This story really begins twenty years ago when fellow Woody Boater Jim Frechette originally purchased “Old Paint”, his 1940 25′ Chris-Craft Express Cruiser – Also known as a Red & White Express because of the distinctive color scheme. In the 1940 Chris-Craft Fleet Brochure, they describe the new Red & White Express as “The Boat of Tomorrow” – The Rakish Lines of the Super-Streamlined Hull and Modern Color Combination… With speeds up to 39 MPH… Its the newest craft afloat – The only boat of its type in the world.
Chris-Craft introduced the innovative Red & White Express in 1940 and produced a total of 68 units between 1940 & 1942, when production focus shifted in 1942 towards the war effort. Chris-Craft resumed production of the 25′ Red & White Express Cruiser after WWII with some subtle design changes, producing 302 units between 1946 & 1948. Although the exact numbers are unknown, early Red & White Express Cruisers (around the first 200 produced out of 370 total) can be identified by the unique, upright “Witch’s Cap” bow light and the distinctive “Pacman Styled Chris-Craft Script” on the hullsides, as shown in the brochure photo below. At some point in Post-War production a more traditional (for the period) raked burgee flagstaff and Chris-Craft script was used, replacing the “Pacman Styled” script. According to Jim Frechette, Pre-War Red & Whites had red bottom paint and most postwar versions had bronze bottom paint.
Noted Artist Phil Pokorny, who created a beautiful Limited Edition Print celebrating the introduction of the Chris-Craft 25′ Express Cruiser describes it this way… Numerous “moderne” design influences can be seen in the striking red and white boat — the World’s Fair trademark Trilon building reflected in the burgee flagstaff, the tear drop deck horn enclosure, and the elliptical sides of the v-shaped windshield frame all giving hints of the future. The fascination with circle geometry and streamlined design were even continued into a striking art deco version of the Chris-Craft logo itself. More on Phil Pokorny and his work later in this story…
Of the five antique & classic Chris-Crafts Jim Frechette currently owns, he says “Old Paint” is by far his favorite. The 25′ Red & White Express was originally delivered to Jim’s home town of Austin, Texas in 1940, is #32 of 68 Pre-War Red & Whites built and to Jim’s knowledge is the only Pre-War Red & White Express known to exist. Of course if there are more out there, Jim would be very interested to learn of their whereabouts.
Jim purchased “Old Paint” over twenty years ago, brought her home and began the task of restoring the boat. Jim commented… It was totally covered in fiberglass and the front end was rotted out. I stripped the fiberglass and replanked the front damage, rebuilt the engine and I was on the way. The engine is the original, Chris Craft MS. That is a regular 130 HP engine but the S indicates a reduction gear (1.5:1). The reduction gear allows the use of a larger prop which gives greater maneuverability around the dock. Many boats 25′ or larger use this. The boat was also available with twin K’s or the Chrysler straight 8.
“Old Paint” has participated in the Tennessee River antique boat cruise twice, in 1995 and again in 1997. The event covers a total of 450 miles starting from Guntersville, Alabama finishing at Paris Landing, Tennessee. Jim says they usually average about 100 miles per day, through the locks and when he attended the event they were joined by 25 to 30 boats of varying sizes and age. He also attends boat shows in Texas and Oklahoma when time permits.
Here’s Jim catching up on some sleep while a trusted friend navigates the Tennessee River during the cruise. The rear seat was not originally installed in the boat from the factory, but for purposes of practicality (and afternoon naps) Jim added it… Let’s ask the folks today to come up with some insightful captions for this photo… like… “Honey – Can you make me a sandwich and get me a cold drink?” HA!
Fast forward to 2010 when Jim Frechette decided it was time to do another full on restoration for “Old Paint” his favorite boat. This time around, with the help of Jeff Funk at Antique Boat Shop in FT. Wayne, Jeff installed a new bottom and according to Jim, who is also a wooden boat restorer, did a great job. Jim completed the balance of the restoration work and plans to have “Old Paint” at the big Sunnyland Antique & Classic Boat Festival at Lake Dora in 2 weeks. The recent photos below are from the shake-down cruise last week and Jim is happy to report that everything looks good. I can say that from the photos the mighty Red & White Express looks beautiful, congratulations Jim on another successful restoration project. (As you can tell, I’m sucking up hoping to get a ride in “Old Paint” while we are at the Sunnyland show)
Jim Frechette started Fleetwood Wooden Boats in 1982. He had restored a few boats and then people began to bring him their boats for repair or restoration. It has been mostly a one man shop over the years and accordong to Jim, has been all the work he needed. Jim says… I am now phasing out of doing customers boats and focusing on finding boats I like to restore with the idea of then putting them up for sale. This way if it is a nice day to go boating, I don’t feel guilty about leaving the shop when I should be working to meet a deadline.
That’s also a good shot of the “Witch’s Cap” bow light…
Now that “Old Paint” has been water tested and has all the bugs worked out, she will be loaded on the trailer to make the 1,200 mile journey from Austin, Texas to Lake Dora, Florida. This will be “Old Paint’s” first visit to Lake Dora and the Sunnyland Boat Show and I can’t think of a better place to unveil her to the masses, with her shinny new paint, all dressed up for the party.
On a personal note, I first became fascinated with the colorful, futuristic Chris-Craft Red & White Express while I was attending the 2005 ACBS Antique Motorboating Symposium “Chris-Craft: Rediscovering the Legacy” at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia. I was new to the hobby at the the time, and less than a year in to my ill-fated Riviera restoration project. I fondly remember how much fun it was to listen to all the knowledgable speakers and attend all the jam packed sessions throughout the weekend. It was truly a great, well organized event that I will always remember.
During the symposium, a artist named Phil Pokorny was introducing his most recent creation, a Signed and Numbered Limited Edition Lithograph of a 1940 Chris-Craft “Red & White” Express Cruiser. I fell in love with the original art work Phil created and would later purchase the limited edition print from Phil. I had it professionally mounted and framed and it proudly hangs in my home office today. And after I write this Woody Boater story, maybe in a few weeks I will be blessed to have the opportunity to go for a ride in a “Red & White Express” a beautifully designed Chris-Craft that I have always admired in my office.
Phil Pokorny has a web site where you can purchase one of his Limited Edition Prints like the one of the Red & White shown below. You can go directly to the Phil’s cool web site by clicking here.
Thanks to Jim Frechette for sharing your story and photos with Woody Boater and we look forward to seeing your freshly restored Red & White “Old Paint” in a few weeks in Tavares. Travel safe Jim and don’t pick up any hitch hickers unless they are wearing classic Woody Boater Yachting Caps, or wearing a Classic Woody Boater “Sand-Varnish-Sand” tee shirt and have doughnuts!
Oh by the way Jim… Did your hair change color at some point over the last 20 years or is that just the quality of the old photos? And Mike M – Pay attention there will be a Pop Quiz on this story at Lake Dora…