Are Chrysler Outboard Motors Any Good? (Explained)

Chrysler Marine made boats and motors, both inboard and outboard, before being dissolved as part of Chrysler’s deal with the government to obtain bailout loans in the 1980s.

Their outboards are still occasionally seen on back creeks and with collectors and marine historians.

It is an interesting question from a historical perspective: How good were Chrysler outboards?

Here’s How Good Chrysler Outboard Motors Are:

Chrysler outboards had a strong reputation for reliability and durability, engineered to be simple, cut down on complications, potential problems, and allow owners to perform maintenance. They were not seen as good overall as Johnson outboards but sold well until the company closed.

A Brief History of Chrysler Outboard Motors

Chrysler’s founder, Walter P. Chrysler, was a fan of boat racing and produced some engines for entries in the Gold Cup race on the Detroit River.

The company experienced constant growth over the following decades, fueled by the engineering expertise and assembly-line volume that the company was known for. The motors the company produced often proved more durable than the boats they were powering.

In the 1960s, they acquired some competitors’ brands, most significantly West Bend Outboard in 1965. With this purchase, they had 29% of the marine engine market in the United States. This started a new division in the company, the Chrysler Outboard Corporation, and the first Chrysler outboards were introduced.

The outboard division of the company proved to be very successful. They went head-to-head with Johnson and Evinrude.

However, the automotive part of Chrysler was doing poorly, and the company went through extensive restructuring to receive bailout loans from the government.

Part of this restructuring was the liquidation of the marine divisions. The boat production was halted first. Then the inboard engine division was sold to Bayliner in 1983. The outboard division was sold to Force International in 1984, which was an affiliate of Bayliner.

The Brunswick group later acquired Bayliner in 1988, which was the parent of Mercury Marine. There was a brief attempt in 1991 to restart the Chrysler outboard brand with a 2-stroke engine, but it never made it past the design stages, and mercury instead continued this development.

Some of the Chrysler outboard designs were continued as Force outboards, but by 1996 Mercury Marine was discontinuing the Force brand as well.

Some Force outboards were sold as late as 1999.

How Durable Are Chrysler Outboard Motors?

Chrysler outboards had a good reputation for reliability.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the inboard engines the company was producing were seen as being more durable than the boats they were on, as boat manufacturers were experimenting, sometimes with poor results, with fiberglass.

When they acquired West Bend and began manufacturing outboards, Chrysler went all-in on that market. They proved to be popular almost immediately, owing to their simplicity of design and favorable price point.

They eventually became known for their durability, as well. The metals and plastics used were tested to last under extended saltwater conditions, and all of their manuals stressed the proper way to clean and maintain the engines.

One aspect of their design that added to their durability was their simplicity. The outboards were designed to be efficient with the fewest working parts possible.

Even as late as 1979, the company touted this as being one of their advantages. Their outboard brochure from that year invites potential customers to remove the engine cover sand compared to the competition. The brochure states:

“You’ll immediately see how Chrysler’s sophisticated simplicity of engineering design has virtually eliminated the tangle of wires, tubes, and hung-on parts that make most others so complicated…”

[Source: Chrysler 1979 Outboard catalog, from Hurrikain.com]   

Chrysler outboards and inboard engines can still be found online in places like eBay. Some are still in running shape, so this is a testament to their durability.

How Long Do Chrysler Outboard Engines Typically Last?

Most Chrysler outboards are no longer around by this time.

Whether they ultimately broke down or were replaced and junked, it is four decades since any have been made, and that is a very long time in the life of any engine.

It is, therefore, safe to say that there are not many around today on the water.

But based on historical records, there is every reason to believe that they were at least as durable as their primary competitors. There are few complaints about the quality of the engines to be found in online records.

Some of that may be that those records have not been transferred to digital format, but given how many positive things can be found concerning Chrysler outboards, it seems more likely that they were simply good outboards.

Has Chrysler made Any Recalls?

According to the database maintained by the United States Coast Guard, Chrysler Marine never made any recalls on their engines or their boats.

But the database began being maintained after Chrysler had mostly gone out of business, so there may have been recalls before the 1980s that do not show up there.

A further search of the internet did not reveal any evidence that Chrysler recalls their outboards.

What Are the Most Popular Chrysler Outboards?

Given how many models they made and improved on over the years, it is fair to say that Chrysler had many popular models.

Some of the popular early models included their 3.5 horsepower model, commonly used on sailboats and Jon boats, and their 135 horsepower model, which rivaled some Johnsons for power.

In 1970, they introduced a lightweight 13 horsepower model with an optional electric starter. They introduced a 45 horsepower model that year that sold well in succeeding years.

In 1971, they introduced a limited edition 150 horsepower racing engine. It is prized among collectors today.

In 1977, Chrysler restyled all of their outboard engines, led by their Charger brand.

The Chargers were the higher output outboard engines, featuring higher compression and larger bores in the carburetor for more performance.

Where Are Outboard Chrysler Engines Manufactured?

While they are no longer being manufactured, the outboards were made in several plants during their time.

The first was the central plant in Detroit, where inboards and outboards were made side by side. Later another facility adjacent to the main one was used for their marine engines.

After the acquisition of West Bend Outboards in 1964, all outboard manufacturing seems to have been moved to that plant in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Research indicates that the bulk of outboard manufacturing continued in this plant until the sell-off to Force International/Bayliner. At this point, no further outboards were made under the Chrysler brand.

How Is the Warranty On Chrysler Outboards?

All Chrysler outboards are now out of warranty.

Finding out just what the warranty was on Chrysler outboards is difficult. A few scans of Chrysler outboard catalogs are available online, but none seem to specify what the warranty was.

However, we found a Chrysler outboard advertisement in a 1967 Popular Mechanics magazine that specified a two-year warranty, or one year if the engine was used commercially.

Two-year warranties were fairly standard for that time, so it seems that the Chrysler warranties then and probably after were standard for the time.

Which Brands Produce Engines Similar to Chrysler?

Chrysler was ultimately done in by their parent automotive company’s failings.

The brand fared well against their competition and had things gone differently with the government bailout of Chrysler. The brand might still be in production today. It was not a lack of quality that ended their business.

One of the biggest competitors of Chrysler outboards was Johnson outboards. They went head-to-head through the 1960s and the 1970s. While Johnson was generally a little better and took more chances in developing higher horsepower engines, Chrysler held their own in the market battle right to the end.

Evinrude was their other prime competition, being in a similar price bracket and with the same name recognition. In terms of horsepower, these two companies were close.

Though Chrysler was gone by the time Yamaha and Nissan arrived onto the outboard engine scene, these two companies are also comparable in terms of the power and function that they offer.

Final Thoughts

Today, almost all aspects of Chrysler Marine, from the boats to the motors, are the realm of collectors.

In some back creeks and bays, you can still find an old Chrysler running a beat-up boat, but those are pretty few.

There is a particular specialist in acquiring and selling Chrysler boats, engines, and parts, Dave Kain of Hurrikain.com. He has many manuals on his website, and a collector or even an interested party in old Chryslers will find it a good place to start any searches.

Should you find yourself in possession of one, there is a decent chance a mechanic can get it going again if the parts are still good, owing to the simplicity of their design. Parts can still be found online.

Sources

The Chrysler Crew – Hurrikain.com

Chrysler Marine – Allpar.com

How Chrysler Marine Led the Industry – Hagerty.com

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