard Corporation, with a 590,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Hartford, 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee, made 40 different outboard engines, ranging from 3.5 to 135 horsepower. Chrysler Canada Outboard Ltd. produced outboard engines in 34,000 square foot factory and made boats in a 67,500 square foot facility, both in Barrie, Ontario. The outboards were distributed in 125 countries.
Don Milton, general manager of Chrysler’s Marine and Industrial Products Operations, then employing 2,300 people, asserted, “We firmly believed that by applying much of our automotive experience to related areas in the maritime field, we would quickly gain a place of leadership.”
Charles B. Gorey Jr., Vice-President and Group Executive for Diversified Products, added, “After we bought West Bend, we re-engineered and re-styled the outboards to Chrysler standards. We expanded the product offering of boats at Plano, so by 1969, we’re making a complete line of boats targeted to hit every part of the market.”
Those plans worked. In the period from 1965 to 1969, Chrysler’s share of both the outboard engine and boat business doubled — and then doubled again. In 1968 alone, Chrysler Outboard sales increased by 30%, while Chrysler Boat sales went up 23%. The Marine Division reported a sales increase of 62%.
During the 1960s and 1970s, at least thirteen different sailboats would be made, using a variety of different hulls, according to Chrysler Sailing Lizards (their site also has notes from people who worked at the Plano factory, talking about how much care Chrysler put into their boats, especially when compared to other makers.)
The new boat for 1968 was the Commando 151, with a Hydro-Vee hull; steering was mounted on a fiberglass console amidship. Aimed at fishermen and successful from the start, the relatively light (665 lb) 15-foot Commando 151 could handle up to 90 outboard horsepower.
For 1969, the company introduced a new hull design, “Chrysler Cathedrals.” This was similar to the hydro-V in appearance, but had a smoother curve coming up from the keel, and a shorter freeboard. The side sponsons created airspray cushions of foam for a softer, more stable ride. The company wrote: “Chrysler Cathedrals travel on top of the water, gliding over a bow-to-stern cushion of air and water. Her high transom and deep splashwell are ‘dry,’ safety features. And she responds almost instantly to power, planing fast and easily — like a high-powered racing boat. She’s stable and low, with a big, deep splashwell that means storage aplenty.”
Popular Mechanics, in an article on thechryslercrew, wrote that the Sport Fury was easy to spot, with smooth lines and rounded gunwales; they appreciated the 35 inch freeboard, and praised Jack Gampel, the designer. They also were impressed with both the interior space and stability, saying it felt like an 18 or 20 foot boat.
The tested boat had a responsive 85 horsepower, three-cylinder outboard. The reviewer tried to get the interior of the boat wet, but couldn’t; the boat was highly stable even at top speed. They did complain about a flimsy feeling steering wheel and knee space under the console panel, but talked favorably about the workmanship and design care.
In 1970, the boating division introduced two new lightweight 13 horsepower models, one with an electric starter; a 45 horsepower outboard; a 35 horsepower alterator-equipped motor; and new six and eight horsepower fishing models. The boat line gained four new boats, the 16-foot Conquerer (which followed the profile of the Apollo spacecraft), 18-foot Buccaneer, 16-foot Bass Runner, and 17-foot Hydro-Vee bowrider Courier 231.
In 1970, Chrysler sold 44 power boat models, from 14 to 24 feet, and four sailboats, from 13 to 18 feet. The Marine division brought out three new gasoline V8s and two four-cycle diesels (four and six cylinders, 65 and 100 hp), as well as a new 318 inboard-outdrive model dubbed the Super Bee. New sailboats designed by Halsey Herreshoff started to appear, the C-20, C-22, C-26, and C-30, classic designs.
The Marine and Industrial Products Operations expanded its range of offerings in 1971. It came to include four new fiberglass sport boats, two outboard engines, an inboard-outboard marine engine and two industrial engines.
By this time, Chrysler offered 43 fiberglass and aluminum boats, ranging from 12 to 24 feet, including 40 outboard, inboard and inboard-outboard models, as well as three day sailors from 15 to 18 feet.
The four new entries in the Chrysler Boat line included three Hydro-Vee sport runabouts, the 15-foot Courier 154, the 16-foot Charger 186, the 16-foot Charger 154 and a 15-foot day sailor named the “Mutineer.”
Chrysler Outboard Corporation introduced two new engines in 1971: a 150 horsepower, limited production racing engine and a 130 horsepower, top-of-the-line production model. The outboard engines also included specialty items such as a featherweight 3.6 horsepower fishing engine, several 12 low-profile models from 6 to 12.9 horsepower, 28 models in the family-sized range from 20 to 55 horsepower, and 10 high-performance models, from 70 horsepower to the new 130 horsepower model.
Responding to growing concerns about pollution, Chrysler added an exclusive feature on all Chrysler outboards; it eliminated fuel spillage by atomizing and injecting excess fuel back into the cylinders, where it was burned off.
Buccaneer, Mutineer, and Chrysler 22
The Starwind/Spindthrift Class Association site discusses these sailboats. The Buccaneer was launched in 1968, followed by the 15-foot Mutineer; both are still used in One Design Class racing. The Buccaneer was produced continuously until at least 2007.
The Chrysler 22 was a swing keel boat, unveiled in the late 1970s. Chrysler sold their sailboat molds to Wellcraft; Wellcraft sold them to Rebel Industries; and Rebel sold the Buccaneer and Mutineer to Gloucester Yacht. In 1987, the Buccaneer was sold to the Buccaneer Class Association, and Rebel production ended.
In 1971, there was 10 inboard-outboard engines, ranging from 130 to 330 horsepower, 9 inboards, ranging from 40 to 375 horsepower, and 6, two and four-cycle diesels, ranging from 65 to 325 horsepower.
Marine and Industrial Products Operations sales set a record in 1972, registering 18% above 1971.
Chrysler Boat redesigned its 14 to 16 foot cathedral-hull boats and also introduced a high-performance 18 1/2 foot sport boat, with jet drive or inboard/outboard power, and a 16-foot Professional Bassrunner designed to meet the requirements of inland water fishermen. The full line-up was of 28 fiberglass boats, including outboard and inboard powerboats, from 14 to 23 feet in length, and three sailboats, from 15 to 18 feet.
Chrysler Outboard introduced eight new engines in the 25-to-30 horsepower categories for 1972, to bridge the gap between the fishing and cruising models. Chrysler’s line of outboards included 57 models, ranging from 3.6 to 150 horsepower.
The Chrysler Marine Division announced a new jet-propulsion system for runabouts and ski boats in 1972. The offerings from the Marine Division consisted of 15 gasoline engines from 40 to 375 horsepower, and seven diesels, from 65 to 275 horsepower.
For 1973, a new Pro model Bass Runner was added, with new side console steering with cushioned helmsman's seat with live well, seven-foot locking port-side compartment with rod holders, and locking starboard compartment; two upholstered swivel fishing chairs with armrests, adjustable up and down, were standard, as was blue pile carpeting.
A new Valiant runabout was added, using a raised-deck 14-foot cathedral hull; the deck design added length and depth to the cockpit, and numerous standard features were included. The Conqueror S-III sport boat was also added, an 18½ foot hull with choice of the 340 cubic inch engine (“Super Bee III jet”) or I/O powerplants capable of 50 mph or more. Full length lifting strakes helped speed.
Talented Chrysler sailboat designers included Halsey Herreshoff, design engineer for the cruising sailboats; and Rod Macalpine-Downey and Dick Gibbs, who designed some of the smaller sailboats such as the Privateer, Dagger, Mutineer, and Buccaneer.
For more, visit the museum dedicated to Mr. Herreshoff, and, for sailboats, chryslersailinglizards.
The Marine Products Group achieved record sales in 1973, raking in 8.2% more money than in 1972; but times were changing dramatically for the parent corporation.
For 1974, a new deep-vee Conqueror 105 was added; Chrysler called it “the first boat ever designed for a specific outboard motor - the classic Chrysler 105.” A shallow-vee Chrysler Consqueror was also added, along with a Carvel III Hydro-Vee.
The next year, they added a new 17 foot Conqueror 135. The Conqueror 105 was already the most popular Chrysler boat by this time, so it was perhaps no surprise to see the name appear on 1976 21-footer that could handle a V8 stern drive and jet power.
During 1977, Chrysler Marine introduced a restyled line of outboard motors, a new deep-V hull (power) cruiser, and a new 20-foot sailboat. But as the parent company began to see a dramatic drop in automobile sales, a reassessment took place. Rather than fielding separate sales, technical, management and field forces for four organizations (sales and power operated independently), Marine Products Group was realigned and consolidated in 1978. Chrysler Marine Division would handle manufacturing.
The changing market for automobiles meant the loss of Chrysler’s 440 (cubic-inch) V-8. Chrysler’s marine division acquired extra engines so the Marine Products Group could service existing builders’ accounts, until 1981. No new boat builders signed on.
In 1978, new 22 and 25 foot Sea-Vee performance-hull boats were added; these were premium boats with a good blend of performance, comfort, and space. Three new Funster boats were also brought out, along with a new 16 foot Fin & Fun performance-hull boat. The Marine and Industrial division offices moved to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, in the same year.
In its final full year at Chrysler, the boats division brought out the first bowrider to come fully rigged, including a 45 horse outboard; boat and motor were color-coordinated. A Striper 700 combination included a 70 horsepower skier outboard. Improvements were made to numerous boats, and the Fin & Fun was now available in both 15 and 16 foot lengths. Every boat, unlike the company’s cars, had rack and pinion steering.
In 1980, Chrysler Boat (not including the engine businesses) was sold to Texas Marine International (TMI), a company formed by ex-Chrysler executives; but it failed in a harsh economic climate. Texas Marine’s sail assets and some of its power interests were sold to Wellcraft; the remaining sailboat assets were split among six companies. Sportco of Menden (Louisiana), for one, was making Chrysler/Lonestar sailboats in 1992 (thanks, Wade Lindsey).
According to Willem Weertman’s research, Chrysler sold the marine division not because they desired to, but because it was demanded as part of the government’s loan guarantees. Chrysler stern drives were sold to Bayliner Boats in 1983 and the outboard division was sold to the Force Outboards division of U.S. Marine – an affiliate of Bayliner – in 1984. (They were eventually sold to Brunswick Corporation, parent of Mercury Marine).
Some analysts speculated that the deal for the outboard division started out bigger.
Carl Weinschenk wrote in Boating Industry magazine, in the mid-1980s, “A source at Chrysler said the original transaction with U.S. Marine included sale of the inboard division. He indicated that the deal had been agreed to but a grievance filed by the Allied Industrial Workers of America led to arbitration and a restructuring of the sale to exclude inboards. He also said that the inboard division was on the market about a year later.”
By the beginning of 1984, engines were once again Chrysler’s sole marine product; they were put under the control of the Marine/Industrial Engines Group. Owners still have resources, such as Dave Kain’s Hurrikain manuals and parts business.
In January of 1986, Chrysler premiered a 340 horsepower V8 at the New York Boat Show to signal a re-emergence of its glory days, but the introduction did not lead to anything substantial. Chrysler’s marine operations disappeared from view after this. J.P. Joans wrote that part of Chrysler’s inboard engine business was sold to Canadian firm Indmar in 1989 or 1990, and there is some support for that in parts descriptions.
In 1993, according to Don Berchem, the remainder of the inboard engine operations “merely went ‘out of business.’”
“The 340 was a staple and there is no reason it wouldn’t have been in a boat application. But it could have been in the MoPar Performance Catalogue; similar to what we do today,” said Bob Lilly, Regional Manager for Chrysler Fleet in the Denver, Colorado area, in 2008. Lilly has been with Chrysler since 1985.
In May of 1991, Chrysler announced a joint development agreement of a two-stroke engine. Mercury Marine needed to comply with U.S. engine standards of 18 g/kw-hr (grams per kilowatt hour) hydrocarbons and 360 g/kw-hr, fuel consumption. Chrysler had developed an experimental two-stroke engine for the Dodge Neon concept car of that year, but Chrysler’s experience with two-stroke engines went back decades.
In the mid-1940s, Chrysler had developed an EBDI (external-breathing, direct injection) two-stroke concept engine when the Texaco Combustion Process was applied to a uniflow, opposed piston ported engine. This engine was operated for several years with a variety of fuels on the Texaco, Diesel, and Otto cycles. Although it never went beyond the experimental stage, an outgrowth of this program was a two-stroke diesel engine with outstanding fuel efficiency.
By 1991, Chrysler had continued its earlier efforts to determine the best two-stroke arrangement for automotive use, and had analyzed several versions of valved and ported engines, as well as hybrids of the two.
Mercury Marine and Chrysler would independently fund their own development. It proved to be impractical to get NOx emissions down to required levels, and the research was abandoned.
Another engine, far away in design and concept, did survive: the V10 developed for truck use. The Magnum 8-liter, V-10 engine, generating 300 horsepower and 450 lbs-ft of torque, debuted in the 1994 Dodge Ram. With an aluminum block, it also became part of the legendary Dodge Viper. While it used gasoline, this V10, based closely on the venerable 360 cubic inch V8 engine, was designed to provide a torque output comparable to that of a light truck diesel.
In 2002, Ilmor Marine, which was assisting Chrysler to update the V10 engine for the Dodge Viper, started work on a variant for marine use — the MV10. Two prototypes were installed in a 32-foot Skater catamaran, leading to the introduction by Ilmor of the 550 horsepower MV-10 550 engine in June of 2004. In 2005, they started selling their MV10 625; and in 2006, the MV7-10. Those were followed in 2009 by the MV10 650 and 725, which complied with EU and California emissions rules; Ilmor won over five World Championships in powerboat racing series. Their current V10 engines weigh 810 lb, including headers and fluids.
Through Ilmor — a company owned by GM-aligned Penske — Chrysler returned to the marine market, albeit through the back door.
Thanks to Forward magazine. Year by year: Chrysler boats, 1966 | Chrysler boats, 1969
Chrysler Heritage • History by Year • Chrysler People and Bios • Corporate Facts and History
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