by Kevin Driscoll
It is not too often that a product comes around that I recommend, and certainly not one I would sit down and write about. I’m not much of a wrench so I’m damned happy about a product that has helped me keep my motorcycles running flawlessly, as well as my many other engines around the homestead. That would be Sea Foam.
The only problem I have with recommending this product is that I, as an engineer in research, don’t have any solid performance numbers. I don’t have side by side tests of one motor with, and one without, which for me makes it hard. So, with all that said, here is my subjective opinion.
I first started using Sea-Foam exclusively for my small, two-stroke premix yard tools; Chain-saw, line trimmer and small garden tiller. The chainsaw was the worst since it was used the least, sometimes sitting for better than a year out in the shed. Extra plugs and a plug wrench stayed in the case with the saw. It only ran well after it was thoroughly warmed up, and a tank had been run through, but would still foul up under heavy load, causing me to curse the cheap junk. Once I started using Sea-Foam in the pre-mix, my problems went away almost immediately. When I started adding a small splash with every tank full, along with the already treated pre-mix, starting became a breeze.
The real miracle happened when I bought a used Sherco Observed Trials motorcycle. When I first got the bike, it was a horror to start. I’m talking kick-until-you-pass-out horrible. Remove and clean the spark plug, kick some more, repeat, try a new plug, repeat, repeat…damn it…repeat. When it did finally start, I was too exhausted to ride! Eventually, I added my own fuel mix, heavy on the Sea-Foam. After just a short run, the Sherco started much better. After a full tank of the mix, it turned into a three kick, cold start bike; maybe five kicks after sitting for several weeks. And I haven’t touched the sparkplug on that bike since.
Sea-Foam is a great fuel stabilizer. Since I run the additive all the time, I don’t worry about storage, I just park it and forget it until I need it again. My emergency backup generator gets started once a year, but always starts and runs well on gas that has to be over three years old. This spring, my lawn mower started on the first pull! All my lawn equipment and Trials bikes sit in an unheated shed all winter, yet all start without trouble.
I use Sea-Foam purely as a fuel additive. I have yet to add it to oil or suck it in directly through a vacuum line, which are other recommended uses listed on the can. I figure with regular use I will keep my engines clean enough that won’t become necessary.
Sure, this is all subjective, but when you consider the number of engines I have, and complete lack of starting or running issues on any of them, I think I have a fairly decent sample base. When you add my “near criminal neglect” of engines, as one friend put it, then it is almost a miracle juice.
As I was writing this, I had a chance to speak with Phil Fandrei from Sea-Foam, which is a local company based in Eden Prairie, MN. Phil’s dad invented Sea Foam in 1930. Like most great American inventions, it was created out of necessity. As Phil tells it, his father, Fred, loved to fish but his Evinrude, running on white gas and oil mix, would have to have the carburetor cleaned out before almost every outing. Seems the mix would varnish up in a matter of hours. Cleaning the carb before every outing seriously cut into the fishing. Obviously, something had to be done. Fortunately, Fred worked for Sinclair Oil at the time so he had connections and, with the help of some guys in the lab, concocted a brew that stabilized the fuel for the outboard. The result; more time fishing! Fortunately, Fred didn’t keep it a secret.
“At first distribution was to friends, relatives and neighbors in mason jars and beer bottles.” Phil tells me. “It was all word of mouth. Eventually, word reached Evinrude and they bench tested it; running it in motors, tearing them down and measuring wear. They approved it and recommended it for use in their motors.”
A fuel stabilizer was born. So how did it a fuel stabilizer designed for outboard two strokes become an additive to clean out carbon deposits on four stroke auto motors? “There was a local small engine manufacturer here in the Cities called Martin” Phil explained. “They used poppet valves on a two stroke, and the valves would carbon up and stick in no time. But it was discovered that when Sea Foam was used in the fuel that didn’t happen. It would even clean out an engine that was already full of carbon.”
Phil’s first job at his father’s new company had all the glitz and glamour you’d expect with a start up; he applied the paper labels to all the cans. Later, to earn extra money while in High School, he pounded the pavement; selling door to door and visiting service stations and car dealerships. It was at an old Minneapolis Buick dealership that the owner, after agreeing to try some Sea Foam, told Phil “If this stuff doesn’t do what ya say then ya better throw yer hat in da door first to see if it’s safe.” Obviously it did do what he said; it was that dealership that first put Sea Foam into mass distribution. “It was my first sale of a truck load.” Phil recalls, face beaming with the memory. The dealership is long gone, but Sea Foam lives on.
Since this is a motorcycle magazine, I asked Phil; what should motorcyclists know about Sea Foam? “First, being a seasonal activity here in Minnesota, you need the fuel stabilization and to dry the fuel before storage. Sea Foam is 100% petroleum based, so it won’t hurt anything. You can pour it into your carburetor, or down the throttle body, or put a little right into the spark plug hole. It cleans, lubricates and dries fuel. It does the same with crankcase oil, too. You don’t want your bike to sit all winter with water in the engine. If you have trouble starting in the spring, Sea Foam also works as a starting fluid.”
That, I didn’t know. I told Phil how I used to resort to using ether to start my Sherco. He cringed at the thought. “No, use Sea Foam. If you have spark, it will start and, since it is oil based, you won’t damage your two-stroke engine due to lack of lubrication. If you need to spray it in, use Sea Foam Deep Creep.”
I questioned using a penetrating oil to start my motorcycle? According to Phil, “Deep Creep is just Sea Foam in an aerosol can. Exact same stuff. Seems I couldn’t get anyone to buy it as a penetrating oil, even though it is a great penetrating oil, until I packaged it in an aerosol can. Even if your motor is frozen up, spray some down the plug hole. It will penetrate and again, since it is oil based, lubricate at the same time. It will free the piston right up.” Phil went on to tell me all the physical properties that make Deep Creep better than all the others out there. Once a salesman, always a salesman.
One last question; why “Sea Foam”? Why not “Lake” something? There’s no ‘Sea’ around here. Phil said, “My Dad’s cousin moved down to Florida and asked my Dad to send him some of that ‘Sea Foam’ he had. Since marine engines were the performance engines of that time, he wanted a name that connected with them. So the name stuck.”
I want to thank Phil for taking the time to tell the story behind Sea Foam. I learned a lot in a short amount of time. I’m a sucker for these American success stories, where a spark of an idea and years of hard work produces something we can all use. 80 years ago some guy wanted to fish more; because of that, we can ride more. Ya gotta like that. Thanks Fred!