By Eric Colby
Millions if not billions of dollars are spent each year on aftermarket automotive products like superchargers, intake systems, carburetors, fuel injectors and more. While the numbers aren't as big, many of these accessories are purchased for marine use, too.
"Our favorite kind of customer has a ProCharger in the truck he uses for towing his boat that has a couple on it, too," Ken Jones, CEO of Accessible Technologies Inc., which makes ProCharger superchargers. "Customers love turning up the power level on our automotive kits and on their boats." The company is based in Lenexa, Kansas, and has an office near the Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California, which Jones says is ATI's biggest market.
For many aftermarket companies, a presence in the marine performance and the specialty automotive markets spurs product development, strengthens OEM relationships, and opens new opportunities. Photo: Shutterstock.com
For companies like ATI, Whipple Industries, Holley and Edelbrock Performance, maintaining a presence in the marine aftermarket is important for a few reasons. First, for most of them, the go-fast boat market is an untapped opportunity that many want to explore. Second, if a product can last in the harsh marine environment, it should fare well in a car or truck--meaning marine can be a proving ground. Finally, for bigger companies like Edelbrock, the marine market provides opportunities for developing OEM relationships with companies like Mercury Marine, Indmar Marine and Volvo Penta.
"The guy who put an Edelbrock manifold on his musclecar is likely to put one on his boat or put a supercharger on his truck to tow his boat," said David Page, product manager for the forced induction division at Edelbrock Performance, which is based in Olive Branch, Mississippi, after being in California for decades.
Echoing what most accessories manufacturers estimated, Jones said, "Automotive is about 70% of the business and marine is about 5%." ATI also makes blowers for aircraft ground support and clean-water systems.
Dual Whipple chargers enhance the power of a twin-engine, 43-ft. Outerlimits powerboat. The Outerlimits brand is known in the boating world for its mixture of performance and luxury.
ProCharger makes belt-driven turbochargers that are popular because they're easy to install, take up minimal space and produce some big numbers. The company's largest supercharger helps create nearly 4,000 hp and the most popular ProCharger kit is for a Ford Mustang. ProCharger also has developed a kit for the new mid-engine Corvette. A C8 'Vette makes 495 hp from the factory and ProCharger's kit boosts that to 720 hp on 93-octane fuel and the consumption basically stays the same.
Following the company's strategy of trying to get as broad a fit as possible, on the marine side, ATI focused its program on the Mercury Racing HP525EFI sterndrive, developing a kit for it about two years ago. The 525EFI is popular because it can be used in single-engine applications for boats ranging from 25-30 ft. and for twins in boats ranging from 35-40 ft.
"Part of what’s made our automotive superchargers so good was our marine knowledge," said Jones. "If it's going to live in a marine environment, it's going to live in an automotive market. It helps improve our automotive division."
After fighting to keep the company moving forward during the pandemic, Jones said he is interested in getting back into the marine market.
"We haven’t focused on marine engine builders lately because we've been growing so much and COVID was a challenge to manage through," he explained. "We need to find growth in markets we haven’t shown enough love to."
While automotive customers have been prone to doing their own work, Jones says that marine customers have their work done by a rigging shop or engine builder. "The cost of downtime is so high," said Jones. "You only have so much time to boat, so you want to get it right."
Holley's Sniper EFI is an aftermarket product for both automotive and marine applications, the latter with Coast Guard approval.
The Right Partners
Whipple Superchargers in Fresno, California, may be better known to the offshore-performance-boat crowd because Teague Custom Marine (TCM), a popular high-performance marine-engine builder, exclusively uses Whipple products for all its higher-output engines. Additionally, Shonda Whipple, the daughter of company founder Art Whipple, was married to Mike Fiore, the founder of Outerlimits Offshore Powerboats, which is based in Bristol, Rhode Island. (Fiore passed away after a 2014 crash in one of his boats at the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout, a high-performance-powerboat competition.)
Whipple Superchargers Vice President Dustin Whipple said that the brand still offers re-flashing services for the engine control modules on Mercury Racing fuel-injected engines, but Whipple's most popular marine products are superchargers for the Mercury Racing HP525EFI and HP500EFI.
The company estimates that marine makes up about 5% of its business and that there is carryover with automotive as well. "Our main business is emissions-legal supercharger systems for today’s musclecars," said Whipple. "I can't say we know which way they go, but we have customers with multiple vehicles, including boats. One customer, Buddy Thomas, had an Outerlimits offshore powerboat with Whipple-charged engines, and he had them on his car and tow vehicle."
Most Whipple marine kits are for big-block GM products and the intake manifold, intercooler and other components are built to withstand the marine environment with parts made from aluminum, copper-nickel and other materials that can better resist corrosion from saltwater. Rotors are manufactured in-house, and Whipple is currently on its fifth generation with the sixth just around the corner. "We’re continuing to push the boundaries and find better ways to supercharge," he said.
One of the few companies that builds the majority of its components for marine is Superchiller, which Bob Teague, the founder of TCM, purchased 23 years ago. "We do sell some to the car guys, but it’s mostly boats,” he said. “We make the Superchillers for every type of Roots blower system from B&M to Weiand, Blower Shop and all the 8-71-, 10-71- and 14-71-style blowers."
The company has also partnered with various subsidiaries of Edelbrock and Holley for components for its custom engines. The majority of TCM engines have MSD ignitions, which are a Holley product, and cylinder heads that are a proprietary design provided by Air Flow Research. Springs are mostly Isky, although some applications have Comp Cam products, too.
"There are many automotive products that cross over," said Teague. "We only use the best of what's available."
Knowing that many truck customers own boats requiring hefty towing power, Edelbrock offers truck supercharger kits to significantly boost the horsepower and torque needed for the task.
Holley Performance has been making marine carburetors for decades. As noted above, the company also owns MSD ignitions, which is arguably the most popular system used by custom engine builders in the discipline, and Holley offers Sniper fuel-injection kits as well.
"We've been offering marine carburetors for decades, but we also offer EFI, ignitions and marine hose ends--we want to be the one-stop shop," said Bryan McTaggart, technical writer at Holley.
Holley’s marine-specific carburetors range from 450-cfm to a 1,050-cfm Dominator four-barrel. Quick Fuel has a dedicated marine series with an M designation ranging from 600 to 850 cfm. The company also offers flame arrestors and rebuild kits for the carburetors, plus a technical support staff. "Holley wants to support the end customer regardless of what they're buying from us," he explained.
Beyond performance, people want their tow vehicles and boat trailer to look good, too. Holley has custom wheels form Carroll Shelby, Detroit Speed, Diamond, HK Wheels, Halibrand and more. The company also offers custom lighting.
"I built this beautiful truck to haul this boat; give me something that doesn't look like your standard aluminum trailer wheel or stamped-steel wheel," explained McTaggart.
The Mercury 525EFI Racing Sterndrive engine is renowned for its racing performance, so naturally, Whipple makes an upgrade kit for racers and enthusiasts alike.
In the '80s, Vic Edelbrock Jr., founder of Edelbrock Performance, raced a 38-ft. Wellcraft Scarab in offshore powerboat competition, and the company has offered go-fast boat engine components for decades. Today, Edelbrock makes superchargers, intakes, carburetors and more for performance-marine applications.
"We're very familiar with manufacturing marine-specific parts for automotive-based engines," said Edelbrock's Page. "We are intertwined with the marine power industry."
Edelbrock Performance's marine intake manifolds have integrated bronze castings and other upgrades for improved corrosion resistance and its carburetors remain some of the most popular aftermarket products for performance boats. Like most of the other companies in this story, Edelbrock realizes that the marine segment may be small, but the potential for growth is there. Edelbrock also provides OEM parts for Mercury, Volvo Penta and Indmar Marine.
"All the guys who walk into the SEMA Show, I'm going to say 90% of them, have a boat," said Page. "The customer who's going to level his vehicle and put on bigger tires or better exhaust is the same guy who’s going to upgrade his boat’s carburetor or intake."
Part of the Edelbrock Group, Comp Cams also lists dedicated marine products in its catalog. Page explained that they’re manufactured just like the automotive versions, but that they're designed to make the power where it’s needed. While a car or truck engine benefits from a transmission with many gears to keep the rpm lower, a boat engine is said to be always running uphill at higher rpm because of the resistance created by water.
For an owner looking to get more towing power, Edelbrock offers supercharger kits for GM trucks that can boost horsepower by as much as 200 and add up to 45% more torque. "We offer a full powertrain warranty and for three years with the kits," said Grant. "We have that much confidence that the supercharger is not going to affect reliability that we take on that responsibility."
While many people involved in the automotive aftermarket performance world are likely enthusiasts, a handful like to play on the water, too. Jones owns a 40-ft. Formula performance boat that has twin ProCharged Mercury engines. Page has a Baja 212 performance boat powered by a Mercury engine with a Whipplecharger. "All the people I've ever met on the water, none of them view their boat as a way to get from point A to point B," he said.
In mid-January, Pat Weismann, the president of Weismann Marine and vice president of Traction Products, was shivering on a pontoon boat in Florida as he ran trials on one of four lower units on a 180hp e-Motion electric outboard from the Canadian company Vision Marine Technologies. VMT commissioned Weismann to develop a gearcase for its electric outboard, and he came up with four different prototypes that he needed to test.
In addition to ICE innovations, the performance marine industry is advancing electric-propulsion technologies, which often pose unique challenges for performance developers.
Weismann Marine has been around for decades and has worked with such motorsports celebrities as Parnelli Jones and Jack Brabham. "We probably did 10 to 12 boat projects for him," said Weismann. Among Weismann Marine’s industry firsts were the dry-sump stern drive and multi-speed transmission for offshore raceboats.
Electric outboards provided a unique challenge for Weismann. For example, there's no need for exhaust passages to run from the engine down through the propeller shaft, and you don’t need a left- or right-hand drive. "Nothing has ever been geared toward an electric propeller," he explained. "It doesn't care which way it turns. He worked with noted naval architecture firm Donald L. Blount and Associates in Virginia on the propeller calculations. "Everything is designed to be super hydrodynamic and efficient," said Weismann.
While Traction Products' day-to-day projects include two-speed transmission for ATVs and UTVs, the company that is run by Weismann's mother Michelle and brother Chris, is also building a car for Bonneville Salt Flats competition. "We’re shooting for the world's fastest piston-engine vehicle," said Pat. "Right now, it's held by a P-51 Mustang."
The car has a 12-speed four-wheel drive transaxle with the engine in the nose and the four-wheel drive setup in front of the pilot. "It's the contrary of what everyone else is doing," said Weismann. "It doesn't make any sense to have a driveshaft next to your leg spinning at thousands of rpm."
The design has been proven with turbine power and now he hopes it will work with piston power as well.
The company also makes transaxles for off-road racing trucks, but with such unique projects, the financial side also becomes challenging. "For, Bonneville, for instance, you're only making one-offs and it seems like it's the same thing with boats," said Weismann.
This article was part of the May 2023 issue of SEMA News. For more, visit sema.org/news-media/magazine.