• The Genesis of the Evinrude E-TEC Outboard

    Part 1: Beginnings, Development, and Success

    Just Added: Image gallery of the 2006 Evinrude Media Event at Key Largo, FL.

    I first became intimately acquainted with the Evinrude E-TEC engines in 2006, at an Evinrude press event in Key Largo, Florida. It was at the 2003 February Miami International Boat Show that Bombardier Recreational Products first introduced the E-TEC engines in 40 through 90-horsepower models to the boating industry. Back then, the E-TEC was the new kid on the block and itís not always easy being new, and as I would find out, different.


    These were the first new Evinrude engines to emerge since BRP won the federal bankruptcy auction of Outboard Marine Corporation, and with it the rights to the Johnson and Evinrude names, patents, and intellectual properties. BRP would carry the Evinrude name into the future, and back then there was a lot of anticipation and with it, a lot of questions. Will Evinrude continue its heritage of industry-leading designs and performance, or would it fade away? I certainly had a lot of questions.

    It was at the Evinrude press event in 2006 that I was able to examine the new E-TEC V6 engines. I remember the moment I watched in eager anticipation as the E-TEC 250 was started. It was quiet, but it had that reassuring rhythmic pulse that only a two-stroke engine could have. There was no smoke at all, and at a low idle, the big V6 was nearly silent, with just a hint of that satisfying musical sound we all know. The sound of instant power. That sound that told me it was going to be a fun weekend, and I was not disappointed.


    I also remember experiencing both exciting and thrilling emotions when those triple E-TEC 250s mounted on the back of a Wellcraft 352 were accelerated at full throttle. I found myself reaching for a grab-rail to hold on, and right then and there I knew those were not my fatherís OMC engines back there. Yes, this is a two-stroke engine as I knew them, but better. And as I was taking in the experience, I began to think of the impact this new engine series would have on the industry. As is the case with all departures from expectation, the Evinrude's new E-TEC would become a focal point of excitement, confusion, and misinformation.



    Genesis

    The development of the internal combustion engine was an important factor in the rise of the automobile. It was relatively lightweight, inexpensive to produce and produced a lot of power relative to its size. Prior to this development, efforts were explored with steam engines and even electric power, but neither of those two solutions offered the benefits of a gasoline engine. And like any technological evolution, engines became more powerful, more reliable, and less expensive. And it was the refinement of the internal combustion engine that played the most important role in the emergence of the automobile as a staple of transportation.

    1897: American Motor Co. 'Portable Boat Motor'. This engine even featured a reversing gearbox!
    Image used with permission by Bill Grannis
    Cars began rapidly growing in size and power, and back then there was little or no focus on the exhaust byproducts of this horsepower race, namely, hydrocarbons. Engines grew in size and power, which in turn increased their exhaust emissions. As the automobile became more ubiquitous, the effects of hydrocarbons on the environment began to be identified, and eventuality this would need to be addressed.

    In the early 1970s, new emissions regulations began a process that ultimately became what many feared would be the end of high-performance cars forever. It was thought that the golden era of the horsepower wars among car makers was over, now substituted for decal-clad representations of those former glorious machines. And that was indeed the case for a while.

    Back then, another process was also beginning to take shape, though very few people realized it would ever matter. Technology was slowly pushing back against the limitations imposed by new engine configurations that choked power. It was slow at first, but by the mid-1980s, a new revolution of technologically-driven performance cars was being born. It was this technology of fuel and air delivery that overcame the early limitations of new regulations, and today we have cars that produce incredible power as well as fantastic fuel economy and clean emissions. Nobody thought that was possible just thirty years ago, and yet the very fastest and most-capable cars are being made today, not in the 1960s. It was the electronics industry that made these improvements available. Large scale integrated logic chips became more powerful and less expensive to allow small computers to operate fuel injection and monitor engine parameters to decrease emissions and increase performance.

    But what does this have to do with outboard engines? What happened to the muscle car in the 1970s repeated itself with outboard engines in the late 1990s. A very similar sequence of events was played out all over again, though with a slightly different result.

    The classic two-stroke outboard engine is inherently very Ďdirtyí, having little or no design features for clean exhaust hydrocarbon emissions. Although they had become much larger, the traditional two-stroke outboard is essentially the very same engine that was powering Ole Evinrudeís rowboat over 100 years ago. It would only be a matter of time before these engines needed refinement for the future emission regulations. It was generally thought that the two-stroke engine would be extinct. After all, how could any engine that combusts oil as a matter of design fulfill todayís emissions requirements? Most manufacturers felt that the four-stroke engine was the answer.

    1962: The Homelite/Bearcat 4-Cycle 55 was the first successful large four-stroke outboard engine. This engine was based on an earlier design of an automotive engine.
    But why has the two-stroke engine been so ubiquitous for outboards since their very beginning? The answer is a basic and familiar one; the two-stroke engine offers far less complexity than a four-stroke design, and by its very nature will produce more power for its size. It is very reliable, lightweight, and requires much less maintenance and care than a four-stroke engine. The advantages of the two-stroke engine were very clear, especially in an application where weight must be kept at a minimum.

    The very first Evinrude outboard engine was developed over 100 years ago and was 1.5 horsepower, but this was quite a lot of power for boaters used to rowing. Best of all, it was small and very light. It could be carried with no more effort than set of oars. Very important to its combination of power, light weight, and reliability was the two-stroke engine design.


    As its name suggests, a two-stroke engine completes its power cycle in two strokes of the piston Ė one stroke up, one down. Compression, intake, exhaust and power all take place in just two strokes, or cycles. By comparison, a four-stroke engine only produces power on every other cycle of its crankshaft revolution, thus requiring a separate intake and exhaust stroke that does not produce power.

    An outboard engine must be as lightweight as possible, and yet still produce a lot of power relative to its size. Four-stroke engines are by design heavier than two-stroke engines of equivalent power output and not as power-efficient. The additional components required by the four-stroke engine design add weight, and a higher parts count potentially increases points of failure. The two-stroke engine offered the clear solution for light weight, power and reliability.

    There were exceptions early on, the most successful being the 1962 Homelite Bearcat 55, which itself was a design derivative of an automobile engine. This was an outboard for a lightweight boat, but the Bearcatís comparatively large size and weight for its 55-horsepower rating was outclassed by two-stroke outboards. It simply offered no compelling performance advantage to the boater.

    The added complexity of the four-stroke engine and basic design of the combustion cycle meant that pound-for-pound, a two-stroke engine would generally produce more power. And in the application in which outboards are used, weight is crucial, and so the two-stroke engine seemed the logical choice moving forward.


    The Irony of Precision

    We tend to associate the classic image of a high-performance outboard as being what the industry was built upon - carburetor-fed two-stroke engine designs. And this is indeed true. Two-stroke outboard engines certainly evolved and became more powerful and easier to use. On some models, multi-port fuel injection replaced the carburetor, and this was definitely a step forward in terms of power and efficiency, but those systems were adapted to existing engine designs. To achieve a much higher degree of combustion efficiency, a completely new technology would be called for. Until recently, there were no outboard engines that were designed from the ground-up to be directly fuel-injected.

    It is an irony that the keys to power, fuel efficiency, and low emissions are all the same - that is, precision fuel delivery and efficient combustion. Exhaust hydrocarbons are essentially the result of incomplete combustion. It makes sense that more power could be extracted from a fuel charge with a more complete combustion cycle.

    The idea of lowering hydrocarbon emissions nevertheless garners negative feelings based on the impact on performance that early efforts at emissions control had on cars. Back in the 1970s, the computer technology required to deliver fuel with ultra-high precision was not yet available, however today we all see the benefits that direct injection has on high performance cars. More complete combustion not only increases power, but it lowers hydrocarbon emissions.


    Using a carburetor or manifold electronic fuel injection to introduce fuel into the combustion chamber ultimately results in unburned fuel exiting the exhaust. That incomplete combustion represents not only wasted potential power, but wasted fuel efficiency and also increased hydrocarbon exhaust emissions. The more you improve combustion efficiency, the more power potential you have for less fuel consumption and fewer emissions. But was it the basic two-stroke engine design that was the problem? Many of the industry pundits erroneously thought so. They were among the many voices mistakenly prophesying the end of the two-stroke outboard Ė soon to be banned from the waterways and regulated out of existence as they were in the motorcycle industry.

    Itís easy to see why this line of thinking was so prevalent, with the classic image of the smoke-spewing, sneezing outboard engine producing a trail of fuel-rainbows on the water surface. But it was not the two-stroke combustion cycle that was the culprit of this legacy, rather, it was how those engines were designed as a whole. Both two and four-stroke engines produce hydrocarbons, and both engines could be refined to more precisely combust fuel.


    Comments 19 Comments
    1. baja200merk's Avatar
      baja200merk -
      Nice job good read
    1. CRH1's Avatar
      CRH1 -


      Looking forward to part 2
    1. Instigator's Avatar
      Instigator -
      Nicely done Greg.

      The G-2 is the mack daddy and cant wait ti read about it.
      It is the "starboard starboard motor" and is amazing that anyone would make the investment to make that motor.

      Thank you.

      Gary
    1. DanUmbarger's Avatar
      DanUmbarger -
      Great read Greg, can't wait for part2...Thanks
    1. mjw930's Avatar
      mjw930 -
      Greg,

      Would it be safe to say the only thing that holds the G2 or the E-TEC in general back is the lack of a lower unit suitable for surfacing applications, costs aside?
    1. David Borg's Avatar
      David Borg -
      Thank you Greg. Great read
    1. Scream And Fly's Avatar
      Scream And Fly -
      Quote Originally Posted by mjw930 View Post
      Greg,

      Would it be safe to say the only thing that holds the G2 or the E-TEC in general back is the lack of a lower unit suitable for surfacing applications, costs aside?
      I think that could be accurate, however, as I researched the G2 I learned that the current Lightning II lower unit is tested at over 90 MPH, and can run surfaced. Not like a Sportmaster of course, however unofficially, it has run over 100 MPH without modification. Never know what the future brings, though!
    1. Scream And Fly's Avatar
      Scream And Fly -
      Quote Originally Posted by David Borg View Post
      Thank you Greg. Great read
      Thank you David, I really appreciate you taking the time to read it

      Greg
    1. Scream And Fly's Avatar
      Scream And Fly -
      Quote Originally Posted by Instigator View Post
      Nicely done Greg.

      The G-2 is the mack daddy and cant wait ti read about it.
      It is the "starboard starboard motor" and is amazing that anyone would make the investment to make that motor.

      Thank you.

      Gary
      Thank you so much Gary. I knew you would be interested in this article. The G2 is really a different outboard in most respects, which is one reason I decided to make the G2 an entirely separate part to this. Originally, the G2 was going to be incorporated into this article, but it really deserves its own feature article. I had great fun with the G2s at the press event. The steering system and network link (along other things) is really revolutionary.

      Greg
    1. Scream And Fly's Avatar
      Scream And Fly -
      Quote Originally Posted by DanUmbarger View Post
      Great read Greg, can't wait for part2...Thanks
      Thank you so much Dan! Part 2 is really where most of the content will be.

      Greg
    1. Scream And Fly's Avatar
      Scream And Fly -
      Quote Originally Posted by baja200merk View Post
      Nice job good read

      Quote Originally Posted by CRH1 View Post


      Looking forward to part 2
      Thank you so much guys!

      Greg
    1. Knut74's Avatar
      Knut74 -
      Read this and really enjoyed it. Very well written Greg, can’t wait to read second part! Good job!
    1. SALSTRIP's Avatar
      SALSTRIP -
      Absolutely the best article I have seen on these engines , can't wait for the G2 info in Part 2.Thanks for posting it up its Awesome
    1. Laker's Avatar
      Laker -
      Fantastic Virus!!
    1. Scream And Fly's Avatar
      Scream And Fly -
      Quote Originally Posted by Laker View Post
      Fantastic Virus!!
      Thank you so much buddy, I appreciate it very much! I knew you would be reading this for sure.
    1. powerabout's Avatar
      powerabout -
      great stuff
      first time I have read anywhere the difference between a ficht injector/emm and an etec version.
    1. Knut74's Avatar
      Knut74 -
      When is Part 2 due? Can’t wait to read it.....
    1. JP Love's Avatar
      JP Love -
      Verry nice reading... Art of engineering.. Thank's S&F..
    1. JP Love's Avatar
      JP Love -
      Best technical infos from old and G2 systems...
Mazco