While most of us have our noses back to the grindstones to make our meager living, there are a handful of go-getters that were focused on the bidding war that has culminated around this particular 1991 MerCruiser LT5 engine that was designated for sea-faring duty by its creators.
The LT5 engine is no stranger to Corvette enthusiasts, and thanks to the efforts of GM, Mercury Racing and MerCruiser, a division of Mercury Marine who built the high-revving engine for Corvette consumption, many high-performance boating aficionados were well aware of the engine’s capabilities. According to Mercury Marine, “Auto enthusiast Fred Kiekhaefer — at that time Mercury’s vice president of marketing — thought the project with General Motors could provide some favorable publicity. A marinized version of the engine was rigged into a 24-foot Baja powerboat painted to match the car, towed on a trailer with Corvette wheels and nicknamed the “Wette Vette.”
It was a match made in heaven. The fiberglass ran deep in both cases. The new C4 ZR1 was taking the performance world (and collectors) by storm. The boat, a REALLY fast boat by the name of a 1991 vintage 223 Bandit is a shallow V, sleek boat from Baja. The duo struck a chord with those who travelled fast by land or sea and the pair were paraded around North America for photo shoots and “drive-bys” so the world could hear the LT5 roar.
Interestingly, the ZR1, the boat and both of their LT5 engines were reportedly stolen while travelling to a show. Some people say that the car and boat were separated, while others report that someone apparently just drove the Corvette away with boat in tow. As is the case with so many mysteries, the internet is full of differing accounts of what happened.
Rick Kirk displayed this engine in his museum for years and it is absolutely THE one and only Wette Vette engine. – Brett S. (The Seller)
Interestingly, this LT5 engine recently showed up on Bringatrailer.com for sale with a no reserve designation. The engine was reportedly in the collection of R&K Machine founder Rick Kirk, who was involved with the prototype machine work and development of the LT5 engine. The seller is said to have purchased the engine from Mr. Kirk’s estate last year and contends, “Rick Kirk displayed this engine in his museum for years and it is absolutely THE one and only Wette Vette engine.”
In the above video posted to YouTube in 2015, the one who uploaded the video states that he saw the Wette Vette for sale in Germany three or four years ago, thus adding to the questions of the Wette Vette’s whereabouts. Did it sell? Where did it go?
As is the case when you put the word “rare” with anything, there are debates as to exactly how rare, and accurate the item is. The comments do not disappoint with this auction in regard to this engine. Some are questioning the benefits of using an LT5 in the first place, citing that a big-block, or even a stroked small-block would be a better choice. There are also some very humorous comments, such as “Bring a Boat” and “Bring a Trawler,” a definite play on the website’s title of “Bring A Trailer.” Ironically, if the engine were still in the Wette Vette, you could assume that the Corvette-themed trailer would still be with it as well. Another commenter suggests, “My buddy needs an engine for his ’69 Vette project he says he is “under water” on. This may be just the ticket!” Internet gold, we’d say.
One comment on the auction site by ADDvanced (who claims to work for MerCruiser) clarifies much of the confusion about the theft. Here is his post in its entirety.
I reached out to Racing, and this is what I got back. I’m posting it here since there are so many different stories, this should clear things up.
“This engine was built in Stillwater, OK, but marinized by a group at what is now the Mercury Racing facility in Fond du Lac, WI. Marinizing meaning building those custom jacketed SS headers, installing transom assembly, transmission, drive unit, cooling system, and dropping into the boat. The car-boat pair was on tour for car/boat shows on a big, custom, open trailer that held the boat on its own trailer behind the ZR1. The whole setup was being towed by a dually pickup, which left Fond du Lac for a boat show in New York or Tennessee (debated?). Driver stopped in Ohio for the night, comes out in the morning and the whole thing is gone, except a pile of broken window glass. Within hours of being reported stolen, the intact boat on its trailer and only the frame of the tow vehicle are recovered. The tow vehicle was stripped, and the ZR1 and big trailer were never recovered.”
As it is, the engine comes complete with display stand, the MerCruiser 1.65:1 Bravo One outdrive system, the external cooling system and electronics that were modified to work with the Wette Vette’s outdrive system. Bidding went from $7,000 to $10,000 in the last minutes of the auction, and whether or not this engine ever sees the open seas again, the person who plunked down the coin to own one of the rarest of the rare LT5 engines has surely got something to show his friends.
We’d love to hear that the Wette Vette IS actually well and healthy and so long as we’re dreaming, maybe it might once again be reunited with this engine and make a few passes for old-time’s sake. If it does, I hope there’s video, and this time, make it in HD.