The Other Cobra In The Barn: 1955 Chris Craft

When you think about going fast in a Cobra, your first thought is probably of the Shelby Cobra, but it’s not the only quick snake around. This 1955 Chris Craft also happens to be a Cobra and in its day, it was fast boat! And much like the Shelby, there weren’t many of these Cobras built either. Between the 21 foot and 18 foot versions, there were less than 110 built. This one happens to be the 18 foot model, of which just 51 were built. The seller found it stashed away in a barn in Illinois and purchased it with plans of keeping it, but has since decided to embark on the Great Loop. As a result, they have decided to let it go to someone who will be able to enjoy it. If that’s you, you can find it here on eBay in Northbrook, Illinois.

Chris Craft built lots of beautiful wood hulled boats throughout the 1920s and into the 1950s, but the Cobra is a bit different from their other runabouts. For one, it’s primary focus was on being fast and fun to captain. It was meant to be a sport boat, much like the Corvette was meant to be a sports car, so passenger capacity wasn’t the top priority. Speed and style is what came first with this design, and boy does it look great. Part of it’s distinctive styling that sets it apart from other Chris Crafts are the fiberglass fins and hatch cover.

Power is provided by a Hercules KBL Tri Carb inline six engine, which was rated at right around 150 horsepower. While the larger 21′ Cobra could be optioned with either a Cadillac or a Hemi engine, all 18′ models were equipped with the inline six. While it might not create the kind of power or noise of the V8s, the inline six saved considerable weight.

While it isn’t for everyone, there’s a strong following for classic Chris Crafts with plenty of boat collectors that are willing to pay good money for nice examples. This one looks to be in good shape, but you will want to make sure to go over it carefully before trying to it out for a spin! You don’t want to get stranded in the middle a lake with no way to get back to the dock or even worse, get to the middle of the lake only to find out you are taking on water. As cool as it is, we will be admiring this one from dry land!


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  1. chad

    seen em w/the hot ford 200 i6 – triple Holley glass bowl 1v carbs (Offy adaptor) on Chessy Bay back in the day. (this 1 have YFs?). Same motor hopped up in Hot Rod mag for the early ‘stang (vicinity of 200 hp).

    Real fun toy w/awfully nice looks. IMHO needs a lill teak & brass (skip da chrome) for more show…

    Thanks for the article Josh!

  2. Nick Member

    Missed the best angle of this boat. The back view is awesome and unique.

    Like 1
  3. David Zornig

    My friend had a `48 Chris Craft with a Chrysler flathead 6.
    Every year he would fill the hull with water so it could swell.
    Before taking it onto Lake Michigan.

    • Neil Nagle

      We were big proponents of Woodies and living in MN. have plenty of opportunities to put them to use. My Dad was always pretty handy with his wood working skills and did a beautiful restoration in the mid ’50’s on a Thompson Woody. After all the blood, sweat and tears he put in, we took it to the St. Croix river for it’s maiden voyage. You cannot imagine the look of horror on his face when it promptly sank ! He learned a valuable lesson regarding ” swelling ” wooden craft.

  4. Wagon master

    Love your style Josh! This wreaks of class and enjoyment! Break Out Another Thousand …. or so….

  5. ron durchin

    Thanks for picking it up. She is stunning and I love her sitting in my garage but it needs to go to someone who will appreciate it more than me.

    Like 2
    • Mountainwoodie

      Stunning! I am a freak for wooden boats and these, while newer than the older Gar Woods and Chris Crafts I covet. are equally desireable. Just wonderful. Barn Find Boats works for me too :)

  6. Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    What a work of art! Too bad it’s right-hand drive.. (cough)..
    I hope Santa’s good to you this year, Josh, maybe you’ll find this baby under the tree!

    Like 1
    • TriPowerVette

      @Scotty Gilbertson – You mean ‘standard’ or ‘starboard side’ steering. Port-side steering is considered non-standard in the boating world.

      • Len

        Scotty is just being sarcastic. :c))

    • Josh Mortensen Staff

      Haha yeah I wish Scotty! I’ll just be happy if he leaves me something other than a lump of coal!

  7. Dolphin Member

    Back in the ’50s this would have been The Coolest boat on the lake, the one all the girls would like to be seen riding around in. I’ll bet today, too.

  8. Scot Douglas

    What!? Can’t great loop in this? ;)

  9. ccrvtt

    In my experience most sport boats of that era are RHD. Not sure why it’s an issue – planning on driving on the road?

    • grant

      Most boats steer from the starboard side, sport or not. The word “starboard” actually comes from “steering board” which was exactly what it sounds like; and was generally mounted on the right. Yes, I I have too much time on my hands….

      • Loco Mikado

        The left side being the port side, the side you tie up to the dock on to avoid damage to your “steering board”.

      • WoodyBoater

        One of the fun joys of driving one of these is backing up. There is no reverse steering. You have to use the Prop torque. The good news is the transmission is like a clutch and you can use forward and backward to make it work. Its the design of it, and in the owners manual when you would get the boat.

  10. 8banger dave Member

    We see a few Chris-Crafts up at Grand Lake in North-central Colorado, and the sight and sound is something to behold.

  11. Joe Haska

    Never wanted a boat, too much money time etc. ,old saying two best days of my life, the day I bought it and the day I sold it. Forget that! This boat changes all of that, you would be crazy not to want this, it is just too Cool! I love it!

    • TriPowerVette

      @Joe Haska – Anecdotally; One of the best days of my life was when I got my 21 foot, 454 powered, jet boat. The time I owned it were some of my best years. My wife had never been on skis before, and she quickly became a great slalom skier.

      The sight of it leaving my driveway for the last time caused tears to well up.

  12. Dusty Stalz

    Would look great towed behind the 55 Pontiac wagon. Not sure how the Poncho would handle a boat launch with its ride height tho lol.

  13. WoodyBoater

    I would recomend anyone looking to buy a 18 cobra to drive one. the difference between the 18 and 21 is HUGE! The same is said for a 17 ft Barrel Back and a 19 ft one. Its not even close to the same ride. These are amazing boats when done right, and will hold value if restored correctly, There are just a few places in the country that understand the finer details of Cobras. But well worth the journey. Photo is a 21 Cobra located at Katzs Marina in New Jersey.

    • robert vaughn

      I thought these came with Cadillac Eldorado duel quad engines!!!!!!

      • Fozbuzz Member

        It was the Century Coronados that came w/Cad motors–friend in NC has 2

      • Hugh

        They came with 331 Cadillacs and 331 Chrysler Hemis. The Cadillac powered ones were the easiest ones to handle.

    • TriPowerVette

      @WoodyBoater – This is one of the most perfect works of industrial-age art I have ever seen. Others are: the Lamborghini Miura, Jaguar XK-E, Cavalier 72 or Vendo 81 Coke Machines , 1940 Seeburg Envoy or 1940’s Wurlitzer Model 1015 Juke Boxes, and 1939 Ford N-Series Tractor. These creations cause people to stop, look and marvel, as does all great art.

  14. Achman

    These are easily $100k+ boats in good condition, and with matching number engine it is very desirable.. The pictures are terrible, very hard to tell condition. Amazes me why people would sell a piece of art such as this and use old, low resolution, crappy photos…unless trying to hide true condition. And yes, I am biased, photography is what I do for a living…but sheesh even some new cell phone pics would be better

    • ron durchin

      I spent a lot of time on those photos and even used some filters:)

      I have sold hundred if not thousands of interesting cars and boats on ebay over the years. Many have been picked up here and on the other blogs. One common remark is that I am a terrible photographer! Back in the day I had a local car photographer working for me, man could he do wonders with a camera.

      • Mountainwoodie

        We are a demanding lot!

  15. sluggo

    Already up to $45,000 and counting, Someone will step up, this is just beautiful. Always admired these wooden wonders. They need the right owner to properly care for them.

  16. Rodney

    “My Other Car is a Boat”

  17. David Miraglia

    I would rather have this Chris Craft then a modern one

  18. WoodyBoater

    Here are three generations of Chris Craft. 1940 Hydo race boat on right, NEW Chris Craft center and 21 Cobra on left as a size reference.

    • Elky

      Water born furniture..

    • Mountainwoodie

      Everything modern has a bad case of gigantism (if thats a word). Give me pre 1950 design in almost every aspect of American Industrial design

      • jackthemailman

        It’s a word.

  19. WoodyBoater

    Here is the set up! Original shipping crate, Hemi engine.. Don’t drool on the computer keys.

    • Loco Mikado

      I like the two masted sailing ship in the backgound also.

    • Mountainwoodie

      If a picture can be an oxymoron, like military intelligence, this one is.

  20. ATP Bob

    I’ve owned an old Chris, and the reason the boat is piloted from the right, is that you pull up to the dock on your right. These boats when in reverse, pull to the LEFT! If you’re going too fast, and about to hit the dock too hard, you can put it in reverse, and gun it a bit, and it will back to your left, and get you out of trouble, so you can try it again, with no damage to the boat. Any boat that has a propeller that turns clockwise, will pull to the left in reverse.

  21. Rodney

    I believe the expression is;
    “If it flys or floats or eats oats,
    rent it”

    • TriPowerVette

      +Rodney – I have owned all 3 types, and can only say, “Ownership hath it’s advantages”.

  22. Rustytech Member

    This is one nice boat. I had a wood boat like this ( a run-about ) with an outboard motor for years. It was a lot of fun for the family. Only problem was it was high maintenance ( worse than any woman ) as I got older, the constant waxing, polishing, or varnishing got real old. Then there was the swelling the wood after winter storage. I wouldn’t even consider putting one of these is salt water. All that said I’d still love to have this!

  23. Mike W H

    IN the early ’50’s the scale model of these was a toy to have! I don’t remember the maker, but my dad loved it as much as I did.

  24. Jerry Brentnell

    if these sweethearts turn your crank a couple of places to put on your bucket list are clayton new york in the thousand islands great wooden boat museum, and gravenhurst ontario has a floating inboard boat museum this was the home of gravette , seabird, and several other boat builders, hunter mahogany boats were built in orillia ontario, as well as grey marine engines, not wood but dowty turbocraft jet boats were built in ajax ontario canada! I had a 17 foot dowty powered by a 292 ford intercepter v8 with a hamilton jet unit

  25. ATP Bob

    A good place to see a lot of old woodies is at the show in early August at Lake Tahoe, at the Sierra Boat Works. Some of these boats only come out of the boathouse once a year. I saw one with a Liberty V-12 engine, and a few Lycoming’s, and Hall-Scott’s.

  26. jesus bortoni

    Works of art.

  27. ron durchin

    Regarding all the comments about the steering wheel on the starboard. Can someone explain why my 1940 17 Deluxe is LHD? Mariners museum has only one record of a 19 built with LHD.

    Oh, and since this is primarily a car site, that 1967 International Travelall 4×4 in the background will be on ebay soon! Rust free from New Mexico, Ramsey winch and AC. I drove it into my warehouse 8 years ago, started taking it apart but life got in the way.

  28. WoodyBoater

    Hi Ron, I would ask this question on the Chris Craft Boat Buzz forum. Each boat in the pre war era was made in a more custom way. You could order anything. We see this all over the place. No two boats are really the same. Heck no two sides are the same. Its very common for one side of the boat to be shorter, or off.

  29. Richard

    I grew up with wooden boats, and always thought the starboard steerage was due to the navigation rule stating that a pilot must give right-of-way to all other vessels approaching “from dead ahead to 2 points abaft the starboard beam”, and it’s just easier to view that sector from the starboard side. Although the maritime rules were established during the era of sailing ships, which had their wheel or tiller in the center of the aft section of the vessel so the pilot could watch the sails, when boats began to use engines for power their controls could be moved forward for better visibility. The starboard side was chosen for better visibility to starboard.

  30. Capt Ken

    owner of 1959 Century Coronado 21 footer with sliding white top loved her and the other 5 jet boats that came and gone now have a 40 footHoliday Mansion barracuda up in the frozen north of ND and a wooden 14 foot aristocraft torpedo both for sale I think its pontoon time at 75 always admired the 18 foot Cobra Beauty and a Beast joined together. Good Luck

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