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The Rich History Of Water Street And Mercury Racing

Sited on the shores of the Fond du Lac River a few minutes from Mercury Racing headquarters in Fond du Lac, Wis., the Water Street facility was built as a marine propulsion testing site during the late 1960s, while Carl Kiekhaefer, my father, was the president of Mercury Marine. However, it wasn’t Mercury‘s property—it was his. (Note the signature round windows in the photos below.)

Off the beaten path, the Mercury Racing/Mercury Marine Water Street location has a rich history in the product-development and offshore powerboat racing worlds. Photo by Scrapyard Media.

With Mr. K’s departure from Brunswick, he opened a Yamaha motorcycle dealership called RPM. Being Yamaha, it was really a jab at Brunswick management. Unfortunately, Water Street was an odd location for a motorcycle dealership and with little sales traffic it soon closed.

Water Street became a storage facility for the test boats of “Mr. K’s” Kiekhaefer Aeromarine Motors.

It was also a Kiekhaefer Aeromarine Motors racing-customer test facility. National- and world-champion race boats of Bob Magoon, Sandy Satullo, Rocky Aoki, “Diamond Don” and Carlo Bonomi all tested on nearby Lake Winnebago from this facility. The vintage 1970s K-Drive 100, 200, 400 and 600 prototypes also were tested here.

For one week in late January, the Water Street facility became a studio for a new video series celebrating Mercury Racing’s 50th anniversary. Click the image above to find out more about “Water Street Confidential.”

With Mr. Kiekhaefer’s passing in 1983, Water Street became an asset of my company, then Kiekhaefer Aeromarine. Aeromarine continued to test marine components and eventually—in 1988—“Sterndrives by Kiekhaefer” at this facility. (Even Dr. Carol and my wedding party in 1985 launched from here for a rendezvous and bash in Oshkosh.)

In 1988, Tom Gentry’s triple-engine Scarab dubbed the Gentry Turbo Eagle tested at the Water Street location with Sterndrives by Kiekhaefer. Testing complete, Don Johnson won the 1988 Superboat World Cup championship with Gentry’s Scarab. Peter Marky’s Superboat championship in 1989 led to the sale of Kiekhaefer Aeromarine to Brunswick in 1990 and Water Street would return to testing Mercury and Mercury Racing products.

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The walls of Water Street cannot talk, but who better than Fred Kiekhaefer to tell their story?

In the 1990’s, Mercury Marine converted the building to a service training school for dealer mechanics. The yard, travel lift and boat launch continued with testing of boats powered by Mercury outboards, MerCruiser sterndrives and Sport Jets.

Having departed Mercury Racing in 2012, I have a knowledge gap beyond that. But I do know that the facility became a studio for the new Mercury Racing “Water Street Confidential” video series produced by Speed On The Water and Scrapyard Media. And through that series, I’m looking forward to revisiting the place.

Editor’s note: Captured here with DCB’s Jeff Johnston, Matt Trulio of speedonthewater.com and Tony Chiaramonte of DCB at Mercury Racing’s 50th anniversary celebration and 400R V-10 outboard release during the 2023 Miami International Boat Show last month, Fred Kiekhaefer (black shirt) is the former president of Mercury Racing.

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