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The Chris-Craft Barrelback models

In the years just prior to World War II, Chris-Craft produced some of its most beautiful—and now most collectable boats in history, the barrelbacks. There was never a Chris-Craft model called a barrelback, and technically speaking the term barrelback defines an aesthetic. The term barrelback has little to do with the running surface of a hull. It is really a slang term used to describe a style of runabout.

Barrelbacks were characterized by a smoothly arced stern. Robert Speltz, in Real Runabouts, Volume One, writes, “1941 dawned with a new Chris-Craft fleet totaling 110 models. A lot of changes were made, especially in the runabout division... A totally new deck and hull style is readily visible. The rounded bow style, called the 'rocket' look, along with the 'torpedo' decks which were new in 1940, were back in 1941."

All 1941 Chris-Craft runabouts were far more stylish than in years past. Covering boards were more curved and the “Turtleback Decks” and “Shark” bows made the 1941 Chris-Crafts very sleek. Folding “V” windshields were standard on all runabouts as well as greater tumblehome on all transoms.

With the exception of the 1937-38 16' Special Race Boat, barrelbacks were offered from 1939 to 1942 only. By 1942 Chris-Craft was quickly transitioning production to the war effort. Just after the 1942 product line was solidified and introduced in the last quarter of 1941, America entered WW II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th. Pleasure craft were "out" and landing craft were "in" until 1945 when production was turned backed to manufacturing models for the 1946 fleet.

There seems to be much confusion over barrelbacks. Interestingly, the term "barrelback" was not used by Chris-Craft. The term came about years later—kind of a slang term to describe any hull with an arched, half round transom, with significant tumblehome to its aft sides. Many companies made boats of this design style—Century and Gar Wood for example. Chris-Craft was not the first to make a barrel-sterned runabout, but as was typical, they ramped up quickly, and made more of them than anyone else—though the total numbers of barrelabacks manufactured were still very low.

Model Data

16' Race Boat ’37, ’38, ’39 & ’40 167
16' Hydroplane ’41 & ’58 19
17' Deluxe ’40, ’41 & ’42 425
19' Custom ’39, ’40, ’41 & ’42 398
23' Custom ’40, ’41 & ’42 58
27' Custom ’40 & ’41 7

1937 The very first hull design to feature the radically “tumblehomed” stern was the 16' Race Boat (hull series 42000-42166). It first appeared in 1937 and continued through the 1940 model year, with a total production quantity of 167. Many were painted Red, White, and Blue, with a small number finished in the traditional two-tone mahogany and walnut.

1939 The next hull reintroduced as a barrelback design was the 19' Custom Runabout for the model year 1939. The barrel-stern 19' Custom Runabout (hull series 48500-48758 and 48800-48932) remained in production until 1942 with a total of 398 built.

1940 Joining the 19' for 1940 was the 17' Deluxe runabout — redesigned as a barrelback (hull series 71529-71954). The little Deluxe remained barreled through the 1942 model year with a total build of 425. Also in 1940 the older 22' Custom was stretched one foot and redesigned as a barrelback. This boat became known as the 23' Custom (hull series 22200 through 22225). Only fifty-eight 23' Customs were produced from 1940 through 1942, of which thirty-two are known to still exist. The 1940 model year also saw the introduction of the 27' Custom with the barreled styling. There were two versions built—a standard version and a Racing Runabout version of which only two were built. The 27' Custom (barrelback) continued through 1941 with a total of seven hulls built. Five are known to exist. At the end of the 1940 model year the little 16' Race Boat was discontinued and replaced by the new (for 1941 model year) 16' Hydroplane - For Racing Only (hull series 42501-42519). A total of nineteen 16' Hydros were built for 1941 and 1942 model years, five are known to exist today.

1941 The 1941 model year remained consistent with no new barrel-styled hull additions. As well, none of the barrel models were discontinued in 1941. The 1941 barrelback line consisted of the 16' Hydroplane, 17' Deluxe, 19' Custom, 23' Custom, and the 27' Custom.

1942 The 1942 model year remained consistent with no new barrel-styled hull additions. As well, none of the barrel models were discontinued in 1942. The 1942 barrelback line consisted of the 16' Hydroplane, 17' Deluxe, 19' Custom, and 23' Custom. The 27' Custom was offered for 1942, but none were built.

Why the confusion about barrelbacks? Why are so many old Chris-Crafts referred to as “barrebacks” when in actuality very few are? Some of the confusion comes from the fact that many of the barrel-sterned designs were essentially redesigns of hulls that existed in years prior to 1939 and again after WWII. In other words, certain models existed in a non-barreled form (prior to 1939)—in a barreled form (between 1939 and 1942)—only to reappear again in as non-barreled designs in 1946 after WWII.

Take the very popular 17' Deluxe for example. The 17' Deluxe was a barreled design for the years 1940 through 1942. Prior to 1940 there was also a 17' Deluxe but it was a non-barreled design. The same is true for the post-war 17' Deluxe—a very practical to produce, slab-sided, non-barrel sibling. As you scour the internet, you will see many examples of Chris-Crafts—and vintage boats in general being overzealously classified as barrelbacks, when very few really are.

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