Do Classic Chris-Craft Rivieras Get The Respect They Deserve?

Yannon Bow - 1

Jimmy Scott’s beautifully restored 18′ Riviera “Yannon”

A few weeks ago during the Sunnyland Antique Boat Festival in Florida, we had the pleasure of spending some quality time our friend and fellow Woody Boater Jimmy Scott from Virginia. Jimmy kindly (and patiently) assisted us with our daily photo shoots on Lake Dora with his now famous Chris-Craft Cavalier “Termite Terror” – Which by the way is powered by a powerful 350 cubic-inch Chevrolet V-8. Jimmy is no stranger to classic boating, and has owned “Termite Terror” for well over 40 years.

Jimmy Scott also owns “Yannon” a beautiful 18′ Chris-Craft Riviera which was restored just a few years ago by master restorer & author Don Danenberg at Danengerg Boat Works in Stronach, Michigan.

One night during dinner Jimmy asked me a question that has been on my mind for many years too, he said “Texx – You get around to a lot of classic boat shows, why is it that we don’t see many Rivieras at boat shows?”

I don’t really know the answer to that question, but I have a few theories and thought I would throw it out to our knowledgeable viewers for their insight & comments on the subject.

In the popular book Chris-Craft Boats by Anthony Mollica Jr. and Jack Savage, they describe the transition / evolution of the Chris-Craft Riviera from the earlier 20′ Custom Runabout model best:

Mollica / Savage note

By 1949 it became apparent that the postwar styling of the 20-foot Chris-Craft Custom Runabout was attractive to buyers – the relatively high price was less so.

The Custom had been been a stylist’s exercise, designed to capture the imaginations of potential boat owners with less consideration given to the ease of manufacturing. Given Chris-Craft’s legendary drive to produce good boats for less money than the competition, it is no surprise that the company decided to make changes that would trim the production time and cost of its lead runabout.

The result was the Riviera, a boat that is considered by many to be the quintessential 1950’s Chris-Craft Runabout. Featuring the same bleached mahogany styling cues as the 20-foot Custom, the Riviera was offered in 16-, 18-, and 20-foot lengths, with a variety of engine options.

1954 CC Fleet Brochure Riv 18_0001 - Copy

Vintage 1954 Chris-Craft Fleet Brochure – 18′ Riviera

Differences between the Riviera and its predecessor, the Custom, include elimination of the convex “bubble” transom; a single-door engine hatch; fixed windshield; vinyl upholstery rather than leather; and less expensive hardware.

The result was a boat that looked similar, but could be constructed more easily and sold for less.Anthony Mollica Jr. and Jack Savage

Having researched and owned an 18′ Riviera for over 8 years, and attending numerous boat shows during those 8 years, I too was always curious why the once popular Riviera is rarely seen at boat shows, either at local events or at the larger high profile events like the annual ACBS International or the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance. After all, the higher production numbers that Chris-Craft achieved by producing a less expensive, less complicated-to-build Riviera resulted in 1,672 copies of the “quintessential 1950’s Chris-Craft Runabout” being built between 1950 & 1954. Compared to only 369 – 20′ Custom Runabout models which were produced between 1946 to 1949. And the low production 20′ Custom is a common site at most boat shows around the country.

Total Riviera production between 1950 & 1954 was based on 174 – 16′ models built (discontinued in 1951 due to poor performance), a whopping 1,210 – 18′ models built and only 288 – 20′ Rivieras built during the 5 year production run.

Although the Riviera is a scaled down version of the larger, more elegant 20′ Custom, with the much higher production numbers of the Riviera, there is no question that the stylish runabout was popular with buyers back in the 1950’s. To my eye, the Riviera is an attractive looking traditional 50’s runabout, with their soft flowing lines, distictive nose and low, speedboat styled windshield.

They look great in the water, the 18′ and 20′ models performed well considering the engine options available at the time, and the reasonably priced mahogany runabout no doubt filled a specific niche in the market.

Yannon and Jim - 2

Another great photo of fellow Woody Boater Jimmy Scott with “Yannon”

Is the fact that they are not that common today becuase the Rivieras were less expensive, high production wooden boats that were considered “disposable boats” and as a result, many Rivieras found the “burn pile” towards the end of their service life?

Or were they not as attractive to collectors because of the high production numbers, and generally the cost of restoration is similar to that of a low production runabout like a post-war 20′ Custom / Racing Runabout, or pre-war Custom Barrelback or Deluxe, etc?

As the supply of 20′ Customs / Racing Runabouts or pre-war Custom Barrelbacks or Deluxe models becomes more depleted, will the Riviera grow in popularity? There does appear to be a few more showing up at restoration shops recently.

2012 Tahoe Thursday 111 - Copy

“Cyclone” – 18′ Riviera – 2012 Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance

Well, regardless of why we don’t see many Rivieras at shows or in boat restoration shops – one Chris-Craft Riviera that certainly deserves some respect today is this very original 18′ footer, which belongs to fellow Woody Boater Dan Reed from Upstate New York. And today his Riviera is celebrating her 60th birthday, a major milestone in the life of a classic wooden boat.

Here at Woody Boater we don’t normally do Birthdays, Weddings, Baby Showers or Bar Mitzvahs (yet), however this particular Riviera has managed to avoid the burn pile and has survived to live another day under the stewardship of Dan Reed. Dan was one of our very helpful go-to-guys last summer when we were in the final stages of preparing my 1952 Riviera “Cyclone” for her successful debut at the 2012 Lake Tahoe Concours. Many of the original elements of Dan’s Riviera provided us with some key details in terms of originality and correctness. So here’s Dan’s story…

Texx – Here are a few shots of my boat which turns 60 years old today. It’s an 18’ Chris-Craft Riviera built on 4/14/1953, and is Hull number R-18-927 still with the original 120 HP engine serial number Hercules KLC-60506.

Dan's Riviera 1

Dan Reed’s original 1953 18′ Chris-Craft Riviera

The boat was shipped to Waldorf Boat Co. in Canandaigua, New York – the fourth largest of the Finger Lakes. It was sold to a Mr. Edward Davies of Stanley, NY on 4/27/1952 for the sum of $3,386.00 ($3,270.00 for the boat plus $116.00 for freight) it would appear from the bill of sale that Mr. Davies traded in a Penn Yan and got a $1,465.00 trade in value.

Dan's Riviera 2
At some time in the late 1950’s Mr. Davies sold the boat to my Grandfather (Charles E. Converse) of Phelps, NY.

As a result, the 1953 Riviera has been on Canandaigua Lake all of it’s life.

I inherited the boat in 1984, and have been her caretaker ever since.

In 2008, the boat went in for a new bottom, strip and re-finish, re-wire etc. at Nichols Restoration in Branchport NY. Doug Nichols crew did a fantastic job on the new bottom and re-finish, and they have been doing the routine maintenance on the boat ever since the restoration.

Fresh off a restoration/re-finish I entered the boat in the Finger Lakes Chapter ACBS show in Skaneateles NY, and quickly found out that I didn’t know a damn thing about classic boats. No hull card, polyester flags, and a few other things that I had no clue about cost me some easy points. The boat scored well and received praise from a lot of the attendees and participants.

Dan's Riviera 3

Dan’s all original dashboard and steering wheel.

After the boat show I ordered the Hull card from the Mariners Museum. Shortly after that I received an e-mail from the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club urging me to join the club. At first I regarded this as Spam, and into the Spam folder it went. About a year later when getting ready to empty my Spam folder, I opened the invitation, read it and said “what the hell”, so I gave it a try and joined the club.

Ever since that, I have been studying classic boats on the Boat Buzz forum, and gaining as much knowledge as possible from the other members of the club.

Armed with my new found knowledge, last winter, I undertook another round of restorations. The Bilge received a few coats of Sanpaco CC Bilge paint, the engine received a fresh coat of correct post war CC Blue paint (courtesy of Dave Van Ness), gauges re-chromed (courtesy of Dale Kocian) and a few other minor details such as correct vintage fire extinguisher.

The upholstery in the boat is still original, and in pretty good condition for being 60 years old. I suppose someday it will need to be re-done, and thanks to the Boat Buzz forum I already know who the go-to-guy for that is.

Dan's Riviera 4

The beautiful original red upholstery in Dan’s Riviera.

Upon the first launch of the 2012 season, while parked at the docks, a guy decided to let his 10 year old son dock their boat behind mine. The kid came into the docks way too fast, and the father pushed their boat away from the dock and it headed straight for mine at a pretty good speed.

Luckily my daughter’s boyfriend jumped onto the back of my boat, and pushed this guy’s boat away from mine at the last minute, and it missed hitting my boat by less that a half of an inch. (my daughter’s boyfriend can do no wrong in my mind now!)

Dan's Riviera 5

Still running the original 120 HP Chris-Craft Hercules KLC straight 6.

The boat has never been named, and I am reluctant to do so because ”why change it now?”. However, after much thought, I have unofficially named her “Mooring Wood”, but I won’t paint it on her.

This was the “go to” boat for restoration questions on the restoration of Texx’s “Cyclone”, which is by the way a very beautiful boat that I am hoping to get to see someday.

Well, that is the boats story. If your travels ever bring you to Upstate NY, please look me up and feel free to ask to go for a ride on her (I would even let you drive).

Fellow Woody Boater – Dan Reed

Dan's Riviera 6

Thanks for sharing the story of your now 60 year-old Riviera with us here at Woody Boater today Dan. The fact that you and your family have cared for the boat for over 50 years says a lot about how much you appreciate what you have. And we love to hear stories about old wooden boats that have survived their entire life on the same lake – it’s just fantastic.

Your Chris-Craft Riviera deserves the respect you give her. Happy Birthday “Mooring Wood” and let’s hope you live to see many more birthdays on Canandaigua Lake.

And to all the Riviera owners out there, if your boat isn’t getting the respect you think it deserves, you always have a place to come to here at Woody Boater, becuase we love them all, big or small.


43 replies
  1. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    I don’t know why we don’t see more of these beautiful Chris Craft models at shows and events. However, I hope this story motivates our good friend Carl Garmhaus to complete his 18 ft. Riviera that he has been working on for way too long. That restoration completion would populate Michigan area shows by one more Riviera example!

    • Fraser Davis
      Fraser Davis says:

      Have 20 Riviera r20 716 believe 52 original engine mbl have had years of fun Boat was used in Greenwood Lake Nj as a ferry to gambling club Was named ACE Bought in late 70s renamed ( boat) SOON COME It has been in storage waiting to have some more action! Best wishes to Riv owners

  2. Troy
    Troy says:

    My amature thoughts would be that these boats are owned more by users than showers (for whatever reason). I am not trying to say that those who show their boats don’t use them, just that there are a large number of boats that have been restored for use and not for show points.
    Maybe if we can encourage people to participate in shows just for the pleasure of being with other like minded friends with less emphasis on originality and points more we will see more of the Riviera’s and others.

    • Paul H
      Paul H says:

      Troy – I would like to submit my observation that the majority, and often large majority, of boats entered in shows are not judged, they are there simply because their owners want to participate in the show. Many boat shows are not even judged, so while your thought it is a good one, the reality is that most boats are seldom if ever judged to begin with. It remains difficult to account for the scarcity of Riviera’s at shows, restored for judged success or otherwise.

      • Troy
        Troy says:

        Paul – Thanks for the clarification. Since I have not been involved in shows for decades, and then only as a kid with my Dad, I guess mine was a “Miss Perception” (that could be a good name for a boat). Hope to get more involved over the comming years.

        • Texx
          Texx says:

          Thanks for your input Troy.

          A good example is the non-judged Sunnyland show in Florida where folks come to have fun. We usually see quite a range of post-war wooden boats at that show, in all types of condition. But only two or three Rivieras over the last 5 years that I can remember.

  3. Chad
    Chad says:

    I have no idea. They are gorgeous boats. I often feel the same way about the 18′ Sportsman. With high production numbers, you’d think there would be more out there at shows. I believe I read it somewhere that in 1952, Chris Craft offered the largest selection of models.

    You see plenty of Customs but few Rivieras, you see hoards of U-22s, but few U-18s. What gives?

    Perhaps the cost of restoring a high-number, low-collectible value boat is the issue?

  4. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    If they had not built the 20 custom, the Riv would be my favorite of the post war boats. I would think that is also the issue with the show crowd. If you are going to spend the money to chase a 100 point boat, it seems like you will end up with a more valuable boat if you start with a barrel back or 20 custom. Of course that means you will be a little less in the hole, certainly not making big profits!

    As for the ride offer, if the sun stays out, I might have to make the 20 minute drive to Canandaigua this afternoon!

  5. Doug P
    Doug P says:

    To me when somebody says Chris Craft, …I envision a Riviera.

    Never been fortunate enough to have one..

  6. Dave Clyne
    Dave Clyne says:

    Where do I start ? What a wonderful Sunday morning read !
    Thanks, Texx, for featuring the Riviera. Thanks to Mr. Scott and to Mr. Reed for sharing their beautiful boats. A trip to upstate NY is only a short jaunt from the Ottawa valley. I will definitely be in touch. I can see a highlight of the summer coming. My “Riviera Barnfind” loves this kind of encouragement. Just when I think Woodyboater can’t get any better you go and do something like this. I’m still smiling…

  7. Paul H
    Paul H says:

    I love stories about boats like this informally named Riviera, and this long-term connection with the boat that Dan has is the emotive essence of much in our hobby, and other hobbies as well. Preserved boats are the highest rung in my personal book. Anybody can restore any boat with enough money and skill, but it takes a different kind of committment to maintain and preserve a boat over decades of use. It also takes a different kind of appreciation to keep the boat as-is or as-was and not make it too good, especially for those who wish to show against the furniture-like perfection that many restored boats project. For me, there is no better boat than those that are as original as possible and used and enjoyed – Riviera, Custom or otherwise. The repair and refinish on my BB is nearing completion and the first thing that will happen to it is that it will be put back into the water and used.

    The infrequent appearance of Riviera’s at shows is confounding, and I for one happen to find the blonde deck boats to be very appealing. My Continental is “sort of” a blonde deck, among the last of the breed I guess. The 20′ Riv should be a very collectible boat, I would think – I’d like one. I hope we see more of them soon. Perhaps it is that there are many mouldering in barns, or being slowly restored by amateur restorers, but as is pointed out, the number produced suggests there should be more survivors.

    I don’t know that resotration cost is the reason, there are very few boats, even BB’s, where values are equal to or less than acquisition and restoration cost. A grey BB probably costs as much as a good user Riviera, and perhaps that reflects scarcity but seems crazy to me. In any event, these blonde-decks of the ’50’s are lovely looking boats and they have a real visual “snap” to them to I like. Thanks for the feature, and I hope to see the Reed’s boat displayed with pride at the big ACBS International show at Skaneateles in 2014.

    • dreed
      dreed says:

      Thank you Paul, and thank you Texx for publishing this story. To me the pleasure of owning and maintaining a classic boat is the joy I get when people that know the boat and it’s history see it and say “your grandfather would be proud”.

      Paul, I will mark my calander for Skaneateles 2014. I look forward to meeting you.

  8. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    I don’t think the number of Rivieras produced account for the scarcity. Chris Craft produced even more 17 ft. Deluxe Utilities (1880) between 1946 and 1950. At every show I take mine to, there are usually one to three more participating. I also believe the Riviera is a more valuable boat, so that is not the answer.

  9. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    Correction, in my previous comment, I intended to say Deluxe Runabouts, not Deluxe Utilities.

  10. John Kadimik
    John Kadimik says:

    Here’s one we used as a sign at Northwood Boat Works. This Riviera was retired when famed boat racer / boat builder Larry Lauterbach’s record setting hydro ” Lauterbach”s Special” went through the side. That was September 16, 1984 at the Lake Hopatcong Grand Prix. Larry was “chucked out” on the final turn and the boat kept going until it hit the riviera. Larry later admitted that he forgot to put the kill switch on. ( Sorry Larry)

  11. chuck symmes
    chuck symmes says:

    chad, i have a ’47 18′ sportsman for sale. photos are on miklos brothers boats for sale page. 1186 made, and just a utility,and so usually stored outside.and we know how that story ends.frank miklos is a judge and says,like you,he never sees these at shows.i bought it for parts but would rather find a home for it if possible.anyone interested contact me at 317-293-6305.

  12. MikeM
    MikeM says:

    Paul, I will be bringing a beautifully restored 20′ Riv to market sometime this summer. I can deliver it to Coer d’Alene for you!

  13. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    My first Riviera, an 18 footer had an 8D battery in it. For those who know heavy equipment, they were used to start diesel bulldozers and had 1500 CCA’s. That should have been my first clue that there would be problems.

    The second clue should have been the upholstered king plank (this was before I knew anything about CCABC or ACBS). After pulling that off, I found the king plank painted yellow, strike 3. After a few uses, we found the boat really beyond restoration (this was 30 yrs ago) but learned a valuable lesson.

    I’ve always coveted the Riv, baby boomers grew up in the “blonde” era, Marilyn Monroe, blonde oak modern furniture, Herman Miller, Heywood-Wakefield, even large console TVs with massive blonde oak cabinets. I’m sure those designs influenced CC or visa-verse and consequently created a desire for “blondes” which still flows through my veins.

    I finally purchased a quality Riv from a Mocksfield/George Johnson collaboration own jointly but stored up in NH barn which George showed me after I wouldn’t bite on his “backyard” treasures in Wolfeboro.

  14. 'Bone Daddy' Deems
    'Bone Daddy' Deems says:

    I have been working on my 1954 Chris-Craft 20′ Riviera for a few years now (have two other woodies, and help an 80 year old buddy’s 4 more!) So I slowly progress a little each year. Flipped over now and can’t wait to see her float….I will keep my original MBL handy, but was thinking of a big block V-8 powerplant with aluminum heads, pan, headers, etc. to lower weight down. Anybody had experience with this set up in a Rivi or 20′ Custom? and I don’t plan to beat it to death either…. “Bone Daddy”

    • m-fine
      m-fine says:

      On a 20’er I would go with a small block especially since you mentioned weight as a concern. A 350-400 sb with aluminum heads and exhaust will save you a lot of weight from a M or K with plenty of power to move that size boat.

  15. John Kadimik
    John Kadimik says:

    George Johnson tried to sell me this Riviera 20 years ago. I took this picture in his barn in New Hampshire. Is this your boat?

    • floyd r turbo
      floyd r turbo says:

      No, the one you have pictured is more complete, mine had no motor or name on the transom. It originally had a KLC with a thrown rod which gone but found some broken block metal in the bilge (maybe water frozen busted the block). The seats had been reupholstered in light yellow, otherwise the boat was straight, no rot, with no windshield brackets, bow light, stern or bow pole, or trailer. I think I paid $3875 after borrowing $75 from my then girlfriend (now wife) and 175 for a very sketchy trailer to get it back to Georgia.

  16. Sean
    Sean says:

    These Rivierias are an icon. Personally, I think they are one of the nicest CC runabout packages. Although I would choose a Capri first,…I would never apologise for having a Riv on my trailer.

    BTW; great story today fellas.

  17. mischevious
    mischevious says:

    I too have a 54 riv “MischeviousToo” . Found her in a boat house on the river the varnish looked like in was applied with a wisk broom she had not been in the water in 10 years. She’s just about finished new bottom,stripped and revarnished hope to have her in the water in May. The problem with the riv;s is with the kl or klc with 4 to 5 people in the boat and a chop on the water she’s a wet ride.

  18. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    I would be remiss in not recognizing Dan Reed and his family first of all for the great story and second for the stewardship of their Riv, it is a marvelous example. That original upholstery is to die for, love the grain pattern, color is rich, and the off white pleated “shoulder” and dash pad really sets off the interior with the mahogany. The rake of the bow pole, stern pole and windshield all match up with the flowing sweep of the outer windshield brackets and large expanse of blonde wood on the aft deck, and what a fabulous patina on your king planks. Additionally the moderate tumblehome and curvature of the transom adds to the beauty of this boat with evenly spaced chrome ventilators to add bling, great combination. That split raked windshield with near vertical cutwater is a timeless look.

    • steve bunda
      steve bunda says:

      We have restored quite a few Rivs, I usually prefer original interior colors, but this boat owner wanted something different. I must admit it turned out quite nice! We followed the original stitching on the seats and cushions.

    • dreed
      dreed says:

      Thank you Floyd. I am glad that you recognize the originality of the boat, and appreciate the effort it has taken to keep it original. It makes me feel good to see people “in the know” recognize the effort it takes to keep a 60 year old boat look as good as it can be.

  19. Texx
    Texx says:

    Is this what Dan Reed’s boat dock is going to look like this summer after publishing this story?

  20. Loren Sattler
    Loren Sattler says:

    I owned a 1953 20 ft Riviera (Hull R20-731) from 1975 to 1990. It had an MBL then I installed a 318 Chrysler for more power for waterskiing. It was a nice running boat, but rode hard compared to prewar boats. Once I got a ride in a 20 ft Custom it was far superior to my Riviera, no pounding and very smooth. Unfortunately, Chris Craft did more than just cheapen up the trim and interior.

    The MBL was a good performer (for a flat head), but the 318 made the boat fast, about 45 mph.

    My theory on why they are not shown is that perhaps there are not that many that have lasted. The craftmanship was not that good. The decks would easily absorb water leading to rot behind the heavy round covering boards. Further, the post war lumber was lower quality leading to premature rotting, in my opinion.

    These boats were not inexpensive. I believe the 1953 price was around $4000., a hansom sum for that era.

    • Chris P.
      Chris P. says:

      Interesting discussion. The published weight of a 20′ Custom is 2635-3735 lbs. The published weight of a 20′ Riviera is 2500-2800 lbs. That is a significant difference given the two hulls appear to have similar shape/dimensions. Is 3735 lbs correct? I can see why the ride quality of a 20′ Custom would be better (softer) given the weight difference of 2500 lbs vs 3735 lbs.

      • Texx
        Texx says:

        Chris – The post war 20-ft Custom is a completely different hull vs the Riviera. Some consider the Custom to be one of the most complex hull designs of the period, much more robust as well. Thus the higher weight. The Custom also offered the big Hercules M engine (vs the K, KBL, series in the later Riviera) which could add to the overall weight of the Custom.

    • chuck symmes
      chuck symmes says:

      About two weeks ago I got a phone call from a guy who had seen this thread.He apparently had not seen the date on it.I had sold that boat a few months later.He asked me about the boat without making it clear which one,and I told him about a ’58 17′ sportsman pattern boat I have now.It has a KFL and almost all the parts.He must have been a newb,as he was rude when I explained it to him.Once again I am close to parting it out,but don’t want to.If interested please call 317-293-6305. thanks

  21. Steven Reed
    Steven Reed says:

    We spent many a summers admiring (and washin’) Gramp’s ’53 Riviera on Canandaigua Lake; ridin’ in it, too when we could get him to take it out and open it up.
    True “classics” – Gramp, and his boat… Couldn’t be prouder of you little brother – great job keeping the ‘ole guys’ alive! You’ll probably never see this, but not a soul out there appreciates it more than me. Thanx.

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