Taking a well-earned lunch break at Captain Ron’s Lakefront Bar and Grill during the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout in Central Missouri, Jim Schultz—the man behind Factory Billet Power—paused for a moment to reflect on the events of the morning. A couple of hours earlier, Schultz had run his canopied Outerlimits 51 GTX V-bottom powered by the first pair of his remarkable 1,650/1,950-hp (pump versus E-90 fuel) engines alongside Factory Billet engine builder Mike Faucher to 161 mph.
“This is the best time I’ve ever had,” said Schultz.
A longtime performance boat owner and lifelong water- skier who owns GereMarie Corp., a company in Lake Zurich, Ill., that has made all of the billet aluminum parts for MasterCraft Boat Company for almost 20 years, Schultz had good reason to be excited beyond a top speed that would stand up as a tie for top overall V-bottom honors in this year’s event. He’d taken a big, albeit calculated, risk entering the 51-footer in the world’s highest- profile top-speed contest for high-performance powerboats.
Had the boat, which boasts a prototype automatic three- speed transmission and auto drive- and tab-trims, failed to perform on such a large stage, the failure would have been a major setback to a project more than five years and several million dollars in the making.
In short, it could have been a marketing disaster, and Schultz knew it. He knew people could have gone home shaking their heads about how an elite almost-4,000-hp canopied Outerlimits got smoked by a homegrown, Minnesota-based, almost-4,000-hp 43-foot Black Thunder pleasure boat.
Instead, they went home raving about Factory Billet—not just its outstanding first-time performance in the event, but about all the possibilities it presented for the future.
“Based on all of the research and development, product testing and validation we had done, we were confident we would succeed,” Schultz said.
From the Ground Up
After owning a 42-foot Fountain and a Cigarette 39 Top Gun Unlimited—GereMarie Corp. manufacturers all billet aluminum parts for Cigarette Racing Team and Schultz calls company principal Skip Braver a close friend—Schultz purchased his new canopied 51-footer from Outerlimits in 2008. (Cigarette actually did all the upholstery work on Factory Billet’s new interior.) Originally the boat was powered by Mercury Racing 1075SCi engines, which the owner eventually swapped out for Mercury Racing 1200s.
He ran the boat in poker runs for the next two seasons, but with both sets of engines Schultz experienced cooling issues that led to mechanical failures. Between the demands of his parts-manufacturing business and his frustration with the high-performance boating experience in general, the 51-footer went mostly unused for the next couple of years.
In 2011, Schultz brought on Faucher, a former professional drag-racing engine builder who worked in the engine department at Outerlimits, to help create an engine platform of his own. But Schultz’ vision extended well beyond creating a reliable, big-horsepower engine. From coming on plane to running flat out, he wanted to make the entire go-fast boating experience easier.
Before they even began designing the 605-cubic- inch, proprietary Dart block engine platform, Schultz and Faucher designed and built a 7,500-square-foot engine- building shop within the 180,000-square-foot GereMarie facility. The new shop included an ultra-modern, world-class dynamometer cell.
“The first year, we built the infrastructure,” he said. “We are true engineers here. When something has never been done before in the high-performance marine power segment, it always seems to get done on the customer’s dime. A lot of the independent engine builders out there don’t understand true product validation. They send the engines to the boat builder and then try to figure out how to make them run, and when they don’t, the customers are on their own.
“I don’t want to go to a poker run looking over my shoulder trying to avoid a customer,” he said. “So what we set out to do was build a product that is second to none for a select few high-end customers. But we knew that without proper testing and data, that would never be successful.”
Roughly one year later, the first set of 1,650/1,950-hp turbocharged Factory Billet engines began running on the company’s dyno. For the next three years, they ran engines on the dyno in more than 1,000 pulls.
“It took a few years to putthe project together,” Faucher said. “We ran the engines with all kinds of different valve-train configurations, with different types of oils and so on. To this day, we have not had a single engine failure. And those first two engines are the same engines that are in the Factory Billet boat right now. The 1,650/1,950-hp engines— the same engines we brought to the Boyne Thunder Poker Run in July—had 70 operating hours on them in the boat with no maintenance intervention other than replacing a belt on a water pump. Our first scheduled rebuild will be at 100 hours at a fraction of our competitors’ cost.”
In addition to the Dart block fabricated to the company’s specifications, those pieces included 88-millimeter proprietary water-jacketed turbochargers with high-efficiency integrated waste gates co-developed with Precision Turbo in Indiana, Factory Billet’s own intercoolers and a valve-train developed using Spintron technology. While the first set of engines has conventional headers, all future sets will be equipped with first-of-their kind one-piece, non-welded and non-cast Inconel headers.
But—arguably of course— the most powerful component involved in the engine is its MoTeC M1 computer controller with proprietary firmware developed at the well-known engine ECU company in close collaboration with the team at Factory Billet. The controller, which Schultz and Faucher like to the call the “Command Center,” measures more than 100 engine-operating parameters a second. What’s more, it integrates the engines’ automatic Flex-Fuel system three-speed automatic shifting transmissions and auto drive- and tab-trim systems in one simple package.
Brain of the Operation
While the Flex-Fuel concept of being able to use various grades of fuel to produce various engine horsepower outputs isn’t new, the MoTeC M1 controller has enabled Factory Billet to take
it to another level of simplicity. Running E-90, the engines make 1,950 hp. On regular fuel, the controller reduces their power output—through automatic timing and boost adjustments to 1,650 hp. And aside from putting whatever fuel happens to be available in the tank, nothing is required from the operator. He doesn’t even have to flip a switch, much less drain fuel tanks, replace fuel or put in fuel additives.
“The Flex-Fuel system uses an integrated sensor that monitors the ethanol content of the fuel and feeds that information to the ECU,” Faucher said. “Adjustments such as taking away boost or adding timing are made on the fly by the Command Center.”
The Command Center also is the brain behind Factory Billet Power’s automatic three- speed transmission and auto drive- and tab-trim systems. At present, Faucher and Schultz have the transmission programmed through the ECU to shift into second gear at 40 mph and third gear at 110 mph. Co-developed with Indiana-based Coan Engineering, the transmission also downshifts using the same speed-established parameters, which helps slow the boat. All shifting, of course, is digital.
But the biggest benefit from the transmissions is that they allow for aggressive propping and gearing for higher speeds, but still enable the 10,000- pound 51-footer with 1:24:1 gear reductions in its Mercury Racing No. 6 drives and 37-inch pitch (17-inch diameter and 16-degree rake angle) Hering propellers to get on plane with ease. No pushing the engines to excessively high rpm, backing off as the boat comes on plane and then nailing the throttles again is required.
“The huge advantage of the transmissions is they let you come out of the hole with a larger propeller that you still have the rpm to pull for top speed,” Schultz said. “You don’t need ‘throttle’ to get on plane—the boat just rises out of the water. The propellers don’t cavitate, which is hard on them. The transmissions eliminate all of that.”
“On the engine side, the transmissions make the engines more user-friendly at higher power levels,” Faucher said. “They give you the ability to make the engines happier. And the dock manners are incredible—they’re so smooth and happy at low rpm.”
Using accelerometers and yaw meters with sensors feeding into the Command Center, the Factory Billet Power team was able to establish baseline parameters for coming on plane and running at various speeds for the auto drive- and tab-trim system. Knowing that manual override for the system, which does not adjust trim for changing sea conditions (“That will be an upgradable system enhancement coming soon,” said Schultz), would be essential, they provided trim- control buttons that adjust the tabs up or down one half of one degree at a time.
To develop those parameters for the system, Schultz and Faucher ran the Command Center in “teach mode.” However, the system canbe customized to the various preferences of the end user and changed via a dial on the dash.
“I’m going to have a ‘Shootout’ mode setting, for example,” Schultz said. “But our main reason behind the auto trim system is safety, safety, safety. Every time I’ve been in a boat and something scary happened, it was because somebody did something with a drive or a tab that the boat didn’t like.”
Coming to Market
If current plans hold, a complete Factory Billet engine package with an automatic transmission and auto drive- and tab-trim will be available by spring 2018. Schultz said he expects the engines to be more expensive than those with similar power outputs, but that lower long-term cost of ownership will more than balance out the purchase price.
“We’re going to be able to go 100 hours between rebuilds, and because we’re using the highest quality components available–and because we designed this engine from a clean sheet of paper—the rebuilds will less expensive,” he said. “If you have to rebuild one of our competitor’s engines every 25 hours and ours every 100, it’s going to be much less expensive over the long term.
“We are going to bring a true flex-fuel package, 1,650/1,950-hp engine to the market with a warranty,” he continued.
Schultz said that the company plans to work with independent engine builders that want components, such as the automatic transmission, the proprietary turbochargers and intercoolers and more from the Factory Billet system, for their own projects.
“We don’t need to sell only motors to be successful,” he said. “If we sell components and motors to other engine builders, it’s all good.”
At present, the Command Center’s ECU is using just 65 percent of its processing power to monitor more than 100 operating parameters within the test boat’s critical systems. That leaves plenty of “computing power” left over, which will come in handy when Factory Billet has its real-time engine telemetry system online.
The goal of that system, which will be ready to go in the first pair of consumer-ready engines, is for the technicians at Factory Billet to remotely monitor engine operations in real time for their customers. Then the Factory Billet team can make adjustments on the fly and diagnose and prevent problems before they happen.
While Schultz and Faucher want their 1,650/1,950-hp creation and its advanced systems to make performance boating hassle-free for their customers, they also realize the audience for such a product based on power output and price is limited. Schultz said he would limit production to be able to take on two to three clients per year and still be able to provide them with world-class service. After working on the project for what will be six years by the time the first set of engines go in a customer’s boat, they’re in no hurry to grow and, in fact, always will limit that growth to a select few customers each year.
“This is a very high-end, custom product that will have full telemetry so we can provide the best possible service,” Schultz said. “We’re looking to a build a limited amount of them. We’ll work with any boat builder—and we’ll work side by side with them and even go to their plant during the installation. We think that working side by side with them is essential. We want everyone, especially our customers, to be happy.”