Aquamatic sterndrive celebrating 50 years

Volvo Penta’s Aquamatic sterndrive is regarded by many people as the single most important innovation in the boating industry during the 20th century. It can currently be found in leisure boats and commercial boats all over the world. This year, the famous Aquamatic drive is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

For many years, the boating world had just two propulsion systems to choose between – outboard engines or inboard engines with a shaft installation.

However, in 1959, Jim Wynne and Swedish engine company Volvo Penta changed all this by launching the world’s first sterndrive – the Aquamatic.

The US engineer and boat enthusiast Jim Wynne was convinced that it was possible to find a technical solution that combined a car engine with an outboard-like drive.

Proving this to his peers proved more difficult, however. Jim Wynne presented his ideas to US manufacturers, but they fell on deaf ears.

Started at home

In spite of this, he was determined to realise his project and he started his own tests at home in his garage. These tests proved that his concept also worked in practice.

In August 1958, Jim Wynne travelled to Europe, where he was given the opportunity to present his ideas to the dynamic and legendary Harald Wiklund, president of Volvo Penta for 28 years and the man who transformed Volvo Penta from a local engine producer into a global company.

Harald Wiklund immediately recognised the commercial potential of Jim Wynne’s concept. After just two days, contracts were signed.

Success in New York in 1959

Following intensive tests at Volvo Penta headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden during the autumn of 1958, the first real drive was fitted just before Christmas. It was tested in a tub, painted and packed in a crate – for transport to the USA.

It arrived just in time for the important New York Boat Show at the beginning of January 1959. It was an immediate success.

During the launch over the next few years, Jim Wynne further increased interest in the sterndrive by winning a number of boat races with the Aquamatic, often in competition with boats with far more horsepower.

The fact that plastic started to make a breakthrough as a production material for leisure boats also helped the launch of Aquamatic. It was ideal for sports boats made of plastic with a deep V hull, which went on to become the best seller of the 1960s.

Developments continued

Since the introduction in 1959, Volvo Penta has continued to develop the sterndrive concept – not least through the introduction in 1977 of the classic MD40 series of diesel engines. Until that time, the Aquamatic sterndrive was primarily combined with gasoline engines, but, with the MD40 series and new drives, Volvo Penta developed a powerful diesel package that took the boating world by storm.

Diesel power in combination with Aquamatic sterndrive created a totally new market on which Volvo Penta has been the undisputed leader since that time.

In 1982 Volvo Penta introduced the Duoprop, an Aquamatic sterndrive with double, counter-rotating propellers. The Duoprop represented a major development, with fantastic performance, sure grip in the water and improved steering.

At the present time, Volvo Penta has the industry’s most comprehensive engine programme for drives, comprising both diesel and gasoline engines.

Link to picture 1:
The American engineer Jim Wynne has been voted the most influential person in the boating business because of his ingenious innovation – the Aquamatic sterndrive.

Link to picture 2:
Harald Wiklund, legendary president of Volvo Penta from 1949 to 1977, made Aquamatic a commercial success.

Link to picture 3:
The modern version of Aquamatic – Volvo Penta’s state-of-the-art DPH stern drive with D6-370.

February 10, 2009

For further information, please contact Ann-Charlotte Emegård, AB Volvo Penta,
phone: +46 (0) 31 3234219, E-mail: