Excerpted from "The Old Outboard Book" by
Reproduced by permission of Peter Hunn and The McGraw-Hill Companies.
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The well-accepted Chris-Craft outboards had been in production for only a few years before the famed boat maker closed its kicker division in late 1953.
A year later press releases from the executive offices of the Oliver Corporation announced the firm's purchase of the silent outboard factory, along with the rights to "two basic motors which are currently tooled and known to the public as Chris-Craft."
Attached to the typed statement was a publicity photo of what had been a Chris-Craft 5 1/2-horse Challenger motor. Someone in the PR department retouched the picture so the Oliver name appeared on both sides of its gas tank. If any of these badge-engineered Chris-Craft/Olivers were marketed, it probably wasn't many.
Actually, Oliver promised to completely modernize these engines before releasing them to sales outlets.1
The old line farm machinery manufacturer began making good on its pledge by learning which updated features outboarders might appreciate. Survey results prompted Oliver to provide its new models with a full gear shift (an F-N-R prototype Oliver lower unit got tested under an old Chris-Craft 10 powerhead), twist speed-control tiller handle, and a Tenda-Matic remote fuel tank. The 1955-premier Olivers wore the old Chris-Craft model names. The new outboard division's 5 1/2-hp motor was designated ("J") Challenger, and the bigger one, upgraded from 10 to 15 horses, sported the ("K") Commander tag.
The rigs were painted in rich blues, yellows, and reds; ads for them made the motors seem larger than life. In fact the actual outboards, with nicely accented figerglass covers, were as attractive as any motor of the era.
For 1956, model names were dropped and an electric-start version of the 15-horse made the catalog.
When Oliver first contemplated getting into the boat-motor business, it knew additional models would be added to round out the line. I had hoped to release 25- and 30-hp motors by late '55. All research pointed toward the need for bigger engines. As a result, the 35-hp, electric-start Olympus was introduced in 1957. Also tuning up the roster was the announcement that the old 5 1/2 and 15 would gain 1/2 horse and 1 hp, respectively.
Oliver brochures of 1958 again offered 6-, 16-, and 35-hp models. New that year, however, was an electric-start option on the 16.
For 1959 the Mohawk model name was assigned to the 6-horse motor. Oliver's 16 became the Lancer (with option electric start and long shaft), with the 35 (long shaft available) remaining Olympus. In an effort to compete with the major brands' big motors (the 50-hp OMC and the Mercury 70), Oliver offered twin 35s with factory-matched, counter-rotating propellers (like Champion's dual 16 1/2 Tandem 33) generating a combined 70 horses of boat thrust.
Oliver began searching for ways to make its outboard production more cost-effective. By 1960 the Oliver line was being manufactured in Great Britain. Advertisements of this period pictured an Oliver-powered cruiser rippling the coastal waters of a sleepy English village. The slogan "American designed-British built," had a nice ring to it, but did little to jingle the front doors of Oliver outboard dealerships.
In 1961 New York City
designer Richard Arbib worked up some futuristic Oliver
motor sketches. Although a few of the cosmetically engineered Olivers got into
circulation, the venerable tractor firm decided to pull out of the water and closed its
outboard division around the time President Eisenhower left office.
1. "It's News-Oliver Outboard Motors," Boat Sport (February 1955, p. 3.