In Command


Hot Boat

May 2004

By: Brett Bayne

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 East Coast.

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.



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