Celebrating an Icon 80 – Year History of Chris-Craft Racing Runabouts

JULY 20th, 2016

Celebrating an Icon 80 – Year History of Chris-Craft Racing Runabouts

Homewood, CA – Presented by the Tahoe Yacht Club Foundation, the 2016 Concours d’Elegance is celebrating the 80th anniversary of a boating icon: the featured Marque of Chris-Craft Racing Runabouts. The nationally-acclaimed show takes place August 12th and 13th at the historic Obexer’s Boat Company in Homewood, Calif., on Lake Tahoe’s scenic West Shore.


Chris-Craft started building Special Race Boats in 1934. It’s pre-World War II history also includes the famous “Painted Racers” of the mid-1930s, known as Red White and Blue boats because of their distinctive color scheme. The 19 ft. model became the true genesis of the post World War II Racer, the boats holding world record speeds in the 1 mile 225-E class (47.619 mph) and 5 mile 225-E class (45.330 mph). Only a handful of pre-war Chris-Craft boats remain.

For most of the general boating public, the Chris-Craft “Racer” is defined by the 19 ft. split cockpit model built from 1947 to 1954.  These boats are the focus of this year’s Marque Class at the Concourse d’ Elegance.

1948 Catalog

After the end of World War II, Chris-Craft quickly changed over from the production of war-related craft to runabouts, utilities and cruisers for post-war pleasure use. One could say that the “first boat” in one’s household would be a utility, which was for all around use with the family.  While the Racer would be the “second boat”, which catered to one thing – speed.

The post war Racer made its debut in mid 1947, and the very first boat, number R19-001, was shipped to Tahoe Boat Co., on June 13, 1947. Power was provided by the reliable Chris-Craft Hercules 6-cylinder engine, with initial horsepower options ranging from a 95 hp ‘K’ to the 158 hp ‘MBL’ model. Depending on the engine, advertised speeds were from 35 to 44 mph, and indeed, the Chris-Craft catalogs and all of their advertising championed the 19 ft. Racing Runabout as the “world’s fastest stock runabout.”

1949 Catalog

These early Racers sported a red and white paint scheme, as there was a shortage of quality Philippine mahogany after the war.  In lieu of the traditional mahogany construction, spruce planking was used for the hull and bottom, with canvas covered plywood decks. Once the supply of quality Philippine mahogany improved, Chris-Craft began to build the Racer with the varnished all natural finish and white striped decks.

A total of 503 post-war Racers were produced between 1947 and 1954, with the final hull #503 shipping on July 16, 1954 to Truckee, CA. The Racer was a favorite on the lakes of California, receiving the most boats shipped to any state (with over 100 boats). The number one destination was Lake Tahoe.


Not only was the Racer a very fast boat, but its long front deck, low freeboard and sleek profile made it look fast just sitting at the dock. In the parlance of today, the Racer just exudes “pizzazz” with its timeless style and design. However, as any owner will tell you, the ride is what gives the Racer one of its most endearing qualities. When either loafing along at a lazy cruising speed or at flat out top end, the racer rides very well in all but the roughest conditions. At these speeds, the hull is very much “bow down” or “level riding” (as Chris-Craft once coined the term in the 1930’s), with clear visibility in all directions. In fact, the hull almost rides cantilevered out over the water with waves breaking directly under the forward cockpit seat, thus making for a very comfortable ride. Many experienced Chris-Craft boat owners will testify that the Racing Runabout was simply the best riding boat that Chris-Craft made after the war.


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