What’s a West Coast boat like
this 28 Commander cat doing in a place like Fairfax, Virginia? Turning
heads at poker runs, for one thing. Its owner, Matthew W. Gilbert, is fond
of showing off his 2003 model. Powered by a 540 c.i. (900hp) engine built
by Joel Ross of Annandale, Virginia, and coupled to a Bravo One drive a
32” –pitch Bravo prop.
The separation of high-performance East Coast and West Coast boat
manufacturers continues to crumble. “Five or ten years ago, you might
occasionally see a Fountain or Velocity on the West Coast, or an
Eliminator on the East Coast, but that was about it,” Gilbert observes.
“However, this has all changed in recent years. Today you’re seeing more
and more of an impact of the West Coast customs making their presence
known on the East Coast.”
Gilbert’s Commander, seen on waters just outside the nations capitol, is
one such example. In previous years, Gilbert owned East Coast boats
exclusively; his last boat was a 1996 Checkmate 242 that he says ran 110
mph on the GPS after cranking up the boost to 15 lbs. “According to Mike
Combs of Checkmate Boat. That was the fastest single-engine Checkmate to
date,” Gilbert says.
Singhal helped Gilbert work out specific details regarding his new boat’s
setup, and struck a deal to buy a 2003 model. “Not only was Sy helpful,
but so was Bill, RJ and Traci in making sure the boat was set up to my
specifications –placement for the gauges, setting the X-dimension, etc.
They have been great and really provided wonderful customer service
before, during and after the sale.”
While Commander was building the boat, Gilbert drafted former APBA Factory
II racer Joel Ross (F2-45 Velociraptor) to rebuild the 540 from his
Checkmate. Ross began by having the GM Mark IV bowtie block bored 30 over,
as well as having the Lunati crank, Manley rods and JE piston balanced and
blueprinted. Once the parts returned from the machine shop, Joel went
about putting it all together. After the short block was completed, to
include installation of a Dooley 12-quart oil pan, Ross installed a sent
of Sonny Leonard-prepared Brodix BB-2X heads, a Crane cam, and all the
necessary supporting Crane hardware (roller lifters, rocker arms, etc).
The motor was then topped off with a Whippie inner-cooler intake manifold,
a Blower Shop 1071, twin Holley 830s, complete MSD ignition system and a
set of polished CMI headers. Gilbert also had former SBI racer James Sejd
(owner of American Stripping, Manassas, Virginia) powdercoat all the
throttle linkage, flame arrestor and all brackets. These pieces were then
installed, along with a Hardin Marine thermostatic controlled oil cooler,
Keith Eickert dual impeller water pump and crossover, and a Carter 172-gph
mechanical fuel pump.
When the boat arrived in June 2003, Gilbert and Ross began the task of
installing the motor and rigging the boat. They also installed an IMCO
full hydraulic steering system and an IMCO extension box, along with a
Hardin Marine sea strainer with built-in power steering cooler. Gilbert
had kept the Brave On out drive from his Checkmate, which had a 1:36 gear
ratio and contained “all the good stuff” from IMCO. All that was needed
was to have Ross to through it to ensure everything was good to go.
Finally, the pair concentrated on dialing in the boat.
“The first couple of times we ran it, we tried several different props and
played with the drive height through the use of spacers,” Gilbert says. “I
had ordered the boat with a high X-dimension. I was really excited because
you could feel the motor was making big power and the boat really ran flat
with little need for trim.”
Ultimately, after determining proper trim angle and angle and drive
height, Gilbert and Ross were able to turn a 32” pitch Bravo One prop to
6,000 rpm, resulting in a top GPS speed of 112 mph on pump gas. Needless
to say, Gilbert was very pleased, although he and Ross believe that they
may be able to coax another two to three miles out of the boat by running
a lab-finished prop.
Gilbert gives full credit to the expertise of Joel Ross, as well as the
fine workmanship of Commander Boats, for proving “a fast stable and truly
fun boat to drive” –one that can regularly be seen running up and down the
Gilbert also gives thanks to Mike Mays and Scott Price at CP Performance
(Rohnert Park, California) for providing all the parts that went into the
rebuilding of the motor and the rigging of the boat. Finally, Gilbert
gives a shout out to his wife Brenda, as well as Ross’s wife Carlie, for
putting up with all of their long hours of work and hours away from home.