LADY DI IS BACK IN THE WATER! CLICK ON THUMBNAIL TO VIEW FULL SIZE PICTURE.
SCROLL DOWN FOR STORY AND PICTURES ON THE REBUILD.
NEW PHOTOS ADDED FEBRUARY 1ST, 2012. SCROLL DOWN TO SEE THEM. CLICK ON THUMBNAIL TO VIEW FULL SIZE PICTURES.
The following is a little background information and status update on the Little John's Motorsports 38 Commander restoration project:
My wife Diane and I have owned our 1969 38' Chris Craft Commander Sedan "Lady Di" since 1999. The Chris Craft Commander has a fiberglass hull and superstructure with classic wood boat lines and interior, something you just don't find in modern boats. The boat was in good shape when we purchased it and it has always been in fresh water. The boat had all of its original equipment and gel coat when we purchased it. Other than the transom, the white gelcoat is all original and nearly perfect. The engines were the original 300 hp Chris Craft Marine 427s, which are based on the same 427 FE motor casting and configuration Ford used to dominate Nascar in the mid 60s. We made many improvements in the interior and exterior appearance of the boat over the years and have kept everything on the boat as original as possible.
This phase of the Commander project started in the fall of 2009 when the port engine broke a connecting rod on our way to Alton for the weekend. For those of you who know me, in my typical fashion I could not just fix that broken engine and get back to boating like everyone else. I wanted to do something with the boat that I have never seen anyone else do. As it turns out, the engines were pulled in the spring of 2010 just before I started driving the Little John's Motorsports dragboat Kwithchabitchin. My focus over the past two years shifted from the Commander project to dragboat racing and the Commander project slowed to a crawl as a result. Diane loves her boat and kindly and tactfully refocussed me on the Commander at the end of the 2011 dragboat season to be sure her boat would be ready for the 2012 boating season. Hopefully the Commander project turns out as well as our 2011 dragboat season. We won the Top Eliminator High Points Championship in both the Kentucky Drag Boat Association and the St. Louis Drag Boat Association and were Runner Up in the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series. If Little John can keep plugging away, I am sure it will. The hours involved to date are incredible, hundreds and hundreds, maybe over a thousand between the two of us. It is just a matter of putting our minds to it.
The bilge of the boat has been completely stripped and repainted from the transom to the bow. When I mean stripped, I mean stripped. Motors, generator, water tank, holding tank, electrical system, water system, fuel system, thru hull fittings, rudder boxes, trim tabs, shaft logs, swim platform brackets, toilet, .... all were out. It was a basically a bare hull, a clean slate to have fun with.
The motors were completely disassembled and every part has been blasted and repainted. Todd of Todd's Machine who builds our drag boat motors bored and stroked the motors from 427 to 470 cubic inches and fitted them with all new race spec balanced internals. The pistons and camshafts were custom one-offs designed to run the ethanol blends of fuel we will see at our favorite gas docks in the near future. We are in the process of installing electronic fuel injection and timing control which will allow us to get the most power and efficiency out of the engines as the fuel available changes. It will be fun to see how much of a change those engine improvements will make in the efficiency and performance of the boat. It was no slouch before. The engines have been designed and built to outlast their original configuration, so they should be good for another 40 years or so.
The decision was made to replace the original flathead four-cylinder Kohler 6.5 KW generator with a brand new Westerbeke 5.0 KW generator. The new Westerbeke will be far lighter and more fuel efficent and it will produce little or no carbon monoxide while operating. The generator was moved from its original location just aft of the cabin bulkhead to the rear bilge compartment where the original 75 gallon steel water tank was located. The new location of the generator will help eliminate the noise and carbon monoxide concerns I had with the original generator.
The entire electrical system has been updated to current standards. All of the through hull hardware has been replaced. The boat is also being fitted with new plastic water and waste tanks, dual heat source water heater, water distribution system, and fuel distribution system. The plywood decking in the engine room and generator room has been replaced with 3/4" white starboard, which really looks nice against the fresh grey bilgecoat.
Stay tuned. The dirty work of this project is almost over and the fun part is starting. This will be an original classic 1969 sedan cruiser with the guts and infrastructure of a modern sport cruiser. I can't wait to get the engines back in and make some shake-down runs. If anyone wants to check out the results of this restoration project this spring feel free to contact one of us. It will all come together over the next few weeks. If you want results, please think of Little John's Marine Service for you custom restoration and fabrication projects.
See you on the water.