With a list price of a little more than $200,000, the Mercury Racing 1350 engine and M8 drive is the high-performance powerboat world’s most expensive piston power package. If a more expensive, fully integrated and computer-controlled single-manufacturer engine-and-drive package for go-fast boat exists, I sure haven’t heard of it. And keep in mind that most of the quad overhead cam, twin turbocharged 1,350-hp engines are sold in pairs. We’re talking big bucks.
For that kind of dough, you could have a small fleet of really nice cars in your driveway. What the heck, toss in the price of the boat—you know, the pretty thing they build around those engines—and you could have a home with a garage big enough to shelter those cars.
So why does the Mercury Racing 1350 engine cost so much? After all, it’s just a bunch of fancy parts like double-scrolled water-jacketed turbochargers that your favorite mechanic could assemble and a brooding Geek Squad technician could program for about one-quarter of the price—at least that’s what I’ve read on the Internet. Being the biggest player in the go-fast marine engine game, the Fond du Lac, Wisconsin-based greedy corporate engine builder simply must be gouging the buyer.
I mean, shouldn’t everyone be able to afford the most sophisticated and powerful—and successful—engine the company has ever introduced?
Fueled by righteous indignation and the inequity of it all, I called Fred Kiekhaefer, the president of Mercury Racing, yesterday and demanded some answers. I started with a simple question: Why is the 1350 so damn expensive?
After he stopped laughing, Kiekhaefer answered.
“Because we do our homework and that costs a lot of money,” he said. “We don’t sell prototypes. We do a lot of research, development and testing before we sell a product to the public. We use top-shelf components. Our research and development and testing was done before we sold our first 1350 engine.”
What that means in the case of the 1350 is that Mercury Racing started the project in 2007 and introduced the final product three years later during the worst economy the go-fast boat industry has ever seen. (It’s worth noting that the industry didn’t exist during the Great Depression.) Kiekhaefer readily admitted that the price tag for the 1350 raised eyebrows among go-fast boat builders at the time, which was why Mercury Racing created first-time incentive programs for boat builders who wanted the engine.
“Initially, there was some sticker shock,” he said. “But once they realized, ‘Hey, these engines sell boats,’ they got over it.”
Feeling confident in my line of questioning—Kiekhaefer had yet to give me his trademark long pause that follows a hopelessly stupid question—I asked him how he responded to consumers who complained about the 1350’s price tag.
“You’re not our target customer,” he said. “If you want trouble-free boating at the highest power level available, you spend the money. That’s the value side of the equation. The people who have the means to buy these engines want to go out and have a good time. They are looking for something that will bring them home—they don’t want to come back under tow. That happens in the marine environment, even with these engines. The 1350 has not been perfect—any mechanical piece can have issues, especially at these [power and torque]outputs—but it’s been close to perfect.”
But compared to what was out there before? This is like taking a Sunday drive in your Caddy.
“Look, I’d love to own one [boat with 1350s]myself, but I can’t afford it,” he added. “I don’t have that income level. Some people are not meant to play in that league. But I’m glad some people can.”
Some people couldn’t be that many people given the price of the engine. So, fully expecting to be told such comparisons couldn’t be made, I asked Kiekhaefer how the success of the introduction of the 1350 compared to the success of the 525 EFI. And I waited for the pause that never came.
“This has been, without question, the best production introduction I have ever been involved in,” he said. “It took off faster than the Kiekhaefer stern drive in the 1980s. It was delightful to see.”
But given the 1350’s outrageous sticker price and the state of the economy, was the immediate success a surprise? I had to ask. Still, no pause.
“I fully expected it because I already had experience with the prototype,” said Kiekhaefer. “I knew what was coming. People have been sold so many times over the years, ‘This is the most incredible, most powerful engine,’ only to be underwhelmed. We knew we had something not just very good, but very reliable in the 1350. We knew what we had.”
It sounded to me like Kiekhaefer was saying that you get what you pay for with the 1350. But I wanted to be sure, so I asked.
Then came the pause.
Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the editor of Sportboat magazine.