based on materials provided by J.P. Joans
There was once a time when Chrysler actually sold boats — not just a small number, but a full line, with a strong reputation for quality and innovation.
Capitalizing on its automotive market, the Chrysler boats often had the same names as the cars — ironically, though, only Plymouths and Dodge names were used under the Chrysler Boat label (Valiant, Fury, Barracuda, Dart, Charger, and Polara).
See our full history of Chrysler Marine!
Engines ranged from the 82 horsepower Chrysler “Spitfire 1500” to a 235 horsepower motor, with the 225 horsepower V-Drive being featured; most engines were Chrysler labelled, but two were from MerCruiser, two were Chrysler-Volvo powerplants, and two were from O.M.C., using, according to George Shahovskoy, former Contributing Editor for Power and Motor Yacht, General Motors engines. Speaking of his own Buick V6-based engine, George noted that the odd firing engine was smoothed out through the use of a heavy flywheel; crankshaft oil passages were drilled out and a bigger oil pump was used to handle the far heavier load. George also wrote that the former West Bend’s outboards “looked great but had a horrible reputation and were awfully noisy” (Chrysler had purchased West Bend and Elgin, makers of outboards.) These were re-engineered over time.
Chrysler said its hulls “revolutionized hull design, developing a safer, better-performing boat.” One key feature was “FOAM-PAC” - a construction process using a specially formulated, polyurethane foam that was impervious to gasoline, oil, and water; it formed a structural core bonded to the hull and floor of every runabout, including the aluminum-hull versions. 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. [A holed 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.”
In the fiberglass models, hulls and decks were riveted and sealed around the shear shelf; resins were applied to eliminate humps, dips, and flats. Gel coat applications were temperature controlled for smooth, bright, color-fast finishes with ultraviolet-absorbing agents. They only used the three-layer hand lay-up technique. The aluminum models used heavy-gauge heat-treated marine aluminum, painted with enamel.
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.
Five boats used the cathedral hulls: the Sport Satellite, with 15 feet of length, could handle 70 horsepower, and used a textured gunwale to avoid slipping. The Valiant and Sport Valiant could handle 55 horsepower and largely had the same dimensions (but the Sport had twin bench seats and more interior space, with no windshield or “hood”). Chrysler said the Valiant had “unbelieveable high performance in a popular-size runabout” and noted the non-skid deck surface and “keep you dry” design; padded lounge seats and running lights were standard. The Sport Valiant was aimed at fishermen, with stability and a console control designed for the demands of the angler. The Fury and Sport Fury were 16 foot runabouts; the Fury included a drop seat in the transom, the Sport Fury deep, padded, back-to-back lounge seats and walk-through windshield, as well as either outboard or I/O power.
The company still promoted its Hydro-Vee as being “the most advanced design in the boating industry,” a combination of the deep-V (a soft-riding planing hull with lifting strakes to lift the hull out of the water at speed) and the hydroplane.
Chrysler claimed that the boat tilted less when people stepped in because the sponsons at water level balanced the boat; while the high freeboard provided a safe ride. While running at high speed, the Hydro-Vee hull lifted high in the water, riding on a level plane on the delta keel and lifting strakes, which also served as spray rails. The combination provided stability and visibility, while the V configuration and strakes, running clear to the transom, provided ride cushioning. On a hard turn, the non-trip chines (without hard angles to catch the water) increased smoothness and safety, while the inside sponson dipped in for control and stability.
As in most years, every Chrysler boat carried a Boating Industry Association certification, to meet safety requirements and assure accurate reporting of load capacity, horsepower, and other key indicators.
One of the many Chargers made by Chrysler had a mere 65 horsepower. It was not the Cordoba-like Charger SE, the Valiant Charger, or even the Omni Charger, but the Charger 118, a sporty 14 foot runabout with the Hydro-Vee hull; seating was flexible, with choices of four lounge seats, four bucket seats, or two bucket seats, and an optional folding, sliding yellow canopy. This boat held 118 cubic feet, with a 72 inch beam, maximum depth of 36 inches, load capacity of 1,130 pounds, and weight of around 628 pounds. The Charger 151 had higher performance, with a 90 horsepower outboard or 130 horsepower I/O; the bright red and white interior was color-coordinated to match the hull. Standard features included a solid tempered safety glass windshield, mechanical steering, and step pads. The Charger 183, the biggest Charger, could carry up to 115 horsepower outboard, 160 I/O; the blue and white interior worked well with either a blue or white hull. It had the same equipment as the 151, along with a folding canopy on built-in slide track.
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. The Commando continued for 1969.
The Courier 229 was a 17-foot, thousand-pound boat with a load capacity of up to 2,210 pounds, and maximum horsepower of 140 outboard, 120/160 I/O. This was the only Hydro-Vee that could have dual outboards.
The Clipper 486 was a large, 2,400 pound, 23-foot Hydro-Vee sport cruiser with full length side lunges that could fold neatly against the sides, a cushioned engine housing, sleeping space, a marine toilet and storage compartment underneath the berths, and a chain locker in the forepeak. The Clipper 486 could be powered by anything from a 175 hp I/O setup to twin 130s. A 225 horsepower V-Drive model was also available.
The Commodore 486 was a 23-foot Hydro-Vee, with live-aboard accommodations for up to six people, a standard dinette and enclosed toilet, two-burner stove, portable sink, insulated ice chest, adjustable windows, and a louvered teak door leading to the cockpit. Many power and equipment options were available including a 225 horsepower V-drive model.
Moving on to the modified V-hulls, one found the 13.7-foot Cadet, 18-foot Chesapeake, and, improbably, the 99-foot Mustang, able to handle 40 and 80 horsepower, respectively. The Cadet weighed 225 pounds, the Mustang about twice that, and the fishing-oriented Chesapeake a full 1,040 pounds.
Deep-V fiberglass boats were the Westport and Southwind, at 19 and 22 feet respectively; the Westport boasted a “Cushion-V” ride, claimed to be soft even in choppy water, and a cushioned engine housing along with deep cushion seats. The Southwind seated four with deck room for more chairs and people, and considerable cargo volume; single I/O options went up to 225 horsepower (or twin 130s were allowed). The Westport weighed 1,360 pounds; the Southwind, 1,786 pounds.
Two Darts were sold with an eye towards fishing, both 14 feet long, both with fiberglass hulls designed to cut cleanly through chop; the narrow beam minimized drag and turbulence. Both had light balsa-wood inner construction, molded-in fiberglass cross seats, bow seat, keelsons, and cockpit coaming, and cleats. Dart Deluxe included padded swivel seats, bow side rails, and racks to hold two rods. Maximum horsepower was 25 hp, and weight was just 220 pounds, with a capacity of 620 pounds.
Aluminum-hull boats were also part of the lineup, though they played less of a role than the fiberglass hulls. The flagship of the aluminum line was the 24 foot Chrysler Cruise Liner III, with complete live-aboard accommodations for a family of four, including a two-burner stove, insulated ice chest, enclosed toilet, and more; the wood seen in the photo is actually “teak-tone vinyl panels.” Bilge keels limited roll and softened the ride. Both outboard and I/O versions were sold, with single or twin power plants. Other aluminum-hull boats included the “Fun Line” Del Ray, a 15-foot, 540 pound boat with a skiff-type plexiglass windshield and padded dash; the Polara 185, a deep, roomy, 16’4” runabout with a clipper bow; and the Polara 254, a full 19-foot boat weighing just 1,007 pounds, with natural cypress floorboards and recessed running lights in the bow, and a walk-through bow hatch.
Chrysler made a highly reputable and desirable series of sailboats, along with their engined vehicles; the sailboats, to this day, hold their value. In 1969, four types of sailboats were sold - two 13 foot Barracudas, with cat or lateen rig, and 13 and 16 foot racing sloops.
No auto manufacturer that happened to build boats would give up the cross-selling opportunity of the boat trailer, and Chrysler had a good variety to match its various boats, though they didn’t push them to the extent of actually providing photographs.
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