The First Mercury Legend

By Chuck Petersen

Pre-World War II Kiekhaeffer outboards were basically improvements of existing two-cycle engines of the day. While better electronics and carburetion aided in reliability, the three and six horsepower models were not seen as a racing threat.

Experience gained building chainsaws and drone target aircraft motors during the war would be evidenced in the post-war Mercury “Comet” and “Lightening” outboard designs. Anti-friction ball and needle bearings in connecting rods, crankshaft and prop-shaft made for a high rpm capable mill. Abrasion resistant rubber rotor water pumps and streamlined housings and cowlings were the finishing touch.

Racing for Mercury truly began in 1947 when their 10 hp “Lightening” dominated their class in the Albany-New York marathon. In the day, these long distance races received national media attention. The most famous race of its kind in the Midwest was the “Winnebago-Land” marathon along the Fox River chain near Oshkosh, Wisconsin. In 1948, Mercury again dominated the first five places. Out of 200 entrants, 141 completed the 134 mile course in the Albany race. This feat would have been considered impossible before the war.

To give their motors further boost in speed and handling, Mercury developed a streamlined lower unit or “Quick Silver” bullet gear case in 1950. One important design feature developed by the Mercury engineers was to match the bolt pattern and water pump feature found in the standard gear case models. Lake hot-rod artists like my dad, Silver Fox Petersen, would purchase the Quicksilver unit as a factory upgrade for their standard motors. One could keep the original units for water skiing or multiple-passenger applications while bolting on the racing case for high speed running.

Bear in mind that these were all non-shift models. You pulled the string and were instantly in motion!! This did not win over the fishing crowd when OMC offered full-shift models in the early 1950’s. The low-revving power heads with large shift lower units were not designed for speed; however, so Kiekhaffer retained their place in the outboard industry for the performance minded boater.

It is still amazing to me today how light and streamlined these Merc units were. My 1952 KG-7H model class B engine will run 50mph on a small runabout while feeling of similar weight to my 5 hp 1950 Johnson fishing friend!! One word of caution: Restorers finding an old Merc will need to completely disassemble the power head to check for rust  pitting on the connecting rod/crankshaft surfaces. This will most often spell the end of service for older motors left sitting around for years with out proper storage lubrication.

Happy summer 2002 to all at BSLOL. I hope to see you in Red Wing!!!