This is the most common question that I hear and the toughest to answer; the sad truth is: Probably not that much. This is because there are literally millions of them around. In the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s there was a huge boom in recreational boating – millions and millions of outboards were manufactured.
Most outboards are only used periodically - they never get enough hours to wear them out. And outboards are easily stored in the rafters of a garage or boathouse and people tend to hang on to them regardless if they run or not.
In most cases boats and outboards are basically toys. Since only a small portion of people spending their disposable income on boats are interested in a 40 or 50 (or more) year old outboard, there is a pretty limited market for old outboards.
To sum it up, a large supply, small demand, not really a necessity, simply put: They are just not that valuable.
About the best tool available is Peter Hunn’s OLD OUTBOARD BOOK. You could also try keeping an eye on e-bay auctions of similar motors but this can be unreliable since the prices for a given outboard have been known to fluctuate widely day to day and week to week.
And any valuation would depend on the condition of the motor. All too often a motor that looks nice on the outside can have major issues on the inside. Many times it can take a trained professional to assess the condition and repairs needed to put an old outboard back on the water. At $55+ per hour, it doesn’t take much time to exceed the value of most motors from the 1940’s and up.
True, there are some very old motors and some very rare motors that are worth a lot relative to the average Elgin, Scott Atwater or Johnson TN-26 – unfortunately those outboards don’t turn up that often.
Old Outboard Buying 101
"What should I pay to buy an old outboard?"
Collecting old outboards is a fun and AFFORDABLE hobby. To keep it that way, it is important to not create a false sense of value for old outboards, lest the hobby go the way of Cabbage Patch Kids or Beenie Babies!
Flea market find: Run away, don't walk!!!
What Not to Do
Let's look at a semi-real story to see an all too often scenario for newcomers in the old outboard collecting world, (names have been changed to protect the innocent but the parts are actual retail prices for parts today):
Jack is at a yard sale and spies an old outboard in the corner of the garage next to a long dormant roto-tiller and lawn mower. The outboard is a little banged up and has been well used and loved with a few dings, scratches and most of the decals missing. He falls in love with the cool styling and the couple of graphics still clinging to the old motor. The old-timer holding the sale relates to him all the fish he caught out with that motor, how his son (now an interior decorator in NY City... don’t ask) had learned to run a boat with it back when Ike was President. "After all, how many of them can be left out there" says the old-timer. Thinking he has found a once in a lifetime opportunity, Jack decides to pay the curmudgeon’s asking price of $150 and heads home pleased as punch with his new find.
With the motor on a sawhorse in the garage, Jack does a little on-line research and finds that the motor is 1953 Poseidon Piranha. Unfortunately the gas in the tank was best used before October 11th-- 1961! The fuel is now the consistency of molasses and even worse in the carburetor - boy does it smell bad! But Jack aced shop back in high school and knows his way around small horsepower engines pretty well; he even still has his textbook SMALL GAS ENGINES by Al Roth. A little more poking on the outboard and he learns that the coils in the magneto have cracked, the points are blackened nubs, the condensers test poorly and the spark plug wires were ingested by Ralph the Rat. After some consideration (and a little dreaming) it strikes Jack that having the rubber tiller grip and new decals would probably make great finishing touches.
More online research leads Jack to Phyllis’s Poseidon Parts Palace specializing in new, used and remanufactured parts for his outboard motor. Phyllis’s father Phillip worked on the Poseidon production line and she has done a great job almost single-handedly keeping people puttering along with these fine kickers. A few emails and Jack is in luck that Phyllis has all the parts. She also suggests that he replace the waterpump impeller and get a carb kit that can deal with the new reformulated fuels in his state. Here is a breakdown of the cost for the parts Jack ordered:
Plug Wire $8.00
New reproduction rubber tiller grip $25.00
Carb kit $22.00
Reproduction acetate decals $32.50
Total including shipping & handling $174.00
Jack gets the parts and, in a week or two, has his Poseidon Piranha running like new. He is understandably pleased at having brought it back to life and is really glad that Phyllis suggested he get the impeller since the old one had turned to dust! He tallies the additional costs of carb cleaner, spark plugs and some fasteners at about $20, bringing his total investment to $344.00. (This does not include the cost of baby-sitting, dinner & a movie for Jack and his wife Jill, to keep the peace at home. Jill is feeling a little put-out at all the time he has spent in the garage since the "rare & valuable" Poseidon Piranha came into their home.)
It is sobering for poor Jack the night a few weeks later when he logs on to an on-line auction and sees his same model motor fully restored bringing a maximum bid of $225.50. Alas, things get worse for Jack when he brings Jill and sons Jim and Jerry to an Antique Outboard Club meet and sees scores of running Poseidon Piranha 5-1/2's, Poseidon Perch 7-1/2's and even a couple of the unusual Poseidon Pickerel 12's. Jack knows things at home are going to be rough when Jill says: “Last one left out there, yeah, right... How much have you spent on that thing??!!!”
As the main character in this story finds out, he really doesn't know jack about old outboards!
What TO Do
There are several helpful things I have learned over the years that are a great help to know in the buying of old outboards:
1) Know as much about the particular motor you are buying as possible. Joining the AOMCI and getting some books on the hobby (Like the aforementioned OLD OUTBOARD BOOK) can go a long way to educating you on the worth of old motors. Knowing how many were made, how serviceable and how much interest there is in a motor are really the keys to knowing its value.
2) You should know what the motor looked like when it was new and if it came with any extra items like tools, manual(s), a remote fuel tank and any other miscellaneous parts. Is anything broken or is the motor missing parts, cowls, handles, knobs, etc…? I know of several cases where you can purchase a complete motor for less than the cost of the cowls on their own!
3) Try to evaluate as much as possible about a motor when you are looking at it. A verbal history from the seller is fine but it doesn’t come close to being as trustworthy as a compression test or thorough mechanical evaluation. A motor that is offered at 1/3 less than others you have seen of the same model, but needs hundreds of dollars in parts, is no bargain
A basic knowledge of the cost for parts to service or restore a motor can be a great help in determining value. It is fair to assume that any old motor will need the same parts as indicated in the story above. Depending on the model, year and other factors, some of these parts may cost less and some a great deal more. (And some parts may not be available at all!) It is sad to say but there are some brands from the 40’s and 50’s with so little value today (even running) that a modest investment in parts will exceed their current value in mint condition. That is not to say you shouldn’t try to work on one of these (some of them are personal favorites of mine) but just be sure you know what you are getting into.
4) A very common issue relating to value can be the seller’s sentimental feelings for the outboard. He or she could recall the thrill of purchasing the motor new in 1955, add to that all the fun and memories associated with it over the years and soon the mind of the seller has vastly inflated its value.
Sentimental value is not transferable…period, end of story. The memories of good times on the water with an outboard stay with the seller - you will have to make your own! No matter how much fun was had in the past, the fact is it doesn’t make any particular motor worth one iota more than any other.
5) On-line auctions like ebay and others are a great resource for information, but BE CAREFUL! Most members of the AOMCI agree that the costs of items on-line do not reflect the true value of a given old outboard. The argument against this thinking is that of free market economics – an auction, by its very nature, inherently dictates the value of any item. The counter argument is that one or two people with a unique motivation, that are uninformed or with money burning a hole in their pocket, can determine the price of an auction. Like it or not, it is a fact that every day outboards (and related items) are sold on-line that many of us in the hobby have been challenged to give away!
Interestingly, there are some items that on-line auctions have LOWERED the value on. Previously, outboards from the like of Martin, Bendix and Lauson were thought to be extremely rare. The significant number of them that turn up on-line has shown that they are not all that uncommon and their values have actually decreased (in many cases).
In short, on-line auctions are an interesting tool but you should not place a significant amount of emphasis on the values displayed there. And when you factor in that you can’t examine the motor, can’t look the seller in the eye and will probably need to ship the motor, my feeling is you can probably do better elsewhere.
6) Be wary of shipping costs if this is a requirement of sale. Unless you live in a very remote location, it is more than likely you can find almost any old outboard a lot closer to home. Horror stories of things lost, broken or damaged in transit are very common.
The best plan of action if you want to get involved with old outboards is to come up with a solid game plan for what you want to do. To start, get a copy of the OLD OUTBOARD BOOK and join the AOMCI. Attend a few meets, talk to folks and get an idea of what you are getting into. Pass up the first few “bargains” you see - hold onto your money. Go ahead and get a name and phone number, you can always call the seller back later when you have learned more.
Spend some time researching the motor you would like to buy before you take the plunge. Find out what will be required to restore the motor, how easy parts are to find and how serviceable the motor is. As nifty as they are, don’t start off wanting the unobtainable Waterman Porto or something as complex and difficult to service as an automatic transmission Mercury or Bail-a-Matic Scott Atwater – it could be biting off more than you want to chew!
Once you have all the information on-hand regarding the motor you want, you are well prepared to haggle with the flea market vendor, yard sale proprietor or person who placed the classified ad you responded to. Show them the value page in the OLD OUTBOARD BOOK, relate to them the cost of the parts you will need and insure them that they will get to keep all their wonderful sentimental memories. Pass on any motor that you feel is too pricey, give the seller your number or get theirs and try them a month or two later. I guarantee that if you bide your time the right motor at a good deal will find you!
My own recommendations of outboards for newcomers to the hobby are most of the 2 to 25hp Johnsons from the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Evinrudes from the 30’s are good but most of the motors from the 1940 up through 1953 have carburetors that can be challenging to service. Smaller Mercurys (and their cousins the Wizard) from the 40’s and early 50’s are also good, though the 10hp versions have become very pricey lately. Almost all of these motors can be obtained for less than $100 (in some cases free!) and are easy to get parts for, repair information on and are intuitively constructed.
Once you have cut your teeth on a few of these solid motors and have made some friends & connections in the club, then you should branch out into the motors YOU LIKE. Don’t collect a brand just because others do, follow your own feelings and instincts - if you like Elgin’s but everyone else is collecting Mercury’s don’t feel you need to go with the pack. A collection of outboards you enjoy is far more fulfilling than keeping up with the whims & fancies of others.
"Where do I get parts for my old outboard?"
Try the links section or Webvertize ad at the AOMCI web site, even better is to join the AOMCI and place an ad in the club newsletter. Also, believe it or not, many Evinrude/Johnson (OMC) parts are still available from your local Bombardier dealer! Unfortunately, I have found that most Mercury dealers think a motor from 1990 is too old to get parts for…. I recommend Grubb's Marine if you need parts for an old Merc, the information on their website is an excellent tool.
There are a few people who have small businesses specializing in particular makes of old outboards; Martin, Scott-Atwater and Chris-Craft are just a few. They can be found in the links section of the AOMCI web site.
Lastly, a good NAPA or other auto parts store should have access to the Sierra Marine catalog listing thousands of common consumable outboard parts like coils, carb kits, gaskets, etc… While original equipment (o.e.) parts are preferable to aftermarket, many of these aftermarket parts are pretty good but don’t automatically assume that the aftermarket parts will be less expensive than the same o.e. part. A little research can pay off handsomely when shopping for old outboard parts.
"What type of gas/oil should I use in my old outboard?"
Gasoline Fact: For an old outboard you do not need to worry that leaded gas is no longer available. Marine fuel sold from the 1930’s through the 1960’s was called “Marine White” and was, in fact, unleaded gas. There are a lot of debates over what octane to use; a quality 87 octane is typically fine.
A major issue for the old outboard is the use of ethanol or MTBE as an additive in modern fuels. Essentially alcohol, these additives are really trouble for the rubber parts in the fuel system. If you have any fuel system parts made of black neoprene rubber, (fuel line, carburetor float bowl gasket, needle tip, fuel valve packing, etc..), the alcohol will dissolve them. Problems from a plugged fuel line to fuel dripping everywhere are the result.
About the only option to remedy the problem of reformulated fuels is to replace all the rubber components with ones that are able to cope with the new fuels.
A quality name brand 2-stoke oil is recommended. For water cooled outboards use TCW-3 from Johnson/Evinrude, Mercury or Yamaha. For air cooled motors a quality TC rated oil is best.
Why are there two types of two stroke oils?
1) There can be a temperature difference of as much as 100 degrees between water cooled and air cooled outboards.
2) Water cooled motors typically exhaust into the water, air cooled motors into the air. Each creates unique issues for water cleanliness and minimal smoke.
Each of these reasons requires extensive differences in the formulation of the oils, dispersants and other factors. Be sure to use the correct oil for your 2-stroke application.
IMPORTANT: Never use modern oil intended for a 4-stroke car in 2-stroke equipment – it will destroy it. Years ago, before detergents were in 4-cycle oil and before good 2-stroke oils were developed, this may have been okay - today it is unacceptable.
Remember: a few dollars more for a good oil is a small price to pay to prevent major mechanical issues.
The ratio of oil to gas is different for almost every outboard manufacturer and even from one model to another. Most motors manufactured before 1960 require at least ½ pint per gallon of gas with some needing ¾ (or more) of a pint per gallon. Whenever one is in doubt about what the ratio should be for a particular motor, posting the question on the AOMCI Ask A Member board will often yield an answer. Some people feel with modern oils and fuels you can skimp on the ratio of oil & gas but there is no reason not to use the original mixture; rarely does more oil do harm, too little can be devastating.
This should get you started on the road to Collectible Antique Outboards. Welcome aboard!