By the time you read this, the very last new pair—and they almost always traveled in pairs—of Mercury Racing 1075SCi engines will be installed under the hatches of a 44-foot-long custom V-bottom from Outerlimits Performance Boats. I know this because Mike Fiore, principal of the Bristol, R.I., boat company told me, and I confirmed it with Fred Kiekhaefer, president of Mercury Racing, in Fond du Lac, Wisc.
That the supercharged 1075-hp engine has gone the way of Dolphin shorts and Members Only jackets is no surprise—Kiekhaefer announced the imminent demise of the model not long after the world-beating, quad-overhead cam, twin-turbocharged Mercury Racing 1350 was introduced in 2010 at the Miami International Boat Show. We all knew this day was coming.
And yet I have to admit I’m a little sad to see it go. Not because the 1075SCi hasn’t been replaced with something much better—it has—but because it was, at least in its day, every bit as groundbreaking as the 1350.
Take a gander back at 2004 and what you see is a slew of offshore powerboat racing engines, the most popular and competitive from Sterling Performance in Milford, Mich., pumping out 1,000 to 1,400 hp. But they are true racing engines, which means no one expects them to live very long. Teardowns are standard and rebuilds are common after every race, which is just fine for offshore powerboat racers who know that to make a small fortune in racing they have to start with a large one, but not the least bit OK with the owners of big-buck, high-performance pleasure boats who simply expect their boats to, well, run when they turn the keys.
But in 2004 Sterling was winning races and Mercury Racing was not. Mercury did have a 1,000-hp racing-specific engine and a 900-hp supercharged “pleasure boat” engine, but neither was the picture of reliability. So in the highest of high-end power applications in go-fast boats, Sterling was consistently getting the nod over Mercury.
And that galled Kiekhaefer, who is one of the more competitive folks in the high-performance marine engine game. So in 2004, after several years and millions of dollars in development, Mercury Racing introduced the 1075SCi.
The first generation of 1075SCi engines was not without problems, but within a year Mercury Racing had most of the bugs worked out—and a lot of those bugs had to do with improper installation on the boatbuilder side. The company had a winner on its hands, and not with the racing community, which represents a small piece of the go-fast marine engine pie, but with the high-end pleasure boat market.
Even Mercury Racing’s toughest competitors praised the 1075SCi. Richie Zul of Richie Zul Engines in Babylon, N.Y., called its engineering “amazing,” and Bob Teague of Teague Custom Marine in Valencia, Calif., described it as “an excellent piece.”
But the highest praise for the 1075SCi came from Mike D’Anniballe, the principal of Sterling Performance, Mercury Racing’s archrival. “I have to admit, Mercury caught us with our pants down when they introduced the 1075,” said D’Anniballe. “We had no answer to it.”
What made the 1075SCi engine so groundbreaking?
“That was the first engine we built that required our Total Engine Application Management (T.E.A.M.) installation training, meaning builders had to be certified to install it so we could be sure each engine was installed properly,” says Kiekhaefer. “It was our first fully SmartCraft-equipped engine with MPI fuel injection and inlet resonators to quiet induction noise. It had the PCM 038 controller that was the centerpiece of our first boost management strategy, and it gave us the ability to optimize spark and fuel delivery. Our racing engines were fine for what they were at high speeds -- carbureted racing engines -- but they stumbled at lower speeds.
“It wasn’t our first ‘big-power’ engine for consumers; we did the whole SC series in the early 1990s. But it was the first one with manners,” he adds. “The 1075 brought us into the high-end consumer performance engine business in a way that delivered a lot of fun to an awful lot of consumers who were anxious to have something reliable.”
But the 1075SCi did have a weakness, so to speak. It was only reliable if relentlessly maintained, and that meant inspections after 50 hours of operation and expensive rebuilds after 75 hours of operation. In a busy boating season, that could translate to a hefty monthly bill and significant downtime.
“The fundamentals of a push-rod engine and a two-valve head are fine to a certain level of performance, and in fact we still embrace it as the right solution at lower power levels,” Kiekhaefer explains. “But when you get to a point where you’re trying to cheat the laws of physics, you reach a wall. And you reach a point where you’re adding so much hardware and exotic materials just to keep it alive and still generate power that the maintenance expense goes through the roof. Literally, if you took at the 1200 Dual Fuel (a derivation of the 1075SCi) engine you are literally launching and landing with controlled chaos in the valve train.”
By way of comparison, Mercury Racing estimates major service for the 1350 will be necessary between 200 and 300 hours of operation. That’s a broad service-interval range to be sure, but because none of the 1350 engines in the field have reached 200 hours the people at Mercury Racing are unsure.
“When you move to a four-valve head, finger-follower quad-overhead cam platform, you are back in normal operating ranges,” says Kiekhaefer, referring to the Mercury Racing 1350. “You are taking out lower-cost items and replacing them with extra cams and extra valves. It’s not cheap initially—the price of entry is much higher—but the price of maintenance is much lower.”
Beyond that, the 1350 is much smarter than the 1075SCi. The computer controller for the 1075SCi could manage a fraction—and not a large one—of the 1350’s sophisticated operations, such as exhaust pulse tuning. And in terms of emissions, the 1350 is much cleaner and can run on 91-octane pump gas. So the death of the 1075SCi isn’t tragedy. It’s evolution.
And yet—I’ll miss it. The 1075SCi engine was the most advanced, best running high-performance pleasure boat engine of its day, and it commanded that lofty position until the 1350 took it down just a short time ago. Of course, I’d rather ride in a boat with 1350s. But back in the day, the 1075SCi was the bomb.
- Matt Trulio