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On Board With: Charlie Luedeke

An interview with Charles Luedeke, an Evinrude outboard guru who has thousands of replacement parts for Evinrude and Johnson outboard engines.

June 16, 2020
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Charlie Luedeke with marine engine parts
Charles Luedeke in his shop in New London, Wisconsin. Charles Plueddeman

The day after BRP announced in June that it would stop building Evinrude outboards, we discovered Charlie Luedeke while searching for a water-pump impeller for a 1956 Evinrude Lark. A Certified Master Technician with more than 45 years’ experience, Luedeke opened Marine Tech in 1986 as an Evinrude-authorized service center in New London, Wisconsin. He has since acquired the new original stock (NOS) parts inventory of more than 30 Evinrude or Johnson outboard dealerships, which he estimates is worth more than $2 million.

How did you get started in the business?

In 1974, I started working at Spellman’s Marina in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and attended my first Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) service school in 1976. I quit in 1984 to take a factory job; I hated that, and moved to New London in 1986. I bought this building, which had a video rental store in the front, two rented apartments upstairs, and a living space in the basement, with the shop on the main floor. I lived in the basement. My first parts room had a single 3-by-6-foot shelving unit.

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Why did you start buying up parts?

It was always cheaper to buy new original stock (NOS) parts at an auction or sale than getting them from OMC or BRP. There’s demand for older parts in this area because the outboards last so long. Some dealerships close up, but others just don’t want these old parts around because they take up a lot of space.

You don’t have a website?

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I have a great helper in Tom Statezny, who has worked here part time for 25 years, and he spent an entire year creating an inventory of all the parts. Then we uploaded that inventory to the BRP parts search system. So, if you go to a dealer looking for that 1956 impeller, and he doesn’t have it, the names of other dealers who do have the part pop up on the screen, in order of geographic location. Dealers from all over the country give customers my phone number.

I notice the phone here rings a lot.

I take more than 70 phone calls for parts some days. I finally quit answering the phone after 6 p.m. so I can get my service work done.

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How old are your parts?

There are some that pre-date World War II, but most of those are not in the inventory.

As an Evinrude dealer, did you ever have a rivalry with a Mercury dealer?

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People have forgotten how heated the OMC versus Mercury rivalry was back in the day, and I’ve always been right in Merc’s backyard. But there was also quite a rivalry between Johnson and Evinrude. They would compete in the same towns. At Spellman’s, we were a Johnson dealer, and I used to race MOD 50 tunnel boats, and one year, Tom Ireland of Evinrude helped me locate a new race engine at another dealership. He said, “You can have it, but it’s an Evinrude.” And I told him that was OK, I’d just paint it white and put Johnson stickers on the cowl. He was really pissed.

Why should we buy NOS parts?

The difference between the $100 NOS OMC fuel pump I’ll sell you and the $25 made-in-China pump you’ll find on Amazon is that the NOS pump will work. There are some aftermarket parts that are OK, but the genuine factory part will always fit and work.

What was the worst outboard Evinrude ever made?

Without a doubt, the 1978 55-horsepower motors were really rough. They had this die-cast block, and pistons with really long skirts, and the skirts would always break. Not a good motor.

How about the best Evinrude ever?

A great motor from the OMC days was the 60-degree V-6 looper, the 150 and 175. I think the G1 E-Tec motors were really good. BRP had the direct injection figured out. The lower pans would crack, but that was the only problem. In my opinion, they could have put the G1 powerhead on the G2 midsection and been fine. BRP lost the repower market with the G2 because you had to rig it with all new controls. It’s really a sad deal to see Evinrude go away.

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