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.
Fred’s configuration was four engines per side – for a total of eight powerheads. Each of the 2.4 liter V-6 Mercury engines pulled 305 hp and was tied to a common surfacing prop shaft with rubber cog belts — a total of 2440 hp! Fred told me, “Our one mistake was trying to keep it light by using outboard drive shafts to carry the engine-side belt pulleys.” These shafts would flex and belts would rip apart. Only one mistake, Fred H?
Later, Al Copland commissioned a Popeye’s offshore racing boat with eight 2.0 liter Mercury outboard powerheads. The 2.0 liter engines were chosen to stay just below the 16 liter limit for Class 1.
I remember a 1986 APBA Offshore powerboat race in Sarasota — seeing this strange looking, low freeboard, Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits boat. Inside, it looked like a scale model of one of those turn-of-the-century (19th into 20th) factories with machines and belts and shafts everywhere! I was thinking, “It’ll never stay running, but if it does, it’ll be fast!” It did; and it was — just not that particular day…
“My design for the belt drives in that was a bit heavier and, therefore, survived and won an actual offshore race,” Hauenstein said to me, proudly. (His choice of words and intonation said clearly, “This is a kilo record boat and nothing else.”) That one race victory was required in order to be eligible to set records — though its offshore victory was with six 2.4 liter Mercs. Popeye’s, with Al Copland driving and Bill Sirois throttling, set an offshore Class 1 [kilo speed] record, but “…it could have gone quite a bit faster!” according to Hauenstein. Always could have, Fred H. Always could have.