50 Years of Racing MerCruisers — Origin of the Six Drive

Fred Kiekhaefer recounts the history of the MerCruiser No. 6.

Gentry Eagle
Fred Kiekhaefer With Gentry Eagle at Key West 1988Fred Kiekhaefer

First, a relevant sidebar: In 1985, a Swiss businessman and offshore racer, Hugo Seger, approached Kiekhaefer Aeromarine (KAM) to design a racing drive. He had tired of his drive failures. We agreed to a deal: KAM would design a drive, and he would pay as we made progress and become our European distributor.

KAM looked back at the K-600 sterndrive because it was already tooled. But in the dozen years since 1973, we learned a propeller was happier when positioned higher and farther back. Since we dared not start with any handicap, we began to design anew. Sterndrives by Kiekhaefer was conceived. Designers Larry Lohse and Tom Theisen didn’t sleep much. Me either.

In 1989, Bob Kaiser ran Systems in the Atlantic City Worlds with experimental Mercury Performance Products twin turbo engines. While Kaiser and Errol Lanier had everybody's attention, Peter Markey's Little Caesars Pizza outlasted all to capture the title — with Kiekhaefer drives.

“Hugo, Hugo?” So much for a deal; for whatever reasons, Seger backed out. KAM continued development of a drive on its own. George Linder and the late Mark Lavin, of Jesse James racing fame, gave us “voice of the customer” feedback during design.

Gentry Eagle
Gentry Turbo Eagle won the Superboat World Cup championship in 1988.Fred Kiekhaefer

In February 1988, the Kiekhaefer sterndrive was shown — privately, by appointment only — in a hotel suite near the Miami International Boat Show. World offshore-racing champion Tom Gentry was one of its first customers. For the Key West Worlds, Gentry leased his Scarab race boat to Wellcraft for actor/racer Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame. By November 1988, Johnson was acting like a real boat racer. He, Gus Anastasi and Bill Sirois were Superboat World Cup champions in the Gentry Turbo Eagle Scarab. In November 1989, Peter Markie was Superboat World Cup champion in the Little Caesars Pizza Apache. Both used Sterndrives by Kiekhaefer and won. For Mercury, this was getting old.

MerCruiser No. 6
An ad touting the performance of MerCruiser drives.Mercury Marine

In July 1990, I became president of Mercury Racing.

I rebadged the Kiekhaefer drive as MerCruiser No. 6. The combination of Mercury’s offshore-racing engines and our MerCruiser No. 6 was formidable. Plus, Mercury Racing continued to sell the No. 6 for use with other engines, as had been KAM’s practice.