This past June the Antique Outboard Motor Club (AOMC) held their fourth annual outboard motor show at the Great Lakes Marine Engine and Boat Expo on Belle Isle in Detroit, MI at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. If you, like me, where born in a place with lots of access to public water ways, chances are good the first motorized vehicle you learned to operate, was a row boat powered by an outboard motor. Unfortunately you don’t see many kids zooming around vacation lakes these days, thrilled by the wind-in-the-hair freedom provided by operating a little single prop motor.
Thankfully there is the AOMC, a nationwide organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of outboard motor technology and mechanics. This low cost hobby appeals to people who enjoy boat or working on engines but may only have limited space. AOMC brings these motor enthusiasts together through their website, their newsletter The Antique Outboarder, and by holding shows and gatherings across the country. There are 2500 members nationwide, with the largest contingent being located in the mid-west. It’s easy to see why, since there are ponds and lakes all around, but production of outboard motors started in Detroit in 1906 with the first Waterman motor.
It took a few years for these loud new water churners to catch on, but once marketed as “detachable rowboat motors” in 1913, consumers really began to take notice. At the show enthusiasts were able to take a close look at a wide collection of marine engines spanning the early steam powered motors to the slick art deco designs of the 30’s & 40’s. The show also gives collectors a chance to search for missing engine parts, be it through trade or auction.
If you’re lucky you might run into Merrill Schmidt of the Gator Chapter in South Florida, who makes missing motor parts by hand. He is also a collector who restored and now owns two very rare outboard motors. The first is a one of a kind model F-109 with no manufacturer’s name that was still patent pending at the time of production. Displayed next to it, Merrill’s Evinrude saltwater motor, noticeably distinct due to it’s usage of brass instead of aluminum since salt water eats through aluminum.
Alongside the impressive array of motors were some equally impressive boats, both big and small. The American Power Boat Association (APBA) attended with a selection of vintage hydroplane racing boats. They’re kept in top racing condition because the APBA continues to race them in competition around the country. I’ve always wanted to race one of those, and while that may be a pipe dream, at least I got the opportunity to sit in the drivers seat of White Lightening, a CE-52, 5-Liter “E” class hydroplane. Originally built in 1972 it holds a Chevy small block V-8, 220 HP with a top speed of 90 mph. While the seat was a tight fit, I still think I could win some blue ribbons if they’d give me a shot. If you’re in Detroit August 24-26 be sure to catch the APBA Gold Cup.
Not to be outdone the model and tether racing boat collectors came through with some of the most finely detailed tiny boats you will ever see. Some can be run in the water, others are just for display, but all were hand made without the benefit of kits. I was, of course, most drawn to the recreation of the Pequod, Quint’s famously doomed shark hunting boat from “JAWS“. In the middle of all this was John Sanderson, a historian and collector of model sail boats. John is currently working on a wonderful project researching a book and exhibit on the Detroit Public Schools Model Yacht Program that ran from 1929 – 2004. He is looking to buy, copy, or borrow anything he can find on this once great program. If you have something to share please reach out to him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re really interested in small engines with big power, check out the world of tether boat racing. Though it originated here in America, it’s now mostly a European sport, with today’s tether boats reaching speeds of up to 120 mph. This was a vintage show, however, so the focus was more the craftsmanship of each little boat. In order to join one of the original tether boat racing clubs back in the 1930-40’s you had to be able to build your own boat. Most ran on gas engines like tether cars and model airplanes, but the one compressed air engine stood out from the rest. It’s two compressed air tanks gleaming in the sun while the 3 cylinder compressed air motor was tucked away hidden from sight. It would be interested to see what was faster and what was louder, the air or the gas? Unfortunately tether boat racing was most popular before the war when the 1939, ’40 &, ’41 international tether boat races were held at Belle Isle. Nowadays no tether boats run there.
If you have a passion for motors, but don’t have the money or room to collect cars, why not give outboard motors a look? Take the time to reach out to Charlie Schmidt of AOMC, he’d be happy to tell you all about it!
We don’t have manuals for pre-war motors, but you might be surprised at how far back Clymer Marine’s outboard motor service manuals do cover. Our Mercury Outboard manual B745-2 covers 3.9-135hp motors from 1964-71. The Evinrude/Johnson Outboard manual B734 covers 1.5-125hp motors from 1956-1972. Then there are the 1955-68 condensed repair manuals in the Old Outboard Motor Manual Volume 1 (Apache, Atlas Royal, Brooklure, Buccaneer, Chief, Chrysler, Clinton, Commando, Commodore, Corsair, Elgin, Eska, Evinrude, Firestone, Gale, Guppy, Hiawatha, Husky, Johnson, McCulloch, Mercury, Mid-Jet, Mono, Neptune, Oliver, Outboard Jet, Scott, Sea Bee, Seagull, Sea King, Sears, Sovereign, Sprite, Tecumseh, West Bend and Wizard motors less than 30hp) and Old Outboard Motor Repair Manual Volume 2 (Buccaneer, Chrysler, Commodore, Corsair, Elgin, Evinrude, Firestone, Fisher-Pierce, Gale, Hiawatha, Homelite, Johnson, McCulloch, Mercury, Scott, Sea Bee, Sea King, Sears, West Bend, Wizard motors with more than 30hp).