By Michael A. Smith
In 1981 self-made millionaire G. Dale Murray and several partners bought the company, renaming it Murray Chris-Craft. Many models were cut, three Stinger high-performance boats were added to entice the go-fast crowd, and lots of ink was dedicated to proclaiming a new era of Chris-Craft. But early success was short-lived, due to amateurish management and growing competition in the go-fast market. In addition, widely publicized quality-control problems made Chris-Crafts a hard sell. In December 1988 the company declared bankruptcy and was purchased by OMC.
OMC's share of the engine market was in jeopardy in 1988, both from super-reliable Japanese outboards and Mercury Marine's MerCruiser inboards and stern drives. To combat this, OMC bought several boat companies, intending to create a captive market for its motors. Between 1988 and 2000 the company endured management shake-ups, continued to lose market share, and finally wagered everything on a new technology called FICHT, which promised to improve fuel efficiency and reduce exhaust emissions. But early FICHT outboards were disasters, OMC lost the outboard market, and in December 2000 it filed for bankruptcy. Genmar Industries bought OMC's boat companies and subsequently sold Chris-Craft to Julius and Heese.
Are the new Chris-Crafts as outstanding as the classic mahogany runabouts that made the company famous? "More than anything," says Julius, "I would like people to come look at our product. Come see, and judge for yourself."
Michael A. Smith is a licensed yacht- and commercial-boat captain living in Stamford, Connecticut.