REVIEW: CHRIS-CRAFT SPEEDSTER

By: David Lockwood


Having long been the choice of the social elite, Chris-Craft has upped the ante in the 20ft market with the Speedster – a day boat that just oozes style and sophistication

In 1874, Jesse James’ gang robbed a train at Gads Hill, Missouri; Harry Houdini, the magician and escape artist, was born; Levi Strauss began marketing blue jeans with copper rivets at US$13.50 per dozen; and the Sydney General Post Office in Australia opened. Later, barbed wire was invented before Jesse James’ gang returned and decided to take another train, this time in Kansas, just before Christmas.

It was also the year that Chris-Craft began building pleasure boats and, in the ensuing decades, a lot of water has passed under the hulls of this enduring American icon. And one can’t overlook the list of dignitaries who haven't recoiled from being seen aboard a Chris-Craft.
Never far from the limelight, Chris-Craft takes centre stage in the latest Mission: Impossible movie with Tom Cruise fanging along the Venice canals in a nail-biting boat chase. More impressively, these have been the boats of choice of the Vanderbilts, Fords and Firestones, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.
So as you can appreciate I’m keeping good company when I venture onto Sydney Harbour in Chris-Craft's new Speedster. What's more, this is the Woody Edition, with extra eye candy by way of teak accents, a pretty tan hull, and engine upgrade.

WOODY HERITAGE
While no longer building timber boats, Chris-Craft still makes craft that ooze style. It teams the latest technology with timeless lines and beautiful handcrafted accents. The Speedster, especially the Limited Edition Woody, rode in high style as though it was a convertible café racer hunting for attention.
One of the latest Chris-Crafts in the range, the 20-footer was borne out of a call from faithful owners for a smaller boat, something that would be suitable for day racing and watersports, that I imagine might also be swung from davits off a superyacht or garaged at a waterfront. With a 2.41m beam, the Speedster Woody Edition is also completely trailerable.
Construction is nothing too exotic and all GRP, but the devil is very much in the detail. Examine the finish in out-of-the-way places and you will see meticulousness not normally found in manufactured boats. By my reckoning, the engine installation and engineering were in keeping with high-end luxury cruisers and the finish above decks will most certainly appease the fastidious buyer.
Add the timeless runabout styling with tumblehome aft and flared bow forward, and teak accents of this Woody model, and you have a boat that covets attention. The optional tan hull with coach stripe and teak boarding platform add to the good looks, while an upgraded 270hp small-block Volvo V8 inboard with Aquamatic sterndrive leg and optional selectable Corsa exhaust means this Speedster will be seen and heard. When switched to straight-through mode, the V8 purred like a Harley.

SPECIAL TOUCHES
The engine room was definitely a cut above that in your average 20-footer, with a fully-moulded liner, watertight forward bulkhead, good access to the sender on the forward fuel tank which had double-clipped fuel lines, and plenty of servicing room around the Volvo motor.
There was a clean wiring run to a busbar, with main battery isolator and primary breakers alongside. The silver-Mylar sound insulation added to the quiet ride and the non-skid engine room lids lifted easily on gas struts. Either side of the motor were storage boxes for things like hoses and chamois, mooring lines and wet togs. The boat had a supplied safety package including a fire-fighting system.
The decks were dotted with gorgeous designer fittings fashioned from high-grade polished stainless steel and held in place with chromed stainless steel bolts or screws, the heads of which were aligned, I noted. The stainless steel engine vents, exhaust ports, pop-up cleats, custom nav light, horn, flagstaff, Chris-Craft insignia and badge were nice touches, as was the logo on the console door beside the helm seats, themselves on polished seat bases.
The Woody Edition includes teak accents that run from a centre foredeck rail and deck rails to the swim platform, practical teak cockpit sole and drinkholder inserts. Hooray, the Speedster has an anchor locker, which isn’t always the case on an American 20-footer.
More ‘cool’ is reflected in the two-piece AmeriShield windscreen, the stainless steel hinges on the boat’s opening hatches, and the pop-up ski pole, to which you can add stainless steel struts and tana canvass for the canopy, kept in a big locker under the aft lounge.

DAYBOAT SPACE
As with all good dayboats, the Speedster harbours plenty of storage, with a mile of room under the foredeck, which can be accessed on your haunches. This would be a great spot for stowing clothes and personals and it’s totally protected from inclement weather and spray.
Besides the big lined storage bin under the aft lounge the Speedster has a carpet-lined underfloor ski and wakeboard locker, lined glovebox with room to stow a Prada handbag, and two drinkholders. The clip-in storage satchel at the helm will come in handy for personals, while the underfloor hatch with Igloo cooler caters for picnics.
In respect of seating, the Speedster can take three adults — and comfortably, I might add — on its rear lounge, plus two in the helm seats. But given the positioning of the aft (stainless steel) grabrails, the rear lounge is best for two and, as such, the Speedster would make a great two-couple runabout.
The camel-coloured vinyl upholstery and stitching was very well done, with perforated breather panels and a soft, sexy feel. The cockpit was also traced by padded coamings, while the hip-hugging helm seats had flip-up bolsters. Beautiful seats, they were, offering a good view forward. There is also an aft sunpad in need of just a fluffy towel and figurehead.

DRIVING TIME
You look over the Speedster windscreen when driving, but rest easy as this will forever be a boat in which you drive wearing designer shades. The helm seats are adjustable, as was the timber steering wheel, and the Speedster had an upgraded Sony sound system with two-channel amp, plus separate in-dash and in-transom remotes.
The walnut dash panel featured aircraft-type honeycomb alloy facias with retro-looking Chris-Craft engine gauges, plus depth sounder, trim gauge and speedo. Topped off with a matching timber-knob on the throttle, the Speedster was very much the stylish sporty dayboat raring to go.
I turned the key and the note from the upgraded 5lt GXi MPI 270hp Volvo was exciting. The day cruiser edged out of the marina and before long I was savouring the wind-in-your-hair drive. Reflecting a high degree of efficiency, the boat comes onto the plane at 2200rpm and 8.3kts, levelling out with full leg-in trim at 2500rpm and 18kts.
I clocked a comfortable low-speed cruise of 23.4kts at 3000rpm, where the boat was just so quiet, and a smooth cruise at 3500rpm and 30kts. So you are going to cover some water in the aptly named Speedster. Think Middle Harbour to the Fish Markets in no time.
Fast cruising was clocked at 4000rpm and 34kts, with top speed of 41kts at 4900rpm. All the while, the boat’s fine entry really split the harbour ferry wake and ensured a dignified ride on the plush helm seats and that accommodating rear lounge.
Of course, at $89,990 on trailer, the 20ft Speedster is priced as a premium product. But this is value for money, as Chris-Craft delivers in so many ways, not least being the smooth ride from the deep-vee hull with a sharp 20 degrees of deadrise. In fact, it was so smooth and swift across the bumpy harbour that the boat travelled like a nautical sportscar with the best suspension.
Clearly, Chris-Craft has come a long way since it was founded all those years ago. But despite its heritage, it remains true to its roots and offers something new and something old in the Speedster. Oh, and real driver pleasure for the small-boat connoisseur.

WHAT WE LIKED
Cool retro styling with Woody teak trim
Finely crafted boat
Terrific attention to detail
Excellent electronics, engineering and engine installation
High-quality deck fittings, windscreen, upholstery and helm layout
Great V8 note, sporty handling and great motion through the water
An exceptional boat for the connoisseur

NOT SO MUCH
Upmarket finish will require care and maintenance
Exposed self-tapers under foredeck could cut a hand or head
Priced as a premium product and perhaps not as readily resaleable as more mainstream production boats
Runabouts offer less seating than an equivalent-length bowrider

 

SPECIFICATIONS: Chris-Craft Speedster – Woody Edition

HOW MUCH?
Price as tested: $89,99O w/ Volvo 270hp petrol inboard, trailer, options, safety gear and registrations.
Options fitted: Upgraded motor and Woody model includes teak package and emblem, polished seat bases, custom burl dash, sound installation and selectable exhaust. Also optional hull colour, teak-swim platform, upgraded stereo and transom-mounted remote, cockpit covers, safety package, compass and trailer.
Priced from: $87,990 for Speedster Woody Edition w/Volvo 270hp 5lt GXi motor and trailer

GENERAL
Material: GRP with fully-moulded cockpit liner
Length overall: 6.15m
Beam: 2.41m
Deadrise: 20°
Weight: Approx 1293kg (dry w/base motor), about 2200-2400kg loaded on road

CAPACITIES
Berths: On deck
Fuel capacity: 129lt
Rec/max HP: 270hp
Rec/min HP: 225hp

ENGINE
Make/model: Volvo 5lt GXi MPI
Type: V8 multipoint injected petrol engine
Rated HP: 270hp @ 5000rpm max.
Displacement: 5lt
Weight: 468kg
Gearboxes (make/ratio): 1.78:1 Aquamatic sterndrive
Props: Stainless steel

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Chapman Marine Group,
Rose Bay, NSW.
Phone: (02) 9326 2867
Web: www.chriscraft.com

Originally published in TrailerBoat #208

 


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