Master tinkerers hatch V1200 boat engine

Master tinkerer Pete Aardema is known for taking the most mundane American engines, like those from a Model A Ford, and making ridiculous horsepower from them, certainly sufficient power to earn world records in land-speed racing.

Aardema and machinist Kevin Braun, operating from a small workshop on a hill in rural San Diego county in Southern California, are always looking for new projects and they decided this year, at the last minute of course, to display their prototype V1200 to the Performance Racing Industry show in Indianapolis.

They put the massive engine in the back of their truck and trekked halfway cross-country, installing the engine in a small booth in an innocuous hallway of Indianapolis’ convention center. They were a bit out of the way, but by being in that hallway, they likely got more attention for having their prototype nearly into the walkway - it barely fit their space - than if they’d been shoveled into just another row of displays in one of the large halls that comprise the PRI show.

Aardema and Braun, known for mating typical overhead valve engines to bespoke overhead cam-style power plants, started working on their latest project in October of 2014. They decided, since they were unable to race their latest Bonneville entry in the cancelled 2014 Speed Weeks that fell to an overabundance of rain, that they’d look at boat racing for their next challenge. They came up with the V1200 prototype, made to replace the Allison engines and turbines normally used in unlimited hydroplane boat racing.

“Those (Allison) engines are all used up and the people that have them won’t let them go. They’re hoarding them,” Aardema explained. Once the Allison engines disappeared from the hydroplane marketplace, turbines took over but those, he said, “are super expensive because they’re also being used in the oil fields as generators. For that reason the turbines are expensive,” and difficult to acquire.

“Kevin and I thought, ‘let’s build this engine,’ so we fabricated this block and we made four individual cylinder heads with three valves per cylinder, similar to a lot of other engines we’ve built before.”

What they came up with

What they came up with is a 1,200-cubic-inch V-12 engine with single cam, 3 valves per cylinder, two plugs per cylinder, two Vortex belt-driven superchargers and two intercoolers. The entire operation provides about 15 pounds of boost so they can make 3,000 horsepower from the engine, because that’s about what the turbines are making, Aardema said.

In Unlimited power boat racing, piston-derived engines are given an 800-pound weight advantage over the turbines, so Aardema and Braun felt that, with 3,000 horsepower at the crankshaft, they could have an advantage over the turbines.

The engine has an aluminum block and billet aluminum heads. The block is fabricated at their workshop, Mig-welded, heat-treated and then machined. “It’s about 1/2-inch to one-inch material,” Aardema said. The girdle and main caps on the bottom of this massive engine are billet, “Just like the rest of the engines we build.” The V1200 has a 60-degree angle with two intake valves and a single exhaust valve on each of four cylinder heads. The top is blank to whittle out all the water, then we put a one-inch plate on top of it to house the valve train and the camshaft.

“This engine is closer to an Allison than any of the engines that have been made” for this type of racing, due to its size and displacement. “We’re looking for 2.5 horsepower per cubic inch to get our 3,000 horsepower,” Aardema said. There will be electronic fuel injection delivering alcohol (methanol) to the engine.

“This is a non-running prototype,” he said of the unit at the show. “It was a year-old last month and we’ve been working on it a year. We’ve done almost everything in-house except for the line boring. The crank is from Scat, pistons form Arias, and R&R steel connecting rods.” He’s got his Darton sleeves ready for insertion and in-house rocker arms, with a little help from Jesel. “We made the cams ourselves and Elgin is doing our cam grinding,” Aardema said.

Since they have almost everything they need to assemble this beast - the PRI display prototype was a less-weighty empty shell - Aardema and Brown intended to start assembly once they returned to Souther California. “Hopefully it’ll run by May or June; the intent is to get it operational by the second quarter and then off to the dyno. If all goes well, we’ll find a boat to put it in.”

And then they’ll go racing. If past successes are any indication, Pete Aardema and Kevin Braun may be unleashing the next monster engine that dominates boat racing. As it was, they were fortunate not to have their space at PRI invaded by Unlimited hydroplane racers, as well as those that engage in tractor pulling or Offshore Powerboat racing, all of them looking for the next great mechanical solution. This could be it.

V1200 engine specs

- 1192.8 cubic inches
- length: 59.5 inches
- width: 30 inches
- height: 35 inches
- weight: 1200 pounds (approximately)
- single overhead cam
- three valves/cylinder
- two spark plugs/cylinder
- bore: 5.625 inches
- stroke: 4 inches
- electronic fuel injection
- dry sump oiling
- mechanically supercharged

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Series General
Article type Interview
Tags kevin braun, pete aardema, v1200