When it comes to post-war utilities, there’s no question that the Chris-Craft 25′ Sportsman ranks right up there with the best-of-the-best in terms of rarity, collectability and versatility. Better yet, if they were shipped with the optional Streamline Ventilating Top you had something extra special back in the day (and even today).
The always creative marketing team at Chris-Craft included this description in the Fleet Brochure – “For the finest, fastest, most luxurious runabout afloat, choose this 25-ft. Sportsman with single or twin engines and with up to 290 horsepower. Think of the places you can go and the spray you can throw with this baby! Beautiful, glistening, natural finish with genuine leather upholstery… big aft cockpit… ample room for fishing boxes and gear – everything to make your fun complete.”
Today we have a great story from our friend and fellow Woody Boater Brian Robinson at Robinson Restoration in Southern California, describing how they found and eventually preserved one of these rare Chris-Crafts, to live another day. – Texx
Recently my father, Tim, and I finished the preservation of Flagship, a remarkable 1947 Chris-Craft 25’ Sportsman Sedan. It has a pretty neat history, so I thought I’d share it with the Woody Boater crowd.
I had first seen this boat in Cap and Barb Peckham’s remote Southern California ‘boat fortress’ collection as I call it… a story in itself, about five years ago researching their original Chris-Craft 18′ Cobra. I returned a year later to photograph it after it had sunk in, what a time capsule their 25’ Sportsman was while researching Paul and Karen Harrison’s sister Sportsman Sedan, “Barnwood”.
Cap had bought this one in 1987 on a tip from Al Schinnerer who happened upon it while searching for a classic car in Wildomar, California. Wildomar is a small high-desert town between Temecula (where I live) and Lake Elsinore, that is known for little except for the high temps it reaches in the summertime. The Sportsman with the name “Mary Margaret” on one side of the ring bouys, and “Nona Rae” on the other, had lie there baking away in the dry heat for at least a year before Cap and Barb rescued it.
This particular boat, hull SP-25-075 was one of just 41 of the 25’ Sportsman’s built in the abbreviated 1947 model year before they were “temporarily discontinued” for ten months. Fourteen of the 1947 models carried the $500.00 optional Streamline Ventilating Top. It was equipped with the 160hp 6-cyl Chris-Craft W engine.
On September 30th, 1946 it was shipped out of the Algonac factory to Spokane, Washington to the E.H. Geil Chris-Craft dealership. According to Cap’s research it lived on Lake Coeur d’Alene into the 1970s before the original family moved to Arkansas with the boat, and finally the original family moved again with the boat, this time to Wildomar, CA in the mid 1980s.
In those first 40 years, the exterior had been refinished (poorly) once, and nothing was ever done to the original interior, not even the varnish, in that time. Cap and Barb intended to use it as it was, at their home on Big Bear Lake, CA but upon removal of the original W engine to send out for a complete rebuild, some severe rot in the bottom structure was found and quickly halted that idea. Cap already had a new trailer built for it, it was set on the new trailer, and the whole thing was then blocked up and put away under cover for another 24 years.
When Cap and Barb finally decided it was time to sell the Sportsman, and Terry Hurley was in the market at the same time for a big sedan, they struck a deal. Terry called me knowing I had been involved in the “Barnwood” project, had done the museum research on the entire SP-25 production run, and that I lived near the Peckham fortress – so my dad and I ended up agreeing to restore the boat with the intent of bringing it back to ‘as delivered from the factory’ condition while retaining the immense originality and ‘good wood’ that was there. This was the first boat we were fortunate to work on with its original tools and Texaco oil can!
What makes this particular example extraordinary, in my humble opinion, is that coincidentally like “Barnwood”, there was so much to learn from it, as the two were so incredibly similar, yet still with a few small differences, largely because they were built a year apart and different model years. For example Flagship had its perfect original brown Russialoid headliner (which is still in it) and green linoleum covered engine box, and “Barnwood” had a perforated white headliner, gray linoleum and leather covered engine box. Yet the two were constructed exactly the same, wired exactly the same, and had exactly the same green leather upholstery down to the seam locations in the crash pad. In both boats, everything covered by the top (and the sun) looked almost like the day they were new. Not even the copper tacks in the hidem had ever been removed.
Had Flagship not been subjected to its few years in Arkansas and the brutal Wildomar summer(s), I suspect it would have needed little more than a couple coats of varnish to be seaworthy again. But for some reason all of the white oak bottom structure had rotted badly, including the stem, forefoot, keel, and chines – all of which had to be replaced. Most of the mahogany pieces were in much better condition.
The worst was the mysterious factory heavy fir frame over the strut, which would crumble in your hands. This is all nothing new in restorations except for the way-above average condition of everything above the waterline. The dried-out original Honduras planking was removed and reset tight, with only a few planks requiring replacement. The top only required refinishing, in fact when the outer canvas was removed the fir structure literally looked like it had been built yesterday. And even though everything was so original and in generally good condition, everything needed some attention to bring it back as new, which meant everything had to come completely apart. For the record, there are 90 varnished interior pieces in these boats!
The rebuilt and properly pickled-for-25-years original W engine fired right up and pushes the big sedan amazingly well. It even came full circle when we water tested it on Lake Elsinore.
After about a year on and off of restoration work, Flagship is now back on the water, now home with the Hurley family on Lake Vermilion, Minnesota.
Robinson Restoration, Fallbrook, CA
Thanks Brian for sharing the story of “Flagship” with us here at Woody Boater today. For those of you who don’t know Brian Robinson, he is directly involved in organizing and judging the field of amazing antique & classic boats with Chief Judge Terry Fiest and a dedicated team of volunteers for the annual Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance, which is being held on August 8th-9th at Obexers Marina in Homewood, CA. Stay tuned to Woody Boater for more details on that event.