Although Mercury Marine introduced its first outboards in 1939, it wasn’t long before the company also dominated the sterndrive market. That side-by-side development gave Mercury expanded capabilities.
After its first six-cylinder outboard debuted in 1956 (an in-line-six known fondly as the Tower of Power), Mercury followed in 1975 with one of the first V-6 outboards: the 2L 175 hp Black Max Merc 1750, which company founder Carl Kiekhaefer called “the meanest, toughest, most beautiful machine we’ve ever built.”
The Mercury Black Max
In 1975, Mercury (175 hp) and OMC (200 hp) debut the first V-6 outboards. Mercury’s is nicknamed the “Black Max.”
The Black Max used power porting, a piston design that provided an additional source of fuel and air that increased horsepower without additional new parts.
Direct Fuel Injection
Mercury delivered the first recreational electronic fuel injection in 1987 in its V-6 220 XRi. EFI also ushered in the first electronic-control modules — essentially a computer brain — to outboards.
In 1996, Mercury continued its two-stroke evolution with the direct-injection OptiMax. The DFI technology helped Mercury meet the new EPA emissions requirements. OptiMax featured a unique air-assist injection system that employed an air compressor and a lower-pressure fuel injector rather than a high-pressure liquid pump.
Supercharged Mercury Verados
Optis mixed compressed air with fuel, blasting it into the combustion chamber. The fine fuel atomisation achieved with that system allows OptiMax engines to burn diesel and jet fuel as well as gasoline.
As conventional two-strokes began to raise emissions red flags at the EPA in the 1990s, companies such as Honda and Yamaha rolled out 100-plus-horsepower four-strokes (1998). Mercury introduced its Verado platform in 2004 with a complete line of higher-horsepower, supercharged four-stroke outboards designed to target the two-stroke market with equivalent power and torque features.
Mercury Outboard Tech Advances
Supercharging allows Mercury to reduce the displacement (2.6L for Verado 200 to 400 hp) and therefore the weight of the outboard. In the past decade, Mercury has completed its full four-stroke product line all the way up to the Racing 400 Verado.
In addition, Foulkes notes that larger Verados, which use in-line-six powerheads, are narrow engines that fit on 26-inch centers. That allows large-center-console builders to pile as many as five outboards on a transom.
Along the way, Mercury has also developed several new materials such as its proprietary anticorrosive alloys as well as some unique systems like Advance Midsection (AMS) on Verados. AMS reduces the transmission of engine vibration to the boat by cradling the engine around its midsection.
In 2013, Mercury Marine introduced its Joystick Piloting for outboards. New digital technologies help drive these kinds of specialty customisations, with an eye toward making boat ownership as simple as possible.
Mercury has also instituted Joystick Piloting, Active Trim, Vessel View (now with digital gauge display as well as sonar and chart plotting) and a new steering helm using Magneto Realogic Fluid, which contains suspended particles that provide greater resistance with electrical current. Boaters can effectively set their own resistance and suspension, like stiffening the shocks on a car.
As we’ve seen in the past five or six years, outboard customisation has outpaced technological changes within the engines themselves. Joystick steering, digital integration of gauges with boats’ systems and marine electronics, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi controllers, multicolour cowlings, purpose-built propellers, auto-trim systems — all have delivered fingertip control and immediate feedback to boaters.
Mercury expects customisation to continue, and they are always pushing for improved fuel economy. Alternative fuels are still a big question mark, and ethanol issues persist. Research is underway to find better protection for outboards and fuel systems from higher levels of ethanol, but as yet it is all behind closed doors.
Mercury strive to make boating as easy and fun as humanly possible. Mercury Outboards designers are certainly doing their part.