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1955 Chris-Craft 21' Cobra

One of the most recognizable boats ever produced is the Chris-Craft Cobra.  They were only made one year…1955 and only 106 were made (55 21’, and 51 18’).  It was also the company’s first experiment with fiberglass, the distinctive gold engine cover with the fin.  They never expected this model to be a large seller due to its limited seating capacity and overall utility, but just the same it’s a darn hot-looking boat and one of the most sought after classics today.  Even though a few more 18’ models were made, the 21’ is the most collectable.

The owner was weary of the leaking hull and wanted a worry free bottom…after all it’s more than fifty years old now.  There are also some short planks which we’ll replace once the new 5200 bottom is completed.  Then it’s a badly needed strip and refinish.

The boat rolled over quite easy with just three of us, and then we began removing the bottom by first using a wire wheel to expose the screws.  Some work had been done before as many stainless Canadian square-drive fasteners were found.  As with most every bottom we’ve seen, there was much rot in the canvas and just plain tired wood.  To our great surprise and delight, the frames were in excellent condition and needed no attention other than de-greasing, a good cleaning, and all the bolts tightened.

You’ll notice in the next two photos the large gap between the first and second frames.  Most frames are about 12” apart, but the gap here was 24”.  We’ve been adding a frame in between the two to bridge that gap and add some extra strength.  It only makes sense while we’re here and have the bottom off.  Once the framework was cleaned it was sealed with CPES and then painted with thinned bilge paint in areas that will be impossible to access later.

The European BS1088 certified Okume was dry fitted then sealed with CPES before put down with temporary fasteners and washers.  Those will be removed in a few days after the 5200 has time to cure.  We always leave about a ‘penny’ gap between the planks so the 5200 will have some room to ooze out, but up front near the stem where the wood gets stained and varnished we size with a tight seam as the 5200 will be noticeable after finishing.  This is easy work with some patience and a good hand plane.  Be sure to use washers up there, even when dry fitting, as you can easily end up with a broken or split plank due to the compound bends.

********* UPDATE ********

We’re making steady progress on this soon to be beautiful Cobra.  A friend of mine, Terry Fiest, gave me the correct formula for the gold bottom color.  It turned out quite nice.  We let that dry for a week before rolling back over.  We removed the four short planks and replaced with two new proper length planks on both sides of the hull.  Even though the wood matched up quite well, we’ll still bleach to get better uniform color.  The splash rails had been replaced at some point in time with incorrect white oak, so we replaced those with Philippine mahogany.  During our initial fairing many of the bungs were thin (loose fasteners), so the fasteners were replaced and new bungs inserted.  We bleached the boat then applied the two stains.  We really like the Z-Spar Chris-Craft Red for the post war mahogany color and Sandusky’s Corina for the blond section.  It just makes a great contrast.  Some say the blond sections on all of Chris-Craft’s boats were more ‘gold’ than yellow.  Well, I have an actual color factory photo of a ’55 Capri…and the blond is definitely more yellow.  As the varnish ages in the sun it turns to a more golden hue as the varnish darkens with time.  That’s also why older untouched boats may appear a little darker…the varnish turns darker with age.  Anyway, the boat is stained and now we’re on to varnishing. 

Finishing the Project

All we had to do to finish the beautiful Cobra was apply two coats of sealer and ten or so coats of Flagship varnish.  What took quite a bit of time was pin striping the decks.  It’s a very long reach over the center of the forward deck and my back was a little sore when finished (age, I guess).  Anyway, we painted the boot stripe, sprayed the bilge, re-seated both the shaft and rudder logs, and now she looks as good as new.

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