From 1944 to 1948, postwar fever overcame the country. Technology and prosperity collided to ignite a retail explosion in recreation and leisure, with a focus on adventure and speed. The Mercury brand enjoyed a high profile during this period, as the name of the company changed to Kiekhaefer Mercury. The new name accompanied a new location in a giant refurbished barn on a 38-acre dairy farm in Fond du Lac, which became the central manufacturing and development facility for the company.
Kiekhaefer Mercury continued to advance technologically with innovative developments and simplified engineering. In 1947, The Lightening engine was introduced with 10HP and 19.8 cubic inches, a perfect choice for daredevil water skiers. “Full Jeweled Power” offered anti-friction technology in all major bearing locations connecting rods, crankshaft, drive shaft and propeller shaft.
The Lightening, and the smaller Comet and Rocket engines preceded the launch of the long-awaited Thunderbolt, promised in 1941 and finally delivered in 1948; a four-cylinder-in-line, two-cycle, 40 cubic inch engine delivering 40HP, well over it’s advertised 25HP (in keeping with Kiekhaefer’s marketing strategy of under-promising and over-performing). At this time, a major win in the Albany/New York race was achieved with a Mercury engine, and the company’s long-lasting association with competitive racing had begun.
Times became tough again when The Korean War arrived in 1950 with aluminum restrictions and a loss of good spirits across the country, but the technological developments at Kiekhaefer Marine continued. During these years, Carl hired two key people that would play significant roles in the company’s future. Strang and Alexander were involved in exploration and innovation during the Korean War years as Kiekhaefer Mercury Aircraft Engines were developed and tested.
Also in 1950, two major Mercury innovations quickly became industry standards: The tilt-up shock absorber prevented the propeller from continuing to turn when the engine kicked up due to a collision with a solid object like a rock or floating log. This exposed, turning propeller had previously been a cause of injury to boaters. The second innovation was the Jet Prop Underwater Exhaust. Previously, the exhaust hose could break the surface of the water, during a turn causing a loud howling. By routing the exhaust through the propeller in a “hub exhaust” design, Mercury Marine was the first company to successfully engineer this technology that had first been patented, then abandoned by Evinrude. The Mercury 25 set a speed record of 70mph in 1950. Shortly thereafter, the Mercury 50 was launched.
By 1957 the Mercury Mark 75, 6 cycle, 60HP engine was introduced with huge fanfare. The Mark 75, fondly referred to as the “Tower of Power” was the first 6-cylinder outboard motor, crafted when Strang worked “undercover” during Carl Kiekhaefer’s period of obsessive attention to automotive racing. Strang cut apart two 4-cylinder engines discarding one cylinder each, then asking the automotive team to weld it together when the boss was out. The tall result looked almost laughable, but its performance changed the industry. The Under extreme testing at the secret testing location Lake X, the engine set a 50,000-mile record, maintaining 30.3 mph over 68 ¾ days.
The Mark 75 also boasted a single-lever one-hand control that provided an electric start with the push of a button, smooth acceleration with a tilt of the lever, and transition to reverse with no gear shifting with a pull of the lever and another push of the button. This is one Mercury innovation that did not pass the test of time, but Kiekhaefer knew the product would be marketable for the short term, so he pushed his team to incorporate it. Eventually, a traditional shift mechanism was developed and the direct-reverse design was retired.