Happy 50th Birthday to Captain Steve Lamp, owner of Dream Catcher Charters. Captain Steve relies on Mercury products to earn a living. His office space is the beautiful waters off Key West.
Mercury Racing has had a working relationship with Steve for nearly 20 years. He has been intimately involved in the development of a number of our key consumer performance outboards including the OptiMax 200XS, 2.5XS, 250XS, 300XS and 400R.
He has also been our go to person for real world feedback regarding Mercury Racing Propeller performance. Steve also provides field testing data on a number of Mercury Marine engines, control systems and props.
Steve and I first met at Lake X for a 200XS photo mission. His passion for boating in general and Mercury Racing was obvious the instant I met him. It’s rare to have a personal relationship with an individual who not only earns a living with our product but one who is such a passionate brand ambassador.
To this day Steve represents Mercury Marine at the Miami International Boat Show. It is in the show environment where Steve’s experiences and extensive product knowledge truly shine. He has a knack for conveying information in layman terms to the public, highlighting product features that are important for their specific needs. In an instant – he can switch gears and carry on a conversation with members of the media regarding a variety of topics and not miss a beat.
When he’s not in the Mercury booth you will find him on the water providing product demos for Mercury as well as Yellow Fin, the builder of his bay boat and offshore center console.
Steve, we are blessed to have you as a friend and a member of our team. We wish you all the best as you continue your adventures from Mile Marker 50. Throttles down…. The Race Never Stops!
This year marks our 45th anniversary. My have we evolved.
For over 20 years, I’ve welcomed visitors from all parts of the globe who come for a personal tour of our operations. It’s fun to meet people who enjoy our products. I love to see their expressions and hear their comments. All leave with a better understanding of what we do here. Visitors are amazed at the hand-craftsmanship and palpable pride that our people put into the products.
Mercury Racing was first established as a division of Mercury Marine in 1973. Known as Mercury Performance Products at the time, it’s sole responsibility was product development and promoting Mercury’s image through racing.
Racing Through the Years
The ’70s was an era of outboard factory racing where Mercury battled Outboard Marine Corporation (parent company of the Johnson and Evinrude brands at the time) for bragging rights across the globe.
“Those were the golden years of tunnel competition,” said Team Mercury driver Bill Seebold. “Back then, winning prestigious events such as the 6-hours of Paris or 3-hours of Amsterdam had a direct impact on European outboard sales!”
The factory race team was the first to run the all-new V6 Mercury outboard that would become known to the world as Black Max. The engine earned its stripes winning races for a good two years prior it’s 1976 public debut. Mercury Racing would produce a number of competition outboards based off the V6 platform.
It was during this time the nomenclature “XS” was used to differentiate 2-stroke high performance Mercury engines from like power recreational models.
The ’80s was the era of Miami Vice and all things offshore. Offshore racing was experiencing an evolution regarding boat size and demand for more power. Engine, sterndrive and propeller development were taking place at a frantic pace.
When I first started with Mercury Racing in the Fall of 1988, the III SSM sterndrive was being revised with more robust components and released as the III-A. Surfacing shaft drives were starting to appear in both U.S. and European venues. Racing’s answer to the surface drives was the IV SSM drive. A shorter vertical driveshaft raised the prop and, with a longer skeg, made a potent surface drive out of sterndrive geometry. The engines of the day were again overpowering the IV SSM drive’s capacity. Internals were improved and, in 1987, the V SSM was introduced.
Kiekhaefer Aeromarine introduced the Kiekhaefer sterndrive in the Fall of 1988. Known today as the M6, the robust drive was the end-all solution at the time in terms of product design and durability. In many applications, it still is. The M8, which is two inches shorter than the M6,was developed to handle the massive torque of our turbocharged QC4 engine platform.
The Roaring ’90s
This was the era of the tech bubble and what a wild ride it was. On July 20, 1990, Brunswick Corporation acquired Kiekhaefer Aeromarine, a high performance marine propulsion and accessories business. The company, established in 1970 by Mercury Marine founder Carl Kiekhaefer, was known for their quality machining and production of high performance marine engines, sterndrives and accessories (trim tabs, trim indicators, control systems, and propellers).
The two companies were merged and Kiekhaefer Aeromarine owner and President Fred Kiekhaefer, son of the late Carl Kiekhaefer, was named president of the new Mercury Racing division. Mercury Racing was established as a business unit of Mercury Marine in 1992. The Kiekhaefer Aeromarine manufacturing plant was expanded in 1993 and all Mercury Racing personnel, production and supporting departments consolidated to the newly expanded Plant 36 facility in 1994.
The establishment of the independent business unit meant the need to change focus to consumer products for revenue generation. A number of memorable products were introduced including the 2.5 EFI Series outboards, Pro Max 300 Outboard, 500 EFI and 900 SC sterndrives. the company name was changed to Mercury Racing in 1999.
The past eighteen years has seen an exponential advancement in engine technology and the success of our company. SmartCraft technology enabled us to greatly improve the idle quality of our legacy big block engines such as the 1075 SCi and 850 SCi sterndrives; introduced in 2004-2005. While these were game changing at the time – the 2010 release of the QC4 1350 sterndrive was revolutionary.
Erik Christiansen, Director of Engineering and the father of the engine platform, would be named General Manager upon Fred Kiekhaefer’s departure at the end of 2012.
We unveiled the QC4 automotive crate engine at the 2013 SEMA show in Las Vegas. It was a great opportunity to share our revolutionary engine design outside of the marine world and promote Mercury Marine’s rich automotive history. We’ve enjoyed great success over the past five years, culminating with the release of our latest engine, the SB4 and our partnership with our exclusive distributor, Roadster Shop.
The 2015 Miami show was a fun show to be at. This is where we unveiled our two most powerful consumer engines ever; the 1550 Dual Cal sterndrive and 400R outboard. Both were applauded for their power rating and engineering excellence and have since performed above and beyond expectations in the field.
QC4 Family Expansion
The QC4 sterndrive family continues to expand with the 2017 release of the naturally aspirated 860 and the granddaddy of turbo models; the 1750 competition model. The new Dual Calibration QC41350-1100 enhances the versatility of the popular QC4 platform by enabling users to switch to the 1100 power mode on 89 octane fuel (Rec 90) when boating in areas where 91 octane fuel is not available.
Our role at Mercury Racing is to maximize engine and boat performance – regardless of the application – race or pleasure. We are constantly looking to enhance the boating experience by offering specific propeller models custom fit for specific applications.
Having grown up on the water in Oshkosh, Performance Propeller Manager Scott Reichow has a personal knowledge of Racing’s heritage. He has also been responsible for the development of a number of propellers designed for niche applications from bass boats, bay boats and multi-species hulls, to offshore center consoles and multi engine catamarans. Scott says it best when he states, “performance isn’t only about being first to the fishing hole or first to the pin. It’s all about enjoying the ride and replicating that positive experience time and again.”
It’s been incredible to experience the past 30 years of Mercury Racing’s colorful history. It was an honor to work with Fred Kiekhaefer, Erik Christiansen and many of the hard-working individuals who have had a hand in making this the world leader in high performance marine propulsion.
The 2014 SEMA show has been a blast. Once again our booth has a variety of displays that have stopped traffic and been the talk of the show.
We opened the show with the unveiling of our concept Small Block 4-Valve engine. The engine features dual overhead cam shaft (DOHC) four-valve cylinder heads modeled after those used on our exclusive quad-cam, four-valve (QC4v) engine platform. Read more
Congratulations to Mike Fiore, Brian Forehand, Joe Sgro and Dr. Michael Janssen in establishing all new Unlimited Vee Bottom and SV Single kilo speed records. The American Power Boat Association sanctioned the special event records for Outerlimits Powerboats. I first learned of the initial record via a Speed on the Water post early Monday. Brian (Forehand) drove and throttled the SV 43 Outerlimits, powered by twin 1650 RACE sterndrives, to a two-way average speed of 174.938 mph. The former vee bottom kilo record of 171.88 mph was set by Reggie Fountain and Ben Robertson in 2004. Fountain and Robertson drove a 42-foot Fountain on the same course as used today.
Early this morning my phone lit up with multiple messages – the first being from Mike (Fiore); post this on Facebook right away. I was ecstatic to learn Brian (Forehand) and and Joe (Sgro) made back-to-back passes of 179.500 mph and 181.422 in the SV 43 for a new APBA Unlimited Vee-Bottom kilo speed record of 180.47 mph! Reggie Fountain was top of mind since Monday. His record of 10 years is broken and not by a Fountain. His former employee was behind the wheel for multiple records and all of the action took place in front of his house. I had to call him. Read more
Happy New Year! 2014 is Mercury Marine’s 75th Anniversary. The year will be filled with a variety of exciting events to celebrate our company’s rich history. Mike Butler’s restoration of “Little Red,” a historic Mercury Twistercraft tunnel race boat, is the first in a series of stories I’ll be posting throughout the year in celebration of Mercury’s rich performance heritage.
You will not find a greater authority on Mercury’s outboard racing history than Mike. In fact, Mike is a former outboard tunnel boat racer himself. It was 39 years ago when he brought his Twister race outboard to Mercury Hi-Performance to repair damage resulting from a racing accident over the weekend. It was on this visit that Mike saw Little Red. He had asked the late Mike Goerlitz, Mercury Hi-Perf Sales Manager at the time, if he could buy it. Mr. Goerlitz turned him down. It was not for sale. Mr. Goerlitz did offer Mike a position with Hi-Perf from which he quickly accepted.
Mike is also an active pilot and long-time member of the Experimental Aircraft Association. He has restored a number of historic bi-planes and his Piper Cub that he flies year round. His passion for Mercury and craftsmanship skills would meld to bring back the glory of a rare gem in the history of outboard powerboat racing. Read more
I began my career with Mercury Racing in 1988 as a Product Support Specialist. I traveled throughout the country supporting stock outboard and Formula 1 tunnel boat racing.
St. Louis was the Indy 500 of outboard tunnel boat racing. Racers and fans from around the world would converge on George Winter Park to watch hometown favorites, the Seebold’s, defend their turf. I was working the parts truck one year when Mike Butler (Race Sales Manager at the time) was talking with an older gentleman about tunnel boat races from days gone by and variety of other topics. Mike then introduced me to the gentleman. He was WS Holland, Johnny Cash’s drummer. I had to step back and process who I had just met. I couldn’t believe it! I’m a music lover and drummer as well. The chance of meeting someone like WS at a boat race was very cool and as I would find out later, more than a fluke encounter.
I was impressed at how humble and down to earth this man was. It’s been over 20 years since WS and I have spoken in depth. My impression hasn’t changed. Read more
“Welcome to Mercury Racing. Nice to Have You Here!” is the first thing most visitors hear upon entering the reception area of our Fond du Lac, Wisconsin headquarters. For over 15 years, I’ve welcomed visitors from all parts of the globe who come for a personal tour of our operations. It’s fun to meet people who enjoy our products. I love to see their expressions and hear their comments. All leave with a better understanding of what we do as a business, the services we provide and products we produce. One of the big things people leave with: an appreciation for the “sweat equity” that goes into all facets of production. Visitors are amazed at the hand-craftsmanship and palpable pride that our people put into our products.
This is the first in a series of posts featuring a virtual tour of Mercury Racing. Text and still photos will be complimented with high definition video shot by John Potts of American Performance Television. Before we begin, we need to review a bit of history. Read more
“My racing days hold many fond memories for me. Being part of the Mercury Racing Team made it possible for a young country boy from South Carolina to go places, do things, and meet people from all over the world that would have otherwise never happened.” wrote Earl Bentz, regarding his time driving for Team Mercury.
Earl credits his uncle, D.F. Jenkins [Jenkin Outboard, Charleston, SC]. for getting him into racing. He ran his first race at age 16 on Lake Murray, South Carolina. “Blue Goose” was the name of the boat, a 100 h.p. Mercury-powered deep-vee.
“My uncle bought me my first tunnel boat over the Winter of 1968-69. It was a Galaxie tunnel boat powered by a stock V-4 Johnson that qualified me for Sport J class. One of my all-time favorites was the ‘Wild Geechee’. It was a kneel-down tunnel with a ‘crash’ throttle. We probably won 80% of the races we entered. One year in particular, we won 20 consecutive races in classes from Sport J all the way to U and S class [unlimited single engine outboard],” said Earl.
“That boat was a rocket sled!” said Reggie Fountain about his first boat with Team Mercury.
Reggie began racing in 1954. He was 14. He started in B class hydros and runabouts. When I asked about engines, “I’ve always used nothing but Mercury’s….My first race engine was a Super 10 Hurricane with Quincy straight pipes. They were very loud. The hydro ran 60-70 mph which was pretty fast back then,” said Reggie.
Reggie claims the first thing he wanted after law school was to race. He bought a tunnel boat in 1968. “It was a twin-engine, 21-foot Glastron…I did pretty well at local races. You could tell the difference between independent boats like mine and the ones from the factories,” said Reggie. “My boat weighed 775-780 lbs, less driver. Joe Felder [on Glastron’s factory team] had an identical rig – but much lighter at 515 lbs.” Reggie saw the advantage of factory support and the need to build a factory network. Read more
A recent discovery of classic photos of the Team Mercury outboard tunnel boat race team rekindled my curiosity of the outboard factory war era when Mercury and OMC (Outboard Marine Corporation – parent company of the Johnson and Evinrude brands at the time) battled for bragging rights (and sales) across the globe.
I thought it would be interesting to interview the team drivers to hear first hand what it was like racing for Team Mercury. Read more
I was going through my literature archives the other day and came across a copy of the original Kiekhaefer Aeromarine, Inc., K-Plane Trim Tabs sales brochure. I’ve always respected the quality and functionality of Kiekhaefer’s literature. I thought a blog post regarding the history of K-Plane trim tabs would be of interest. More importantly, it will serve as a refresher regarding the fit, form and function of the world’s most durable trim tabs.
Kiekhaefer Aeromarine Motors first introduced K-Plane Trim Tabs in 1970. They were designed to keep the fastest, hardest running racing boats on an even keel in just about any water condition. US (APBA) and World Offshore (UIM) champions, Doc Magoon and Carlo Bonomi ran nothing else. In the mid 70s, Fred Kiekhaefer upgraded the product for recreational use. Read more
For some reason the colder weather and recent snow flurries has me reminiscing about Mercury Snowmobiles. Remember those? The infamous “lead sleds” (Mercury’s early and very heavy snowmobile – appropriately nicknamed) and legendary Sno-Twisters (when Mercury got it light and right)? Fred Kiekhaefer can expound more on the history: Fred has first hand experience with engineering, development and production of high performance two-stroke engines. Kiekhaefer Aeromarine Motors (KAM) supplied various snowmobile manufacturers in the early 1970s. Fred was VP of Engineering at KAM during Carl Kiekhaefer’s snowmobile engine years. A greatly expanded Mercury Racing is headquartered in that KAM engine facility today.
I was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie – on the Eastern end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The “Soo” as it is often called, gets bombarded with lake effect snow from Lake Superior. If your into it, the U.P. offers hundreds of miles of scenic trails for the snowmobile enthusiast. It’s a great family sport – if you respect the machine and ride safely. Read more
Communicating the technology within. Some technology is simply beautiful on its face. The induction and air balance system of the QC4v platform required only minor refinement to “style” it. It’s just cool – like the 1970s Kiekhaefer fuel injection trumpets from my dad’s “Champion Maker” Class 1 offshore race engines. With QC4v, some minor shaping and angularity masked the required hoses and clamps, but the inlet runners whisper, “You know why we’re here.” Big air!
Cast exhaust manifolds, in a world previously occupied by gleaming polished stainless, was a bigger challenge. We opted to communicate the pulse tuning of the exhaust system through subtle relief in the casting surfaces – indicating the pairing of ports and the side-to-side differences. This also helped function: maintaining a high scrubbing speed of the manifold cooling water. Read more
Inspiration. There are a multitude of tools in a stylists arsenal. Before any of them can be used, we have to agree to the physical design constraints which define the canvas. Brainstorming basic design alternatives is a prerequisite to an elegant styling execution (not to mention, functionality). It also requires “the eye.” Stylists see things in many places and contexts where most of us don’t. Inspiration can happen at any time. I keep a photo file of appealing details. Inspiration is everywhere: parking lots, race tracks, concourse events, collector displays, air shows, plumbing show rooms – everywhere. My file becomes a wall during a project like QC4v, but settles in a direction, often reinforcing a theme consistent with product history – the DNA. Choosing one design approach sets many things – including the execution journey and styling constraints. Read more
Two years ago, I received a call from Skip Braver, owner of Cigarette Racing. He had just received the first 1350 for his AMG Cigarette: “I don’t want your head to explode, but that is one, handsome engine. Just gorgeous!” Thanks, Skip. Flattering. But how did “handsome” happen?
Function. First, beauty is deep in the soul of Mercury Racing’s QC4v platform, as well as on the surface: it works as intended; it fulfills the needs and desires of its owners better than any engine offered before. In short, it functions as it should (and better than most customers expected). Function defined the structure.
Form. Second, form followed function. I’ve become somewhat infamous for a comment I made back in the 1980s: “Where is it written, that because it is strong, it must be ugly?” This was a discussion with my manufacturing guy at that time, the late Bill Hackbarth. Bill, a stubborn pragmatist, didn’t like the form of the Kiekhaefer sterndrive (now #6) because he couldn’t figure out how to hold the curvacious upper gear housing in a machining fixture. We changed the form, adding a big lug, so he could clamp it tight. When machining was done, we ground that part back off. Propulsion should look good, but… Form follows function. Read more
Maybe this should be “Part 3 through # n” — since few things are odder or rarer than “one-offs” tried in pursuit of a speed record or race victory. Still, some stand tall above others in sheer audacity. Here are some outboards with an identity crisis.
Because of the high power to weight ratio of a Merc 2-stroke powerhead, it was inevitable that Mercury Racing’s Fred Hauenstein would lay some outboard engines down on their sides in his Arcadian Unlimted U-86 and go after inboard hydroplane competitors. Read more
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. Read more
Fred Kiekhaefer and I were talking about some of the unique projects Mercury Racing has been involved with over the years. I thought you would find our odd projects and rare products interesting as well.
Turbine. The experimental Mercury turbine outboard was built in alliance with Marine Turbine Technology (MTT) , LLC of Franklin, LA. The engine featured a Rolls Royce Allison 250 series gas turbine (helicopter) engine mounted to a 2.5 EFI Offshore mid section and a Sport Master or Torque Master gearcase.
The 320 h.p. engine was developed in the late 1990s in response to the then pending Department of Defense mandate that all gasoline be removed from ships by 2010. The turbine was light – weighing in at 200 pounds – about the weight of a 2-stroke 50 h.p. outboard. And it was multi-fuel compatible – with the ability to run on diesel, kerosene and JP4 jet fuel. MTT founder Ted McIntyre brought a turbine outboard powered landing craft to the 2001 Mercury Dealer Conference in Orlando, Fla. The boat stopped traffic every time the turbine spooled up to 51,000 RPM as it hauled awe-struck media and dealers around the lake. I went for a ride. I remember it was loud and I distinctly remember the fumes. Read more
Happy Memorial Day! The U.S. holiday brings with it a flood of emotions. First and foremost, it is a time to remember those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.
The holiday also marks the start of summer. And this year – God knows – summer can’t come soon enough. In Wisconsin – we can whine and cry about our wet, cold Spring or what seems more like the Winter that won’t end. But, with the exception of a few areas, we have escaped unscathed compared to the destruction experienced in the South, the earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, New Zealand floods, and other areas affected by mother nature. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by recent storms and natural disasters.
I love summer. I think most people do. Believe it or not – I don’t currently own a boat. But the combination of a VERY long Winter and cold, wet Spring has me yearning to get on the water. I look forward to taking my seven year old son fishing, swimming, tubing, and just enjoy our time on the water. Spending time with my son brings fond memories of myself growing up in Michigan and spending the summers at our family cottage on Lake Superior. I look forward to warmer weather and enjoying outdoor fun with friends and family. I’m sure you are as well.
UPDATE UPDATE… (January 2012). Bonnier killed PB again. Jason has moved on to join Sportboat Mag and Matt Trulio’s SpeedOnTheWater.com. I’ve had enough of Bonnier. Good people land on their feet. Poor ownership lands on different parts of their anatomy.
UPDATE! Now (June 2011), Bonnier has said they’re relaunching Powerboat. They’ve rehired Jason Johnson. Maybe our collective, misty-eyed recollections brought them to reconsider. Whatever the reason, good call! Bring it back better than ever, OK Jason?
Here’s what I said before their flip-flop:
I will miss Powerboat Magazine. I was reflecting on some of the stories. I recall so many interactions with great people there. Hanging on the wall in my home is a poster of my favorite cover. The July 1993 issue featured my race, with the late Lisa Nordskog navigating, through the Florida Keys against Motor Trend’s Michael Brockman in a 348 Ferrari. (He won the race, but I got 10 pages and a cover in Powerboat plus six in Motor Trend!)
What I didn’t really notice, until after I received “The Notice,” was that the cover boasted, “We Made It!” 25 years on PB’s hour meter. It never occurred to me that this book would end. It’s Powerboat. I expected 50 years on the hour meter.
Yes, this economy has been tough on all of our industry, its current and former employees, and most of our customers. Budgets had to shrink. Activities and people had to be cut. But it looked like PB had made the right, tough decisions in order to survive – including selling itself. Perhaps obvious in hind sight, not all the right ones. It appears the last independent decision was fatal.
It’s as if Off Duty and the 348 had both run out of gas in Marathon.
My childhood experiences of spending summers on the water — and being exposed to Mercury powered boats from an early age — has a lot to do with my long career here at Mercury Racing. If I wasn’t out enjoying the product on the water, I would read (and dream about) the boat I would buy — by reading PowerboatMagazine. The recent news of Powerboat being shelved (with the exception of a special issue or two) saddens me. Not just from my professional relationship with the magazine – but more so from the long, rich and colorful history of this icon.
Bob Nordskog founded Powerboat Magazine in 1968. It quickly earned respect for its timely coverage of the performance boat industry. Performance trials that were honest and accurate. It was unmatched for photography and graphic design. Tech tips and Q & A columns by experts added value and personality. In depth race coverage from all corners of the globe was a unique contribution. PB had it all.
I think Dick De Bartolo may be the lone survivor who was with the magazine from the beginning. I remember reading Dick’s column as a kid – a funny story regarding barnacles sticks in my head. I didn’t realize that he also writes for MadMagazine until I met him years later. Thanks for the laughs and gadget features, Dick.
It’s been interesting for me to have met and become friends with the editors through time; Mark Spencer, Eric Colby, Gregg Mansfield, Brett Becker, Jason Johnson and Vicki Newton to name a few. My former PB writer friends include tech experts Bob Teague, Terry Tomalin (offshore racing coverage) and Matt Trulio (power & propulsion).
Hearing the news of Powerboat being sold – andretired! – brings mixed emotions. Its like losing an old friend. Our thoughts and support go out to employees affected by the transition and we wish you all the best in your future. We hope to see Powerboat again with a special issue — or a rebirth (I can hope). In the mean time — we’ll cherish the memories of a great magazine and continue friendship with the people who made you great.
First, a relevant side bar: In 1985, a Swiss businessman and offshore racer, Hugo Seger, approached Kiekhaefer Aeromarine (KAM) to design a racing drive. He had tired of his drive failures. We agreed to a deal: KAM would design a drive, he would pay as we made progress, and would become our European distributor.
KAM looked back at the K-600 sterndrive because it was already tooled! But in the dozen years since 1973, we learned a propeller was happier when positioned higher and farther back. Since we dared not start with any handicap, we began to design anew. “Sterndrives by Kiekhaefer” was conceived. Designers, Larry Lohse and Tom Theisen, didn’t sleep much. Me either. Read more
2011 is the 50th anniversary of the merCruiser sterndrive. More important to those of us with the speed-on-the-water gene, it is also the 50th anniversary of racing with merCruiser sterndrives. So, here is the first part of the chronology, 1961 – 1987, and a pictorial flashback: the evolution of the Mercury Racing and Kiekhaefer sterndrives.
For a thorough exploration of the modern sterndrive creation, I recommend Jeff Rodengen’s book, Iron Fist, Chapter 26, The Great Stern Drive Conspiracy, pp. 360 – 379. It is a fascinating work of investigative journalism containing creation, deception, disloyalty, honor and captivating personalities of the sterndrive’s history. Here, I’ll focus on the history of merCruiser and Kiekhaefer racing drives in this two-part series.
merCruiser Racing: 1960 – 1987
In March 1961 came the first merCruiser – coined from mer (for Mercury) plus Cruiser (for its target market). The idea was to use more powerful automotive-based engines (like an inboard engine) with vectored thrust, trim and steering (like an outboard) to give better performance than a conventional inboard.
This first 225 hp merCruiser sterndrive proved to work well pushing a boat and was more powerful than competitor’s. But it had an odd worm gear and ring gear mechanism to crank the whole drive out of the water – 180 degrees about the crankshaft axis – for corrosion resistance and “prop changes from inside the boat.”
Rapid follow-on design work brought the 110 and 140 hp merCruiser I, introduced in late 1961. It was followed quickly by the 310 hp merCruiser III in 1962. The original drive, renamed merCruiser II, was produced until replaced by a new design in 1970 – without the crank-up mechanism. The II and III were the platforms for racing variants.
By 1962, there was a “Super Speed Master” (SSM) version of the merCruiser II. From inception, factory owned Mercury Racing teams were conquering all comers in offshore power boat racing. That’s where “the enemy” was. Offshore victories told the world merCruiser had arrived. Market supremacy followed quickly.
I’ve had some time to reflect over the Holidays. It was cold and snowy here, so I began dreaming about boating in Florida or Lake Havasu with our new QC4v, 1350 hp engines. Inevitably, that leads me to thinking of the incredibly talented people at Mercury and Mercury Racing who made it happen. Sad how little credit they get for their effort – at least, beyond our hallowed walls. Things I hear make me want to scream, “We have the talent right here!”
Whoa! “Quad overhead cams!” And all metric stuff… “Metric equals furrin’, don’t it?” “It looks European.” “Porsche must have designed it for Mercury Racing.” “AMG designed it.” “Lotus…” And so many times, “What block is that based on?” I’ve heard (or read) all of these things, and more. I’m flattered; that’s good company. But folks, this was an in-house job.
One thing for sure: Fred K didn’t design it! (OK, I styled it, attended countless meetings about it and did the initial carbon tooling work. And I wrangled the money to pay for it.) No sir, Iclicked nary a mouse anywhere near a ProE CAD station (except once, when I leaned over Tom Immel’s shoulder).