Economy of Scale

The more we share (lean on) automotive technology and production volume, the more affordable our products can be. The marine industry is tiny compared to the car and truck world. The high performance market is even smaller. To put it in perspective, GM supplies almost the entire marine industry for a year – performance and mainstream – in one day’s engine production. We cannot (and need not) replicate millions of hours they’ve spent on R&D and manufacturing engineering. We pay for it, a little at a time, in the price we pay for components we buy.

Racing engine refresh cart shows the cam, valve train components, rods and pistons from a 2-valve engine.

General Motors’ big block V8 has served us well – with a relatively low cost platform and many performance parts.  The big block is the backbone of Mercury Racing’s sterndrive products (and most competitors, too). The geometry is simple. The mechanism has endured and evolved for 60 years!

Simple, two valve pushrod mechanism. (Source:

Through time, we’ve replaced carburetors with EFI; distributors with computers. We’ve improved valve materials, rockers, and more. We’ve fitted blowers, and then screw compressors, all in pursuit of power. We’ve added aluminum heads – ported to improve flow and power. We’ve fitted closed cooling to better control temperature, reduce corrosion and increase power. Many of these improvements followed the automotive industry’s embrace of technology – though it was a reluctant, “hug your sister” style embrace imposed by government emissions and fuel economy regulations. The autos’ embrace brought technology costs within reach of our humble little industry.

Mercury Racing’s 8.2 liter 700SCi engines. Here, staggered and coupled with NXT drives in a tidy Sunsation.

However, the auto industry is driven to lighter cars (fuel economy and emissions) and is moving to smaller displacement engines. Good bye 8.1 liter and hello, 6.2. Conversely, the offshore performance market is driven to larger displacement and bigger power in order to overcome water drag and fulfill consumer desire for fast boats with ever more comfort and reliability.

Racing tech, Charlie Reiter, building up a trio of 1350 development engines.

This divergence keeps me awake at night:  How long will big blocks be available? Fortunately, GM and others have assured continuing availability of 8.2 liter and 9.1 liter blocks. Mercury Racing builds these into consumer and racing engines from 525 to 1,200 horsepower. In November, Racing will also begin building 8.2 long blocks for the standard MerCruiser product.

The divergence also spawned Racing’s quad cam, four valve (QC4v) 1350 sterndrive. For power, the GM based big block has been wrung out. While there is more power to be had, reliability goes straight to pieces. There is no automotive incentive to go bigger; just the opposite. So, we persuaded our parent, Brunswick, to fund our ingenuity (during a recession, too)!

Thankfully, we have our big 1350 powerhouse now. While there are no GM parts inside, we’ve benefited from automotive experience: QC4v is our adaptation and scaling up of auto racing technology – tailored by marine experience, insight and invention. And few compromises.

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6 thoughts on “Economy of Scale”

  1. Congrats on the whole Mercury Racing enigne and drive lineup! I remember a Class One engine Tshirt Bruce King gave me when I was a kid, I thought that was the baddest engine Mercury would ever build! One question, in the pick with the three 1350’s, there is a V-6 exhaust cover plate with raised Mercury lettering, what engines got that?

    1. Good eye! That is a prototype cover from the very first 2.0 liter V-6 2-stroke outboard. It never saw production. Johnny B captured it on its way to recycling and created his one-of-a-kind coat rack.

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