By Matt Gurnsey
Modern Classics: Evolution of a Motoryacht
Chris-Craft's 500 Constellation and 501 Motor Yacht still turn heads.
As the 1960s drew to a close, the flushdeck motoryacht was the symbol of status and style. The two largest producers of these wooden beauties were Chris-Craft and Pacemaker.
As the 1970s got under way, fiberglass had replaced wood as the boat building material of choice — and still, the flushdeck motoryachts continued to rule. So prevalent was this style that even Bertram built some flushdeck models on its deep-V sportfisher hulls.
In 1977, Pacemaker introduced a new 46 flushdeck motoryacht. The same year, Chris-Craft produced flushdeck models in 41-, 45- and 55-foot lengths.
Within three years, Pacemaker would be out of business — and a few years after that, Chris-Craft would change hands (again) and struggle to maintain its market share.
While the Pacemaker 46 lasted only three years, it was one of the best-looking flushdeck yachts around. So, after the company’s demise in 1980, Bellingham, Washington-based Uniflite picked up the molds and added the 46 to its own line of boats.
Uniflite was known for building rugged, conservatively styled boats, and the former Pacemaker fit right in. The 46 gave Uniflite its first true motoryacht.
For the next three years, Uniflite produced a limited number of these 46-footers. Retaining the teak interior, solid fiberglass construction and unique three-stateroom layout (one of the cabins doubled as a den), Uniflite made few changes to the boat. As with Pacemaker, most of the 46 models were sold with enclosed aft decks, giving a large saloon living area with a commanding view.
The Chris-Craft/Uniflite Connection
By this time, businessman Dale Murray had acquired Chris-Craft. By 1984, he had decreased the company’s large variety of boats to a line of about a dozen cruisers (including Chris-Craft’s only trawler).
Murray was looking to expand his production capacity as the economy began recovering and hoped that, through volume production, he could return Chris-Craft to success — and rival the glory days of the 1960s.
With Uniflite in dire straits because of ongoing issues with gelcoat blistering, Murray was able to acquire the firm’s Bellingham facility, its molds and its trained work force. Immediately, this allowed Chris-Craft to expand its production capacity — and its variety of models.
While some Uniflite models were retired, many were reissued as Chris-Crafts, with only a logo change. Over the next few years, many of the former Uniflite models were updated with new Chris-Craft-designed superstructures, while some continued basically unchanged. The 46 Pacemaker/Uniflite /Chris-Craft was one of the designs that was continued.
A 50-footer Is Born
Uniflite had already extended the mold for the 46 to create a 50-foot sistership. Only a couple were produced before Uniflite closed its doors.
With an enlarged saloon and master suite, the 50 had all the successful attributes of the 46, only more of them. While looking almost identical to the smaller 46 from a distance, the 50 features an enlarged flybridge and aft deck saloon area — and it was even better proportioned than its smaller sibling. These boats still looked like classic Chris-Crafts in their basic styling and layout, due to the similarity of the Chris-Craft and Pacemaker flushdecks.
After changing the deck molds of some of the Uniflite models and designing some new models to be built at the Bellingham plant, Chris-Craft stylists turned their attention to the 50 flushdeck. While most of their stylistic changes were a minor freshening, their plans for the 50 were so different that the “old” Uniflite 50 (now called the Chris-Craft 500 Constellation) and the new 50 (dubbed the Chris-Craft 501 Motor Yacht) were sold side by side for the next few years.
Other than sharing the same 4-degree deadrise hull, the two boats have almost nothing in common.
Chris-Craft Fills Out Its 501s
Chris-Craft engineers moved the engines farther aft on the 501, gaining a stand-up engine room with plenty of room for maintenance. The pilothouse was moved farther forward and the lower saloon was eliminated in favor of a super-size saloon on the main deck.
The enclosed main deck features a door to a small aft deck for line-handling duties. A huge flybridge tops the deck, with room for dinghy storage on the hardtop.
The master stateroom is below and aft, behind the engine room. Accessible from the main saloon by a spiral staircase that leads only to the master, it is a private retreat for the boat’s owners. It includes a walk-around king-size berth, a large hanging locker and an oversized head with a tub and shower.
Craftsmanship is evident in the cabinetry and teak work. While it may not be as fancy as some more expensive yachts, the workmanship is solid.
The forward end of the saloon is the helm location (an up-galley located between the saloon and helm was offered in 1990). Visibility is excellent from this station, with a large glass windshield and sliding doors to port and starboard. A seat is molded into the forward section of the cabin top, reminiscent of classic Chris-Crafts of the 1960s.
A passageway, to port, leads belowdecks to the lower cabin level. An amidships guest stateroom with a queen-size walk-around berth is here, as well as a guest head with shower. Not as large as the master head, this is comparable in size to the main head on many cruisers in the 40-foot range.
The stateroom has adequate hanging locker space and stowage, and it has a vanity table and chair. The companionway between this stateroom and the head leads to the engine room.
Forward of the main guest stateroom is the galley, to starboard, and a dinette, to port. This is not a galley designed to be used for entertaining. Rather, it is a functional work space. Combined with a small head, forward, and bunk-style berths, it is really geared for a crew’s use.
On the optional galley-up layout, this area is reworked to offer two additional staterooms — one with a walk-around queen-size berth in the bow and another that can be used as a den or office, to starboard. An enlarged head — suitable for guests instead of crew — is to port.
The “den” stateroom comes with a settee that converts to a berth, as well as desk space. Liveaboards or long-range cruisers who do business aboard will enjoy this layout, as it keeps the work, living and sleeping spaces separate.
Not as fast as many boats in this size range today, the 50 Chris-Crafts were powered by twin 550 hp 6V-92TA Detroit Diesels. With a 17-knot cruise speed and a 19-knot top speed, the 50 won’t win any races — but the boat is comfortable at these speeds, and behaves predictably.
Financial difficulties forced Murray Chris-Craft into bankruptcy in 1990, and motoryacht production came to an end. In all, it was a pretty good run for a hull originally designed 13 years earlier.
Since success is often copied in the boat building business, there is a postscript to this story. In 1989, Jefferson Yachts came out with its 52 Marquessa MotorYacht. In design and layout, it is almost a dead ringer for the 501 Chris — and it was still being built in the year 2000.
Survival of the fittest, indeed.
Chris-Craft 501 Motor Yacht Specifications
|Fuel capacity||78 gallons|
|Water capacity||260 gallons|
|Standard power||twin 550-hp 6V-92TA Detroit Diesels|
|Typical used boat price||$300,000 to $450,000|
|Years of production||1987-1990|
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