Strength in numbers

It took Mercury Marine 24 years to sell its first million sterndrive units, but only 10 years to reach the second million — quite a testament for a product that was reluctantly brought to market and met with a cool reception by boat dealers, boat builders and the boating public at large.

Outboard power was king in 1961. Even though the new-fangled “inboard-outboard” (sterndrive) technology offered increased horsepower, it initially did not entice outboard loyalists. Mercury field product engineer John Bakos helped turn the tide, literally selling the first MerCruiser to dealers door to door from the back of a pickup truck. But it was his first-place finish in the renowned Miami-to-Nassau offshore boat race the same year that proved the reliability, speed and performance of the new power package. After that, boat builders took it from there.

The one-millionth MerCruiser unit rolled down the assembly line in Stillwater, Okla., in 1985 and was “christened” with a bottle of champagne by assembly workers. Things were different 10 years later. When the two-millionth sterndrive — a 454 EFI/MP Magnum engine coupled with a MerCruiser Bravo Three drive — was built in 1995, a celebration attended by 500 people was held at the Miami International Boat Show. Indianapolis 500 racing legend Mario Andretti, a MerCruiser customer, paralleled the traits required to win in racing and in business.

“To be a winner, you need the right equipment, attitude and total commitment,” Andretti said. “You also need to stay focused, be relentless, work hard and play by the rules. Consistency is the hallmark of a champion and when you think of the boating industry, the most consistent force ever has been Mercury Marine.”

Andretti autographed commemorative “Two-Million MerCruisers” hats and other racing memorabilia while sharing stories about his need for speed on land and on water.

Fittingly, the two-millionth MerCruiser was manufactured the same year (1995) its parent company, Brunswick Corporation, celebrated its 150th Anniversary. Despite slow sales due to the economy the past several years, MerCruiser remains a widely popular choice among boaters and boat builders. The three-millionth MerCruiser package was built in 2011.

Pilgrimage to the Power Mecca

When the American Power Boat Association (APBA) sanctioned a race and poker run in Milwaukee, Wis., in the summer of 2003, Mercury Racing threw open its doors and welcomed boaters home to its “Power Pilgrimage” in Fond du Lac.

More than 200 team members participated in the “Open Power House” that included plant tours and seminars, while more than 40 boats were paraded through downtown Fond du Lac. Local racing fans were treated to a “Display of Raw Power” at the Fond du Lac County fairgrounds.

The free event featured live music and raised more than $25,000 for the local United Way and $5,000 for the Police Explorers. A silent auction of marine memorabilia donated by racing legends and boat companies who, along with spectators, voted for their favorite team and boat through cash donations, generated the United Way jackpot. The donation to the Police Explorers was generated through the sale of burgers and brats.

Local contest winners and dignitaries experienced once-in-a-lifetime 100-mph rides aboard a canopied race boat at Lakeside Park.

Fred Hauenstein (Mercury years: 1978 – 2008)

Born to a boat racing family, Fred Hauenstein began racing in the American Power Boat Association (APBA) in 1960 at the age of 16. He turned his obsession with outboards into a dream-come-true when he became Mercury Racing’s chief of engineering for outboard racing in 1978.

For the next 30 years, mixing his vocation and avocation, he headed championship factory race teams and served in leadership positions with the APBA and Union Internationale Motonautique, while racing boats in his spare time.

Hauenstein led development of the 435hp T-4 outboard that won the 1980 World Championship in what is now Formula One boat racing. He supervised the factory effort that led to Mercury’s remarkable success at the prestigious “24 Hours of Rouen” French endurance race in 1991, and then introduced the new low-emission OptiMax outboards that finished first, second and fourth overall in 1998, beating engines of larger displacement and higher horsepower. Today, at 70, Hauenstein is participating in his 55th APBA season, racing in the kneel-down Stock Modified Hydroplane class.