Four-stoke Prototypes Heralded as 'Future of Outboards'

NEW ORLEANS - Rocky Rockhill needed only one word to describe a new generation of four-stoke Mercury outboards demonstrated for outdoors writers Thursday at the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer.

"Awesome," was Rockhill's assessment of the prototype outboards Mercury engineers and technicians displayed at Bayou Segnette State Park.

Rockhill, a bass angler and tackle designer from Tuscumbia, Ala., just happened to stop by the park while the outboards were on display.

"They are as quiet as a whisper and have plenty of power ... at mid-range and top-end, too. They are absolutely amazing," Rockhill said.

But Rockhill will have to wait about a year before he can purchase one of the new motors, according to Steve Miller, manager of the Project X outboards program.

The motors are still being tested and refined, and Miller does not expect them to be ready for market before the summer of 2004.

Ken Lemberger, an engineering technician for Mercury, said the Project X outboards may well drive the future of outboard motors.

Unlike some four-stroke motors that may lack power, the new generation of outboards can easily push bass boats at more than 65 mph. A pair of the motors that were demonstrated on a 31-foot center console Thursday powered the vessel at 55 mph with little effort.

In open water, Lemberger said, the pair of outboards can push a center console packed with four people and 150 gallons of gasoline at 68 mph.

"They are impressive outboards," he said. "They are a result of a fantastic team effort by the folks at Mercury. Everyone has put their heart and soul into this project and it shows."

Miller said almost every part in the new outboards is an exclusive design.

"About the only thing we didn't change is the prop nut," he said.

However, neither he nor Lemberger would give specifics about the size of the engine blocks, number of valves per cylinder or other specifics about the new design. Miller did say the new outboards would be available in 150- to 250-horsepower models.

"People are going to be surprised by these outboards when they hit the market," Miller said. "They are four-strokes that don't feel like a four-stroke. They're strong coming out of the hole and all through the power curve. They are going to be great."

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.

Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Chevrolet Trucks, Yamaha Outboards, Mercury Marine, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Kumho Tires, Progressive Insurance, Abu Garcia, Berkley, Diamond Cut Jeans, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, and BankOne.

Associate Sponsors include Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning and G3 Boats.

Local sponsors include the State of Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, and Jefferson Parish.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (504) 304-2563.