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Obsolete Outboards
by Max Wawrzyniak

Column # 4
Rigging Old OMC Outboards for Remote control
(Part 1 - shift and throttle functions)

Back in 2001 I wrote an article for Duckworks entitled “Primer On Old Outboards,” In which I stated my opinion that the best candidates for cheap outboard power were the OMC-built outboards manufactured from about 1955 until the early ‘70s. Although this article is no longer available on the website, it is available on CD.

One of the many reasons that I consider this series of outboards as good candidates for cheap power is their adaptability to remote control, and also the availability of the necessary hardware. Remote control boxes and related hardware are often seen for sale at swap meets, on outboard motor online bulletin boards, and also on online auction sites. Although I generally recommend against obtaining one’s old outboard motor hardware on the auction sites, if you know what you are buying, you can sometimes swing a good deal. One purpose of this article is to make one an informed buyer of old OMC remote control hardware.

The “old-style” two-lever (short lever for shift; long lever for throttle) control box is often seen offered for sale, and will usually be the cheapest box to purchase. It came in several colors and was fitted with labels for either Johnson or Evinrude; or for the Gale division engines, such as Sea King or Sea Bee, the label read “Bosun.” These boxes are identical, except for the label, and will work with any of the above brands. As research for this article, I recently purchased a complete (I will get to what I mean by “complete) Bosun control box on e-bay for $29.99 including the shipping. I have seen similar boxes go for $50.00 to $60.00 which I consider to be high. At swap meets I will buy such boxes if they are $30.00 or less. This same style box was also available in a (4) lever version for twin engines. These are not often seen and usually bring a fairly high price, although the one I saw sell on e-bay for $129.00 was greatly overpriced, especially since it may not have been complete.

In the early-60’s the styling of the box was changed to a more “squared-off” look, although the boxes continued to function the same.

Neither of these styles of control boxes has any provision for key-start switch, power trim, remote choke, etc. They simply control shift and throttle, and the other items, if present, where controlled from a dash panel

If I was going to buy a box that I could not examine, such as on e-bay, I would not buy one that did not still have the push-pull cables attached to it. The condition of the cables is not material; chances are they are the wrong length for your boat anyway, and new cables are readily available and dirt cheap. But you do want the cables present and attached to the box, because if the cables are missing, there is a good chance that part of the box is also missing. The bottoms of the levers are sector gears (a segment of a round gear) that engage a rack (flat plastic rectangle with gear teeth. This rack is attached to the inner wire of the push-pull control cables with tiny allen-head screws which usually corrode. If one is removing the cables from a box and one does not have the proper size allen wrench, or the allen screws are corroded, there is a temptation to simply remove the cables with the racks attached.. which means that part of the box has been left attached to the cables and if you only get the box, you will not have a complete box. If you can physically examine the box, you can check for the presence of the racks. If all you have to go on is a photo, however, the presence of the cables still attached to the box is your best assurance that the racks are still in place.

Another reason that you want those cables, even if they are bad, is for the fittings that attach the cables to the outboard. As I said, the cables are dirt cheap. The end-fittings are not. Cables that have a bare wire on the motor-end are missing the attachment fittings, and I do not consider such a box to be complete box. Once adjusted, these fittings can de attached to and detached from the engine in a matter of seconds.

As for the outboard itself, all OMC outboards from 5 ½ hp to 40 hp made from about 1955 to the early ‘60s come equipped to take remote controls with a minimum of hardware. Usually all that is needed is a pair of what OMC called “locks,” Which were small sheet metal forks which screwed to the cowling of the engine. The outer sheath of the control cables was held by these locks, while the cable end fittings had quick connectors to attach to either the shift lever on the Starboard side of the outboard, or to a throttle lever on the port side. I usually do not expect these locks to be included with a remote control box, but they are common enough at swap meets, and cheap enough to go to a dealer for, if you have to. But I have often seen them already on engines offered for sale. Depending upon your engine model and how it is equipped, and on the type of cable lock that you Can obtain, you might have to fabricate a small mounting block for the lock for the shift cable, which could be made from hardwood..

OMC recommended that the “friction disk” be removed from the twist grip in order to lessen the loads on the throttle control, when remote controls were installed.. The twist grip can be removed by removing the single screw that retains it. Fish the disc and the disc spring out from inside the grip, and reattach the grip. There will now be much less friction on the throttle linkage. Incidentally, reattaching the grip with the disc and the spring in place can take some doing, since there are tabs and ‘flats” on the grip shaft which have to be aligned.

Once you get into the 60’s some of the “low-profile” engines, such as the 6 hp and the 9 ½ hp, need special adapters in order to hook up the controls. These adapters, some of which are quite elaborate, can be difficult to find. Hooking up controls to a ’64 10 hp, therefore, is much easier and cheaper than hooking up controls to a ’65 91/2 The 18’s . 20’s, 25’s, 28’s, 33’s, and the mechanical-shift 40’s, however, don’t need special adapters.

Generally speaking, I recommend avoiding the “low profile” engines Anyway, because they are difficult to work on, compared to a standard engine.

With a complete control box, new cables of the correct length for the boat, a good set of cable end fittings and cable sheath locks, you now have all you need to control the throttle and shift on a manually-started old OMC outboard. But how do you “kill” the engine from the control station? OMC engines up until the late ‘50s did not come with kill switches; they were shut down by either choking the engine or closing the throttle (retarding the throttle as far as it would go would kill the engine.) That is how I have my 1957 Johnson 18 hp set-up on my Jim Michalak-designed AF4 power skiff; if I pull the throttle all the way back, the engine dies. It works fine for me but others can’t get used to it, and want the engine to remain runnning at idle speed if the throttle lever is jerked back. Starting in the late ‘50s, OMC started to install an idle speed limit screw on the remote control throttle lever on the Port-side of the engine. This screw could be used to limit the travel of the throttle lever so that the Engine would remain running if the lever was retarded as far as it would go. Of course, then you need another way of stopping the engine.

About the same time that the idle speed limit screws started appearing, one also saw “shut-down’ buttons start to appear on these engines. All the engines we are talking about here are two-cylinder, with a set of breaker points for each cylinder. The shut-down button had a wire connected to each of the two sets of points, and when the button was pushed, the two wires were connected together , which shorted-out both sets of points and shut the engine down. It would be a simple matter to extend these two wires up to the remote control location and install a switch of your choice- spring-loaded momentary contact (such as a horn button), toggle switch, or even key switch. Just keep in mind that, with these magneto ignition systems, when the switch is “open” the ignition is on, and when the switch is closed, the ignition is off.

If your engine did not come with the shut-down button, you can still wire a remote shutdown by running two wires from the breaker points on the magneto, to a normally-open switch at the helm position.

So now you have remote control over shift and throttle functions, and over Engine shut-down. For a manual start engine, that is about all you are going to have. If you have electric start, then the wiring gets a bit more complicated. If you have one of the rare old Omc’s that not only has electric start but also Battery charging, it starts to get really complicated. But that is an article for another day.

Next month, we'll look at remote steering

Later, dudes