Father of the Sterndrive Passes at 96
Charles "Charlie" Strang devoted his life to engines and racing, both in the water and on the track. The marine industry mourns the loss of this all-rounder, who leaves an indelible legacy in his wake.
Charles D. Strang Jr., top Mercury Marine engineer and inventor of the sterndrive, passed away at the age of 96 on March 11, 2018. Strang is credited with having drafted the design for the first sterndrive during his days as a research associate at MIT’s department of mechanical engineering in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In 1948, he mated an aluminum car-racing engine with the lower unit of an outboard motor, creating a propulsion system more powerful than the outboard motors of the day. This breakthrough technology debuted at the 1959 New York Motor Boat Show as the Volvo Penta “Aquamatic” and would later capture 80 percent of the market.
With a storied career whose highlights include vice president of Kiekhaefer Mercury Marine, CEO and board chairman at Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC), and national commissioner for NASCAR, a post he held for 10 years, Strang was inducted into Chrysler’s MOPAR Hall of Fame in 2015. While at OMC, his board of directors included Bill Marriott, astronaut Frank Borman, NASCAR owner Bill France, and Richard Teerling, CEO of Harley-Davidson. Strang also spent many years serving the American Power Boat Association in various capacities and became the only American president of the Union Internationale Motonautique, the worldwide governing body for powerboat racing.
As a child growing up in Brooklyn, Strang enjoyed racing outboard-powered runabouts and hydroplanes. After graduating from the Polytechnic University of Brooklyn with a degree in mechanical engineering, he enlisted in the US Army Air Corp and was assigned to Wright Aeronautical Corporation in New Jersey, where he worked as a test engineer on aircraft engines. A year later, he was sent to the organization now known as NASA. From there, he went to MIT, where he would make his most noted contribution to the marine industry.
Compared to outboards, sterndrives produce higher available horsepower per engine and a clean transom, with no cutouts for outboard installation. A lack of protruding powerhead also makes for easier access in scenarios ranging from boarding to fishing to being rescued.
Propspeed foul-release coating applied to Strang's most famous invention
From a boatbuilding perspective, the sterndrive system simplified engineering requirements, eliminating the need for propshaft and rudder systems. Easy to trailer and maneuver in shallow water with the drive trimmed up, the sterndrive also saved a lot of space. An aft-mounted engine freed up more of the interior, allowing for a full suite of amenities even in boats less than 30 feet long.
“Charlie was an avid powerboat racing ambassador and a brilliant engineer,” said John Pfeifer, Mercury Marine president. “He loved engines and loved Mercury Marine. He lived an incredible life and is responsible for a lot of the success we have today.”