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Oddities & Rarities – Part 2: Bass Boat Power

The experimental Scorpion 377 Stroker bass boat testing at Lake X -- before engine box styling.

In Part 1, Rick explored “odd power” for the good guys of our military. Here, I’ll share some odd power experiments for peace-time fish hunters.

377 Super Scorpion. A unique boat featured on the water at Mercury’s 2001 Orlando dealer meeting was a Super Scorpion 377 bass boat.  The joint project between Mercury Racing and Chub Bryant, owner of Stroker Boats, was intended to show the world an alternative to outboards for bass boats. It was a great way to showcase our compact, stroked, 377 horsepower, 6.2 liter ski engine and promote the Super Scorpion 377 small block sterndrive. The performance was very good in the Stroker bass boat. However, we just couldn’t change the minds of the “clamp-on” outboard motor fishermen. And that’s ok. Mercury has plenty of options for them (see the blog,  Application Dependant - Part 1).

The engine had a successful run, but not in bass boats. It proved to be potent power in smaller single and twin engine offshore sport boats. (I ran one for a season in a Baja H2X and had a blast!) Unfortunately, the more exotic and expensive small block never could compete with the better value of a basic big block in this price sensitive sport boat market. The 377 Super Scorpion morphed, through cost (and power) reduction, into the successful 320 hp merCruiser 377 Mag.

Deuce High. Digging through my archives for Rick’s turbine outboard article, I came across another off-the-wall product: Mercury Racing’s ProMax Deuce High. This one was a full-out engineering project. It was a combination of our fuel injected 2.5 Liter ProMax EFI powerhead and an advanced propulsion system. The mid section and gearcase were designed from a potpourri of sterndrive and outboard hydrodynamic engineering concepts and a very clever prop clutching device.

The exotic Pro Max 200 Deuce High outboard.

The most unique of its design innovations was its 2-speed automatic gearcase. The engine drove two, counter rotating  props on the same axis — like the merCruiser Bravo Three. Unlike the Bravo Three, the props were sequentially shifting: On initial acceleration, one prop would free-wheel while the other spooled up quickly. A computer controlled, hydraulic clutch system automatically engaged the second prop when the engine reached a preset torque. This enhanced hole shot, big-time!

Water pickups were built into a removable skeg.  (Lots of debate with my boss about the wisdom and cost of the stainless steel “girdle” skeg. I lost.) The fully surfacing gearcase was designed to run with the full torpedo above the water. The water running beneath the propeller hubs and torpedo improved propeller efficiency and eliminated torpedo drag.

Twin prop outboards were tried at Lake X in the early 1960's. They died then, too.

The counter-rotating, fully surfacing props delivered unsurpassed boat speed and very good fuel efficiency; It also improved handling and stability because steering loads were neutrally balanced at all planing speeds. The boat was amazing crossing wakes or waves at odd angles – it just tracked like an arrow! Much easier to drive than a typical high performance bass boat.

Unfortunately, it couldn’t be sold at the price of an arrow – more like a cruise missile. The expensive hardware (two exotic stainless steel props, the stainless steel girdle/water pickup and the prop shaft/clutch mechanism) cost too much for the bass market. Deuce High saw one boat show, but not production. Not enough fish hunters would pay the steep premium for its performance. But doggone it, that Deuce High wild card flew! (If I can find it around here someplace, maybe I’ll put it on a boat and surprise some unsuspecting fisherman.)

These two products taught me two important business lessons: 1) If one leads too fast (even a good application like 377 can be too far ahead for its time), your customers can’t or won’t keep up – and we fail; 2) If a great idea (Deuce High) can’t be produced at a price the consumer views as a value, they won’t buy – and we fail. These days, we listen more before we spend to develop new products – and (so far) we’ve succeeded.

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20 Responses to “Oddities & Rarities – Part 2: Bass Boat Power”

  1. Sam Cullis says:

    I’ve seen other pictures of the Lake X twin bullet Speedmaster … could be 1959, but I suspect a bit later … the powerhead appears to be an 80, the box its sitting on is a Merc400 – both only made in ’60 & ’61. The twin bullet Speedmaster has splined propshafts like the Supers that came out in ’65 and definitely a large crankshaft spline as the 80 & 100, not the 60/66ci crank used in the 1950′s.

    • Fred Kiekhaefer says:

      Can’t slide anything past you, Sam! You are right. I appoint you my unofficial “editor-in-chief” of all things historical.

  2. Sam Cullis says:

    Oh, yeah … duh, THANKS for these cool pics and stories!

  3. Tom says:

    my finger prints are all over the Duce High in the lobby at Mercury Racing, LOL

  4. We have never seen a Deuce High Outboard in the shop. Such a rarity that we have never heard anybody even talk about one. Good to see some history of our favorite marine brand.

    • Fred Kiekhaefer says:

      There were only two assembled, so you wouldn’t have seen one except at a Mercury Dealer Meeting or the Miami Boat Show.

  5. Bobby Walwork says:

    I worked on this project at Lake X back in 1960. The project failed because we were trying to break the world speed record using a 60 cu. in. motor which was not able to turn the prop pitches that were needed to exceed the record speed. This gear case did not have splinned propshafts. Several years later another attempt was made with a different rig which did have splinned propshafts.

    • Rick Mackie says:

      That is great, Bobby. Thanks for sharing. Did you have better luck with the rig with the splined shafts?

      • Bobby Walwork says:

        The splined shaft was used several years later and I was not involved at that time. Elmer Nord was the test driver on that attempt.

  6. Sam Cullis says:

    So, in agreement with Bobby’s comments, the twin screw pic would be a later set up with the next bigger motor, just after he left. Ron Hill says he recalled seeing it later in the 60′s on one of the Lippish flying boats on a still larger powerhead

    Sounds like these devices got a lot of hours put into them … probably one of your dad’s favorites

    • Fred Kiekhaefer says:

      I know the Lippisch hulls had some trouble staying hooked up. They flew just a little too high and the props unhooked.

  7. Ted Abel says:

    The prototype with the twin props looks like a 1958 Mark 78 6 cylinder and has all the earmarks of Edgar Rose and Charlie Strang. I know from reading Iron Fist that The Boss was always pushing for better and faster. What type of hydro was this on ?

  8. BRANDON NEWPORT says:

    can I buy one of those twin prop dueces wild? that would be awesome

  9. Fred Kiekhaefer says:

    That is what I thought, but Sam nailed the date as 1960 with the Merc 400 box.

    • Sam Cullis says:

      Other clues about the powerhead are the offset of the spark plugs (found on the “Powerdome” Merc 800 and not the earlier 60/66 family where the spark plugs are on center) and the fact that the water jacket extends above the top cowl mounting ears in a little arc. The earlier, smaller displacement motors’ water jackets were straight across at the top, even with the cowl mount ears.

      Hopefully Bobby Walwork might recall something about the boat, other than it was a Jones, as was the one used by Burt Ross to set the 115 mph+ record in the same time period with a single prop unit. 50 years later, Ross’s record still stands in the U.S. APBA and UIM world record books for that class.

  10. Bobby Walwork says:

    The test with the original dual speedmaster gear case was done at Lake X with the 60 cu. in. motor. Carl [Kiekhaefer] was present for the first and only test. The boat was a Ted Jones hydro. George Thompson was the driver. The crew consisted of Ted Jones, Johnny Bakos, myself, and I believe Dave Adams, and maybe Odell Lewis. We had trouble with the boat not wanting to get up onto a plane. It continued to start off and go nose down under water.
    After many attempts, checking and rechecking the engine, changing spark plugs, etc., Ted suggested tying on some sand bags on the stern at each side of the cockpit. He warned George that if the boat did plane off “do not go over 78 mph or it will blow over”. It was late in the afternoon and George took off, the boat did get up and he was gone up the lake. George turned the boat and made a pass down the lake past the motel. When he went by the sponsons looked like the were a foot off the water. The boat surely looked liked it was ready to blow over. When George came in he said he held it to 77 mph. George was somewhat nervous and said he wished someone would have thrown him a knife so he could have cut the ropes loose holding the sandbags. Bakos told him not to worry, he would never have been able to catch the knife!
    The next day at breakfast Ted Jones told us the testing was over, it was not going to work. Because of the efficiency of the twin gearcases, in regards to prop slip, the 60 cu. in. engine was not strong enough to pull two props of the pitch that was needed to beat the 60 cu. in. record.

    End of story.

    P.S. Another memorable part of that test was watching Carl changing the spark plugs as we all stood back out of his way. When he finished he proudly asked one of the guys to check his work with a torque wrench on the plugs. I don’t care to tell the rest of that story.

    • Fred Kiekhaefer says:

      Charlie Strang indicated this counter rotating, twin prop gearcase was the brain child of Charlie “Alex” Alexander, then Mercury VP of Engineering, to reduce prop walk without using a skeg so as to reduce drag.

      That’s particularly interesting because Mercury Racing coaxed Alex out of retirement to work on the Deuce High project!

  11. Hey guys,

    We’ve been collecting some oldies for our dealership. Can you help me
    Identify them. They are 3000 and 600. I assume ’59 and ’69. https://app.box.com/s/l05umys6h17jqbnlzhb5

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