Friends of mine in the high-performance marine engine business—and I have lots of them—won’t appreciate reading this, but at this point there isn’t a player in the game who can touch Mercury Racing. Don’t get me wrong, there are several first-rate custom engine builders, including Chief, Sterling, Teague, Tyler Crockett and others. And on the production side, there is Ilmor, which builds super-solid V-10 packages up to 725 hp.
But for complete 525- to 1350-hp engine-and-drive packages with sophisticated technology (all Mercury Racing engines have the Mercury SmartCraft system) plus warranty support and an extensive service network, no builder can match Mercury Racing. It’s not even close.
OK, I do have one friend who won’t mind -- Fred Kiekhaefer, the president of Mercury Racing, which is just down the road from Mercury Marine in Fond Du Lac, Wisc. And having recently unveiled a new 1100-hp turbocharged engine—the first pair was installed in the Cigarette 42’ X Ducati V-bottom—Kiekhaefer is feeling particularly satisfied with the company’s current engine line.
“I think the 1100 is going to be an even bigger seller than the 1350,” said Kiekhaefer, referring to the quad-overhead cam, twin-turbocharged engine on which the 1100 is based.
But the turbocharged 1100 is more than just a lower-output version—mostly because of a single throttle body and idle circuit rather than two each—of the 1350. It is a game-changer for much of the Mercury Racing engine line. It has knocked two of the company’s most-powerful supercharged products out of production.
“We’ve discontinued the 1075SCi and 1025/1200,” said Kiekhaefer. “All in, the 1100 is comparably priced to those engines. Why would you want to buy old technology at the same price as new technology?”
But the appeal of the 1100 engine, which is priced at $172,700 with an NXT SSM drive and comes with the same transmission as the 1350, is more than simply having the latest and greatest. The 1100 runs on 89-octane fuel as opposed to the 91-octane fuel required for the 1075SCi, requires a fraction of the 1075SCi’s scheduled service, and has a one-year warranty as opposed to the 1075SCi’s 90-day warranty.
To help keep down the price on the 1100, Mercury Racing eliminated the carbon fiber covers that come standard on the 1350. For buyers who want them, they can be had for an additional $4,995.
Only three supercharged engines remain in the Mercury Racing line: the 600SCi, the 700SCi, and the 850SCi. Both the 600- and 700-hp offerings, particularly the 700, have found solid homes in the high-performance pleasure-boat world. The 850-hp engine is, for all intents and purposes, a racing engine used in the Union Internationale Motonautique Class 1 catamaran racing class overseas and the almost-but-not-quite-dead Super Cat 850 in the United States.
The supercharged “push-rod” engines in the Mercury Racing line will remain as they are, rather than eliminated and reborn as quad-overhead cam turbocharged products. Economics is the primary reason for leaving the three remaining supercharged engines in their current states.
“To be honest, the economics and price point of the 700 are such that we just can’t get there with a turbocharged platform,” said Kiekhaefer. “There’s nothing wrong with the a push-rod V-8 if you’re not overtaxing it. You get down to the 700 and you have a nice, reliable piece.”
So where does Mercury Racing go from here with what is the most well-rounded engine line its history? After all, standing pat has never been part of the company’s culture.
Kiekhaefer wouldn’t offer any clues. “We’ve had people speculating whether we’re going to go up or down in power with a turbocharged platform. But as I’ve said many times over the years, we don’t talk about new products until they’re real.”
Matt Trulio is the editor at large for Powerboat magazine. He has written for the magazine since 1994. Trulio’s daily blog can be found on speedonthewater.com, a site he created and maintains, which is the high-performance arm of the BoaterMouth group.