If you're unfamiliar with Chris-Craft boats, the worldwide luxury boating empire got its start right here in Michigan. Synonymous with speed and craftmanship, founder Christopher Columbus Smith's boats are some of the most sought after in the marine world, but did you know Chris-Craft also produced a limited number of "land cruisers"? Growing up in the Great Lakes State I knew of Chris-Craft's place in Michigan history, but I only recently learned about these lesser known campers!

Get our free mobile app

History of Chris Smith

Christopher Columbus Smith was born in St. Clair County, Michigan in 1861. Chris developed an interest in boating after his family moved to the Algonac area and at the age of 13, Chris was building boats of his own that he referred to as "skiffs".

The boats Smith produced were of such high quality that even at a young age Chris Smith was referred to as a master boat builder.  Both Chris and his brother began producing boats full-time and by 1910 Chris was part owner of the Smith Ryan Boat Company.

In 1927 Chris' son Jay took over the family business and under Jay's ownership the Chris Smith & Sons Boat Company garnered a reputation as the world's largest manufacturer of mahogany powerboats, earning the company a contract supplying boats for the U.S. Navy and Army during WWII.

Chris-Craft Land Cruiser

In 1954 the renowned boating company sought dry land and began selling a trailer kit. Most people are unaware of the Chris-Craft land cruiser's existence because the kits, which retailed for $395, were only produced for less than six months!

The illustrated instructions provided details on how to quickly and easily assemble the 14 ft. trailer, which had a high gloss aluminum exterior and birch paneling interior. The Land Cruiser could accommodate up to four campers and owners could choose between three different interior layouts with each featuring ample headroom, a dinette, galley, and a wardrobe-- only the essentials!

I was at a vintage camper rally at the Gilmore Car Museum recently where three of these Chris-Craft Land Cruisers were on display. The owners told me currently there are only about a dozen or so known to still exist. A definite rarity if you ever get the chance to see, or are blessed with the possibility of owning one!

Gilmore Car Museum Winter Wonderland 2021, just outside Kalamazoo, Michigan

The first ever Winter Wonderland at the Gilmore Car Museum, near Kalamazoo, in Hickory Corners, Michigan, is a drive-thru and walk-through nighttime holiday lights experience on the Gilmore Car Museum 90-acre campus. Christmas 2021, Holidays 2021

More From 1049 The Edge