Racing Outboards, 1907-1989 by Donald Peterson

Racing Outboards, 1907-1989 by Donald Peterson
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Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz

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Racing Outboards 1907-1989, A History of the Great Horsepower Race is a recently published book by Donald W. Peterson, and covers outboard racing motors. This book isn’t for everyone, especially those people who think of outboard boat racing engines as the poor man’s alternative to the big inboard engines and turbines. There are, however, dedicated fans of outboard motorboat racing who will find this historical book on outboard engines to be fascinating. Peterson has an easygoing style that makes his books interesting to the novice as well as the expert. Racing Outboards 1907-1989, A History of the Great Horsepower Race is a paperback book measuring 8 inches wide and 10 ½ inches in height, perfect for your shelves or as a coffee table book. The cover shows two boats in the water, a modern outboard racing boat and one from the past and they are expertly done. Racing Outboards 1907-1989, A History of the Great Horsepower Race is 130 pages on white matte paper and published in 2006. Peterson is the author, researcher and publisher for his series of books on motorboat racing and can be reached at 1-360-835-7499 or by email at [email protected]. Many of his books are available through the Hydroplane and Race Boat Museum in Kent, Washington. You can find the website for the Museum on the Internet.

There are 251 black and white photos in the book, some which are clear and others that are grainy and hard to make out. In addition there are 61 drawings, 31 Ads and posters and 13 diagrams and cut-away drawings. The text is sometimes in the hand of the author and sometimes from other sources and writers. There is a table of contents that list the preface, acknowledgments, 14 chapters, appendix, bibliography and index. The author makes a good effort at creating a scholarly work while at the same time making it understandable and enjoyable to the fan of outboard motorboat racing. The Index runs to two pages, but does not record every subject. Many books do away with an index altogether, but Peterson tries to give the book a workable index. The acknowledgment and bibliography provide the source material for the book. The appendix gives the world’s record for the one-mile outboard class from 1925 to 1989. The fourteen chapters separate the book into subject matter and important developments in outboard engines and the men who designed them. The construction of the book itself does not seem to require chapters, as the book goes along a chronological history of the outboard engine.

Chapter One is called The formative years and begins with Gustave Trouve’s first outboard engine in 1880. Chapter Two is titled 1928 – The Banner year and discusses the 1928 Elto Quad that set many records. Other outboard manufacturers bring out their models to compete with the Quad and Chapter Three discusses the heavy competition that ensues. In a short span of time the rpm rise dramatically into the 3000, 4000 and then into the 5000-rpm range. Johnson, Evinrude and Mercury bring out their outboard motors to vie with the Quad. Outboard waterspeed records fall continuously as new motors are tested. An unofficial time of 16 mph in 1925 by W. Clay Conover is broken 16 times until Harrison goes 51.98mph in 1930. Johnson and Elto’s are the predominant powerplants of this age, with an occasional Laros motor also setting three records. Six more records are set in 1931 alone and again Johnson, Elto and Laros are the engines to beat. Only eight records are set from 1932 to the outbreak of World War II and new competitors rise to the top in outboard engine development. Soriano engines move the record from 56mph to 74mph by 1936, when the Draper and Eldridge engines take over the records. Soriano retakes the record and then racing goes into a sleep until after the war.

In 1953 a Soriano engine records a time of 83mph and with improvements from Lesco, improves on the record with a run that breaks 100mph for the first time. But that would be the last time the Soriano engines would outpace their competitors. From 1958 until 1989, the outboard engines to beat would be Mercury, Evinrude and Johnson as they swapped records. Records would fall in huge numbers until Bob Wartinger would use an Evinrude V-8 to set the water speed record of 176.56 on November 30, 1989. The little outboard engines had grown up and were no longer the little guy’s engine. Racing Outboards 1907-1989, A History of the Great Horsepower Race ends with the year 1989 and so the development of the outboard engine and the records they set will have to wait for Peterson to write a sequel on outboard engines post 1989. Peterson has put together a book on outboard racing that is fun to read and to dissect. The drawings and diagrams help to explain the development of the outboard engines and his history helps us to put names and faces to a sport that is often an unknown. Men such as Carl Kiekhaefer at Mercury, Gustave Trouve and Ole and Ralph Evinrude are shown with their creations. If you love outboard motorboating, you will enjoy reading Racing Outboards 1907-1989, A History of the Great Horsepower Race. 

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]