Wette Vette Engine Sold at Auction

Limited-production Corvette engine assembled by MerCruiser also powered a one-off Baja boat.
GM LT5 engine
The Wette Vette engine as sold at auction in January, 2019. Courtesy Bring A Trailer

The all-aluminum General Motors LT-5 V8 engine marinized by Mercury Racing for use in the Wette Vette, a 24-foot Baja 223 Bandit runabout, was sold at auction in January on Bring A The selling price according to the site was $10,000.

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The Wette Vette was conceived by Fred Kiekhaefer, then the Vice President of Marketing at Mercury Marine, as a way to promote the fact that the engines for the limited-production Corvette ZR-1 automobile were being hand-built by MerCruiser at its plant in Stillwater, Ok. Mercury Racing converted an example of the engine for marine duty and installed it in the customized Baja. The Wette Vette boat and its matching ZR-1 Corvette appeared at boat and auto shows around the country and was photographed running neck-and-neck, providing publicity shots that were published in automotive and marine enthusiast magazines around the world. The promotion was so successful GM kept it on the road for an entire year, wowing boaters and car buffs alike. The car and boat were featured a June, 1991, story in Boating Magazine written by Charles Plueddeman, who got to drive both the Wette Vette and the Corvette at the Mercury Lake X test site in Florida.

Wette Vette and ZR-1 Corvette
A publicity photo of the Wette Vette and matching ZR-1 Corvette. Courtesy Baja

Mercury Marine was chosen to manufacture the LT-5 engine for the 1990 ZR-1 Corvette in part because its production level would be too low for General Motors to build the engine efficiently, and because MerCruiser could offer a very high level of quality manufacturing. In fact, MerCruiser was awarded the automaker’s most demanding quality certification — GP3 Level 1 — the first GM engine ever to earn it.

Designed by Lotus Engineering for General Motors, the LT-5 was an all-aluminum 5.7 liter small-block V8 featuring 32-valve dual overhead cam heads; it generated 375 hp. For the 1993 model year, horsepower was bumped to 405 with cam-timing and engine-porting changes. The LT-5 became the most celebrated Corvette engine of all time, accumulating records along the way. In 1991, a slightly modified ZR-1, with a “bone stock” LT-5, broke three world endurance records at the Firestone test track in Fort Stockton, Texas. A team of drivers headed by Tommy Morrison broke the 24-hour endurance mark set in 1940 by almost 15 miles per hour, traveling 4,221.26 miles at an average speed of 175.885 mph. Two years later, a MerCruiser-branded ZR-1 took the checkered flag in the 24-hour World Challenge race in Mosport, Canada, with another ZR-1 finishing second. Production of the LT-5 ended in 1994.

Wette Vette in Boating Magazine
The Wette Vette featured in Boating Magazine. Boating Magazine

The Wette Vette should have landed in a museum after its publicity duties were completed, but instead the engine was separated from the boat and, according to the auction site, acquired by collector Rick Kirk, founder of R&K Machine, a supplier to the Stillwater plant. The auction seller reportedly acquired the engine in 2018. The engine is claimed to be functional and was sold with a marine cooling system, stainless exhaust headers, electrical panel, wiring harness and ECU, and its Bravo One outdrive.