1955 Johnson RD-17: An old 25 horse “Stretches it’s legs”…

A member of the Antique Outboard Collectors group offered me this little gem, knowing I have a love of these old Johnson’s.  They’re easy to work on and fun to run, plenty of parts that are relatively cheap too.

This motor was behind one of the man’s two pole barns that are filled with every kind of outboard imaginable.  He just didn’t have interest in resurrecting “another old Johnson”.

I wanted to bead-blast and repaint this old girl, but not sure I’d care to now.  The motor has had all the usual stuff done for a major tune up.  IE; new coils, condensers, points, a new water pump impeller, head gasket, and the lower unit was rebuilt.

1955 Johnson RD-17 25hp outboard.

1955 Johnson RD-17 25hp outboard.

After finishing it up and testing it in a 55 gallon lake, I really wanted to sell it.  I dragged it all the way to the AMOCI meet in Constantine, MI…and never got a nibble.  Too bad such a fine motor isn’t in demand.

As it didn’t sell, she was placed on my 1955 Feather Craft Vagabond for sea trials, and performed quite well…for a while.

The carb linkage was stiff, she belched and burped at anything less than idle…regardless of how the carb needles were set, and the throttle linkage kept coming apart…leaving the motor to idle down and stop running.

After climbing over the divider of the Vagabond to get to the motor for on-the-spot repairs a dozen times, I couldn’t understand why Johnson would make a “friction fit” linkage for the throttle.  Well…it didn’t used to be that way!

Upon arriving home and consulting the manual, this linkage should have had a clip to hold the linkage parts together.  A trip to John Fisher’s Marina was in order, and sure enough an old Evinrude Big Twin was laying in the weeds and had the exact clip that was needed.  Mr. Fisher was kind enough to “donate” it to the cause.

When I arrived home and installed the clip, and looked things over, I found the cam follower roller that follows the cam on the ignition plate had been broken in half and disentigrated.  A new one was installed, and we went back out to sea.

The old girl ran great all day long!


After running down river to Toledo’s waterfront, I headed back toward Perrysburg and Maumee where I found a few jet skis who were eager to play in my wake.  The tables were turned…much to their surprise.

The Feather Craft is very agile, and with the addition of Smart Tabs from Nauticus (http://www.nauticusinc.com/smart_tabsSX.htm) the Vagabond is also very smooth in the water.  So I started chasing the jet skis.  Jumping over their wake and spinning in tight circles, following (not too closely) and generally the 3 of us performed a nice Water Ballet.  The jet ski crowd seemed surprised to see a big old aluminum boat playing with them at their own game.

I will have more to say about Nauticus Smart Tabs later, but I want to make sure I’ve got a real grasp of them.

However, back to the motor…I suppose I’ll sell it as there is too much “big iron” in our storage now.  Still, it’s very nice to see a 54 year old motor run again.  And run well.


18 Responses to “1955 Johnson RD-17: An old 25 horse “Stretches it’s legs”…”

  1. 1 Dave
    June 12, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Great site. I too came to own a 55 Johnson 25 hp. I wasn’t looking to own one. It just happened. Within weeks I was the owner of two runners. I just missed picking up a third one for $50 in running condition. Current using one for parts. And restoring the finish on the other. Thanks for sharing your passion and helpful information.


    • 2 conductorjonz
      June 12, 2010 at 9:44 pm

      Hi Dave!

      Glad to hear more of the old Seahorses will live to run another day. I recently picked up a 1954 Johnson RDE-16 25hp rig with the tank…and 6 volt electric start! Tuned it up…and she runs all day long! Just re-dressed her in a new coat of Seahorse Green and decals. She’s like new!

      Good luck with you motors. The 1955’s were FANTASTIC MOTORS!!


  2. 3 John
    July 20, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    I’m trying to figure out what I have. Thought it was a 1955 33hp johnson but it looks much older than the picture of your 1955 25hp It’s large green and siver with the cooling fins exposed sorry I can’t tell you more. can’t find a picture anywhere

    • 4 conductorjonz
      July 23, 2010 at 11:10 am

      Could be a 1949 Johnson SD-20. It looks like the smaller 10hp QD-10 thru 14. Usually light green with silver trim down the sides. I just bought one, cleaned the points in the ignition, and she runs. Very powerful old motors, desired by some, and not others owing to their size to hp ratio. They are only 16 hp, but are hearty beasts. No water pump, as cooling water is picked up via prop wash. This motor is identifyable by the propeller having openings between the blades.

      Without a photo, I can be sure this is the correct motor, but just my guess from your description.


  3. 5 Dave
    August 16, 2010 at 11:46 am

    I also have a 55 Johnson 25hp. electric start. Runs great and fun to work on. Over 30mph on my 14ft sea nymph.

    • 6 conductorjonz
      August 16, 2010 at 9:30 pm

      Theyr are great old motors. I was out tonight in the “Fibber McGee” running with my ’56 Johnson Javelin she runs great and is dependable. Most old OMC’s are.
      Enjoy yours!


  4. 7 John
    September 1, 2010 at 10:59 am

    I have a QD-16 that slips when at full power. Everything runs fine but it sounds like we hit something in the water every 5 min. or so. I have found info that says it could be a worn prob but I’m guessing its the gears in the lower slipping. Does this motor have a clutch and does anyone have lowers parts for sale?


    • 8 conductorjonz
      September 1, 2010 at 3:13 pm

      Sounds like a worn out clutch dog. The “ears” on the sliding clutch dog wear out due to people trying to ease the shifter into gear. It should be quickly “snapped” into gear. What next?

      You will need to have the lower unit pulled and the clutchdog…and possibly the gears replaced if they too are worn. Check at AOMCI.org on the webvertize section for parts.

      Good Luck!


  5. 9 Jusstin
    September 7, 2010 at 9:35 am

    How much is this motor (1955 Johnson RD-17) worth? I have one in running condition in my pole barn – just wanted a ball park #

    Thank you –

    • 10 conductorjonz
      September 7, 2010 at 1:08 pm

      I’ve seen them go for as little as 60 buck to as high as 250 buck depending on condition. If yours is exceptional, it may go for more. If it has the wiring and dash plate and buttons, and the solenoid box for the transom…perhaps evn a bit more.

      It all depends on condition and what someone is willing to pay. Also remeber, a running motor does not mean it is a motor that is seaworthy. There still may be issues with compression, etc that need to be addressed.

      At minimum, I do a complete tune up to a motor when I get it, whcih will cost between 75 and 150 bucks.

      Not trying to poop on your parade, but the big motors often bring less than a small fishing motor. But just an opinion. It isn’t going to allow you to retire though.

      Thanks for checking in!


    • 11 Ernst
      July 6, 2012 at 10:36 am

      Hi Justin , if you still have it i am interested buying it I am in Utah let me know ASAP ( price and shipping)

  6. January 14, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    I am in the process of restoring two of these RD17’s, along with a few 18’s, and 19’s. I love these old outboards as they seem to be bulletproof. A few years ago, I had an RD13 on my 14 ft, Mirro, and totally smoked a guy in a tri hull with a 60 Hp Evinrude. I love these old beasts.

  7. 13 jim boydstun
    February 24, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    I as well are in th eprocess of restoreing an rd17 and a 55 duracraft. Th problem is locating the starter motor. I have one but the bendix is no working. Can anyone help me locate the part number of the starter or a working stater?

  8. 15 Robert Nixon
    October 16, 2015 at 9:25 am

    I enjoyed reading about your adventures with the RD17. I just bought one and can’t decide whether to “restore” it or buy one running. What do you have for sale?

    Thank you

    • 16 conductorjonz
      October 17, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      Nothing for sale. But you could likely get yours running again. All the parts are available.


      • 17 JIM Boydstun
        October 17, 2015 at 11:33 pm

        i have just restored a Johnson RD-17 and am now upgrading to electric starter. I always restore, then I know what I am dealing with. Bringing everything back to the original state is not hard nor expensive if you are willing to shop for parts and do some of the cleaning and testing yourself. And it can be a lot of fun, and frustrating at times. But Hey its a Hobby?

      • 18 conductorjonz
        October 18, 2015 at 8:06 am

        As long as those motors have good compression on both cylinders…wishing 5% of each other, they should run if you do a routine tune up.

        I do a basic tune up on every motor I own so I have a baseline to know where it stands. I.E.; carb clean, water pump, lower unit seals, rebuild the mag with good coils, condensers, and points. Now after all that I know what has been done and when.

        I also keep a decent log in the form of a tag indicating servicing and each trip the motor makes so I know when I ran it and any issues encountered. But I own multiple old motors, so this may not apply to a single motor household.


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