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Quick Take: Smooth Shifting Defines Ilmor One Drive Package

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Paul Ray, Bob Teague and other representatives from Ilmor and Formula joined the author for his demo ride on the Formula 350 CBR FX with twin Ilmor One Drive propulsion packages. Photos courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill.

Nothing about powerboat demo rides during today’s Miami International Boat Show was easy. Between a long no-wake zone and the multiple water taxis that seemed to ignore it, just getting to open water—the kind where you push the throttles as far forward as you like—was a chore.

But darn if the ride I took with Teague Custom Marine’s Bob Teague and Ilmor Marine’s Paul Ray on a Formula 350 CBR FX model this morning wasn’t worth every bit of the effort. That’s because the comfortable 35-footer, which has become Formula’s hottest seller, was powered by Ilmor’s amazing new One Drive propulsion packages.

Ilmor unveiled the 430-hp, 6.2L LS3-based engine-and-twin-propeller-drive combo when the show opened this morning. (Read the story.) A collaborative effort between Ilmor and Yanmar, the drive also can be paired with Ilmor’s less-powerful 375-hp 6.0L engine. But for twin engines powering the 13,470-pound 350 CBR FX, the people at Formula and Ilmor opted to go with the bigger mills.

That we saw a top speed of 57 mph or that at 40 mph the boat was getting 1.5 miles per gallon are worthy data points, but not even close to the real point. One word—smooth—defines the One Drive system. Hydraulic operation makes for a level of shifting from neutral to forward and reverse that you have to experience firsthand to fully appreciate. No bump, no clunk, jump—my car (for frame of reference only a three-year-old BMW) doesn’t shift as smoothly

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For images from today’s speedonthewater.com demo run on the 35-footer, check out the slideshow above.

Teague ran the boat for approximately 20 minutes, as which pointed he dubbed its shifting “awesome” and headed to the back to the dock. And that was where Ilmor’s two-speed Joystick system provided the second highlight of the demo. Teague is an as experienced as powerboat drivers get and I’ve seen him dock much bigger boats in much worse conditions with no drama. But he’s smart enough to use the tools in front of him, and the Joystick control made backing the 35-footer into its tight spot between a dock and a smaller cruiser a breeze.

Ray said he believes the One Drive propulsion package will take off in the small twin-engine cruiser and single-engine runabout segments, and I wouldn’t bet against it. Ilmor is using the same LS3-based engine package it does for the wildly successful powerplants it creates for MasterCraft towboats. While the company’s roots are in high-performance—its marine industry offerings began with a V-10 engine that eventually topped out in a 730-hp iteration—Ray wisely realized that the segment was not enough to support it. The towboat engine business came at exactly the right time, and to their credit the people at Ilmor recognized a new target, aimed and nailed it.

Now Ray and company have another target. And with the smooth-shifting One Drive propulsion package, they’re positioned for a bulls-eye.

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That the plenums on the 6.2L engines resemble superchargers is no accident, according to Ray. “It gives them a high-performance look, and our roots our in high performance.”

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