Chris-Craft:1950 to 1958, Kit Boat Division

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Following World War II, Chris-Craft once again retooled their factories, but this time, to return to pleasure boat production upon completing war time government contracts. Chris-Craft entered this period conservatively—approaching many of the successful pre war models with a moderate design refresh. The company focused on getting boats into the marketplace as quickly as possible, rather than retooling for an aggressively redesigned product line.

In 1950, Chris-Craft also started the Kit Boat Division. This division broke new ground for the company. Operating under the marketing slogan, "Build it yourself and save half," the Kit Boat Division's primary purpose was to get as many Chris-Crafts to the end user as quickly as possible—and as inexpensively as possible. As well, the division introduced a new material—plywood—and thus, a new method of boat building to Chris-Craft customers. Using experience learned during WW-II, the Kit Boats were manufactured using full-thickness mahogany frames, with a plywood outer skin. This marked the first time plywood was used in Chris-Craft's pleasure boat production.

The Kit Boat Division also gave Chris-Craft an entrance point into another boating niche—lightweight, outboard powered vessels. Often toted on car roofs, or on lightweight trailers pulled by the family sedan, outboard-powered boats were growing steadily in popularity. Chris-Craft Kit Boats were the perfect match for the company's newly introduced Chris-Craft Challenger and Commander outboards.

By mid-1950, the Kit Boat lineup included an 8-foot Pram, a 14-foot Rowboat, and a 14-foot outboard powered Runabout. Kit Boats were available through most Chris-Craft dealers. In addition catalog sales through Montgomery Wards, and Sears, and aggressive marketing coverage through mainstream periodicals such as Popular Mechanics, and niche publications such as Boys' Life brought more attention to the Kit Boat Division.

In 1951, Chris-Craft expanded the division's lineup by adding a 12-foot Runabout model, and a Sailing Kit for the Pram. Rounding out the Kit Boat line were the following models:

  • 18-foot Outboard-Powered Express Cruiser
  • 18-foot Inboard-Powered Express Cruiser
  • 21-foot Sportsman Utility
  • 21-foot Express Cruiser
  • 31-foot Express Cruiser

Also available at extra cost were things like, solid mahogany decks, Sportsman Windshield Kits, Sportsman Pilot Seat Kit and express Cruiser Flying Bridge Windshield Kit. The Kit Boat Division also marketed a range of small lightweight Kit Boat trailers matched to each hull type.

As Chris-Craft dealers marketed the boats, they were offered factory pre-assembled boats for display purposes. As customers inquired about the availability of these pre-built hulls, many dealers sold their display models, and subsequently started a small sideline of assembling kits for interested customers. This practice ultimately lead to the division offering pre-built kits at a considerable up-charge. One could argue that this practice, when coupled with plywood skin construction, helped validate the construction methods of the new Cavalier Division, established in 1955.

The Kit Boat trend was certainly a phenomenon of the post World War II boom years. Many manufacturers offered boats in kit form. But, by the mid 50s, the market had softened, and in 1958, the Kit Boat Division was closed.

[edit] Links

KIt Boats in the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club Online Archive

Kit Boat Archive Film Introduction

Archive Film Series DVD 1, with 15-minute long Kit Boat dealer promotional film

[edit] References