by Max Wawrzyniak
In my various ramblings in the internet discussion groups I
make no secret of my opinion that old outboard motors (sometime really
old) can often be cheap, reliable power plants for home-built boats.
I also make no secret of my opinion that one of the best places to
purchase an old outboard, or parts, or to learn about them is at one of
the swap meets sponsored by the Antique Outboard Motor Club. There
are swaps meets held literally every month of the year, all over the
country. For a schedule of up-coming meets, check out their website
Some of these meets are "dry" meets, meaning no place to actually
run boats, and some are "wet" meets, meaning one can run outboards on the
Membership in the club is not required to attend a meet, and usually
no admission fee is charged, although often the hat is passed to pay for
I recently attended an Antique Outboard Motor Club swap and wet meet
on the banks of the Illinois River near St. Louis, Missouri. Spent Friday
and Saturday nights aboard my home-built, Michalak-designed
AF4 tied to the property owner's dock. Once one had swatted all
the 'skeeters that followed one into the cabin, the
AF4 provided more than acceptable accommodations.
The old '57 18hp Johnson performed flawlessly for the three day
event- don't know if the '58 Johnson 3hp on the auxiliary bracket ran-
never tried it.
It was a good meet with one problem; every one (about 20 attended)
brought stuff to sell but there were no buyers. I brought 4
outboards and a powerhead; sold one outboard and the powerhead and brought
the rest back home. These included a '51 Evinrude 14 hp complete less
pressure tank, which went begging @ $50.00, and (2) identical '51
OMC-built Sea King 12's, which found no buyers @ $60.00 each, even through
they have built-in gas tanks and need no pressure tank, and even though 6
years ago I had replaced the coils, plug wires, points, condensers, and
water pump impellers. Even ran them in a bucket back then, but
haven't touched them since.
Remote controls and propellers; pressure tanks and cowls; It was all
hauled in and dumped on the ground to await the scarce buyers.
A complete late' 40s Johnson 5 hp model TD sold for 30 bucks; a pair
of "good for parts only" 3.6 hp Scotts went for 10 bucks for the pair.
An absolutely beautiful, mint-condition late '50s Evinrude 5.5 went for
200 bucks, less pressure tank. I told the buyer that any old OMC outboard
that looked as little used as that one did probably had cracked magneto
coils (he checked it and it did, but that's a small price to pay for a
"Not-for-Sale" was an equally nice '57 Johnson 18. The owner
started it up for the first time in the "test barrel" usually present at
such meets. I thought it sounded as if it was running on one
cylinder and said so. It did appear to be pumping water. The
owner mounted it on his trailered boat and headed for the launch ramp.
I fired-up the AF4 and meet him up at the ramp because I had my doubts.
Once in the water, the engine would hardly run, and as I watched, the
owner removed the cowl, releasing a cloud of smoke and revealing that the
factory-fresh "holiday bronze" paint around the upper cylinder was badly
scorched. I pointed out to him that old impellers will sometimes
work for a few minutes and then fail. I also pointed out that had
the engine been running on both cylinders instead of just one,, he might
have gotten it up to speed and locked-up the over-heated engine.
Back at the test barrel, a 1959 Johnson 10 was obviously running
hot, yet they was a small amount of water spraying from the exhaust relief
as it should, but the water was ice-cold.
The cause of the problem was pretty obvious, and removing the lower
unit verified it; someone had removed the lower unit and upon
reinstalling it, had not gotten the upper-end of the water line from the
water pump into the inlet on the underside of the powerhead. Cooling
water was being pumped to the top of the exhaust housing and spraying out
there. some of the cold water was then carried out the exhaust relief
outlet, giving a false indication that every thing was "cool" with the
engine. The give-away was ice-cold water coming out of an overheated
This engine was mounted on a boat and run all day Saturday on a gas
tank borrowed from me. When I was getting ready to leave on Sunday,
the owner gave me back my tank, hooked up his own, after which the motor
quit running. Dirty fuel.
Jim Michalak showed up; he has learned what I tell everyone,
that antique outboard swap meets are the perfect place to hunt for
outboards and parts. He showed an interest in a '50s 12 hp
Goodyear (yes, tires) SeaBee, identical to his 12 hp Montgomery Ward Sea
King, except for paint and trim. Pulling the starter rope gave the "thunk
thunk" I like to hear, and removing the recoil starter and flywheel cover
plate showed that this engine had replacement coils already installed.
A close examination revealed a slight bulge and possible crack (from
freezing) in the lower unit, and this was used to lower the asking price
from $80.00 to $50.00 Jim carted his purchase home to work on
If this were my engine, I would clean the grease off it and then
give it a good look'n over. If no further damage is apparent, I
would then begin to work on it. If the plug wires were not replaced
when the coils were replaced, I would replace them. "Old fashioned"
points and condensers for these old '50s OMC's are dirt cheap, and I
ALWAYS replace them. I would clean the carb and install a rebuild kit
along with new fuel hoses (Modern hoses and carb components are resistant
to the alcohol in today's gas; the '50s stuff is not.)
If the recoil starter rope looks at all suspect, I would replace it,
and maybe even the recoil starter spring.
Lastly, I would drop the lower unit and install a new water pump
impeller, because I have no idea how old the existing one is. New
lower unit oil, and I am ready to try to start the engine for the first
Jim didn't do it. He threw it into the test barrel and got it
running, experiencing only recoil starter troubles. These minor
trials he sorted through, and has since put at least 4 hours running time
on the engine with no sign of trouble.
Not bad for a 50 buck engine, but it was the right engine.
There were other 50 buck engines there that would have been poor choices
for cheap power candidates. In my old Duckworks article, Primer on Old
Outboards, I give my opinions as to good candidates and bad ones. I
believe that this article can only be viewed on a CD now.
Unless someone convinces chuck to run it again.
Many people have no desire to bury their hands in a greasy old
outboard motor and learn what makes it tick. Personally, I get a kick out
of repairing and running outboards that cost me about what the sales tax
on a new outboard costs. But to each his own.
And working on old outboards is much more fun than fishing, which
has to be the most boring activity known to man.
Except maybe for golf.
Well, that about wraps-up this month’s column.