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Performance work carries a much higher profit mar...
Build it and they will come! Your customers will ...
Ten Commandments and Two Ideas To Make More Money
Performance work carries a much higher profit margin and faces less competition than remans. It also requires more from you as an engine builder in customer service and professionalism.
By Len Emanuelson
A lot has been written in these pages about how to be competitive as a small engine shop in this quickly changing landscape of crate motors and huge rebuilders. The answer is simple, but requires commitment performance engines!
Performance work carries a much higher profit margin and faces less competition than remans. It also requires more from you as an engine builder in customer service and professionalism. A clean well-equipped shop breeds quality work and consumer confidence. However, it is difficult for a small shop to be all things to all people without finding a few shortcuts to lessen the learning curve and make things more efficient. This month’s Performance Notes deals with a couple of ideas that require some up-front work and organization, but will pay big dividends if you follow through.
Idea No. 1:
Developing a full line of engines without a dyno and tons of resources.
Idea No. 2:
Providing your customers with the information they need to do the proper engine setup in their vehicles.
Let’s start with No. 2 first, as it emphasizes the importance of doing No. 1.
The “10 Commandments”of Engine Delivery
After years of hanging around engine builders, it never ceases to amaze me how varied the competency levels of their customers is. Doug Dye was a NHRA National Record Holder and built race engines in the ’70s and ’80s. One if his favorite stories involved a customer who complained that his new engine “just wasn’t performing up to expectations.” Doug did all of the troubleshooting he could over the phone, then jumped onto a plane to show up for some track testing in God knows where. As soon as the customer started the engine Doug knew what was wrong not enough spark advance.
In less than 10 minutes, Doug cranked a handful of advance into the distributor and the car went out and ran on the record the very next run.
What a waste of time and money! In today’s business climate no one can afford this kind of handholding.
Unfortunately, your shop’s reputation and customer satisfaction rests solely with your customers. It is imperative that you provide them with the information they need to get the most out of the engine you just built. Which begs the question…do you have the information your customers need for proper setup?
Here’s a list of what I call the “10 Commandments” 10 vital pieces of information a customer needs for success.
1. Where’s the power band?
Your customer needs to know exactly where the power band is to select the correct torque converter, gearing etc.
2. Induction Requirements
Intake manifold selection (if not supplied), carb or throttle body size, and jetting or base fuel map. (Superchargers, turbos and nitrous require even more detailed setup information.)
3. Exhaust Requirements
Remember to include header dimensions, collector size and length, and muffler size and type (if required). The correct header extensions can mean the difference of 50 hp and 50 ft.lbs. of torque.
4. Ignition Requirements
The type of ignition, advance curve, total timing and coil output are among the vital statistics. Voltage required from the battery and charging system is often overlooked, but extremely critical, too.
5. Spark Plugs
Tough they’re considered by most people to be commodity items, the heat range, style (projected nose or recessed) and material (copper, platinum or iridium?) all make a big difference in the way an engine runs and its reliability.
6. Valve Lash Settings
Most shops already supply lash settings, but where you set the cam timing is important information too, especially when it comes time for fine-tuning.
7. Suggested Operating Temperature
Recommended thermostat heat ranges are critical, especially if the vehicle runs on pump gas and the compression is on the edge of being tolerable. It also affects ignition timing.
What weight and type of oil is recommended and what’s the recommended oil pressure, cold and hot?
9. Trouble Shooting
Knowing the cranking compression of an engine is a great troubleshooting tool and also an easy way to keep track of an engine’s condition. The customer needs to know the correct way to do this check.
10. EFI I.Q.
If the engine has been built for EFI, programs or programming information should be included to adapt to the engine’s modifications.
One of the best ways to provide this information to your customers is by making a series of standardized instruction/data sheets. Then you just fill in blanks with the correct specifications for the specific engine you are delivering.
I would also suggest any pertinent information such as a list of components and part numbers, and a description of components including critical info such as balance weights.
Your customers will appreciate your attention to detail and probably come back to you for their next engine. Not only that, it will eliminate the tons of phone calls that eat into your productivity.
But some of you may be asking “How do I know the answers to these questions?” Well, hopefully you’ve worked out your engine combinations on the dyno, or racetrack, or even on the street (there are a lot of affordable onboard data logging tools now available that can easily let you know if your setup is correct.)
Hopefully, you are not selling an engine that is untested there are just too many variables, and the potential to under perform is huge not a positive way to build your shop’s reputation.
What if you don’t have access to a dyno or a car to develop your engine combinations? There are several engine building computer simulation programs that can do an excellent job for component selection. Unfortunately, you don’t really know what these “sim” engines require for setup if you have no experience with a given combination.
Another way to acquire a “menu” of engines for your shop is to closely follow the engine builds in the “hot rod” magazines. Today, most magazine buildups have complete dyno sheets and tune-up information along with detailed parts lists. The magazines are doing a much better job of giving a complete story on how to do something.
Cooking Up An Engine Recipe Book
Because magazines have a way of piling up and you never can locate the article you are looking for, I started copying articles of interest and placing them in three-ring binders years ago. With the proper use of some dividing pages and tabs, I can find what I need at a moments notice.
Building an engine “recipe book” out of magazine engine builds is a cost effective way to develop a line of engine products for your customers. It sure beats spec’ing out an engine, ordering the parts, building the engine, dyno testing it, then throwing a series of cams manifolds and headers at it to find out what’s optimum.
One word of caution however, beware of engines built under class restrictions or weird limitations. Some examples are the engines built for the Engine Masters Challenge. They may seem like the perfect street engine when you consider the rpm range being tested, but these engines have evolved by nature of the competition into freaks that are neither street nor race engines. Just be selective in what makes it into your recipe book.
Only a handful of shops across the country can afford the cost and time to develop their own engine packages. The good news for you is that these shops are willing to share this information with national magazines for free publicity (and with you for the price of the magazine).
Let’s say your customer wants a pump gas 550 hp LS1 for the street. Chances are you can turn to your recipe book and find something that will fit the bill. And guess what? In most cases, the parts list you need to order is right there too! The time-consuming process of figuring out piston compression height, deck clearance, gasket thickness and chamber CCs is already done. That’s about four hours of labor that just dropped to the bottom line.
Of course, I’m sure that even the suggestion to build someone else’s engine combination will rub some engine builders the wrong way. After all, there’s a lot of ego involved in this business when it comes to making horsepower. My suggestion, if you’re rattled is this: use the proven basic combination someone has already tested and add your own personal touches. I believe that it will open your shop up to more potential business and more satisfied customers in 2008.