Charlie Strang Checks His Plug

The future marine industry leader started boat racing as a teenager.

Strang's impact on pleasure boating was profound.Courtesy Strang

Running a little lean, Charlie Strang? This photo of marine industry icon Charles Strang was taken when the future designer of the stern drive, among other things, was a teenaged stock outboard racer. He appears to be studying a spark plug. And thinking hard, something that became a life-long habit.

Strang, who died in March, 2018, never had the public name recognition of more flamboyant personalities like Evinrude or Kiekhaefer or Aronow, but his impact on pleasure boating was profound. In 1947, Strang sketched out a design for a sterndrive while working as a research associate at MIT. In 1951, he became director of research at Kiekhaefer Mercury and immediately showed his idea to Carl Kiekhaefer, who thought he was nuts. Strang then conspired with others to produce the sterndrive behind Kiekhaefer’s back, which resulted in the 1959 introduction of the Volvo Penta Aquamatic, the original inboard/outboard. Strang’s improved design debuted as the original MerCruiser in 1961 (Kiekhaefer changed his mind). Strang jumped to OMC as director of marine ­engineering in 1966 and retired as board chairman in 1993.

Strang loved outboard racing and was instrumental in getting the Johnson and Evinrude brands back into competition in 1967. Previous leadership considered racing a waste of money. Strang saw it as a testing ground. He directed the creation of the U.S. Formula 1 series that ran from 1984 to 1990, heavily supported by OMC to showcase the 3.5-liter V-8 racing outboards.