What’s Your Engine Love?

engine loveOne of the coolest parts of the classic boat world is the variety of manufacturers and models available. Everyone has a favorite model depending on ones needs and desires. But over the years folks have swapped out motors and with modern technology new reliable fast light motors are tempting. But is old technology better? When some crazy circuit fails it can be a tad tough to fix it with a hammer and rusty screwdriver. Does that very sensitive throttle on a new motor help or hinder docking? Does your classic boat really need all that power to be fun. Or that old 8 ton 125 hp motor that stinks and has parts that always need tuning worth it? I honestly don’t know. But was your opinion? Is there a perfect motor for classic boats? Small block chevy? Flat heads? Duel Quads? Fuel Injection? New Merc cruiser? Hemi?

42 replies
  1. Captain Nemo
    Captain Nemo says:

    A flathead K all the way. Almost bulletproof. None of that Pertronics stuff either. People always underestimate these things. No wonder they made so many.

  2. Bob Matson
    Bob Matson says:

    This would be one. This 1956 Evinrude 35hp has only one hour use on it. The owner died using it the first time. It was then put under a blanket for 57 years!
    It is for sale…anybody interested?

  3. Sean
    Sean says:

    My 72 Greavette had the “bulletproof” 165 IL6 which I fully intended on keeping. However, after stranding me at last years 100 Mile cruise (after less that 5 miles) and resisting all efforts to repiar over the rest of the summer I ditched it in favour of reliability and parts availability. Obviously armour piercing bullets have been invented.

    Now, a repower does not have to include computers and sensors. I chose a modern 4.3L 175HP V6 Merc and hot rodded it with some old school “bolt ons” from Edelbrock and a couple other manufacturers. The 4.3 dyno’d in at 237HP and 276 ftlb tq.

    I did not change any of the original mounts in the boat so, she could be returned to mediocraty if so desired….but, with the number of these boats around and the “plywood pauper” values associated with this type of boat…. I don’t know why anyone would change back!

  4. mischevious
    mischevious says:

    “283 Chevy” It is bullet proof. I have a late 50’s in my 1928 model 3 top speed about 40 just right for the hull reliable gas efficient and noisy with dual exhausts.

  5. Alex
    Alex says:

    Which ever one starts that day.

    Ok, seriously, I believe there is no perfect or best motor. There are great engineered ones to be sure, but so much of this is about the application (pairing of the motor with the boat ).

    It also is a matter of personal preference.

    As someone with two near-identical 25 Sportsmans — one with an awesome modern 8.1 injected Crusader and one with an awesome original Scripps 208 — I can attest that the motors are so different in character, they render the driving experience entirely different. The 8.1, while much more powerful than the Scripps, is a considerably smoother and quieter motor with a tamer exhaust note. The motor also reduces anxiety. It always starts and idles perfectly. Because of this motor’s reliability, this is the boat we take to Mackinac Island without fear of fire or quitting — crossing over 10 miles of very deep, cold, sometimes choppy open water.

    By contrast, the Scripps is a raw beast. Tommy Mertaugh describes its exhaust note as “authoritative.” I think that’s the perfect word. It positively barks. The motor is also rougher than the 8.1 and harder to start (though part of that is know-how, admittedly). It’s torque is phenomenal, making the boat fly at about 1,800 rpm. But it’s also a much noisier motor at speed, making it harder for passengers to hear each other. And fuel consumption is really poor, right Paul :). But oh what a treat to feel this big boat rise out of the water while watching the revs barely climb!

    I also have a 19 Commander and a XK-19 (same boats, different model years and model names). The first has its original 327QA and the second has a modern 383. They render the two identical boats very different as well. I love the sound of the QA. Yes, it has only a bit more than 1/2 the power of the 383, but it’s sound is “vintage,” making the boat feel more “classic.” The 383 by contrast sounds positively angry, and the more aggressive cam gives the boat that unmistakable characteristic vibration at idle. So, as is the case with the two Sportsmans, the motors here render the boats much more different than they are. One feels like a classic Mustang, the other like a newer one.

    This is a long-winded way of saying “what experience do you want?,” because the motor is the heart of a boat, and different hearts can render the same boat entirely different.

    I think it’s unfortunate to replace original power, but I applaud it when it makes sense. And I would never fault an owner for making that choice. Sometimes it’s very wise for safety and practicality reasons. Sometimes, it’s simply what he/she prefers for peace of mind. Sometimes it corrects a factory-original poopy motor/boat pairing. And sometimes, as with going to diesels in larger boats, it simply renders a better boat.

    Yes, it’s a kind of a “disappointment” to see an owner open the hatches or box only to see modern power (especially, for me, on a big triple for some reason). But it’s not wrong.

    I’ll say this in closing though. I’m a classic boater because these old boats offer a sensory experience that’s far more engaging than modern boats can offer. You see them, smell them, feel them, and hear them more convincingly than you do modern boats. I truly believe this. It’s not fantasy.

    It’s tough to say which sense is most engaged. I love the smells! My Grand Prix smells entirely different because of its grade of vinyl. The Scripps boat because of its leather. The 8.1 boat because it’s an original user boat. (Can you smell patina? You bet!) And my 19′ Commander? Well, it’s still got it’s original rum-brand key float. I swear there’s 40 year old rum in the bilge and, because it’s a 1969 model, probably a few other substances down there which contribute to its characteristic “bouquet.”

    But what sense do I most cherish? Sound! And I believe original power simply sounds better. So much so, I continue to consider re-re-powering my modern power 22-U back to its period-correct motor. Because its modern 350 is so well behaved, I believe the boat misses quite a bit of its character.

    Sorry for the long winding post. It’s Sunday, and the kids are sedated with Netflix, so I had the peace to do it.

      • Alex
        Alex says:

        jim g, the 8.1 will do 45 mph on the gps full out.

        The Scripps boat was advertised to do 40. Tho my motor was worked on by Gage Marine about 20 years back, I think it’s a little tired. So I don’t know what hp it’s making. Plus, the boat was incorrectly propped when I bought it so we’ve fiddled around with props getting that right. I’ve only run it to 2,000 rpm and I think it’s doing around 30 at that. I really need to confirm that with the gps.

        I don’t think the Scripps has much more oomph to give. The noise it makes is considerable at that rpm so I’ve lacked the courage to push beyond. Since I have the two boats, I’ve pretty much decided the Scripps boat will be the 1,800 rpm max boat and the 8.1 boat will be the “give it the beans” (4,500 rpm) one.

        I’d have the Scripps rebuilt to return it to its glory but the cost is so high. Until it needs it, I’ll defer that.

        Hope that answers your question.

        Now I’m curious… Why do you ask? Do you have one too?

        • jim g
          jim g says:

          I’ve got a 46 25′ sportsman and I want to put the 8.1 in it when I restore it. I don’t feel to bad about a modern engine in that one as its had about three different engines in it over its life. original engine was a MS. I’m on a big lake. Would like to talk to you sometime about propping and gearbox that you are running.

          Also have a 41 25′ sportsman with the optional sedan roof that has its original MS engine. Its going to be restored back to how it left the factory. Out of the 25 hulls built I think this is the only one that still has the roof on it.

    • MikeM
      MikeM says:

      I agree with Alex. At least up to the fourth paragraph, which is where I lost interest and stopped reading.

      Original if you can and modern when you can’t. Modern in my old triple was a 1960 283…..which made me happy because it was still old but very reliable

  6. RiverRat
    RiverRat says:

    New Power. Outboards 4 stroke. I want as little noise and pollution as I can get. So alot of the time no power is best.

  7. Rich Marschner
    Rich Marschner says:

    While I’m happy with my rebuilt MBL in our 19′ Barrel, I do have an irrational fondness for the hemis of my yout’. From age 18 to about 30, I owned 5 versions of it, from the garden-variety one in a ’55 Crown Imperial to the monster in my ’57 Chrysler 300D. Unbelievable engine — dual quads, solid valve train, hi-lift cam…and a sound straight from heaven. It makes me cringe whenever I see the “300” badge on the current ugly four-door sedans Chrysler is making these days.

    I know they were stock in a few models of mid-50s Graevettes…and maybe another Canadian make or two…but I don’t know of any applications in the American makes.

    Anybody know of one?

    I might have to buy it…just for old times’ sake.

  8. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    My favorite engine is simple – whatever it was that came with the boat originally. Easier position for someone with multiple boats,(who also happens to be a purist) to take but the original engine in any classic boat is the closest we can come to replicating the experience the boat provided when new. Notice I did not specify whether these were good or bad experinces – just experiences. At least in the early years of the classic boat hobby, the boas were evocative and hearkened back to the youth of the hobbyists. Not so much the case now with 70-90 year old boats, but the sound and idiosyncracies of the original power were part of that picture. By the time the mid to late ’50’s came along, many had moved to then modern V-8’s which can be made to perform as well as a new engine in many ways, so the performance deficit is largely contained to boats say 55 years or older if powered originally. Even then it is not that bad in some cases. My 19′ BB with an M is just fine, given it’s purpose and design.

    So in my fleet – it is original all the way and original engines are my favorite. If I was building a replica or buying a new wood boat, I would probably put some sort of GM engine in it, for ease of parts and reasonable cost. Nothing beats them. The “modern” 1965 327 in my Skiff runs perfectly now and the SBC is almost timeless. Hard to call a 53 year old 283 in Mike’s 1928 CC “modern” power though, and it works perfectly in that boat.

    • dreed
      dreed says:

      I agree with you Paul. The original equipment is best in my opinion (as long as it is safe and trustworthy). That is probably why I don’t have an tattoos or have had plastic surgery.

  9. Troy
    Troy says:

    So many engines so little money!

    Love the 350 in my Formula, but one of the reasons I bought the Connie was because it still has the Hercules flat head WBR engines that I love.

    My “Uncle” who, has owned more wood boats than I can count, still claimes that the MCL in Mom’s Continental has the best sound on the lake. (partially due to the dual exhaust one a straight six.)

  10. Alex
    Alex says:

    That motor in the first pic of today’s posting is reminiscent of a Victoria’s Secret model. Matt, have you been swiping Suzy’s catalogs again?

    • matt
      matt says:

      The motor at the top of the story is actualy old art from an original Chris Craft Ad on motors.. I added the color to make it more metaphorical ish. Like a heart.. Ish..

  11. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    Matt has had Suzy pic on the site a lot of late, must be working on her letting him get another boat for father’s day.
    Good luck with that!

    John in Va.

    • matt
      matt says:

      the sad truth is that i have been boating once. For a couple hours and today i am still at work. It always seems time to make the dohnuts. That header shot was from a year ago when the weather was nice. not 30 mph winds or tornados, or droughts.

  12. Philip Andrew
    Philip Andrew says:

    Old school all the way. For me the heart of the boat is the engine. I just don’t get why you’d insult an old boat with a modern engine.

  13. Bob B.
    Bob B. says:

    Sometimes when I start our original powered K motor CC 17 Deluxe I no longer need the ride. I just listen to it in the dock, odors and all.

    Of course I do then take it out for a ride. Screw (single screw) the Noise!

  14. Don Ayers
    Don Ayers says:

    If you are going on shear numbers it has to be the Chris-Craft K series.

    They produced an incredible 80,000+

  15. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    For reliability and when you want quite, I’ll take a Shaw & Tenney or/with an Old Town

  16. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    So many engines, so little money. For modern power if you can’t go original, just love the big block GM and to top it off, the whir of a blower.

  17. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    Although nothing beats the sound of a radial unless its a flock of Packard engines in a PT boat.

  18. Kelly Wittenauer
    Kelly Wittenauer says:

    Love them all. That’s one of the best things about classic boat shows – the variety of engines to see and hear.

  19. Dick Dow
    Dick Dow says:

    Late weighing in here – Rich, there is a Hemi for sale out here that lived in a 19′ Barrelback for years… As for original power, on the boats I have restored, I have always done it in a way that the original power could be returned to the boat if someone wished to, but I use my boats in saltwater as well as fresh and prefer the reliability and cooling options on the “modern” (post 1958) V-8’s, not to mention the parts availability. That said, I have the original 1939 Cadillac V-8 flathead that ran in “Sindbad” waiting in the wings. It will go back in the boat for a while in a few years.

  20. Jimmy
    Jimmy says:

    My favorite V8 in a boat would be the purple monster hemi. But my favorite Chris Craft engine would be the direct drive MCL the best Chris Craft engine ever built.

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