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Chrysler Marine: Chrysler on Water

A rising tide lifted all at Chrysler Marine – from engines to a full product line

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.

1969 chrysler boats

How does an engine get marine-ated?
According to engineer Willem Weertman, converting an engine for marine use involved many changes; the exhaust manifold had to be water-jacketed to eliminate hot surfaces that could ignite gas fumes in the tight engine compartment, updraft carburetors (with adapters for leveling) were usually used for space reasons, an air filter with a spark arrestor was needed, and the oil pan, valve springs, and core hole plugs were made of more corrosion-resistant materials. Early engines used timing gears for durability. Reverse rotation engines with special cams, starters, and generators or alternators were used where twin engines and propellers were needed. Engines adapted by Chrysler over the years included the slant six, 331 Hemi (with dual four-barrel carburetors), the 273, 413, 440, and 426 Hemi, running at 525 horsepower and using its racing-type dual-plenum, short cross-ram intake manifold and dual four-barrel carbs. For more details and photos of numerous marine engines, see Willem Weertman’s book.

When Chrysler Corporation entered the marine market, it did so with one of its most reputable engines: the 289 cubic inch, 835-pound Imperial straight-six. Two of these were installed in the racing-hulled Miss Frolic, which was entered into a 1926 Gold Cup race (where an accident prevented her from finishing), and one of which was put into Baby Frolic, which took second place in the Junior Gold Cup race in Detroit in 1926. The first engines to be sold to the outside world appeared in 1927, making 100 horsepower, again based on the Imperial Six.

There was plenty of opportunity, at that time since “there were no small high-powered units of superior quality, available at prices that would enable a person of moderate means to own a boat, which was necessary to stimulate the boating industry,” according to the May 20, 1936 issue of American Machinist magazine. One of the larger buyers, and a 1928 buyer of the Imperial-based marine engine (for the Cadet), was Chris-Craft.

Chrysler had a competitive advantage in that it was already producing several sturdy truck and motor coach engines; and they used them as the basis for the marine engine. The engine was designed in such a way as to make use of parts already available, such as cylinder blocks, crankshafts, pistons, valves and other minor parts.

The engines were produced at a facility on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit that had the high-production tool equipment, fixtures and jigs necessary to produce marine engines in the quantity to make the endeavor financial viable. The second engine, introduced in 1928, was based on the original Chrysler six, and was modified to 249 cubic inches, producing 82 horsepower at 2,800 rpm. The original Imperial Marine was enlarged to 310 cubic inches, making 106 horsepower. (Both engines were available in lower horsepower versions designed for lower speeds). Eight cylinders soon joined the line.

Chrysler had the mass production and standardization methodology that was becoming standard in the automotive industry. That allowed it to produce an engine of high quality at a relatively low cost.

Self-lubricating bearings made maintenance easier

The use of Oilite ® bearings in Chrysler products were a large part of their appeal to those needing engines not only for marine use, but also industrial use. These bearings predated the creation of Chrysler’s marine division by one year.

Thanks to the Chrysler Museum for their provision of background material!

When Chrysler engineers started experiments in 1926 to discover a method of making bearings that could be used successfully on automotive water pump and clutch pilot operations, they developed bearings that were made of 88.5% powdered copper mixed with 10% tin and 1.5% graphite. These bearings were impregnated with oil (30% - 35% of oil by volume) so that they usually needed no service attention after installation.

Chrysler introduced the “Royal” six-cylinder engine in 1928, with a bore-and-stroke of 3 and ¼ by 5 inches. Chrysler’s future as a successful producer of marine engines was secured when Chris-Craft chose the Royal as the engine to power its Cadet runabout; that led to Garwood, Hacker and Sea Lyon offering Chrysler engines as optional equipment.

Indeed, Chrysler’s position as the main producer of producer of compact marine engines of good power output, allowed it to sell engines in markets other than simply the States. Chrysler engines became standard equipment on boats built in Canada by Ditchburn, Greavette, Scott, W.E. Johnson and Taylor. Chrysler’s pre-eminence in the marine power train market even led to France’s Despujol boats using Chrysler engines.

Chrysler expands its line of engine offerings

All production of marine engines was transferred to a new division called Amplex in 1930. E.S. Chapman – archival sources of the time give only first initials and surname – was the head of Amplex – who’d joined Chrysler Corporation in 1928 as a member of vice-president K.T. Keller’s staff - became director of operations for Amplex.

H.E. Fromm was placed in charge of the marine and industrial engine applications of Amplex. Fromm had been an engineer and designer in the boating industry for 33 years before assuming that position (in 1930). He’d joined the Chrysler Corporation in 1926; and in late 1927, he was transferred to the sales division of the new marine division.

Chrysler started to produce both six and eight-cylinder engines for marine use in 1931. The division of the company doing that was then renamed Marine and Industrial Activities, Amplex Division.

Chrysler realized the need for a more efficient engine, priced more affordably; so they pioneered a small bore engine with built-in reduction gears. The advantages of a small bore, multi-cylinder engine with reduction gears over a larger bore, straight-drive engine were multifold: more efficiency and savings in cost, space and weight. Additionally, with various combinations of reduction gear ratios, a wider range of power plants was possible.

By 1936, the Chrysler marine line consisted of four engine models offered in two rotations, in straight drive types, and also with 2-to-1 and 2&1/2-to-1 reduction gears; thus making it possible for Chrysler to offer power for boats ranging from a 16 foot long high speed runabout up to a 70 foot long twin-screw cruiser. Chrysler was able to claim in their brochures to be the largest maker of marine engines in the world, as well as one of the largest industrial engines makers.

In the year that World War II started – 1941 – Chrysler produced 2,587 marine engines and 8,794 industrial engines.

Tugs and marine engines for the war

Chrysler ended production of anything for civilian use with the onset of World War II, producing a mere 5,292 cars in the calendar year of 1942 and about 36,000 for the model year. Chrysler then set to turning out anti-aircraft guns, Wright Cyclone airplane engines, land mine detectors, radar units and tanks – which became its most famous wartime product.

In 1941, Chrysler also won a contract from the U.S. government to produce an advanced reciprocating superior aircraft, the XI-222. This engine was comparatively small, produced minimal vibration and was extremely powerful, with the potential to develop up to 3,000 horsepower. The invested, liquid-cooled, V16 cylinder “Hemi” engine was the original Hemi and served as the forerunner of the Hemi V8; used in the “muscle cars” of the Sixties and Seventies. The XI-222 was successfully tested in an XP-47H aircraft, but the war ended before the engine was put to use.

Aircraft engines were originally used to power tanks; but those engines became too important for aerial bombardment and fighter support planes. So in 1942, Chrysler devised an engine that was, in fact, five six-cylinder automobile engines combined into a 30 cylinder engine that put out 450 horsepower and weighed 5,000 pounds. In two year’s time, 7,500 examples of that engine were put into Chrysler’s Sherman tanks, as a stopgap measure.

chrysler boats logo

Chrysler still produced marine engines – albeit for military use – and, in a hint of what was to come in later decades, “Sea Mule” harbor tugboats.

The war actually increased the production of marine and industrial engines by Chrysler. There were 12,464 marine engines made in 1943, along with 37,775 industrial engines for a total of 50,239 engines in that year. The following year, 1944, saw Chrysler hit a war-time high with 15,416 marine engines produced and 40,903 industrial engines – for a total of 56,319 engines for special applications.

Post-war prosperity helped marine sales

sea-v engineThe end of the war saw Chrysler marine engines hit unprecedented sales for the civilian market, mirroring the pent-up demand that drove automobile sales. It helped that returning soldiers and sailors had experienced those engines’ dependability and durability under the most demanding of circumstances. Chrysler Marine ended up with 40% of the entire marine engine market right after the end of WW II.

In 1946, Chrysler built 12,553 marine engines and 15,658 industrial engines; and in the following year, they built 13,460 marine engines and 29,075 industrial engines. In 1953, the marine engine plant, historically at Jefferson Avenue, moved to a new plant in Trenton, Michigan, which was to become the Trenton Engine plant.

By the middle of the Fifties, the Marine and Industrial Engine Division became part of the Special Products Group, though they would often be referred to individually in Chrysler materials. In December 1958, the Marine and Industrial Engine Division started operations in new quarters at the Jefferson Assembly Plant; new for 1959 was the 177 horsepower “Sea-V” V8 engine for marine use, and twin-engine packaged power units for industrial use. The Sea-V was more compact, but still met power needs of “more than 80% of all inboard boats.”

In 1963, the Special Products Group split into two (still headed by W.L. Pringle): the Marine Division and the Industrial Products Division “in order to emphasize the two separate markets being served,” according to a company newsletter of the time. The offices of the two divisions, employing over 400 people, were moved from the Jefferson Avenue plant to expanded facilities at Marysville, Michigan.

packaged twin enginesThe Marine division was, by this time, producing stock engines that ranged from 110 to 325 horsepower. These engines included a variety of diesel engines and an engine producing 415 horsepower on marine gasoline. All those engines accounted for up to 15 percent of Chrysler’s marine and industrial business.

Chrysler decides to build boats, and buys Lonestar Boat, West Bend, and Elgin

In 1965, thanks to the purchase of West Bend Outboard, Chrysler had 29% of the U.S. marine engine market. With West Bend came their factory in Hartford, Wisconsin; and Chrysler acquired Elgin, another maker of outboard engines, in 1966. The new purchases led to a new division, separate from the Marine Engine Division, called 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.” Chrysler immediately commissioned a new line of power boats, its first such line, from Don Mortrude.

Chrysler also bought Lonestar Boat of Plano, Texas in May of 1965; Lonestar had started out in the mid-1950s. It was re-named the Chrysler Boat Corporation. With the acquisition of these two subsidiaries, Chrysler combined them with the Marine Division and the Industrial Products Division, to from Marine and Industrial Products Operations, as part of Chrysler’s Diversified Products Group. According to Hot Boats, sales shot up immediately on Chrysler’s purchase of Lone Star, which they attributed to marketing and name recognition.

Rod Macalpine-Downie’s Pirateer, Mutineer, Buaccaneer, and Musketeer later joined the Lonestar line.

Lonestar had used a special process called Foam-Pac on most of their fiberglass boats, where deck and hull sections were both riveted and sealed; surfaces were given gelcoat and ultraviolet absorbing agents; and a specially formulated, rigid polyurethane foam was put in between the floor and hull. This foam was impervious to fuel and oil, and stronger than ordinary foam; it increased the boat strength, reduced noise, and made the boats virtually unsinkable. Aluminum boats got Armor-Hull; hull and deck sections were formed on a 1,000 ton hydro-press, with strippet-punching equipment mating parts and heli-arc welders producing smooth seams. Paint was heat-treated to remain corrosion resistant. Again, polyurethane foam was pured in to fill the space between the floor and hull and make the boats quieter, stronger, and harder to sink even in case of punctures. Chrysler retained these processes and extended them to every boat they produced.

See our 1966 Chrysler Boats page!

Wanting 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 the legendary 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. (For complete information on the Miss Chrysler Crew, see this article from the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum by American Powerboat Racing Association Unlimited historian Fred Farley.)

In 1967, Chrysler introduced a new line of eight trailers, custom fitted for every Chrysler boat, becoming the first company in the marine industry to offer a complete package of boat, motor and trailer.

More importantly, Chrysler brought out their “Hydro-Vee” hull design, basically a deep V hull with sponsons for lateral stability. It was the first hull completely designed by Chrysler itself, rather than Lone Star; it came in six different, and all new, forms, ranging from 14 to 23 feet in length; each boat had different styling and shapes. Hot Boat, in a 1967 article posted at TheChryslerCrew, noted that the 16 foot Chrysler Charger with Hydro-Vee hull cost $1,495, and had 183 cubic feet of interior space with a hull weight of 820 pounds and 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.” They liked the new style, and noted that the hull was quieter than most because the bottom was filled with polyethylene foam. The boat was measured at achieving 42 mph within ten seconds, and getting 5.5 mpg at 2,500 rpm, and 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 - and the steering wheel was taken from the Dodge Charger and Plymouth Barracuda. They Hydro-Vee boats, matching trailers, quality, and workmanship of the boats helped Chrysler obtain 45.5% of the marine market.

hydro-vee

1967 also saw the introduction of Dick Anderson’s Cathedral Hull, which would be 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.

By 1969, Chrysler Boat Corporation was operating from a 388,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Plano, 25 miles north of Dallas; and offered 46 different models of boats. They ranged from 12-foot fishing boats to a 24-foot cabin cruiser. A Chrysler-Nissan marine diesel engine was also added to the product line, midyear. In addition, boats now took their names from the hull capacity - so the Chrysler Charger 183 had a hull capacity of 183 cubic feet.

See our 1969 Chrysler Boats page!

George Shahovskoy commented, “The boats were so far ahead of their time, it is sickening! The full foam flotation was mandatory per USCG requirements in later years to keep consumer boats from sinking completely. Should a boater hole his or her boat, the boat would only fill up to the gunwale and never sink completely, thereby letting the passengers stay with the vessel until rescue. Again, Chrysler was FAR ahead of its time.”

Chrysler Outboard Corporation, with a 590,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Hartford, 30 miles south of Milwaukee, made 40 different outboard engines, ranging from 3.5 to 135 horsepower. A subsidiary, 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, fifty miles north of Toronto. The outboards were distributed in 125 countries.

Don Milton, who was general manager of Chrysler’s Marine and Industrial Products Operations, then employing 2,300 people, asserted in a company publication that, “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 30 percent, while Chrysler Boat sales went up 23 percent. The Marine Division reported a sales increase of 62 percent. During the 1960s and 1970s, at least thirteen different sailboats would be made, using a variety of different hulls, according to the strong sailboat resources, Chrysler Sailing Lizards (their site also has notes from people who worked at the Plano factory, talking about how much extra care Chrysler put into their boats, especially when compared to other makers.) Update: the site appears to have disappeared.

The new boat for 1968 was the Commando 151, engineered by Chrysler, with a Hydro-Vee hull; the mechanical steering was mounted on a fiberglass console amidship, and the hulls were blue or white; aimed at fishermen (and very successful from the start), the relatively light (665 lb) 15-foot Commando 151 could handle up to 90 outboard horsepower.

commando boat

Click here for a “snapshot” view of the 1969 Chrysler Boat line

For 1969, the company introduced a brand-new hull design, with the moniker “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 the designer, Jack Gampel, for its sporty styling. They also were impressed with both the interior space and stability, saying it felt like an 18 or 20 foot boat; the splash well, a safety feature, was appropriately sized. The tested boat had a responsive 85 horsepower, three-cylinder outboard; the Foam-Pac system kept noise far down. 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. They also talked about the workmanship and design care.

Chrysler Marine becomes an industry standard in the Seventies

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 was really on a roll and 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.

hydrovee hull

Responding to growing concerns on the part of the Federal government about pollution, Chrysler added an exclusive, anti-pollution feature on all Chrysler outboards; it eliminated spillage of fuel by atomizing and injecting excess fuel back into the cylinders, where it was burned off.

A 340 cubic inch V8 engine headed the Marine Division’s line of 25 rugged gasoline and diesel engines. Other models in this series included a 273 V8 engine and a 318 cubic inch V8 engine – off shoots of those in Chrysler automobiles and trucks.

Buccaneer, Mutineer, and Chrysler 22
The National Starwind/Spindthrift Class Association site discusses these sailboats. The Buccaneer was launched in 1968, and was followed a few years later by the 15-foot Mutineer; both are still used in One Design Class racing, and the Buccaneer was produced continuously, through numerous companies, 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.

Altogether 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 18½ foot sport boat, available with jet drive or inboard/outboard power, and a 16-foot Professional Bassrunner that was designed to meet the requirements of the expert inland water fisherman. 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 Corporation introduced 8 new engines in the 25-to-30 horsepower categories for 1972. Those new engines were designed to bridge the gap between the smaller fishing models and larger engines designed for cruising. 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 Consqueror 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.

Chrysler Marine’s fortunes change, as the parent company struggles to survive

Talented Chrysler sailboat designers included Halsey Herreshoff, the design engineer for the cruising sailboats; and design engineers Rod Macalpine-Downey and Dick Gibbs who designed some of the smaller sailboats such as the C-13 Privateer, C-14 Dagger, C-15 Mutineer and the C-18 Buccaneer.

Chrysler built one 30-footer prototype (according to Chrysler Sailing Lizards) that was shown at the Toronto Dockside Show in the early 1980s. The innovative interior had the engine centered over the keel, under a swing-up module below the galley sink. When Chrysler had to leave the industry, Canada-based Ticon Yachts bought the tooling and built the 30-footer as the “Ticon 30,” with the engine moved towards the stern. It didn’t last very long. The shoal keel version sailed poorly; it needed the full fin keel to point adequately. It was also expensive; a good used Ticon 30 could cost between $45,000 to $50,000 in 2007.

For more, visit the museum dedicated to Mr. Herreshoff, and, for sailboats, chryslersailinglizards.

The Marine Products Group achieved record sales in 1973, with dollar volume 8.2% ahead of 1972; but it would matter little to Chrysler Corporation, as things changed dramatically for the parent corporation. As the 1975 annual report for the Chrysler Corporation stated, “For the past five years, nonautomotive operations have accounted for less than 5% of Chrysler’s total dollar sales and earnings.” In 1975, sales by the Nonautomotive Group to outside customers were $409 million, compared to $402 million in 1974.

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. 1975 saw a new 17 foot Conqueror 135 added; 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 a sailboat in 1976 (a 21-footer that could handle a V8 stern drive and jet power).

During 1977, the Chrysler Marine Division 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. Instead of continuing to field separate sales, technical, management and field forces for four distinct organizations (sales and power, though within the same company, operated independently), Marine Products Group was (first) realigned and consolidated in 1978. Chrysler Marine Division would handle the company’s marine manufacturing.

The changing market for automobiles meant the loss of Chrysler’s 440 (cubic-inch) V-8. Chrysler’s marine division bought inventoried engines from the parent company so the Marine Products Group could service existing Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) 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 that offered 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), which was formed by ex-Chrysler executives; but it failed in the bad economic times at the beginning of the 1980s.  Texas Marine’s sail assets and some of its power interests were sold to Wellcraft; the remaining sailboat assets were split among six companies. It seems that Sportco of Menden (in 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 marine industry 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, one of three divisions operating under Component Business Operations.  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 as a way of signaling a re-emergence of its former 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.’”

chrysler sailboats

“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.

The Nineties see a false start and a V10 that ends up in boats

In May of 1991, Chrysler announced a joint development agreement of a two-stroke engine with Mercury Marine. Mercury Marine needed an engine that could 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.

1992 lonestar boat

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 that offered 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.

Neon - Chrysler two-stroke engine Mercury Marine’s advanced engineering manager at the time, Dr. Benjamin Sheaffer, wrote, “After working with Chrysler engineers and seeing first-hand their current two-stroke design and emissions control technology, we concluded that an alliance with Chrysler would serve both parties well.” Both companies agreed to independently fund their own development activities. 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. 

Marine and industrial engine production

  Marine Industrial Total     Marine Industrial Total
1927 293 0 293 1943 12464 37775 50239
1928 866 0 866 1944 15416 40903 56319
1929 1085 0 1085 1945 5804 22753 28557
1930 956 0 956 1946 12553 15658 28211
1931 675 60 735 1947 13460 15615 29075
1932 623 176 799 1948 4010 23380 27390
1933 526 212 738 1949 2481 15914 18395
1934 749 226 975 1950 2790 15435 18225
1935 1116 464 1580 1951 3474 26602 30076
1936 1173 1444 2617 1952 3047 30074 33121
1937 1418 1637 3055 1953 2998 28677 31675
1938 888 2247 3135 1954 4287 23103 27390
1939 1396 3741 5137 1955 5248 28014 33262
1940 1666 5263 6929 1956 4940 21789 26729
1941 2587 8794 11381 courtesy Jim Benjaminson,
from the Plymouth Bulletin
1942 6450 32857 39307

Thanks to Forward magazine. Year by year: Chrysler boats, 1966 | Chrysler boats, 1969

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