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High-Performance Engine Upgrade Story Reveals True Costs

More years ago than I care to remember, I wrote my first engine upgrade article for Powerboat magazine. The story was about adding a Whipple supercharger to a MerCruiser 502 Magnum MPI engine, no longer in production, in a high-performance boat.

Working with me that day—OK, doing the work while I took notes—were Bob Teague of Teague Custom Marine in Valencia, Calif., and Dustin Whipple of Whipple Industries in Fresno, Calif. As one of the least mechanically inclined people you’ll ever meet, I was fascinated watching these two guys sweating and swearing as they did this “easy” job.

Truth be told, the job was easy for them. In later years, I learned that sweating and swearing—and grunting and bitching—just come with the territory of engine upgrades and rebuilds.

When the job was done, we took the boat to a nearby waterway and ran it. Sure enough, it had a lot more power. But to make use of that power, we needed a bigger-pitch propeller. Fortunately, Teague had about a dozen appropriate propellers in the back of his truck, and hundreds more back at his shop if one of those didn’t work. Sure enough, with the power upgrade and a new propeller the boat picked up almost 10 mph on the top end.

“We really should upgrade the drive,” Teague told me on the way back to his shop. “I had to baby this one. I don’t know how long it will last with this much power.”

I learned that day that when it comes to engine upgrades, you never do just one thing. One thing leads to another, at least if you want to do it right. I noted that in my story, but didn’t go into much detail about the true costs of such an upgrade.

But I do in my latest column, “The Big Picture: Playing the Engine Upgrade Game,” on Boats.com. Check it out.