A long way from Lake Okauchee

Jeff Megahan | VOLUME 23, ISSUE 6

Evinrude celebrates 100 years of marine innovation, and changes the terms of the two-stroke/four-stroke debate.

In 2009, BRP marks the 100-year anniversary of the Evinrude outboard engine. Recently, a large group of boating journalists from across Australia and New Zealand was invited to an anniversary event at the Marriott hotel on the Gold Coast to commemorate the milestone, and to take a look at what the future holds for the iconic company.

A 100-year anniversary doesn’t come along every day, and during a presentation dinner with the boating journos, BRP Evinrude justifiably indulged in some nostalgia. And while the company spokesmen were proud of where they have been, they were even more eager to discuss where they were going.

New on the scene for Evinrude are the 25hp and 30hp E-TEC outboard engines, and 115hp High Output (HO) and 130hp engines. In commemoration of Evinrude’s 100 years of innovation, the entire range will feature an anniversary year graphic design. They also discussed the 55 MFE (multi-fuel engine), released in early 2008, which is a military-grade outboard that runs on everything from jet fuel to kerosene.

THE OLD DEBATE

Every time boating journalists come together for a major event like this, drinks are served, opinions are aired and old debates are renewed. The same rivalries routinely emerge: ’glass vs. aluminium, economy vs. performance, speed vs. stability. And as you’d expect, in light of the Evinrude anniversary, the long-running two-stroke vs four-stroke debate was a major topic of conversation.

Arguably, Evinrude has done more than any other company to help retire the two-stroke’s reputation as dirty and loud. It was Evinrude’s E-TEC direct fuel injection, which premiered in 2003, that changed the game. All at once, DFI improved fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, oil usage, noise levels and maintenance needs.

Even the biggest fans of four-stroke engines will admit that the broad distinctions between two-stroke and four-stroke outboards have disappeared in the last five years, and that new technologies on both sides of the divide are making the old arguments look, well, old.

We are entering a new phase of the rivalry between four-strokes and two-strokes, a phase that is highly technical. Throughout the dinner presentation, spokesmen for BRP Evinrude unleashed a barrage of complex charts and graphs as evidence of the two-stroke’s superiority in torque, acceleration and top-end speed. The charts were highly informative and deadly dull. By the end of the night, the journos left the room convinced, committed or catatonic.

ON THE WATER

The next day, while testing a 6.8m Tournament 2250 Bluewater equipped with twin Evinrude 130s, I asked Paul Dawson, Evinrude’s National Training Manager, his opinion of the two-stroke vs four-stroke debate.

Dawson, drawing on his 30 years experience working with two-stroke engines, was surprisingly diplomatic. “The modern four-stroke outboards are quiet and smooth at most speeds, and they run reasonably well,” he said. “But, they just don’t have the nice strong power curve of two-strokes,” he added.

Dawson believes that once you get past all the old arguments, the main distinction between two-and four-stroke engines is the torque curve. “A two-stroke has a compact torque curve,” he said, “which means the horsepower climbs very quickly.” To demonstrate, he opened the throttle on the twin 130s and instantly we were on the plane. “See what I mean?” he smiled over the purring 130s.

According to Dawson, it’s still much easier to accelerate a heavy boat with a two-stroke engine. “Four-strokes tend to be focused on the top end,” he explained, “but it tends to take a long wind-up to get them there.”

The twin 130s proved to be even better spokesmen for Evinrude than Dawson. They amply demonstrated all of his claims. They were quiet, fantastic at low speeds, uncompromising at top speeds and light weight (a full 63kg less than other engines in their class).

Like any sensible manufacturer, BRP Evinrude is doing its best to broaden its range of engines and make them available to the widest assortment of boats possible, from its big 300s down to its new 25hp.

A test ride on a 4.2m Allison Bassmaster 133 fishing boat, fitted with a single Evinrude 25, offered a great opportunity to focus on what BRP Evinrude is doing for fishermen who put boats before bling.

A WEIGHTY ISSUE

The performance of the Bassmaster 133, a straight-forward fishing boat with a straightforward layout, definitely benefitted from the use of the Evinrude 25. The Evinrude 25 weighs about 66kg, compared to up to 125kg for a four-stroke with the same horsepower. Because the 25 is tiller-driven, and the pilot has to sit in the stern with the motor, weight distribution would normally be an issue. But in small chop, at a fair speed, the bow stayed relatively level.

Although we didn’t do any testing in the shallows on the day, you’d have to guess that the shallow-water performance of the light weight Evinrude 25 would also be persuasive.

I would spend the rest of the day testing Evinrude-equipped boats, from the Blue Fin 4.2, powered by a single Evinrude 30; to the Stabi Craft 759 Sport, powered by twin 130s; to the high-performance Skeeter 5X170 fishing boat, powered by a single Evinrude 115 HO. In the end, I was left with few doubts about the performance of BRP Evinrude’s outboards, and even fewer doubts about how well the company will do over the next 100 years.

THE NEW DEBATE

It used to be that you tell the difference between a two-and four-stroke outboard just by sound and smell. No matter where you stand on the two-stroke/four-stroke debate, you have to admire BRP Evinrude for its commitment to innovation and improvement.

It’s taken 100 years, but the distinction between four-stroke and two-stroke engines has finally narrowed to the point where you need a chart of boring technical data to tell them apart.

Of course, out on the water, you’ll make your own decisions. And, indeed, it’s out on the water that it really counts.

THE 55 MFE (MULTI-FUEL ENGINE)

The first thing you notice about the 55 MFE is its “stealth design”. Painted a tactical low-reflection black, with grey lettering, the 55 MFE looks tough. The 55s have tiller steering and rope start, and are designed to be light enough for one man to carry. (Weighing in around 132kg, that better be one strong man).

The 55 MFEs are fully submersible. In military operations, Navy Seals throw them into the water out of low-flying helicopters, and then mount them on a RIB or Zodiac in the water.

How MF is it? It runs on kerosene, JP-4, JP-5, JP-8, Jet A and Jet B, as well as standard petrol. Changing fuel sources is a simple matter of flipping a lever on the fuel control unit.

Naturally, we asked if it could run on Jack Daniels. The answer is yes, you can do it, but not for long (sugar residue builds up in the engine). But, as Paul Dawson, Evinrude’s National Training Manager put it: “With the price of Jack in this country, you’d probably run out of money before you ran out of power.”

History

Melting ice cream fuelled first outboard

In 1909, the founder of Evinrude went out for ice cream and came back with an idea that revolutionised the marine industry.

Famous for his invention of the first commercially-successful outboard motor, Ole Evinrude was an inventor and entrepreneur who seemed to be born with a knack for internal combustion engines.

At the age of 23, Ole Evinrude opened a pattern-making shop in Wisconsin, USA. In his spare time, he built his own “horseless carriages” and gained notoriety as an engineer and eccentric as he tested his inventions (and the patience of his neighbours) on the roads near his shop.

It was on a hot day in 1909, that Ole Evinrude made a now-famous trip by rowboat to fetch his fiancée some ice cream. As he rowed the long expanse across Lake Okauchee, watching his beloved’s ice cream melt, he hit upon an idea: his trip would be a lot easier – and quicker – if he had a gasoline engine on the back of the boat.

The next summer saw the first field test of Evinrude’s outboard motor, a 1.5hp iron engine that weighed 28kg. Although others had experimented with outboards, Evinrude’s patented “marine propulsion systems” were the first commercially-available engines of their kind, and they were a great success.

As the reputation for Evinrude’s engines grew, so did his company’s ability to attract innovators. In 1912, he allowed two motorcycle-mad young men, William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson, to tinker in his machine shop. The pair later went on to found a motorcycle company you may have heard of.

Ole Evinrude never stopped improving his motors, and his industry firsts – like the two-cylinder motor, the first 200hp V6 and the electric starter – ensured his company would continue to grow. Since acquiring Evinrude in 2001, BRP has added innovations of its own, like its direct-injection E-TEC technology.

Now a hundred years later it’s obvious Ole Evinrude’s legacy of innovation is still going strong. When you speak with the employees of Evinrude BRP, they are unanimous in their belief that innovation is the key to their success. But if you press them, they’ll admit that chance had a role in the company’s success too.

After all, if Ole had focused on building a better esky for that ice cream during his famous rowboat trip, they’d probably be out of a job right now.


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