West Bend's best known products were the outboards sold from 1946 to the early 1960 by Sears & Roebuck under the Elgin brand name. The company started out as the Kissel Automobile Company in Hartford Wisconsin and was forced into making outboards after their luxury automobile business dried up in the Great Depression. These outboards were, for the most part, simple no-frills affairs offered for about 30% less than similar offerings from a major brand. Known as Waterwich outboards they were sold through Sears and showed both parties that selling outboard motors could be a profitable business.
After WWII Sears dropped Waterwich brand and went with the Elgin name on a completely new lineup of outboards. During or just after the war, Kissel was purchased by the West Bend Aluminum Company and took on their new parent's name. West Bend had a non-compete clause with Sears for the USA that ran through about 1955. Starting in 1956 some outboards appeared wearing the West Bend name, basically only slightly modified Elgins. (People overseas could by Elgins with West Bend decals on them from about 1947) Starting from the ground up building a dealer, parts and sales network must have been daunting, especially since Oliver, Champion, Scott McCulloch and others were vying for the same customers. But since the lion's share of the product, development & testing had been paid for by Sears, West Bend's management was able to focus on building the organization and not developing an all-new product.
The 1957 West Bend lineup appeared with very unusual styling heralded in their brochures as being from the industrial design firm of
Painter, Teague, & Petertil. Given the over-the-top look, I thought at first the "Teague" must have been Dick Teague, the guy who gave us the final Packardbakers and the Pacer & Matador in the 1970s. But further research showed that it was a William Teague who was a well known industrial designer at that time. The '57-'62 West Bends sport the most wild"Space Age" styling ever seen on an outboard, the 16hp below is a prime example - I think it is very cool!
West Bend continued to add to their product line and, at a time when other outboard firms like Champion & Oliver foundered, they forged ahead. Their styling went from unusual to boring with the 1963 models, but sales surged. With the closing of OMC's Gale division in 1964 and McCulloch's lack of interest in their outboard lineup, West Bend found themselves in 3rd place behind OMC and Mercury. This caught the eye of the giant Chrysler Corporation who, heeding the 'diversification" watchword of the 1960s, purchased the West Bend Outboard division and added it to their Chrysler Marine lineup in 1965.
Chrysler had a good run and built some decent products during their time in business. (Check out my Chrysler Sno-Runner) The 1980's government bailout forced Chrysler to sell off their non-core business. The outboard division ended up with boat maker US Marine and was renamed Force outboards. A year or two later US Marine was gobbled up by Brunswick Corporation, owners of Mercury Outboards. As of this writing, certain parts (some impellers, fuel system parts, starter gears) are still available from Mercury dealers and will fit the West Bends and Elgins back to the 1950s.
West Bend "160" 16hp
Year & Model:
1959 model 16902 Barracuda/160
Horsepower: 16 @ 4,750 rpm
Cooling: Water by impeller
Retail price when new: $365.00
Weight: 64 lbs.
Oil/Gas Mix: 1/2pt TCW-3
Spark Plug: Champion H8C
This motor runs great, it's smooth, quiet, powerful and very light for a 16hp - it weighs less than my '55 Johnson 10hp! Need to find a better prop for the Oddjob, I could pull 3 water skiers with the one I have.
Love the dashboard light and the "George Jetson" styling. I'm guessing the designers must have used the dash from a 1957 Lincoln as inspiration!
1959 West Bend catalog page showing the 160 (Note "Arctic Blue" hood color option!)
"Sports car dashboard controls"
1964 West Bend "Shrimp" 3.5hp
Year & Model: 1964 model
Horsepower: 3.5 @ 4,200 rpm
Bore: 2 1/16"
Stroke: 1 9/16"
Point Gap: .020"
Cooling: Air with forced water for leg
Retail price when new: $129.95
Weight: 30 lbs.
Oil/Gas Mix: 1/2pt per gallon (use TC air cooled 2-stroke oil)
Spark Plug: Modern plug is the Champion J-11C
This outboard is the exact same motor as the Elgin 2hp in the Elgin section of this website. I did an extensive write-up on those motors, any questions you have should be answered over there about 1/2 way down the page.
And this motor really is 1.5hp more powerful than the Elgin!
Ollie likes it!
Someone inquired what the West Bend fuel connector looks like - this also fits the '55-'60 Elgins that West Bend produced. (It will not fit the '59+ Scott-made Elgins)
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