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Anatomy of a Debut: Inside the Formula 353 and Ilmor 570 Project


It’s no accident that Ilmor Marine chose a Formula Boats 353 FAS3Tech sportboat to showcase its first two production MV8 570 engines during the Miami International Boat Show this week. That a heavy—we’re talking 9,600 pounds—35-foot stepped V-bottom is the debut platform for the lightweight—we’re talking 830 pounds each without the IMCO Marine drives—570-hp engines makes perfect sense.

“The high-performance powerboat market was not built on $1 million catamarans with turbine engines—they are the anomaly,” says Paul Ray, the president of Ilmor Marine in Plymouth, Mich. “Ten years ago when we got into this market, a 25- to 27-foot catamaran or V-bottom was a really popular and substantial boat. To rebuild this market and bring it back, we have to enable people to enter this sport at a price point that makes sense.

“If the high-performance market is going to come back, the smaller-boat segment of it has to come back,” he adds. “In looking at our own engine portfolio it was easy to see there was a huge gap, in price and horsepower, between our catalyzed 522-hp V-8 engine and our 650-hp V-10 engine. So we said, ‘Let’s take our 522-hp engine and beef it up to somewhere in the 565- to 570-hp range.’ ”

Now, no one is his right mind would argue that a twin-engine, production-built 35-footer that likely will price out in the low six-figure range is “cheap” or even necessarily “affordable” in average income quarters. But then, new high-performance powerboats have never been cheap or affordable. They never have been products of the masses.

Towboats, on the other hand, have been—at least relatively speaking—a lot more reasonably priced. And that was the world in which the idea for the 7.4-litre MV8 570 was born. Almost two years ago, Ilmor began producing a catalyzed version of the 454-cubic-inch engine for well-known towboat builder MasterCraft.

“The story really started when General Motors announced it was going to drop the 8.1-litre platform completely,” Ray says. “MasterCraft had been using Indmar versions of it in their larger towboats for some time.”

Rather than embracing a supercharged 6.2-litre GM LSA aluminum engine platform, Ilmor offered MasterCraft an alternative: a normally aspirated, Ilmor-modified version of the 7.4-litre GM Racing LSX block.

“We did not want to develop the 6.2-litre engine for a number of reasons, supercharging versus going with a bigger, normally aspirated platform being one of them,” Ray explains. “We knew the engine had to be catalyzed. That was very important, and not just from an emissions-requirement standpoint. A lot of these boats are being used for wake surfing, and the last thing we want is a wake surfer three feet behind a 500-plus-hp engine spewing carbon.

“We have almost 300 of those engines in the field right now,” he adds. “They have been phenomenally successful and exceptionally reliable.”

Inside the MV8 570

About the only stock GM parts on Ilmor’s 522-hp MasterCraft engine and its new MV8 570 non-catalyzed counterpart are its LS-3 cylinder heads and block. Like its lower-output siblings, all of the 570-hp engines are built by hand with custom-fabricated—to Ilmor’s design specifications—parts including forged cranks, rods and pistons. Even the “stock” LS-3 cylinder heads aren’t truly stock. Like the engine’s cast-iron GM Racing LS-X block, they are modified in house at Ilmor.


Ilmor introduced its new MV8 570 engine at the Miami International Boat Show last year with the goal of having the handbuilt powerplants in boats by early to mid 2013.

While the majority of the internal components for both engines are the same, the calibration, compression ratio and other elements Ray says he “won’t go into detail about” of the high-performance 570-hp model are different.

“As a fundamental package, the bottom end is the same for both engines,” Ray says. “But in towboats, you don’t run long at wide-open throttle, whereas in performance boats you do. The demands are more rigorous, so we had to make some changes for the 570, like adding an oil jet system to cool the pistons. Some of the changes we made are probably overkill, but some were absolutely necessary to make sure the valve train worked efficiently and reliably to keep producing the power.”

Another major change difference between the MV 570 and its lower-output towboat sibling? The 570-hp engine has a closed cooling system rather than an open freshwater system.

“Every change we made between the catalyzed engine and the high-performance engine was a durability change based on different operating parameters,” Ray says. “Closed cooling is pretty much standard on high-performance engines.”

The MV8 570 engine makes it peak propeller-shaft horsepower—570 hp—at 6,000 rpm, an engine operating speed that has raised eyebrows in the traditional “big-block” engine crowd. Ray says it’s a non-issue.

“There is no risk whatsoever,” he explains. “We race the Indy 500 with Chevy engines making 700 hp at 12,000 rpm running flat out, except to take on fuel and change tires, for four hours. There’s no risk because the engine is designed to do that. These 570 engines are designed to run at 6,000 rpm continuously. They are under no less stress at 5,200 rpm.”

As has been previously reported on speedonthewater.com, the release of the MV8 570 platform has been delayed more than once since its introduction at the 2012 Miami International Boat Show. Some of that had to do with marketplace timing—the go-fast boat segment is just beginning to emerge from the roughest economic patch in its relatively short history, and the decision-makers at Ilmor felt no pressure to bring the new engine to market. But according to Ray, it was more than that.

“This engine proved to be a difficult birth,” he admits. “As soon as we felt we had something reliable, we pushed a little harder and found something else we needed to do. But we feel that we have a product that is ready now, and engine No. 1 and engine No. 2 are in the Formula.”

The Winning Formula

No stranger to Ilmor power with roughly 10 installations of the engine company’s 725-hp V-10 offerings in its 382 FAS3Tech and 400SS models, Formula jumped at the chance to be the recipient of the first pair of production MV8 570 powerplants. As a hefty boat that would take horsepower and torque to move efficiently, the 35-footer seemed to be a natural showcase for the 570-hp Ilmor products as the company had recently completed the same model with twin Mercury Racing 565 engines.


The Ilmor 570-powered Formula 353 is dressed in the company’s new-for-2013 Stiletto graphics package. (Click on the image for an overall rendering of the color scheme. Click on the images below for a closer look at each photo.)


Scott Porter, the chief executive officer of Formula Boats/Thunderbird Products in Decatur, Ind., is quick to point out, however, that he didn’t accept Ilmor’s proposal to put the first set of MV8 570s in one of his company’s boats to compete with the Mercury Racing 565-equipped 353, though he says he looks forward to doing some “side-by-side running” comparisons with both boats down the road.

“We still have a great relationship with Mercury Racing,” Porter says. “But I believe that competition is good, and that it’s always nice for buyers to have options and to be able to look at different engine packages.

“You know, these engines also would be an awesome package in our 382,” he adds. “One of the many things we like about Ilmor is that they are really in tune with packaging for the buyer—they create engine packages that don’t just perform, they look awesome. If you’re spending money on engines to go fast, you want them to look good when you open the hatch. Ilmor does a great job with that with their tubular exhaust and carbon-fiber pieces.”

The 570-powered 353 is not only the first Formula offering to have Ilmor’s newest engine package, it’s one of the first models to sport Formula’s new-for-2013 Stiletto graphics package. Black at the boat’s rub rail, the color scheme lightens to charcoal gray as it moves down the boat’s hull sides and onto its deck.

For Ray, the partnership of Formula and Ilmor on the release of the first production MV8 570 engines is nothing short of perfect. He believes that the timing, as well as the blend of engine and boat products, was ideal for both companies.

“It was a great marriage of opportunity for both of us,” Ray says. “Some months back near the end of development, we approached them and asked them if they’d be interested. They wanted to create some more enthusiasm for their boats and they were prepared to give it a chance. We chose Formula not simply because they have done a lot of business with us but because they have placed a lot of faith in us, and we thought we should reward that faith with the first pair of these engines.”

Editor’s Note: Look for an on-water first-impression feature on the 570-powered Formula 353 FAS3Tech to go live on Wednesday evening, Feb. 13, on speedonthewater.com.

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