50 Years of Racing merCruisers – Part 1

Mercury's founder (my co-founder), Carl Kiekhaefer, came reluctantly to embrace the sterndrive concept. But once on board, he never looked back.

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.

Now in its third printing, Jeff Rodengen's book on Carl Kiekhaefer exposed the previously unknown conspiracy in creation of the modern sterndrive.

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

Sales literature for the first merCruiser with 327 c.i. and 225 hp.

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.”

Don Aronow and mechanic, Knocky House, switched from inboards to race merCruisers in the Bahamas 500 and ever after.

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.

Twin 225 hp merCruiser IIs powered the 1962 winner of the 184 mile Miami-Nassau "Ocean Power Boat Race." No bolsters. No canopies. No engine hatch. Just go!

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.

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Miami is almost here!

I’m getting all excited. In less than a month, the Miami International Boat Show will open its doors! In my opinion, Miami is the best high performance boating venue in the world. It’s a chance for me to escape Wisconsin’s winter and catch up with my industry friends and many of our customers. And there’s always something new. This year’s show appears to be no exception.

Custom painted 1350 in a 48 MTI. WOW! Photo courtesy of Robert Brown, Powerboat Magazine.

Four first-class boat builders will have new boats with Mercury Racing 1350 power on display: Cigarette Racing Team, Dave’s Custom Boats (DCB),  Marine Technology (MTI) and, confirmed Feb 11, there will be a new model Nor-Tech at the Convention Center, too!

Randy Scism told me, January 24, that he will have a twin 1350 powered MTI on the water in one of Mercury Racing’s slips at the marina. (I’m hoping it will be John Woodruff’s beautiful new 48, but I’m not fussy! I’ll be satisfied with Bob’s or Albert’s.) We’ll also have a 525 EFI powered Sunsation XRT with X-haust silencing, another 525 Formula FasTech, a Spectre cat with outboards and a military Whaler 37 Justice with three “cop motor” Verados. You have to see all this!

Please stop by and say, “Hello! What’s new?”

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Refreshed & Rejuvenated

Is your propulsion system in good shape and ready for another season? Now is the time to check over your equipment. If your engines have reached a maximum of 150 hours, now is the time for a refresh to insure a hassle-free 2011 boating season.

We introduced the Factory Fresh engine refresh program in 2006 as a service for owners of our big block sterndrive engines (850 SCi, 1025 SCi, 1075 SCi and 1200 SCi). We’ve learned how our customers from around the world use the product, how various applications relate to engine wear and the affects maintenance (or lack of) has on engine life. More importantly, we have built valuable relationships with our consumers, OEM boat builders and dealers.

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“You Must Have Had Help!”

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!

The QC4v team with their creation just before the Miami Boat Show launch, February 2010.

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).

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