A few weeks ago when Matt was at Lake Gaston for the RDC Triangle Chapter Boat Show, he went for a ride in an antique triple cockpit runabout that was re-powered with a modern V-8 Mercruiser. These days that’s not that unusual, but what was a bit unusual about this boat was that it had mufflers… That’s right, Mufflers! Matt commented on how quiet the boat was, even at speed cruising across Lake Gaston.
As Matt was describing to me the sensation of the modern V-8 power in the antique triple, it reminded me of Robert DaPron’s triple cockpit Chris-Craft “Red head II” that I had the pleasure of riding in a few times last year. It also has similar modern power and for me, was fun to experience the impressive power and versatility the boat had.
Our discussion quickly let to the subject of modern power vs original power, so we thought it would be fun to see what you think about the subject.
By the way, as you can see, I’m back to my same old problem of not being able to decide which photos to use for the story, so once again I have included a few too many of original power… But they all look so cool.
– What is the criteria for deciding what type of power to use in your classic wooden boat?
– Is it based on what you are going to use the boat for?
– If it’s a show boat and it’s not going to see many hours of operation, is it better to stay with original power?
– Many folks like to use their boats extensively, one of the best examples that comes to mind is Randy & Ginger Clark’s Hacker “OoRAH”, it has modern power and they use it almost year round in Florida and the south east.
– The big river cruises like the St. John’s River Cruises before and after the Sunnyland Show, the popular Tennessee River Cruise which covers 450 miles, the guys in Seattle are planning a trip up the Columbia / Snake River in late June which is also 400+ miles.
– Is there an advantage to have modern power for those high use classics or can a well maintained original powered boat still work just fine? Are they still reliable if properly maintained?
– Are we going to see regulations in the future on some lakes which will mandate Closed Cooling Systems for antique & classic boats?
– Is the E-85 Ethanol going to become E-65 Ethanol in the near future and will this become a bigger problem in terms of keeping the old Hercules running properly?
On Thursday we learned that legendary marine engine builder Cal Connell passed away. Cal Connell, son of a successful Detroit Cadillac Dealer, founded Detroit Racing Equipment and specialized in marinizing Cadillac V-8 engines for Century and then Chris-Craft in the 1950’s.
In the book “Classic Century Powerboats” by Paul, Frank & Trudy Miklos they said… “The single most influential event of 1953 – one that would effect Century and boat manufacturers for years to come – was the work of a young machinist in Detroit” – Cal Connell. “Connell’s marinized Cadillac V-8’s claimed to have 250 HP – unheard of in an engine of this weight… For the first time, Century could dream of equipping it’s relatively small boats with such power.” And the rest is history…
Anthony Mollica & Jack Savage describe Cal Connell’s history with the Chris-Craft Corporation in their book “Chris-Craft Boats” and his connection to the radically designed Cobras which were introduced in 1955.
Hemis and Cadillac Crusaders
When Chris-Craft came out with the Cobra, it’s startling new Racing Runabout, in 1955, Chrysler Marine was converting the now famous Chrsler Hemi for marine use. The potential combination proved too tempting – Chris-Craft no longer had an eight-cylinder engine, so the Hemi was just the thing to pack into the 21 foot version of the Cobra to give it 50 miles per hour-plus speed. The Hemi was a 331 cubic-inch overhead valve V-8 that generated 200 horsepower at 4,400 rpm in a 1,100-pound package with downdraft carbs and a six-volt electrical system. The first 21 foot Cobras were shipped with the Hemis.
The Cobra was also the recipient of a marinized Cadillac overhead valve V-8 as developed by Detroit Cadillac dealer Cal Connell, who founded Detroit Racing Equipment. DRE’s 331 cubic-inch conversion generated 285 horsepower at 5,200 rpm thanks to dual four-barrel Rochester carbs. The Cadillac V-8 could push Century’s 21-foot Coronado nearly 60 miles per hour – a speed that generated attention in Algonac. Ultimately Chris-Craft purchased 24 of the hopped up Cadillacs, 17 of which ended up in 21 foot Cobras, giving them 55 miles per hour.
Chris-Craft continued to offer the V-8, upgraded to 365 cubic-inch in 1956 and 390 cubic-inch in 1959 until the introduction of the marinized version of the Chevy small-block. It was three of Connell’s Cadillac engines that powered a 53-foot Constellation called Crusader Rabbit to an impressive 32 miles per hour. Connell adopted the name from the boat for his company, Cadillac Crusader Marine, leading to the origin of Crusader Marine. When Chevrolet introduced its 409 cubic-inch engine in the early 1960s, Crusader Marine ceased marinizing the Cadillac V-8s and switched to the Chevys. Some 800 Cadillacs were marinized from 1952 to 1960, all painted fire engine red.Anthony Mollica and Jack Savage.
Here’s a few images from an original Cal Connell Cadillac Crusader Engine Operating Manual (say that 3 time fast) courtesy of the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club Archive.
Matt & Texx