Modifying a boat is like triggering a nuclear chain reaction. Once it starts, there’s really no stopping it.
Take this 1957 Chris-Craft, for example. It’s nothing short of a hot rod on the water, with a 440-ci Chrysler V-8 mounted beneath an elegant hatch on the wooden deck. It attracts any boater who happens upon it. But it didn’t start out that way.
As with cars, boat modifications vary widely, along with the rationale for performing them. Typically, a boat restorer, power specialist who’s replacing the engine, or the boat’s owner makes changes designed to improve safety, comfort, style and performance. From a boating perspective, this could mean an updated engine, relocation of the main cockpit, a shortened hull, changed gauges or a new deck configuration. Sometimes it’s all of that and more, but it really just means anything that differs from factory original.
Restored and modified from a stock 1957 Holiday, this was one of 143 boats built during this model and length’s three years in production. She was built as an open cockpit with seating for up to six and with lots of walking-around room; that’s an ideal cockpit configuration for water sports but not so much for a hot rod. With all that seating — and with an engine covered by a box in the center of the boat — she was no gentlemen’s racer, either, which typically placed the engine under a bright-finished, gloss-planked deck hatch positioned ahead of the driver.
So what triggered this particular chain reaction from a standard utility hull to a one-of-a-kind race boat? It’s a tale as old as time: Power.
The impetus for this boat’s new life was the decision to replace the Chris-Craft engine with a Mopar V-8. Chrysler raised-block (RB) V-8s are often referred to as "wedge" engines based on the shape of their combustion chambers, which differentiates them from Chrysler's Hemi and their distinctive hemispherical combustion chambers. This 440 RB from 1972 is rated at 335 horsepower at 4,400 rpm. A variety of 440 Chryslers with all sorts of outputs were built from 1967 to 1978, which makes aftermarket parts readily available. As such, the 440 is a popular engine to hot rod.
Another notable characteristic of this RB engine is its height. The thing’s tall. And in building up this boat, all attempts to set it in place led to the same conclusion: It simply wouldn’t fit in the Chris-Craft’s stock engine box. Thus continues the chain reaction that turned the original Holiday into what it is today. To fit the engine, the boat’s utility deck was converted into a runabout deck, with a separate decked-over engine room. Great idea, but the 440 was still too tall… Enter the planked, arched power hatch crafted onto that newly designed runabout deck, complete with a hinge that opens like a grand piano, providing excellent access for servicing the engine. Or just admiring it.
Of course, re-designing a complete deck to accommodate the power upgrade triggered additional mods. First, her hull was restored, shortened and a metal plate extension was added to the transom. A single bench seat space behind the new engine room became the only cockpit. She fits two now — or a tight three in a pinch. Additionally, new steering, instruments, dash panel and engine controls were fitted to the aft cockpit, the boat’s softest riding location.
With boats, riding behind the engine is as good as it gets. It might be a little wet, depending on wind and waves. But it’s ideal for fast, fun, classic boating, particularly when there’s a Chrysler 440 making great noises in front of you.
The result is a one-off, dream fulfilled for her owner. This Chris-Craft Holiday is blessed with graceful lines and a wood finish, which dazzles in the sun. She is powerful, attracting a crowd wherever she goes. All of these changes add up to a resto-mod that looks and acts like a gentlemen’s racer.