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Thread: OMC’s 4-Rotor Wankel Racing Engine - The Real Story

  1. #11
    Preserving OMC Heritage LIQUID NIRVANA's Avatar
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    Paris ‘74

    The first race in ’74 for the rotaries was the 6 hrs of Paris. The Mercury ban was still in place for the rotaries, but on threat of pulling all OMC engines from the race, the race officials allowed them to run exhibition only. 4 engines started the race and easily dominated, leading by as much as 15 minutes. One boat barreled rolled in a corner, one boat hit the turn buoy (concrete) and took the side off the boat, one succumbed to engine failure and the forth was leading by 30 minutes with 15 minutes left in the race when the engine failed. Upon inspection after the race it was found someone had sabotaged the engine by loosing all 8-carburetor nuts. With the carbs not tight to the intake manifold, severe air leaks cause a very lean mixture resulting in rotor bearing failure. That it lasted as long as it did was amazing.
    This was the race Caesar Scotti was killed; or more correctly, let die by the French police. Scotti had hooked a sponson, which threw him into the concrete wall of the river. He was thrown thru the front of the boat and up against the retaining fence. A US doctor tried to help him, but French police would not let him touch Scotti. It took 45 minutes for the French to cut down the retaining fence and get him to the hospital. He bled to death internally before he got there. Because of Scotti’s death, the rest of the European circuit was canceled and everyone was sent home.

    This was the only race for ’74.

    Development continued trying 100% alcohol and nitrous oxide assist. The nitrous gave a 30% power increase with the push of a button. The alcohol did not do much for power so it was abandoned. Engines were consistently producing in excess of 280 prop shaft HP at 8000 RPM. Without the nitrous.

  2. #12
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    St. Louis ‘75

    This was Mercury’s premiere race, as this was Billy Seebold country and was billed as the “World Championship”. The race consisted of four-20 minute heats with a LeMans type start for each heat. The winner being determined by total points for each heat. OMC brought 4 rotaries and V-6’s to the race. All were equipped with nitrous bottles. The rotaries being charged cooled, meaning the air-fuel mixture cooled the internal parts, lost approximately 30% of its air flow (volumetric efficiency) as it heated up to operating temperature. Because of this OMC devised an external battery operated water pump and pumped lake water thru the cooling system during each heat of the race trying to cool the engine back down to regain HP for the start of the next heat. Each boat had a crew assigned to carry the pump and battery to pump water thru the engine between each heat. As said, this was Mercury’s race and as such they created their own rules, which OMC didn’t know about until race time. First, Mercury insisted on qualifying runs. Each boat ran several laps for time and the top 10 times qualified for the race. Mercury had been at the race site for 2 weeks setting up their rigs for this race and as such had their equipment tweaked for the race. The time trials resulted in the 4 rotaries and 6 Mercury V-6’s qualifying for the race. Mercury then assigned one Mercury driver to each rotary boat and they were told to block and run them wide in the turns. This allowed 2 Mercury boats to run uncontested for the win. Mercury added radios on their boats for this race and during the race all you heard was “hold your position and don’t let so in so inside of you”. The OMC drivers were told to use the nitrous only for acceleration out of the corners as each bottle only lasted 20 minutes and there was no opportunity to change bottles once the heats had started. Unfortunately, the drivers didn’t pay much attention to this and at the start of the first heat you could see the nitrous fumes coming from the air slots in the motor cover. The race turned ugly from the get-go. Tommy Posey’s boat was destroyed when a Mercury driver tried to keep him from going inside and hit him. Mercury denied a protest. Barry Woods in an Evinrude Rotary won the first 2 heats, but Mercury team drivers effectively blocked Johnny Sanders and Jimbo McConnell. The blocking continued in the third heat with Molinari assigned to Barry for that heat. He effectively blocked him until Barry got pissed and ran over Mollinari’s boat leaving prop cut outs along the entire side on Mollinari’s boat. Mercury disqualified him for the heat for reckless driving even though he won the heat. That left the race with 2 heat wins for Woods and one win and 2 seconds for Seebold. The fourth and final heat was intense. Woods lead from the start, but barrel rolled his boat when he hooked a sponson in a turn. The boat rolled one complete turn and ended right side up. Barry was thrown out of the boat, but swam back to his boat, restarted the engine and went on to win the heat and thus the race; or so we thought. When Barry rolled his boat, the top shroud of the boat came off and sank. Barry’s numbers were painted on the shroud and without it he didn’t have his numbers on his boat. Mercury disqualified him, as APBA rules state you have to have your numbers on the boat, and thus claimed victory for the race. It was a huge disappointment for OMC and particularly Barry Woods, because he actually won all 4 heats, but was denied the win because of politics. It became apparent from this race Mercury would do anything to claim a win and if this type of racing would continue, some one was going to seriously get hurt or worse, killed.
    The only other race the rotaries entered was Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Jack Leek insisted the rotaries run the high-speed 15/17 gear cases on all 4 rotaries, even though the OMC V-6’s ran the 14/23 gear cases. The Rotaries were faster at the end of the straight-aways, but the OMC V-6’s out accelerated them out of the corners. It is my belief this was done to showcase the V-6’s as they were scheduled for production. The Mercury factory V-6’s didn’t show up for this race; only the old in-line 6’s; and as such it was an easy win for the OMC V6’s.

  3. #13
    Preserving OMC Heritage LIQUID NIRVANA's Avatar
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    Epilog

    By 1975, EPA was making noises about regulating emissions on outboards. They were in fact doing lake testing in Michigan and Florida trying to prove outboard emissions harmed water quality and aquatic life. In addition, in 1974 the state of California banned any 2-cycle motorcycles from public streets, because Honda had demonstrated their 4-cycle bikes were a viable alternative to the 2-stroke machines. No emission standard, just a total ban. A rotary is actually a 4-cycle engine even though the charged cool versions mixed oil with the gas to lubricate the internal parts. An untreated rotary emitted 10 times less hydrocarbon emissions than the 2-stroke equivalent at the time. OMC was afraid if they introduced a production rotary outboard, EPA would impose a similar ban on 2-stroke outboards. OMC was in no position to replace their entire line up of outboards with rotaries. Not only had they only limited HP size of engines under development, the cost to retool the entire line up would have been prohibitive. Because of this, the rotary program was put on the back burner and the development emphasis was put on 2-cycles. The rotary group started to fall apart with the departure of several key engineering people including George Miller and myself. Before I left OMC, 4 racing rotaries were built, dyno run and put into storage. The attached HP curve is from one of those engines. Very little further development work was done on the rotaries after 1976. When BRP bought Johnson and Evinrude from the bankrupt OMC, the deal did not include any rotary technology or rights. If fact, OMC had sold all of their remaining rotary assets including parts inventory and machinery to Paul Moller of Moller International. What has happened to those 4 racing engines, I don’t know. They were not sold to Moller International. The rotary engine bucket and shroud sold on e-bay recently was the show and tell model hung in the lobby on OMC Engineering. It was not fully machined and didn’t have an engine in it. OMC went on to develop a V-8 to dominate the unlimited outboard class and Mercury created a class that only their V-6 could compete in.

    So ended one of the most exciting and talked about periods in outboard racing history; and that’s the real story.

    Many thanks to John Sheldon aka 'ROTARY JOHN' on BRF for providing the above 13 page Rotary Overview.

  4. #14
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    CLICK ON ANY PICTURE to take you to more pictures.

    Mike Griffiths (Left) & John Sheldon (Right) Worked 12 hr shifts 7 days a week for months. Motor built from scratch to racing in 5 months Note Horns on carbs. They were never actually used. (would not fit)






    Charlie Strang, CEO of Outboard Marine Corp. RC with 15:17 gearcase.

    http://sports.webshots.com/album/552...l?vhost=sports

  5. #15
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    Default Thank You, This Is What Brf Is All About

    As a long time St. Louis resident and fan of the "St. Louis Race" for many years, unfortunately we had to miss some races because our PRO Nationals were on the same weekend. Th race where the Rotaries were run was one of those we missed, and it is really great to hear what happened from someone on the inside. All the crashes and "driver instructions" were evidently the reason the next year, a number of boat racers from other categories were used as turn judges at the OZ World Championships. I remember hearing there was controversy at a previous race for overlap violations, etc., and they wanted turn judges who had no connection with OPC racing or either of the factories. Now we have more of the "rest of the story".

    Thanks again for all the technical info on the engine. The average person would probably never have had an opportunity to hear about this if not for you and BRF.

  6. #16
    Team Member MN1's Avatar
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    I got to see them at the Lake Carroll race. Have to see if I have photos.
    Mark N

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    Team Member Master Oil Racing Team's Avatar
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    What a fantastic story. I was at the Galveston race. Unfortunately the editor of Motorsport has all the B&W photos I took of the rotaries. I only have a few color shot left.



  8. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Master Oil Racing Team View Post
    What a fantastic story. I was at the Galveston race. Unfortunately the editor of Motorsport has all the B&W photos I took of the rotaries. I only have a few color shot left.
    There is much more to come.
    John Sheldon (Rotary John on BRP) is sending me his entire memrobilia collection which I will scan & post. Hopefully this thread will become the definitive epitaph to what could have been the future of Outboard Motors. If you go the the epilog above you will read why this did not happen. Who could have ever guessed that. Lets make this thread one of the very best. Keep those pictures (& video's) coming, and all you former racers & OMC people, get on board & add you experiences PLEASE!! If you need help posting, my email is liquidnirvana@y7mail.com

    Ken

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    I heard about the Mercury cry babyisms from dad when the rotaries were running. I think Mercury's factory team must have read Andy Granitelli's book, I have forgotten the name, about when the big 3 auto makers did everything they could to ban turbine powered cars after Parnelli Jones' 1967 success. It would have been a matter of time, and I bet Merc would have cried loud enough or greased anough palms for the rotary's to have had severe restrictions placed on them just as the 3 turbine cars of 1968 Indy had placed on them which caused their failures.

    One question though. If the OMC engines were so good on fuel and emmissions, then why is the Mazda RX 2,3,7 such a freeken pig?

    Great storys Ken.
    Bill Schwab
    Dirty Deck Brewing
    Company

  10. #20
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    All kudo's to JOHN SHELDON (aka RotaryJohn her on BRF), he wrote the story above. Thankyou so much John.
    One name springs to mind Charlie Strang, there are many others but Charlie was the CEO. Wouldn't it be good if Charlie chimed in here. Lets ask you as head of the company for so long tell its story Charlie. When you go, as we all do, much will be lost so PLEASE just tell us.

    Ken

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