Mercury Racing’s quad overhead cam, dual-turbocharger 1350 engine produced a number of strong reactions when it was introduced two years ago at the Miami International Boat Show. On the consumer side, the response was one of pure elation and demand reportedly unmatched in the history of company’s new engine releases.
High-performance powerboat owners—at least those with enough bank to afford an engine-and-drive package with a list price of more than $200,000—couldn’t get in line fast enough to buy one. By the time the army of Mercury people manning the booth left the Miami show, production of the 1,350-hp wunderkind powerplant was reportedly sold out for six months.
Reactions from the high-performance engine world outside the walls of the Fond Du Lac, Wis., facility that Mercury Racing calls home were, as you might expect, not quite so joyful. They ranged from awestruck panic to outright horror. It’s safe to say that every player in the game knew the uber-sophisticated 1350 had forever changed the game in terms of performance, manageability, and reliability standards. A couple of noted marine engine builders even began to explore other business opportunities.
Others responded with “competitive” products. Leading West Coast marine engine builder Teague Custom Marine, for example, released its supercharged 1365-1500 offering, which by all accounts is an impressive package that has found a home in several catamarans, most notably at least one of those from Dave’s Custom Boats in El Cajon, Calif. But with the exception of Sterling Performance Engines in Milford, Mich., no engine builder attempted to raise the game on Mercury Racing with a turbocharged product.
To be fair to the Mercury folks, who recently added a 1,600-hp offshore racing version of their 1350 platform, the turbocharged Sterling 1700 remains an unproven, much less competitive product. Based on a 557-cubic-inch platform with conventional push rod and camshaft technology rather than Mercury’s state-of-the-art quad overhead cam setup, the 1700 project has been going on for the better part of two years.
The prototype pair of Sterling 1700s ended up in a Douglas Marine Skater 388 catamaran owned by a performance boat enthusiast in Louisiana. Go-fast boat fans anxiously awaited the boat on the poker run circuit, and yet it never happened. Even Mike D’Anniballe, the founder and owner of Sterling, says he can’t explain it.
“To be quite honest, I don’t know why, but the customer wasn’t using the boat,” said D’Anniballe. “But I wanted to see them showcased on the water, so I bought the engines back.”
Not only did D’Anniballe buy back the engines, he bought a boat in which to showcase them this season. Last fall, he acquired the former Bud Light offshore race boat, a 36-foot Skater cat that had its protective canopy removed and was converted to a pleasure boat.
D’Anniballe’s original notion was to convert the 36-footer’s existing supercharged 1,500-hp, 557-cubic-inch engines to a turbocharged platform. But he scuttled that plan when he bought back his first pair of turbocharged 1700s.
Those engines currently are at Sterling, undergoing additional evaluation, testing, and modification. The Skater 36 remains at TNT Custom Marine in Miami, which will handle installing the 1700s once the work at Sterling is completed.
“The turbochargers would ‘lock up’ after the boat sat for awhile,” said D’Anniballe. “You could just unstick them with your finger or a wrench, but we weren’t sure why that was happening. What we figured out was that the humidity in the New Orleans area was corroding the seals in the turbochargers. So we’re installing stainless-steel seals.”
D’Anniballe also said that he is experimenting with larger turbocharger housings to reduce backpressure so they can run higher boost and higher engine speed (rpm). That change, he explained, also has the Sterling crew looking at different camshafts.
“Any time you make a change like that, you have to go through the entire matrix again,” D’Anniballe said.
Though D’Anniballe had hoped to have a boat-and-engine-package ready for the Desert Storm event in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., at the end of April, that won’t happen. Still, he believes the boat could be ready to run by late spring or early summer.
“We really can’t wait to get it done and get it on the water,” he explained. “Our long-term automotive parts durability testing has sidelined us a bit—that has us a lot busier than the marine side of our business—but we’re looking forward to showcasing the 1700s. We think it’s an exciting product.”