Modern Power VS Vintage Power?

A new 350!

This is one of those subjects that really doesn’t have a correct answer. But with the latest W issue, which will be fixed this weekend, has had me wondering if how I use my boats should match better with the power used. Logic always will win in favor of modern power. I use my boats in brackish water, which eats manifolds like melted butter. They are after all over 60 years old. And I use the hell out of them. I like a certain speed. Trust me, on a 95 degree day with 100% humidity, a slow ride ain’t in the cards. No way, its a sweat fest and complaints come in waves from the crew. So we travel at min around 1500-2000 rpm. That and we are on bigger water, the Chesapeake Bay, a modern V8 seems logical.

Maybe in a vintage color from the late 40’s would help AND VanNess can match up a Paragon to the 350!

Add some sort of graphics. maybe a souped up 318 which was a beast of a marine engine. No Chrome, all blacked out including carb?

BUT, I am an emotional person, my boats have no logic going for them, and they are an embodiment of my passion, and love. All emotions. Their engines are a major part of their life and soul. The use of the actual power its already had is important. Like a heart of a beast. The true heart is always best. The rumble, the clicks, the sputters, and gurgle of a wet exhaust area ll part of the sensory pleasure. Its visual, its aromatic, and musical all in one wonderful symphony of life. How could one change the gestalt of it all.

Love the Pass Gas Special

But, good god, at some point, ones emotion can have a dark side. Like a valve breaking, or some other crappy thing that can wipe out a week or two of boating, and after all that is what its all about. These are old even rebuilt, old engines with old engine problems.

Perfection! ish!

But isn’t the fun of it, learning about broken valves? Learning all of the passions history. Our fathers and grandfathers had to deal with all this crap. Only then it wasn’t abnormal, and this is when we see the benefit of 60 years of engineering evolution.

With some simple graphics and colors a new engine can look vintage ish? Will it fit into the original engine box?

So now that I have totally confused all of you, myself included. I am on the fence. There is NO WAY IN HELL, I would do this to Stinky or Buttercup. But I may????? Fix the Trusty W…HA… and use it for a season and set her aside in a shrine. And go modern power, with a twist. Oh, I am thinking.. So of course we would love to hear your thoughts.

After all, we have vintageized a new trailer? Old trailer and old engines?

Thanks to Dave VanNess of VanNess Engineering for the engine photos.

44 replies
  1. Dan T
    Dan T says:

    Original power is so much a part of the whole experienced in antique boats and cars. Buy a newish boat for a fast ride on those hot days.

  2. mahoganymadness
    mahoganymadness says:

    When the U22 Mbl valve seat pooped out, and we discovered it was pretty tired. It was scrap time…went with modern power 1959 283….

  3. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    Even though I am still running flat heads in both of my boats, I totally support modern power. It is the correct decision in many cases. The next question is if you stay with a carbureted V8 (283, 302, 350 etc.) or go completely modern with a fuel injected Mercruiser or something even more exotic. That is even more cost and complications with high pressure fuel system, electronic control, etc.. Decisions, decisions. It’s all good as long as you keep running them as they were made run!
    Have fun.

  4. Rick
    Rick says:

    I’ve struggled with this also. There are times I specifically don’t use Panther because of the anemic B that powers her. I’ve been told to replace her with a K but I get frustrated with mechanical issues of 60 year old engines. But I do love that rumble they have. Never thought of vintage-izing new power. Seriously leaning towards modern power.

  5. Cameron
    Cameron says:

    For me, it was a case of ‘if you can fix it yourself’ and are confident to do so, then an old outboard/ inboard is The authentic choice. It looks better, sounds louder and just feels right.
    However, they are usually too loud, uneconomical to run and foul the water. And they break down.
    I went for a new diesel inboard and haven’t looked back.

  6. Jim Meyer
    Jim Meyer says:

    I don’t see a problem with modern power in boats that are used on a regular basis. If it’s an occasional use boat original power is nice but if you want to use the boat every chance you get, it’s nice to jump in and turn the key. Plus fuel mileage increases (not that it’s all that great)

  7. Bilge Rat
    Bilge Rat says:

    “Gestalt”, there’s a $10 word. Had to look that one up.

    I am currently re-powering a U22 that had a poorly installed Chris Craft 327 in it. The engine box to cover this beast took up half the cockpit. I was thinking of a 283, but still would have had to build a new engine box. I opted for rebuilding an MCL which will fit under the original box. Two carbs, twice the fun!

    Obviously if Chris Craft had access to modern V8 engines back when, they would have used them in our boats.

  8. Jeff Funk
    Jeff Funk says:

    Here at the shop more and more folks are replacing tired original engines with modern power. Especially if they put a lot of hours on the boat, have little mechanical ability, seek reliability, want more zip for the same weight, can run to NAPA if they need a part, and could care less about judging points. We have three in the shop right now converting to modern power. The trade-off of course is it usually requires engine box modification, engine sound (the V8 still sounds awesome IMO), and just knowing your boat is no longer completely original. Still, it’s pretty nice to turn the key and know your boat is going to run and ‘scoot’ across the lake. To each their own, but I re-powered my ’63 Coronado with a 454…and have never regretted it.

    • Dennis Mykols
      Dennis Mykols says:

      YEP, like I said yesterday, “…turn the key and GO”.
      Like Matt, I USE my boats, putting on 50 to 75 engine hours per our short Michigan boating season.
      There is no patience for a non-running toy.

    • Glen
      Glen says:

      Could always find something a little more modern and then it would look like a repower from the early fifties which was being done all the time. A 354 Chrysler chrome valve covers and all would look super sweet in that boat. Or a canal Cadillac would look way cool and they run great two-thirds of the people that would look at it at the shows wouldn’t know it been repower anyways

  9. Todd C
    Todd C says:

    Great question. The sound and smell and quirks are a part of my relationship with my boats. Illogically Van Ness just recently redid a wonderful job on my Gray 135 hp v8 (new pistons, crank etc – spun a bearing) it’s a slow tank boat anchor or a engine. But it is original to my 59 Lyman and I know the engine for what it is. Now if I break it again – the wife will put pressure on looking at another option but mostly because she misses that when it’s down. It’s the “family boat” – selfishly I kept it original.

  10. Bilge Rat
    Bilge Rat says:

    The additional costs for changing/updating other items like a new prop to match the horsepower, new tach, possible new shift mechanism (although there is an expensive mechanical linkage conversion with detents available), different exhaust and of course will it fit into the boat without major redesign. Then again as stated: where’s the logic in keeping old antiquated design engines?

  11. Darthtrader
    Darthtrader says:

    The only way to justify using the W is to maintain a shrine to CC. You have a user boat as opposed to a display boat. Perhaps looking at the bigger picture might help. Parts for the flatheads are rapidly going away. New parts will not be made because the volume does not justify the investment. The small block Chevrolet will be around as long as there is gas to run it. The aftermarket currently makes every part in a variety of configuartions. Service parts like gaskets, timing chains, and bearings can be bought new.
    A 283-350 would provide a nice upgrade in performance and reliability while ensuring maintainability through 2050.
    Enlarging the engine box is a small price to pay for enhanced boating ability. The W would make a nice coffee table

  12. Ronald
    Ronald says:

    I enjoy and respect seeing old boats with their original power as long as they belong to someone else. To me there is nothing like seeing a Chris Craft A120 or Sterling Petral or whatever in an original boat. But for a user boat there is no other choice but to put later power in it. Also totally understand the high humidity here in southern Kentucky.

  13. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    As much as I like the original engine in a romantic sense, definitely not in your main user boat. WECATCHEM is the perfect use case for a semi-modern V8. Either a 350 or big block depending on your performance needs. The reality is your usage is slowly destroying these old engines and depleting limited part supplies, not preserving them so do yourself and the hobby a favor and make the swap.

    As for modern, my happy balance point is with a low pressure electric fuel pump feeding an Eddlebrock marine carb and a Holley oil pressure cutoff switch. Turn the key and it starts. Fuel injection adds more electronics and complications, but I can see the appeal as well.

    In your area, fresh water cooling is a definite. I would also adapt a fresh water setup for Stinky and Buttercup. The systems are simple enough even if a kit isn’t available.

  14. Alan Frederick
    Alan Frederick says:

    It is a tough choice but obviously if you want to show the boat, modern power knocks off 20 pts. from the score right off the bat. If it’s a user boat then modern power certainly makes sense. At boat shows whenever theres’s an old boat on display with modern power, I usually give it a once over and move on. But when the original power is still in place, I will wait all day to hear it run and ask a gazillion questions with the owner.
    Of course then there’s the weirdos like myself who will be starting a project next year of building a new boat (36 ft. double cockpit fwd. torpedo stern) and using old power (1943 hall Scott Invader, in-line six, 998 ci). I need that much displacement to handle the 2350# engine.
    Yeah, I know, crazy but the cool factor is right up there.

    • Dave Juergens
      Dave Juergens says:

      Wow, Alan an ambitious project but sounds fascinating.

      If the boat has an original engine then keep it as it retains the best value. “Modern power” is a personal preference…
      “Who be the judge?”

    GENE PORTER says:

    Todd C’s comment re his 59 Lyman inspires the following.
    Although a strong believer in the value of ACBS’s judging system for motivating preservation of originality, including power, over the years the need for usability has resulted in my 23′ ’59 Lyman Sleeper departing progressively from originality. First was removal of the head – before my time. Next was the addition of mahogany-like ceiling boards in lieu of boating-time consuming scaping and refinishing of the inside of hull strakes.

    Engines were never original. The boats original Gray had been replayed with a Gray 289 before I bought it 22 years ago. Since then I’ve gone thru an AMC 327 and a CC 327 for operator error problems. This year I have a new PCM 350, carbuerated, and closed cooling for salt water 12/24. Ran well f0r the first 30 hours or so, including a great cruise past the Bush compound at Kennebunkport yesterday, after which it developed a minor stalling problem at idle speed which will be addressed this week.

    Most important, at least to me, was the fact that the engine exactly fit in the original engine box, once the oil filter was relocated from high forward to low aft.

  16. Wooden Rookie (Bill)
    Wooden Rookie (Bill) says:

    If you don’t have whats on the Hull card, buy the best to fit the budget and work experience. 327 sounds good to me. 283 was gone so bought similar

  17. John
    John says:

    I went with a modern outboard on my 16 ft Lyman. I was mildly concerned that it would destroy some of the character of the boat, that is until I remembered smacking into docks and trying to coast into launch ramps on windy days because the original Johnson would never stay running in neutral. Mine is a regular use family boat and the modern motor was absolutely the right choice for my family. Besides, the 61 year old boat, even after a full restoration, new transom, etc. still has plenty of quirks and scars that make her my boat and no one else’s.

    • Dave Nau
      Dave Nau says:

      I’ve found that a good compromise, since I like outboards, is to have one old boat have a more modern outboard, but still over 30 years old. Parts are easier to find, more people will work on it, and still fits the definition of a classic outboard per AOMCI – 1987 or before. So my 1962 MFG has a 1984 Evinrude 70, with older motors on my other two boats.

      Works for me as a solution that give me more time on the water.

  18. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    Yesterday I started up my 61 whirlwind OB in prep to attend an event on the water this coming weekend. 4 cycle, 50 hp, fuel injected, electronic ignition….pump bulb….FIRE AWAY. Fuel efficient, environmentally sound, nearly silent (a boon for the hearing impaired like me) What’s not to like? Go Boating!
    As to the big old iron, trust me, I have been there too.
    Get a 350 Mercruiser package and close the hatch.
    John in Va.

  19. Gary Van Tassel
    Gary Van Tassel says:

    Do your homework! Don’t trust to luck and “Dock Talk”. There is more science to an engine upgrade than art. Document well what your current situation and performance is. There is more to it than just will the engine fit in the engine box.

    Get solid performance numbers, GPS speed vs. RPM every 500 RPM up to WOT. Do it on calm water and run 180 degrees apart for each rpm setting then average them to take out any current effects.
    What is the current transmission gear ratio?
    What is the current shaft size, material?
    Current propeller diameter and pitch? Any cupping?
    Propeller hub length?
    Distance from aft face of strut to forward face of propeller hub?
    Distance from center of shaft to hull in the plain of the propeller, not 90 degrees to bottom?
    Distance from aft face of strut to rudder?
    Clearance of current propeller to hull in plane of propeller?
    Clearance of current propeller blades to rudder?

    Armed with that info you will be able to make the correct match of engine, rpm, gear ratio and propeller. If you are going to spend the bucks, then you should get the most out of those $$$.

    I don’t think you need to go the extra $$$ for EFI. Small block 350, Edelbrock 1409 carb, and Mercruiser Thunderbolt IV ignition. Just my 2 cents.

    If you are at the splash in Saturday, I’ll take you for a ride in the Kavalk. 27 year old 350 as above.

    Gary VT

  20. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    I find it mildly humorous that a small block Chev engine is considered or called “modern power”. That engine series debuted in 1955 as a 265 and the rest is history. The design and basic architecture of the 283/327 and most of the pre-1990’s SB engines is older than many of the boats that are being repowered!

    To encourage accuracy, why not rephrase the discussion to reflect going from flathead to OHV power, which is of course the major discriminating factor for most folks considering the change. Is a 327 that went out of production 50 years ago modern? No.

    I replaced a tired, worn out but original 283 with a new 350 crate engine in a 1962 CC Sea Skiff I own last year, and I got two hours before I experienced a major breakdown. Now, that was a freak thing but I didn’t consider the engine to be any more “modern” than the 283 it replaced, just a bit more powerful and to Gene’s point, it fit within the original engine box. Additionally, all the manifolds and ancillaries from the 283 bolted right on, which made things very easy.

    The clock has moved and most of the world wouldn’t consider a SBC to be modern. It is cheap, accessible and unarguably a superb engine, no doubt. It is also 30 years or so newer than the 1920’s design of the typical period marine flathead engine, but modern? I’d consider “modern”‘ to be an engine and associated systems that were perhaps 1o-15 years old or less, design wise.

    Ii have successfully used original and repowered boats, with problems and successes on both sides of the equation. Just do whatever makes you feel good and go boating.

    • Gary Van Tassel
      Gary Van Tassel says:

      Good point on “Modern”, read my 27 year old 350! The most modern thing on it is it came from the factory with a roller cam!
      Infant mortality on new crate engines or overhauled/rebuilt engines is, unfortunately, not that uncommon.
      The engines Matt shows are hardly modern, much older than my 350. But one can get new parts. The fact of life is, it is a boat in a horrible environment, and terrible engine loading profile. Ship happens!

      Gary VT

    • m-fine
      m-fine says:


      I agree to some extent which is why I call them semi-modern power. There is however a huge difference between an original 1955 262 and a 2019 5.7l/350 long block with electronic ignition and an electric fuel pump and new 4 barrel carb or fuel injection. With the right accessories, it will be easy starting and reliable. Matched with the right gear and prop for the load, it will also last.

      For a boat the size of a 25, I think you are at the edge of SBC vs big block. If there is room in the dog house and cash in the bank account, I would lean big block as it will be loafing with the throttle set at 250 hp where a 350 will be working hard. Either way that’s still more power than the W will put out, and a few mph faster than she is now at full throttle.

  21. Miles Kapper
    Miles Kapper says:

    It seems to me that repowering an inboard with modern power doesn’t have anywhere near the aesthetic considerations as re powering an outboard with modern power. From watching at the dock most folks will never know if your inboard is re powered unless they know how your boat should have sounded when it left the factory. With outboards on the other hand it will be obvious if someone puts a new engine on the boat. For some they want the reliability and gas mileage of modern power. I think any modernish engine takes a way from the look of the era one has painstakingly restored. I have had people tell me that people are looking at their boat, not the engine, which I think is a ridiculous statement. (Hey if that is how you want to rationalize – great.) There are other intangible factors. Putting your boat in reverse and smelling that two stroke exhaust takes most folks back to their first rides in the family boat. With one of my boats I went the opposite direction replacing a four stroke Homelite (ironically an engine old enough to truly be a classic) with a gas guzzling 75 horse Johnson from the same year so I could smell that exhaust!

  22. Scott K
    Scott K says:

    You could skip the “modern” V-8 and install something that is actually modern.
    Electric power. 🙂 💣

  23. Charles J
    Charles J says:

    Is it a show boat that you want to win shows with or a beautiful classic that you want to use on a regular basis and really enjoy, that is the question. My little 1962 Ideal Craft (have you seen the Woodboater article LOL) outboard is destined for second place finishes in the ACBS shows as it doesn’t have period power. That said, in 21 years of use, it’s never broken down and still hums at 5300 RPM 😂😎👍

  24. Tim Robinson
    Tim Robinson says:

    During the restoration process of my 22’ Gar Wood Streamliner, I had the opportunity to take a ride in a sister boat with original power with a fresh Chrysler Crown with approximately 115hp. The decision to go modern power was made when the boat with 4 people in it would hardly get on plane. I would rather go for a speed boat ride then get a trophy. I installed a mid 60’s Chrysler Marine 440ci. I have run this boat hard for over 25 years with little or no problems.

  25. Dick Dow
    Dick Dow says:

    I set up my boats to cruise in the salt water we like to explore, so the most economical and practical approach is a “manufacturer correct” conversion on a V-8 of some sort, with closed cooling. Parts are readily available, economy and performance improved. I’m currently building a 454 (Marine Power/CC conversion) for the Red & White. Although the Chrysler Royal was the original power in that boat, the performance, noise and “economy ” left a lot to be desired. It’s really about how you use your boat.

  26. Briant
    Briant says:

    Both sides have merit.

    But there comes a time to get down…go with the modern power, Matt.

  27. Sean
    Sean says:

    We only get a few days of boating each season so… we want to go boating. I replaced the original 1972 165 HP, 250 cid, Inline 6 with a “new” 1987 287 HP, 4.3l, V6 which I modifed myself and haven’t looked back! the reliable 50 mph doesn’t hurt either…. Original power for a competing showboat for sure but, no problems for me to use the right motor for the job.

  28. Terry H
    Terry H says:

    A lot of great points..we have a 90 day boating season and are at least 4 hours by car from anybody who has any business working on a CC engine. For us the decision is, if it has the original engine, it has been rebuilt and restored and we use it. If it does not, it gets modern, EFI power and we use it. When you don’t have an engine rebuilder on speed dial and are on big water, you have to be pragmatic. So that said, some are modern, some original.

  29. Dan T
    Dan T says:

    A matching numbers super rare Chris Craft 25 foot Sportsman, perfectly Katz’s restored, with original Hercules W perfectly Van Ness rebuilt and you want modern power? Hmmmmmm….”.

  30. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    I have friends who remove the original engines and install “Modern Power” but keep the original power in case they want to sell the boat at a later date.

    As far as your brackish water is concerned you should install a Fresh Water Cooling System (enclosed system) regardless of what engine you go with.

    Of course I will be glad to sell you two WBR’s so that you have spares. You just have to take them out of a beautiful 38’er.

  31. Dean
    Dean says:

    Nobody seemed to notice that there was a 50 year old 327 instead of a Flathead Chrysler in the 90 year old triple.

  32. Scott D. Robinson
    Scott D. Robinson says:

    Oh, come on, where is your sense of adventure ? don’t you love breaking down in the middle of nowhere, not a boat in sight and no cell service !! and forgot to renew your tow service contract ! it just makes you swear ! Scooter

  33. Kevin F
    Kevin F says:

    I too went with a 350 V8. I used to boat in the Pacific ocean, and for the past 25 years the Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay. I routinely make 120-160 mile day trips, and also 250 miles from Manhattan to Annapolis (the ocean route). I have never had to worry. I have had only a couple of breakdowns, and they were not engine related. Waves may come over the windshield, but the engine never is a worry.

    I used to slalom ski behind her with a competition water ski pylon installed when the bottom was not so old; she skied almost as well as my competition ski boat, and looked much better.

    I have the original manifolds and risers; although they should be replaced this year (very lucky).

    She loafs at between 1500-2200 rpm’s, which gives a very comfortable ride in the chop of the bay; it has not pounded on a wave that I can remember. When the water is flat, the sound of the four barrel opening up and the rush of speed has me passing modern boats (to their surprise).

    I too love the old boat sound, but this is great also. The boat is a user, not original, safe, and I worry more about the hull breaking than the engine.

  34. Greg W
    Greg W says:

    If you decide to go modern, you might want to consider a small block with a reduction gear…say 1.25 or 1.5:1. Lighter weight and less width (than big block) and will deliver power characteristics similar to W. Might even use same prop.

  35. Riva Della
    Riva Della says:

    Being an old-school kind of guy, who believes you can never have too much horsepower, I suggest “going all the way” with this little jewel, complete with a factory overhaul program at 250 hours for only an additional $178,000.00

  36. Mike "Ziggy" Zadigian
    Mike "Ziggy" Zadigian says:

    Does it really matter if you rebuild or replace with newer power as long as it is reliable. If one is worried about judging points there should be a Concourse class, as it was originally built. One shouldn’t have to wonder if you’ll make if safely back to port.

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