War of the Wheels
Story provided by John Tiger, Jr. Photos by Paul Nichols
We put 21 high-performance props through on-the-water tests in a slice-and-dice race to the finish.
Note to self: Schedule more propeller tests. They’re sure to be a hit with readers; trouble is, they’re expensive and difficult to pull off. Despite the logistical nightmares, we’re committed to at least a couple more of these for 2007 and 2008. We started these tests using a readers Allison, but the new engine bolted to its transom wouldn’t cooperate. Thanks to Bullet Boats and expert Bullet setup man Paul Nichols of Nichols Outboard of Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, we switched gears and scored a new Bullet 20-foot XDC with a Mercury 250XS for power.
SETUP: Nichols started with a standard Bullet and rigged a new Merc 250XS to a Rapid Jack manual setback jackplate with 14 inches of setback from the transom surface. The test was conducted with Nichols as the driver and his mechanic as passenger/ballast. Both men weigh approximately 200 pounds. The Bullet’s fuel tank was kept between a half and three quarters full at all times. The boat was fully rigged and set up for fishing, with three batteries and a trolling motor. Each prop was run 1 ½ to 1 ¾ inches above the pad for best performance. Bare hull and rigged weight was standard Bullet fare; our tester tipped the scales at just over 1950 pounds ready to run.
TEST TRACK: Since our testing took place at a difficult time of year (early winter), we had to pick and choose our test site carefully. Wind and cold made us abort our plans at least three times. However, we finally hit on several successive 55-plus degree days with little to no wind. We trekked to the ramp with our Expedition packed with new props, ready to battle the southern Tennessee waters.
THE TEST: When we put the word out to the usual suspects in the high-performance propeller market, we got more than what we bargained for. We had a total of 21 propellers on our hands from five anxious prop builders. Mercury Racing shipped six different props. DAH Custom Pro-Pellers, known for its expertise with bass and race props, shipped four custom-tweaked wheels for us to wring out. Hydromotive Engineering, the respected outboard and sterndrive propeller manufacturer from Ohio, sent us three custom props from its stable. A namesake in the high-performance outboard prop business is Mazco; owner John Mazar shipped us three wheels to try. Finally, noted drag prop builder Tim Hackney of Performance Propeller dropped off five props-four modified and one stock.
Our parameters were simple; we tested speed, acceleration and handling. To test acceleration, we used standard BWB measurements: 0 to 30 mph for low-end grunt and 40 to 60 mph for midrange punch. We used a digital stopwatch and Stalker radar gun and measured acceleration several times for each propeller. We took an average of the results to arrive at our final result. Top-end speed was checked several times over the two days with a handheld GPS and Stalker radar gun. Top-end rpm readings were taken with Merc’s SmartCraft gauge.
CONTESTANTS AND RESULTS: In business parlance, the results “are what they are.” Here is the rundown on each prop and how they performed: DAH/Bombardier SRX 14 ¼ x 29 inch prop: This Bombardier prop is a popular wheel among hotrodders and bass boaters alike. It’s been around since the early ‘80s, but custom wheelman John Janaky of DAH custom Pro-Pellers really knows how to make them sing. He thins, sharpens and custom-cups the blades to the boater’s liking, and for this application he also welded in a different “fat shaft” hub to accommodate the special Merc 250XS propshaft. All that adds to the cost, as DAH sells this wheel for $800.
Unfortunately, the results just weren’t there on our Bullet. We hit 93.4 mph at 6300 rpm. Thirty mph came up in 7.4 seconds from a dead idle, and 40-60 mph times averaged 4.6 seconds – mid-pack performance to be sure. What a beautiful wheel, though; Janaky produces stainless steel artwork. Nichols’ notes: “The blades on this prop were very thin. It didn’t lift the boat well at all.”
DAH/Mercury Trophy 13 ¾ x 28 inch prop: DAH is also known for its expert and effective Trophy propeller mods. Similar to its SRX reworks, DAH’s Trophy’s feature thinned and custom-cupped blades. At $750, the cost on this propeller is right in the thick of the market. Through/over hub exhaust provides low-end rev-up capability. However, this one broke loose too soon, resulting in a slow 7.7-second run from 0-30 mph. From 40-60 mph, however, it was right in the hunt at 4.2 seconds. Top speed was 93.4 mph at 6400 rpm. Nichols’ notes: “Though it broke loose during holeshot, it had good overall lift and top speed. The blades were very thin on the leading edge.”
DAH/Turbo TXP-OT4 13 ¾ x 27 inch prop: This a relatively new prop for Turbo and therefore DAH. It’s similar to a Renegade or Trophy in design and layout. Four blades and a small through/over exhaust hub are the notable features. It hit 92.8 mph at 6300 rpm, and reached 30 mph from idle in 6.2 seconds. Forty to 60 mph came in 4.1 seconds. Like the DAH Trophy this wheel also costs $750. Nichols’ notes: “This was a very good all-around propeller. The blades were of medium thickness, and it provided goodoverall lift for the hull.”
DAH/Turbo TXP 14 ¾ x 29 inch prop: This wheel looked almost like an OMC Raker prop; however, the extra pitch and small exhaust holes teamed to make holeshot and getting on plane almost impossible, unless we climbed forward a bit to make the bow crown over. Therefore, we recorded no acceleration results. Top speed was a stout 95.7 mph at 6050 rpm. With larger exhaust vents/holes, this one might have been a contender. Nichols’ notes: “This prop handled well and had good speed when it finally got going. Very thick, and durable blades, and very nice finish.”
Hydromotive Quad IV-X O/B 15 x 28 inch prop: This is a big diameter propeller. It looks huge both in the box and on the propshaft. It’s a four-blader with lots of cup and a large-diameter through-hub design. It was initially produced for stern-drives, but adapts to outboards quite well, as our results show. On our Bullet, we hit a best of 93.1 mph at 6250 rpm. Holeshot was average at 5.8 seconds from 0-30 mph, and midrange was also mid-pack at 4.4 seconds from 40-60 mph. Unlike the other props we tested, the IV-X has “double drilled” exhaust vent holes (two per blade) as opposed to all the others. The blades themselves were thin on the leading edges, but they thickened up quite a bit at the trailing edges. Overall, this wheel performed well with good lift – but like so many of the other 28-inchers, let the engine rev too high. The sweet spot on this rig is right at 6000 rpm. At $679, this prop is a bargain. Nichols’ notes: “This prop ran very well, but just revved too high. It lifted real well and handled great.”
Hydromotive Quad IV-X O/B 15 x 28-inch prop: This is the same prop as the Hydromotive above, with the same pitch, but with more and heavier cup to the tips of the blades. This little trick worked well; we saw an increase in speed to 94.8 mph and a drop to 6050 rpm. Holeshot also improved to 5.6 seconds from 0-30 mph though midrange times remained the same. This is a great example of what a custom prop shop can do; just this slight tweak to the blades made a good prop better. Nichols’ notes: This prop handled about the same as the other version, but gave better speed and overall lift.”
Hydromotive Quad IV-X O/B 15 x 29-inch prop: Another from the same mold, this time with an inch more pitch – and it bumped top speed again. We saw 96.2 mph at 6150 rpm, with even better 0-30 (5.5 seconds) and 40-60 mph (4.3 seconds) results. Of all the Hydromotives we tested, this is the one I’d buy if this were my rig. Nichols’ notes:“This prop also had extra cup on the blade tips; I liked it very much and would consider it one of the best propellers for this rig.”
Mazco RE-3 14 ½ x 29-inch prop: Mazco’s been building great props for more than two decades. Its RE-3 wheel is a staple in the performance propeller business, with a familiar three-blade, over-hub, round-ear design with plenty of cup and good rake. The finish is beautiful as well. For $790, this prop falls mid-pack in price. Performance was also mid-pack by comparison. We saw 92.2 mph at 6400 rpm with 0-30 and 40-60 mph times of 6.4 and 4.7, respectively. Nichols’ notes: “This prop didn’t provide enough lift; it’s a great prop, but not for this boat.”
Mazco RE-4 14 ½ x 28-inch prop: This is a four blade version of the RE-3 with slightly smaller-diameter blades. On this boat, we could have used a 30-inch pitch. As is, we hit 93.1 mph at 6300 rpm. Holeshot and midrange were average, at 6.8 seconds for 0-30 mph and 4.3 seconds going 40-60 mph. For $890, this is a beautiful piece of stainless steel; Mazco’s finish is second to none. Nichols’ notes: “This prop handled great and was very smooth. Very nice looking with thin blades.”
Mazco HP-4 14 x 28-inch prop: This is Mazco’s “bass wheel,” with a through/over hub exhaust tube and highly raked blades. Unfortunately, the small 14-inch diameter didn’t allow it to hook up well and provide lift. Top speed was 90.8 mph at 6350 rpm, and holeshot was slow at 8.3 seconds. Midrange punch times averaged 4.5 seconds. This one sells for $720, and it’s as pretty as its sister props in the Mazco lineup. Nichols’ notes: “This prop didn’t lift well or run well on this boat/motor combo. The blades were nice and thick.”
Mercury Trophy 14 3/8 x 28-inch prop (Lab finish): The Trophy is a high-rake, four-blade wheel with thick, heavily cupped blades that give it plenty of lift and holding power. This wheel is a bass boat staple, and has provided great performance on a myriad of hulls for more than a decade. Ours had the optional Lab finish, which is basically a rework by the specialists at Mercury Racing’s propeller lab. This option adds thinned and custom-tweaked blades, which usually add speed but detract from durability. In our tests, it did just that. The tweaked Trophy provided excellent top speed performance (95.6 mph at 6300 rpm), but didn’t win any acceleration contests. In fact, its 6.9 seconds to go from 0-30 mph was downright pedestrian compared to many of the others we tested. Its 4.4 seconds from 40-60 mph however, put it right in the hunt. Price was a cool $1115 (all Merc wheels are expensive!). Nichols’ notes: “The Trophy prop handles very well and gives great lift (stern and bow). The blades are of medium thickness, so it should wear well.”
Mercury Tempest 14 5/8-inch prop (Lab finish): the Tempest was introduced about a half-decade ago as a high-rake, three-blader with lift galore for larger, heavier hulls. It’s since turned out to be a great all around wheel for lighter boats as well, with excellent acceleration, lift, control and overall handling. Through-hub exhaust with vents provides for low-end punch, allowing the engine to spool up more quickly. Big, wide blades usually provide very good speed and handling – but not on this boat. Our best was 91.8 mph at 6200 rpm. Zero-30 mph was the slowest recorded at 9.2 seconds; this one needed to slip a bit more to get the boat over the hump. However, it came alive in midrange, hitting 60 in 4.2 seconds from a 40-mph cruise. Cost on the Tempest with Lab finish is $1098. Nichols’ notes: “This prop had too much bow lift and didn’t handle well. The blades were pretty thick for durability. Absolutely horrible low-end boost.”
Mercury Bravo I 14 5/8x28-inch prop (Lab finish): Mercury Racing intended this prop to be a performance sterndrive wheel, but found another application – fast outboard hulls. It’s another four-blader with big blades, with a through-hub exhaust design. This one tied for first place in our 0-30 mph acceleration contest, hitting 30 in just 5.3 seconds from a dead idle. Top end, unfortunately, was the slowest of the pack at 89.9 mph because it allowed the Merc to hit its rev limiter at 6450 rpm. With a tad more pitch, this prop would have been a better work-horse for our Bullet. Mercury Racing sells this wheel as finished for $1244. Nichols’ notes: “This prop handled real well with great lift. The blades were nice and thick, and it had one-inch exhaust holes drilled. It hit the rev limiter hard.”
Mercury Bravo I 14 5/8x30-inch prop (Lab finish): This one was just what we were looking for; much better than the smaller 28-inch pitch version on this boat/engine package. Top speed was 93.2 mph at 6150 rpm. Amazingly, 0-30 mph punch didn’t change, despite the increase of two inches in pitch from the 28-incher – 5.3 seconds flat. Midrange only increased a tenth of a second, 4.2 from 40-60 mph. Overall, it’s a very good performer. Out-the-door price with Lab finish is $1244. Nichols’ notes: “This prop handled well, had nice thick blades, and a large hub with 1-inch exhaust holes drilled. It was much better than the 28-inch version in that it held rpm to 6150 right about where this engine wants to run.”
Mercury Lightning ET 14 1/2x28-inc prop (Lab finish): More of a race wheel, the ET is a full-on over-hub cross between a cleaver and a chopper. It works well on a variety of light-weight hulls. However, it didn’t provide the lift our Bullet needed with tow aboard; our best was 90.9 mph at 6450 rpm (again, hitting the engines rev limiter). It was slow out of the hole too; 0-30 mph took 6 seconds. However, it rocked from 40-60 mph hitting the mark in 4 seconds flat. Nichols’ notes: “This was a thin-blade race prop, and it didn’t work in this application. Not enough lift and slow out of the hole.”
Mercury Lightning ET 14 1/2x30-inch prop (Lab finish): Once again, the big brother was better than the 28-inch version, but still not the way to go on this hull. Best top end was 93.5 mph at 6100 rpm, and acceleration times were noticeably slower (0-30 mph in 6.2 seconds, 40-60 mph in 4.3). Though these ETs are wicked looking and beautifully finished, they’re clearly not the wheels for this combo. Lightning ETs aren’t cheap; these two cost $1063 apiece. Nichols’ notes: “See what I said about the 28-inch version.”
Performance Propeller Performer III Round Ear 15x28-inch prop: This prop’s design and appearance are reminiscent of the famed Mercury Chopper. At $599, it’s a great choice because not only is it inexpensive (relatively speaking, of course), but it also performs very well. We recorded a 94.2 mph top end at 6400 rpm, and the midrange times it achieved won it “Best of Test” honors in this category (3.8 seconds). Holeshot, however, was merely mortal at 6.3 seconds. Performance Propeller Performer III Bullet Cut 15x30-inch prop: This prop begins its life as a Performer III Round Ear, but Hackney clips the blades on the leading edges as well as the trailing edges. The result is a nifty look that revs well and performs like nobody’s business, especially on Bullet hulls. Results were a strong 94.7 mph at 6100 rpm, with mid-pack performance from 0-30 mph (6.9 seconds) and 40-60 mph (4.4 seconds). At $749, the Bullet Cut mod adds $150 to the price. Did it work? Not on this rig – the stock Round Ear design ran a bit better overall. But the Bullet Cuts had more to show…read on! Nichols’ notes: “Nice overall, but not the best. It handled really well and had good thick blades, but it just didn’t stand out as a performer."
Performance Propeller Performer IV Bullet Cut 15x30-inch prop: This one came in second-fastest on our tests. This four-blade version of the Performer III was also cut for Bullet hulls. It provided the second-fastest top speed of our test, with a 97.6 mph clocking dead-on at 600 rpm. Holeshot was good at 6.1 seconds, but midrange was truly excellent – second-best-of-test at 3.9 seconds. At $899, this one’s not cheap, but it really hurries this boat along. Nichols’ notes: “This was a great prop for this hull; the extra blade made it handle even sweeter, and the blades were nice and looked durable. Another great choice here.”
Performance Propeller Performer III Bullet Cut 15x32-inch prop: Clearly the fastest prop of the bunch at 98.1 mph, this wheel’s extra pitch kept engine speed at 5900 rpm. I’m sure that had the other manufacturers supplied 32s of their own, the results would have been closer. Holeshot and midrange were both mid-pack, but certainly very acceptable for such a large, race-style wheel. Like the other Performance Propeller wheels, this one had big, thick blades and lots of cup. Nichols’ notes: “This prop handled very well and was great in lifting the boat. Not great for acceleration and midrange, but decent for a 32. Overall, an excellent propeller for this rig.”
Turbo TXP-OT4 13 3/4x29-inch prop: This was a stock, unmodified version of the DAH propeller listed earlier, but with two more inches of pitch and another inch in diameter. The combo worked pretty well, with 95.2 mph at top end and 4 seconds from 40-60 mph. Low end was mid-pack at best (6.4 seconds). However, at $569, it’s a bargain. Nichols’ notes: “For a box-stock prop, this one did very well. The exhaust holes needed to be a bit larger for better holeshot. Blades were thick and durable. Great all-around fishing and performance prop, especially for this rig.”
NOTES AND CONCLUSIONS
Nichols, his mechanic and I all agreed that based on top speed, overall performance, acceleration, handling, apparent durability and price, our favorites based on our test results, are: 30 Performer IV 4-blade Bullet cut 29 Hydromotive Quad IV with extra cup 29 Turbo TXP-OT4 4-blade stock (it needed bigger exhaust holes) These props all provided consistent, all-around excellent performance on this hull/outboard combination, with easy driving and handling. Price was a factor too, and while the Performer hit the mark at $900, the other two were very affordable for those looking for great overall results.
When looking for a prop, don’t overlook the company standing behind the wheel. All of the shops involved in our test provided excellent warranties, reworks and advice – if you ask. Also remember that while these three were the best on this rig, the results could be entirely different given even the slightest change in power, setup, hull, or even weather and load conditions. Just because these props worked best on this hull doesn’t mean they’ll work best on yours – even if you have the same combo. That’s the mystery – and sometimes, the frustration – of working with propellers in high-speed applications.