THE CHRIS-CRAFT MARQUE experienced some turbulent times in the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s due to changes in ownership and management. However, during that same period, those changes resulted in the evolution of the now legendary Chris-Craft Sportboat models including the Stinger. The popular Stinger line dominated the growing high-performance image of Chris-Craft Sportboats throughout the 1980’s.
Now almost 30 years old – this beautiful 1986 Chris-Craft 26′ 260 SL Stinger was discovered on the shore of Lake Dora just prior to this year’s Sunnyland Boat Festival. Fortunately for us, some arrangements were made and Matt had the opportunity to photograph owner Doug Rodante putting his Stinger through it’s paces on Lake Dora during the boat show.
For 1986 Chris-Craft offered a number of Stinger models – which included the 222 – 22′, 260 – 26′, 312 – 32′, 314 – 32′ and the big 390 – 39′ model.
The 26 footers came in two versions – the 260 SL or 260 SL LTD – the LTD (limited) was basically a marketing plan which offered different paint schemes and LTD badging. There were no physical differences between the SL and SL LTD hulls or running gear.
In terms of overall production numbers, not many were built. Approximately 97 – 1986 260 Stingers were produced by Chris-Craft at the Bradenton, Florida plant. For 1986 the Stinger 260 models were offered with either single or twin Mercruiser or OMC power and had a claimed top speed (depending on power option) of close to 60 MPH.
The 260 SL Stinger model was by far the most popular – which was probably attributed to size, ease of trailering, not too big or small for the sportboat market at the time. In 1986 a Chris-Craft 260 SL Stinger with twin 260 OMC power had a base price of 48,595.00. Among the various options available that year was the stylish (Miami Vice-ish) radar arch, which was available for an additional 2,090.00.
Lots has been written over the years about the this period in Chris-Craft history. The evolution of the Scorpion Sportboat line and eventual development of the Stinger models are best described by our new friend (and Stinger historian) Han Tunca at chriscraftstinger.com. For today’s story (with Han’s approval) we have used some excerpts from his informative website which details the evolution and development of the Chris-Craft Stinger. It’s a remarkable story. – Texx
Chris-Craft Sportboat Development – 1978 to 1989
by Han Tunca – Chriscraftstinger.com
While turning around Chris-Craft, in 1978 Dick Genth and Director of Engineering Don Westerman introduced a whole new line of sport boats – the Scorpions. The Scorpions were developed at Chris-Craft’s Pompano Beach facility. Originally three models were created – the 210, 230 and 260 SL. The Scorpion 260 SL was the first Chris-Craft boat to adopt the design style of high-performance, offshore, “cigarette” style racing boats. A new production facility was built by Chris-Craft in Bradenton, Florida with the sole purpose of expanding the new sport boat series. These new models were introduced by Chris-Craft at a dealer meeting at the Sarasota Hyatt House in July, 1979.
Greg Boyko tells the following story regarding how the Scorpion name came to be used for the new line of boats:
Chris-Craft found scorpions in the buildings in Bradenton, FL when they were first getting set-up – someone made a bunch of paperweights (scorpions set in casting resin) out of them – that’s how the line got it’s name.
By 1980, Dick Genth had turned around the Chris-Craft boating division. He now convinced Chris-Craft Industries to sell off the boating division. A search began for potential buyers – in 1981 that buyer was found – George Dale Murray. Mr Murray, along with Dick Genth, (Celebrity Lawyer) F. Lee Bailey, and Walt Schumacher, bought 95% of the boat division from Chris-Craft Industries on December 4th, 1981 for $5 million dollars. The new company was known as Murray Chris-Craft.
An orphan, Murray had grown up in North Carolina. Murray had made his millions buying coal mines in Kentucky and bringing them back to profitability. Murray was looking for something new to do when Dick Genth approached him about buying Chris-Craft. Murray took the opportunity and bought Chris-Craft with Genth.
At this time Chris-Craft was one of the premier brands of boats. Murray and Genth were able to bring on celebrities to the board of Chris-Craft including Alexander Haig and Ed McMahon. Under Murray’s stewardship, and with a strengthening economy, Chris-Craft was growing fast.
The Chris-Craft Stinger Evolution
As soon as Dick Genth was brought in to turn around Chris-Craft in 1978, he started to look for ways to broaden the model line. With his offshore racing experience, he looked to start a new line of high-performance, deep-v boats. By November 26, 1978, Chris-Craft had entered into an agreement with Excalibur Marine Corporation to build two versions of the Excalibur 31 and one version of the Excalibur 384.
The origin of the Excalibur hulls begins with Jean-Claude Simon. Around 1973, Jean-Claude Simon, a former Ferrari racer, sold his home in France and moved to Miami where he bought the Cary Boat Company. Jean-Claude began to build boats based on deep-v fiberglass hulls and race them. The Cary Boat Company had 26′, 27′, 29′ and 31′ deep-v hulls. The 31′ hull had an increased freeboard for better handling in rough seas.
In the late 1970s, Jean-Claude was approached by Bill Farmer, owner of Excalibur Marine Corporation. Bill wanted to use Jean-Claude’s 31′ hull, so he struck a deal to pay a royalty (about $1,000) to Jean-Claude for each hull “popped” from the 31′ mould.
By the time Dick Genth contacted Bill Farmer in 1978, Excalibur Marine Corporation was having money problems. A deal with Chris-Craft would provide Excalibur with the money it needed to continue to produce boats. But before a deal could be worked out, Bill needed to resolve the issue of royalties being paid to Jean-Claude. Bill and Dick approached Jean-Claude and offered to pay him a lump sum to buy the 31′ mould outright. Jean-Claude agreed to sell the mould to Chris-Craft with the caveat that he be listed as hull designer on each Chris-Craft boat based on the 31′ hull.
Excalibur by Chris-Craft with the issue of royalties being paid to Jean-Claude Simon resolved, Dick and Bill came to an agreement for Chris-Craft to build boats based on Excalibur hulls. The boats would be marketed by Chris-Craft as “Excalibur by Chris-Craft”. Chris-Craft would build two 31′ foot models – a deep-v I/O version, and a center-console outboard version. Additionally, Chris-Craft would also build a 38′ deep-v I/O version.
At the 69th National Boat Show in January 1979, a 31′ Excalibur was on display at the Chris-Craft exhibit – one of five boats brought to the show by Chris-Craft. In addition, Chris-Craft lets it be known that it would be building a 38′ version which it expected to enter into the offshore racing circuit.
According to Bill Westley, the early Excaliburs were built at the Excalibur boat company plant, based on Excalibur moulds. They had no Stinger logos or names on them, but did have Chris-Craft badging. By 1980, the hull numbers on Excaliburs identified them as being produced by Chris-Craft. More significantly, the model code on the Excalibur boats was the same code that would eventually be used by the Stingers.
Excalibur US Navy Drone ‘Meteor’
An interesting story about the early Excaliburs comes from James Loeschen who worked on the production line for the Excaliburs. In 1979/1980, Chris-Craft received an order from a private contractor for 6 Excalibur 31’s to be used as drones for the US Navy.
James describes the Excalibur drones as such:
They were international orange gelcoat. decks, hulls cockpit liners, hatches, etc.. Everything forward of the cockpit was filled with flotation foam. There was a cockpit cover custom molded and it had 2 large flat hatches bolted down on it for access to the cockpit for the controls so it could be manually driven and so the electronics for the remote controls could be added on after we delivered them to the contractor.
There was a water activated strobe light on the deck at the very bow. Also, I designed a steel frame that attached to the hull stringers and extended out the top of the boat fore and aft on center. It was about 5 or 6 feet long and had 2 bars with dividers at the top to create several openings in the frame where a big hook from the ship could hook on and lift the drone out of the water and set it on the deck of the ship for repairs and recycling of the drone when possible.
So, if the drone was hit, the engines weighed down the stern and the flotation foam floated the bow so it would bob like a buoy with the strobe flashing so the USN ship could locate it after it was hit.
Chris-Craft was producing a line of small sport boats called Scorpions. The Scorpions were still being built in 1981 when Dick Genth looked to expand the line. Chris-Craft had the Excaliburs, but a decision was made to replace the Excalibur with a new model line called “Stinger.”
The model line would include a 31′ Stinger called the 312 SL and a 39′ Stinger called the 390 X. Both of these were based off of the existing Excalibur moulds. A 26′ model was also added. The 26′ model was called the Stinger 260 SL and was built from the existing Scorpion 260 SL mould. The new Stinger line of boats had lower deck profiles and better performance than the Scorpions. They were the top-of-the-line off-shore power boats produced by Murray Chris-Craft. And, as agreed to by Dick Genth, the brochures for the new Stingers included a credit to Jean-Claude Simon as designer of the hulls.
Production began in 1981 on the new line of high-performance sport boats that bore the Stinger name. According to Ernest J Schmidt, the Stinger name was a play on the Scorpion name:
Where did the idea of the Stinger come from? Best I can recall, it was probably my idea (not to actually take license for it though). When we began to market the 312, and to develop the 390 we were producing some of our models called the Scorpion. We were discussing what model designation to use for what was to be recognized as our performance models (to compete against Wellcraft’s popular Scarab models). I suggested to Dick that since we had a Scorpion series, what better than a Stinger model. Think about it, what does a Scorpion have that is so deadly……….a Stinger! Hence, the Stingers were born.
James Loeschen recalls the following regarding the introduction of the Stingers:
‘Stingers’ were a marketing tool to expand the Scorpion series and were introduced after I left in June or July of 1980 for the ’81 model year. They had special upholstery and graphics packages and probably more engine options and a fancier dashboard.
Greg Boyko relates the following about the Stingers:
Once Dick Genth had taken charge, was able to add “bling” to the line – when Chris-Craft took the new product to the boat shows it had “pop” to it – immediately at the dealer meeting they sold a lot of product (I heard a figure of $44M) – the Stinger line was very “finished” so they could compete with the other companies.
By 1982, Chris-Craft was displaying the Stingers at boat shows. In May of 1982, Chris-Craft displayed a Stinger 312 at the SCMA/Sea World Boat Show in Perez, California. At 60 MPH, the 312 was the fastest Chris-Craft on display at the show.
According to Bill Westley, the early runs of Stingers built from the moulds were “under-glassed”. The Coast Guard received complaints about the boats and decided to investigate. Dick Genth gave the order to max out the glass in the Stingers in preparation for the Coast Guard inspection. Bill had one of the first, if not the first, Stinger that had been built with more glass, and says the boat was “built like a tank” and consequently it was “not much for speed”.
Many people in the boating industry had a hand in designing and building the Stingers. According to an ex-Murray Chris-Craft employee, Don Westermann was the original engineer that retooled the moulds. Roy Rogers did upholstery and some graphics starting in 1981. In 1983, Jim Douglas was brought in to design/style the entire sportboat line.
In 1983, interiors for the Stingers were completely restyled by Roy Rogers. The restyled cabin for the 390 X included wrap-around couches, two swivel chairs, a ceiling mounted mirror surrounded by rope lighting, and an enclosed head. Exterior changes were made as well which included fiberglass swim platforms and custom Imron paint. Some models were designated limited (LTD) models. Ernest J Schmidt says of the limited models: “Someone once asked what does the limited mean, and Dick Genth’s reply was, ‘it means these models are limited to the number we can produce’”.
In 1984, Chris-Craft introduced their “Competition Series” option for 312 SL and 390 X Stingers. This option included state of the art coring materials, custom resins, and an intricate vacuum bagging lamination process. This produced lighter and stiffer boats. Eventually, the “Competition Series” option was dropped and the process was incorporated into the 390 X Stingers from 1986 onward.
Chris-Craft, under the leadership of Ernest J Schmidt, began a redesign of the Stingers in 1985. The redesign for the 260 and 312 Stingers included raising the deck profile and transom height, new dashboards with VDO gauges, increased headroom in the cabin, and a new curved, tempered glass windshields. Roy Rogers was again responsible for the new interiors.
In 1987, a special version of the Stinger 312 was produced – the Fittipaldi Equipe – named for Emerson Fittipalidi, the famous Formula 1 and Indy Car driver.
The 1988 model line saw a more radically re-styled line of Stingers. This restyling was led by Jim Douglas. These redesigned Stingers sported a curved, windowless, wrap-around windshield, integrated swim platforms, and furnished interiors. These Stingers were some of the last built, and included the 334, 375, 385 and 415 models.
On Monday, December 12th, 1988, Murray Chris-Craft filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection. In January, 1989, Murray notified 70 workers at the Holland Township plant in Michigan that Murray Chris-Craft would be closed on January 27, 1989.
There are many reasons cited for why Murray Chris-Craft ran out of money. In the late 1980s, the US economy went into a recession which hurt the boating industry as a whole. Additionally, Murray Chris-Craft’s purchase of Uniflite caused problems for the company which had produced boats with resin that blistered. Angry boat owners sued the company for millions. Finally, there were allegations that Murray himself mis-spent company money.
Stingers in Popular Culture
The Stingers were a popular line of boats for Murray Chris-Craft. Entire model-year production would sometimes be sold out on announcement for a particular model. As they became more popular, the Stinger began showing up in other places as well. Probably the best known placement of the Stingers was in the Miami Vice television series.
Five 390 X Stingers in total were used in the filming of the show. The pilot episode featured a white 1983 390 X. Four 390 Xs were used in season 1 of the show – three were 1984 390 Xs and the fourth was a 1985 390 X delivered sometime after September of 1984.
Han Tunca – chriscraftstinger.com
While preparing todays story we discovered yet another avenue of classic boating via chriscraftstinger.com that up until a few days ago we didn’t know existed.
Han Tunca’s website chriscraftstinger.com represents this segment of the hobby with tons of great information, and currently has over 716 Stingers listed in the registry. The Stinger newsletter goes out to between 150-200 “members”. Registered boat owners can also access information on the history of the marque as well as production information based on their hull card.
Special thanks to Han Tunca for sharing his website and story with us today. Be sure to take the time to check out the Chris-Craft Stinger website for the full story on the history and development of the Chris-Craft marque, which includes some racing history, list of models, and much more.
Also thanks to Stinger owner Doug Rodante for taking the time to share his beautiful boat with us on Lake Dora. And also to the nice folks at the Chris-Craft Commander Club website for the vintage Chris-Craft brochure photos for today’s story.