Solé Diesel in Finland
Text: Rauno Kurki-Suonio
Photos: Tekno-Marine archive
Solé S.A. is a Spanish family company more than 100 years old. Solé S.A. has manufactured marine engines since 1949.
This story tells about how Solé Diesel engines came to Finland. What things led me to start importing Solé engines and how Solé has achieved a well-established position in our market.
BOAT PRODUCTION AND OWN MARINATING
Esboat Oy started boat production in 1978 so that the company acquired from Scantic Oy's bankrupt's estate Scantic S-21 Cabin-boat molds. Veneva Oy in Lohja did the fiberglass work and the assembly was done at Esboat's own premises in Espoo.
For a starting boat manufacturer the importers of diesel engines (Volvo, Yanmar) conditions were poor and, therefore, we set ourselves marinating a.m. BMC 1.5 D- automotive engines to marine engines. Those engines were hauled from car scrap yards and completely overhauled and marinated. We marinated later also factory new BMC-engines.
Figure 1. Marinated BMC 1.5 D engine.
When former Scantic production facilities in Kirkkonummi Jorvas were released the Esboat's boat manufacturing went really moving. We mainly used Yanmar engines in our boats. At that time we used about 50 engines per year. When Yanmar's import were transferred from Novi Oy to Hanke-Palsbo, I called there and asked how to go on. We needed engines and I also wanted our dealer position cleared. I got the answer that Palsbo doesn't need dealers. When I was wondering about it, I was told, "You're such a young man that you'd better shut up about this." I didn't feel comfortable collaborating with such a company.
S-21 Fisher, a small aft cabin fishing boat, was our own expansion from Scantic S-21's hull. A lot of boats were manufactured. Export to Sweden performed well. We even tried our wings by selling one boat to UK. It was on display at the Southampton Boat Show in the fall of 1981.
Figure 2. S-21 Fisher at the Southampton Boat Show 1981.
Figure 3. Author of this blog (Rauno Kurki-Suonio) at Finnboat's office 1981.
Our boat was well displayed at the fair, but it was not sold. The boat was later delivered back to Finland. The aft cabin boat was something the Briton had never seen before. At the fair, I also saw for the first time Mitsubishi engines marinated by CT-Marine for marine use. I was charmed with their compact design and graceful structure and, of course, freshwater cooling.
When we returned from the trip. I immediately contacted Suomen Koneliike. It was natural, because Veikko Ålander, a good friend of mine and Seiskari S-23's designer, was working there. My intention was that Suomen Koneliike, Mitsubishi car importer, could import for us Mitsubishi industrial engines for marinating. They were interested in principle, but Ekströmin Koneliike had already managed to make an agreement to import Mitsubishi Heavy Industries industrial engines.
The co-operation with Ekströmin Koneliike started naturally with a gentlemen's agreement. I designed the marination, made the casting models and started production. There were initially 6 different models of engine 10 to 32 hp and they were marinated during 1982 and -83 more than 100 units.
Figure 4. Mitsubishi K2C, marinated by Esboat Oy.
At Ekström, however, the leadership changed and it felt like they wanted to play this game themselves. An example of this appeared when in the autumn of 1983 I invited our Swedish dealers to Finland to test drive a S-21 boat with Mitsubishi engine. They were willing to buy boats with these engines if they received FIM 500 (100 USD) in advertising support for each engine sold. I asked Ekström for the support, but it did not suit them. They had their own advertising campaign planned for the Swedish market. The campaign expenses were about one million mark (200 000 USD). With this campaign, Ekström sold one (1) Mitsubishi engine to Sweden.
Towards the end of 1983 Ekström was reluctant to continue cooperating with us. They copied the marinates I made, but they didn't buy our casting models, nor parts in stock. The new head of department told me very arrogantly that Esboat was allowed to continue as Ekström's distributor. With this attitude, Ekström lost a partner and the best engine seller, plus additionally they would get a hard competitor.
LONDON BOAT SHOW AND TRIPS TO SOLÉ S.A.
In early January 1984 we went to the London Boat Show. The aim was a.m. to meet Mr. Peters, Polar heat exchanger manufacturer. We had been for him a major customer in the Mitsubishi project. The meeting came to nothing, as there had been some snowing in England and therefore the traffic was not working. Mr. Peters did not reach from Bristol (ab. 10 miles by train) to London.
At the fair, I saw the new Mitsubishi engines marinated by Solé at the Watermota stand. They were exactly what I needed. When I got home, I wrote to the Solé factory, booked flights to Milan and from there to Barcelona. Purpose of this trip was to visit Radice propeller factories in Italy and explore Solé and Barcelona boat show in Spain.
Picture 5. Solé S.A. factory in Martorell, Barcelona.
The visit to the Solé factory was rewarding and the reception warm. Enrique Solé was sales manager at that time, his father served appropriate director. Enrique had time for me despite the show. From the boat show we left for lunch attended by Spanish Solé Diesel dealers and boat builders. We were sitting at a long table and there was plenty of talk. Fortunately, next to me sat Solé's secretary, Maria Dolores, a young woman and the only one who spoke English besides Enrique. Maria Dolores asked me what it is like to live in Finland next door to the Soviet Union. I told her that Finland does bilateral trade with Soviet Union and gets crude oil, for example. We did not have an oil crisis.
During this journey from the first encounter I felt like being one of the family members. This was a good starting point for a collaboration that has been going on for almost 40 years.
I ordered the first Solé engine, Mini-23, which came as air freight and it arrived in time for the Helsinki Boat -84 show. So we had started Solé Diesel import and brand-building.
Figure 6. Solé Diesel Mini-23.
I was warned. Friends said that now when you start the import, you will also be responsible for spare parts. And Enrique Solé, on the other hand, said that now that you start importing engines, you can sell spare part for them in the future. I didn't understand either. Now, years later, I understand Enrique's instruction very well. Spare parts and service is an essential part of the business.
As the engine brand is new and the country of manufacture is Spain, it aroused astonishment in Finland. I have to admit that we Finns are quite prejudiced. People thought would happen "mañana" or tomorrow. Yes, that is still true. When I order spare parts today from Spain, we will have them tomorrow in Finland. In fact, Catalonia, where the Solé plan is located, is the center of Spanish industry. People are well educated and working hard without forgetting the southern way of life. They know how to enjoy good food and wines.
Figure 7. Enrique's father Enrique always received us warmly. (with Irma Kurki-Suonio).
Enrique Solé came with his father to Finland in the summer of 1984. I accommodated them in Otaniemi hotel. And because the weather was fantastic, I picked them up in the morning with Seiskari S-23 motorboat that was of course equipped with Solé Diesel Mini-50. We drove around the beaches of Helsinki and I introduced the marinas. It became clear to them that Finland is not a developing country in boating, but on the contrary. At the market square, father wondered at the rather poor selection of fish. There were no calamares, and no different crabs, gambas. When walking in the center of Helsinki we stopped at Wahlman's hat-shop show window. Father had to get a sable fur hat as a memory. Helsinki was summer hot, but later that fur hat came into use.
In the fall of 1984 we made our first dealership trip to Solé.
Figure 8. Boating journalist Kari Hermola acquaints
with 1949 model Solé Diesel - engine.
Figure 9. Bubbles rise from a good cava for a surprisingly long time.
We got to know the Solé plant and we were acquainted with marine engine manufacturing. In addition, we visited cava-cellars and got deep into champagne-method secrets.
Figure 10. Solé factory
Figure 11. Enrique Solé and Matti Laukkanen.
When we went for lunch, the hosts took along two bottles of Raimat red wine vintage 1977. It was the best vintage, and no longer freely available. At lunch we tasted the wine and learned how not to drink good wine, but to eat it. I was also offered the Raimat wine agency, but I didn't take it. The hosts did not really understand the terms of Alko's monopoly in Finland. Afterwards, I thought I might have had to take that agency. Well anyway, Raimat is still my favorite wine.
Figure 12. Enrique's father, Raimat's director and Sr. Manel Foix, nicknamed Sheriff.
Of course, we ourselves used Solé engines in our own S-21 and Seiskari S-23 motorboats. We had about 20 dealers around the country. Quite quickly, Solé achieved a significant position in the market. At best, almost 200 engines were sold per year. And this all started from Ekström-Mitsubishi, whose story ended in a rather short time.
Visits to Solé factory became a habit. We visited Spain for several years. The bet resort in that area, I think, is the Tossa De Mar on the Costa Brava, a hundred kilometers northeast of Barcelona. It is a small town that is not spoiled by tourism but has retained its original small town feeling. I recommend.
Figure 13. Enrique Solé on the left and a Finnish group.
Figure 14. Rauno Kurki-Suonio and Enrique Solé.
Figure 15. At lunch we discussed wisely and enjoyed good food and wines.
RE-POWERING AND NEW MARKET
However, the world is changing and the demand for inboard engines is declining. New inboard-engine boats were no longer made a lot in 1990 decade. With the recession the boat production is waning and many boatyards are closing down. We had to look for new markets and they were found.
Seawater cooled engines corroded and had to be replaced. In the year 1991 we developed and adapter, with which Solé Diesel Mini-17 -engine could be connected to Volvo Saildrive. Volvo's men said it couldn't be done that way, but we didn't care. Solé took that issue seriously, and pretty soon they had a precise measure of adapters by CNC machines for various manufacturers drives. This developed into a significant sale that has now continued for almost 30 years. Competitors, of course copied the idea, but Tekno-Marine has the most experience in gear ratios, propellers and installations. This work is still going on. Engines sold in the 80s have come to an end and there are still many of them in use.
Figure 16. Solé Diesel Mini-17 connected to the Volvo 110 S-saildrive.
Figure 17. We installed a turbocharger in the Mini-48,
which increased the power to 60 hp.
Estonian Maritime Board, Veetende Amet, ordered a 15-meter work boat "Seiskari 52 TR", where two Solé Diesel engines HS-270 were installed.
Figure 18. Seiskari 52 TR Eva.
Tallinna Laeva Tehas in Estonia manufactured wooden fishing vessels, where Solé Diesel SNF-160 engines were installed.
Figure 19. Installation of Solé Diesel SFN-160.
Figure 20. Tallinna Laeva Tehas wooden fishing vessel.
We cooperated with Saare Paat in the marketing of wooden boats and they were fitted with Solé Diesel engines. The Viking ship made by Saare Paat also has a Solé Mini-62.
Figure 21. In Saare 21' boat director of Saare Paat Mr. Peeter Laum. In the boat of course a Solé Diesel Mini-17.
Figure 22. Viking boat made by Saare Paat in Estonia.
From Russia, the Pella boats factory became an inquiry about lifeboat engines. First I was asked to bid on one hundred engines, then the number dropped to fifty and finally they bought 10 units. Russia did not have the international "Solas" rating but has its own Russian register. Thus, the engines had to get a Russian Registration certificate. It required two inspectors to spend a week in Spain at the Solé factory, all expenses paid by Solé S.A. In fact, there were many countries in the world at the time that followed these Russian rules. The next winter we visited St. Petersburg with Enrique Solé and his wife Elisa. At this trip Enrique used the fur hat bought by his father.
Figure 23. In St. Petersburg Irma Kurki-Suonio and on right
Figure 24. Pella plant's lifeboat.
Pella-factory was huge. Originally there were built many kinds of military vessels. There had been round 2000 workers and for them had been built block of flat area. The factory had every opportunity to manufacture lifeboats, but to my knowledge the planned production of that scale was never realized.
Solé Diesel - engines have been installed during these decades in a wide variety of vessels. There have been motor boats, sailboats, work boats. We have always tried to solve customers' problems and to install engines and installation equipment well.
Solé Diesel engines have been in the ferry of Hangon Itämeren Portti already 25 years. At the beginning were two engines installed, but now one: Solé Mini-74 with hydraulic drive.
Figure 25. The ferry of Hangon Itämeren Portti
with Solé Mini-74 hydraulic drive.
Seiskari S-40 President boat. Dimensions 12 x 4 meters, weight 10 tons. Engine Solé Diesel SFN-210. Top speed 15,2 knots!!!
Figure 24. Seiskari S-40 President.
Tens of engines have been sold to Estonian fishermen and they have been proved to be durable and reliable. The fishermen on the shore use the fishing boats nearly year around.
Estonian fishermen received EU funding for the renovation of an old boat and new technology. However, no support was received for a new boat. That is why our partner in Estonia Lindvart Oü invented a new method. When a 8 meter long so-called lappaja-type fishing boat was covered with fiberglass, finally the rotten wood was dug away from inside the boat. Thus the repaired boat was, of course, much lighter than the original one. A carrier level was further built on the stern and consequently the speed of an empty boat rose from eight to twelve knots with Solé Mini-44 engine. This has the advantage that the fishermen could, instead of the former two-time visit to the fyke net now three times a day was possible. Each time brought about 2 tons of Baltic herring as a catch.
Figure 27. Solé Diesel Mini-44
At the beginning of 2000 century the manufacturing of Seiskari boats was renewed. A new Seiskari model 232-FR was created with Solé Diesel Mini-62. However the trends were changed. The semi-gliding inboard-powered boat was no longer in the minds of the general public. Seiskari was almost the only one that was left on the tens of boat brands, which were made during 1980 decade.
Figure 28. Seiskari 232-FR
Now, twenty years later, Solé engines are still being sold. Those Seiskari boats sold in the early 80ies and many other boats are in need of new engines.
Solé has developed a wide range of marine generators from 3 to 115 kW and gained a foothold on the professional navigation side.
Figure 29. Solé Diesel marine generator G8T-3.
Solé has own production of a.m. propellers, propellershafts and sterntubes.
Figure 30. Solé has own propeller production.
Figure 31. Installation equipment.
Figure 32. At Barcelona Boat Show 2013
Enrique and Elisa Solé,
Irma and Rauno Kurki-Suonio.
The Solé company has grown and hired a lot of young people and students. The digital age has come, but the same friendly and efficient service continues as always. Marieli Solé Toledano, Enrique's daughter, has been appointed CEO of the company, and her husband Javier Altayo is the sales manager. They now have two children. Life goes on and we can be confident that we will receive also in the future Solé Diesel - engines and good service.
The history of Solé Diesel S.A. (in English, Spanish and French) is available at www.solediesel.com.
Importer in Finland and Estonia:
Oy TEKNO-MARINE Ab, Marinsatamantie 3, FI-02320 Espoo, Finland
tel. +358-9-819 0770, +358-40-9000 940 Rauno Kurki-Suonio