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Tips for Hotter Street & Strip Performance

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Long’s HO Enterprises Performance Auto (www.hoenterprisesclassics.com) in Birnamwood, WI, sells hot rod parts, but his once traditional view on performance is changing as he sees his sons working on late-model imported cars with port fuel injection and “coffee can” exhausts.

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“Yeah, I think it’s all electronics now, but at least they’re car guys” Long points out. “We go to the drag races at Kaukauna and there’s Hondas running 10s. So all that stuff works, but it’s weird; way above the heads of guys like us.”

Carl Wegner has been around performance for at least as long as Kelly. After graduating high school in the ’60s, he worked at John Schlieper’s speed shop in Brookfield, WI, building engines for Modifieds and USAC racing cars and Top Fuel motors for NHRA Div. 3 dragsters. In 1975, he moved to Markesan, WI, and started Wegner Motorsports (www.wegnerautomotive.com), which today builds engines for NASCAR stockers and other racing series.

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Carl and Kelly are contemporaries, but Wegner stays up to speed on 2011 technology. After his son Casey graduated from college and joined the business, Wegner also moved into street performance and today he builds car engines for all of the current generation Nickey Camaros and Harley’s Screamin’ Eagle models.

Wegner Motorsports is a nationally known source for engines, components, machine work and dyno tuning for the street, strip, track and racecourse. “We build about 500 engines a year,” Carl tells Engine Builder. “We have about 20 people working here and that’s a lot of mouths to feed, so we try to stay busy.” Wegner has done engines for Bobby and Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Ernie Irvan, Terry and Bobby Labonte and Darrell Waltrip.

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About 100 miles northwest of Wegner Motorsports is Ed Casar’s Done-Rite Automotive (www.doneriteautomotive.com) in Mosinee, WI. Although Ed’s father started the business during a 1980s recession, the company’s fully-equipped eat-off-the-floor facility is set up to use 2011 technology to make classic and modern street cars and all kinds of racing cars run more efficiently and go faster. A control room that looks like mission control at Cape Canaveral allows customers to see their car being tuned on Ed’s SuperFlow dyno (facing his 150-mph “wind tunnel” fan) while watching their car’s fuel maps on a computer.

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Done-Rite tuned the prototype 2011 Nickey Camaro engine for Stefano Bimbi of Nickey Chicago (www.nickeychicago.net), as well as the 301-cid Hillborn injected small-block Chevy race engine in Paul Zieldorf’s fiberglass-bodied A-Altered ’38 Fiat nostalgia dragster. The latter, with its Isky roller cam, Isky aluminum rods, 327 heads, Vertex magneto and needle bearing rocker arms, today runs on E-85 fuel instead of methanol.

According to experts like Wegner and Casar who deal with today’s technology on an everyday basis, the automobile engine is basically an air pump and there are 10 tips that you can “take to the bank” to get hotter street and strip performance. They all have to do with making your “pump” work more efficiently.

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• Both experts agree that 80 percent of an engine’s power comes from its cylinder head design. Techniques such as pocket porting and high-tech machining can help you “use your heads” to better advantage.

• You can modify your existing heads or buy aftermarket performance heads to add an exhaust valve to each cylinder. This will streamline the exit of hot exhaust gases. You can also add performance exhaust systems with headers, fat tail pipes and flow-through mufflers that reduce back pressure in your exhaust system.

• Add an intercooler to your supercharged or turbocharged setup, or simply grab cold air instead of hot air under the hood. Any type of performance engine will benefit from inlet air charge cooling.

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• Add the hardware to give your engine a higher compression ratio so it will produce more power. You can avoid a tendency for the mixture in a higher-compression engine to “pre-ignite,” by using higher octane fuel in your motor.

• Even “old skool” rodders like Kelly Long know there’s no substitute for cubic inches. More cubes will result in the burning of more fuel each time your engine spins and will add more power. Boring and stroking the cylinder increases displacement. Using an engine with more cylinders will give similar results.  

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• Make sure that the fuel delivery to each cylinder is precise and accurate. Carb tuning, carb balancing or better fuel injection system metering will produce the correct flow of fuel to each cylinder and improve performance and economy.

• Pumping more air and fuel into a cylinder gives the same result as increasing the size or number of cylinders. Turbos and superchargers pressurize the incoming air in such a manner that more air is forced into each cylinder.

• When your piston starts its down stroke it’s working against the air in the cylinder. You can lessen the air resistance by getting more air out of the cylinder with a performance air cleaner, polished intake manifolds, better port gasket matching, ported heads, valve seat machining or an additional intake valve in each cylinder. The less air resistance, the more power you’ll have.

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• Lightweight internal parts help an engine perform more smoothly and efficiently. Parts such as aluminum heads and blocks, featherweight pistons or titanium valves will add power and eat up less energy when changing direction.

Carl Wegner’s Tips

Wegner’s street and strip performance tips involve using race-bred engine hardware the company makes. Wegner builds a lot of aluminum cylinder heads for Racing Head Service (part of Comp Cams). Its RHS head for the GM LS engine gives about a 50 hp advantage over stock heads. Carl said port design and combustion chamber configuration makes the extra power. “Basically, we’ve incorporated things done for NASCAR into the production heads,” he explained.

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With a $150,000 CNC machine, Carl can produce special axis and valve seat steps without waiting two weeks to get new cutters made. “With this, in five minutes we can draw new tool paths for the cutters and they will cut whatever we want,” he noted. “It’s the same machine all the F-1 teams use.”

The company makes six front dress assemblies for normally-aspirated LS engines and two for supercharged motors. The compact kits save weight and increase performance, while enhancing the looks of the engine pulleys and fans. Wegner’s billet valve covers feature good-looking, thin, weight-saving designs. One of the latest is a big-block cover with a receiver rail, instead of a bunch of perimeter bolts. Just two wing bolts on each side hold the covers down tightly.

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LS motors are strictly fuel injected and don’t have a distributor or manual fuel pump. Carl designed a front cover to install a Ford fuel pump and distributor in the GM engine. He also modified a Chrysler 440 type water pump to fit the LS. He had it cast at Stewart Components in Escanaba, MI, a division of EMP. Carl also developed, then sold to GM, a carbureted LS intake manifold design.

Wegner does crank balancing, magna-fluxing, pin fitting, rod reconditioning, block and crank work and carburetors. On a recent visit, engines seen in the shop ranged from a Pontiac to a 460 Ford modular stroker for an off-road truck. We’re getting ready to build an RHS block and head combination,” Carl explained. “We’re mocking it up in the R & D department right now with a ProCharger on it.”

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Carl outlined how his crew can take a stock LS motor with about 300 hp and get it up to 500 hp. “We CNC the heads, put in a different piston and connecting rod assembly and add bigger valves. Remember these motors have all-aluminum block and head construction, so when they are modified they weigh only about 385 lbs., just 100 lbs. more than an old Chevy small-block V-8. At 5.3 liters the displacement is 327 cubes, so, it’s the 21st century 327 fuelie engine.”

Carl uses cams and valve train components from Comp Cams and Manley. Lunati and Callies supply a lot of cranks for the low- to medium-end engines and Winberg supplies the racing engine cranks. MSD ignition is used in most distributor engines and F.A.S.T. systems from Comp Cams are used in engines requiring EFI controllers, although Carl likes the new Holley controller, too. “It’s cost effective and a real nice compact package,” he said. “And it’s very good.”

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Ed Casar’s Tips

In his ultra-neat office, Ed Casar showed us a 7-page estimate a big-time engine builder had written up for a customer. “This young enthusiast wanted a 500-hp motor and they wanted to sell him the works,” Ed pointed out. “I told him that I could do one of two tricks and give him the power he wants for a lot less.”

Done-Rite Automotive started out as a small shop at Casar’s father’s home doing car maintenance and general rebuilds, be-fore Ed started getting interested in the performance end of things. “The more we did, the word of mouth got out and more business came,” he stressed. “But we really got into the fuel injection stuff and state of the art stuff. We would give people recipes (for performance builds) and they would put the engines together themselves.”

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Ed says he and his dad were happy to have customers or other shops do the mechanical work, but lately customers don’t want to go to an engine builder and then to a tuner. “Today, many enthusiasts aren’t wrench turners,” he says. “They just want to drop the whole thing and be confident it will all get done without conflicts or finger pointing or blame management if something doesn’t work well.”

Casar agrees with Wegner’s belief that 80 percent of power comes from the cylinder heads. If he’s going to do stock heads, he finds that pocket porting (blending the seat) is a significant way to increase performance and economy. “It’s a bit of work to do that by hand, but it’s definitely well worth it,” Ed says. “That’s the first thing and, on older engines, we usually put in stainless valves.”

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Another tip Casar has for builders of older motors is using three-quarter-groove main bearings instead of full-groove bearings. “Those work really well,” he explains. “If the car sits for a long time, the dry-starts wear out the full grove bearings much sooner.”

As far as engines, Ed has experimented with the Chrysler 400. He said that a lot of 440s are gone, but you can use a 400 with a 440 crank and wind up with 444-456 cubes. “It’s a nice combination because the 400 blocks aren’t really that sought  after, but they have a bigger bore than the 440 and work really well,” he notes. “Any of the Fords are good for a stroker engine, and the 383-406 cube Chevy stuff works out good for the street, too. We always try to do more cubes for the street and then keep the rpms down so the cam doesn’t have to be too aggressive. Always use aftermarket heads or CNC heads when a customer’s budget permits.”

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Done-Rite uses F.A.S.T. fuel injection, Accel ignition and Tech 3. Ed also retrofits Delphi computers. “We buy them and retro-fit them with different things,” he explains. “They have catalyst monitors in them and can still do coil-on-plug, so you can use them in big engines with lots of power or tiny four-cylinders.”

Today’s street and strip enthusiasts may be different than those of hotrodding’s early days, but they still want the same things as those veterans, say the experts. Old school skills or new age technology, getting the most from the giant air pump under the hood will keep you in good shape with your customers.

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Added Expert Advice

• “Our blown 409 Gasser engine has dual four-barrel carbs. Solid linkage dual carbs can can be a handful on the street. To tame it down, reduce pedal pressure and save fuel we installed progressive linkage, something seldom seen on blower motors. The primaries on the rear four barrel are in front, well centered on the blower so it works great. This makes it pretty docile on the street, then when you decide to hammer it, all hell breaks loose.” – John Tinberg, Nickey Chicago

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• “The custom-built headers with collectors that we put on our Gassers/Funny cars get specially made diverters. They are welded onto the collector caps to direct the exhaust smoothly into the muffled part of the exhaust when the caps are in place. This streamlines the exhaust with minimal turbulence and has a noticeable improvement on performance.” – John Tinberg, Nickey Chicago

• “You can take a late-model car with a belt that runs the air conditioning and power steering and take the belt off or put a short belt on and bypass everything and gain some horsepower.” – Kelly Long, HO Enterprises

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• “Put ice packs on the intake manifolds or on the plenum to cool the gas coming down into the engine. And you can put water on the front of the car if you have an open hood. It cools the air coming over the front of the car into the intake.” – Kelly Long, HO Enterprises

 

 


Business Tips

A tour through Wegner Motorsports or Done-Rite Automotive illustrates some of the factors that have helped make these engine building/tuning businesses successful and owners Carl Wegner and Ed Casar also voiced a few “Business 101” type tips as they explained their businesses.

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For Carl Wegner, longevity is a plus in the engine building business. “After working on this stuff for 45 years, you have figured out what you needed to do after you made the early mistakes,” he says.

A unique type of “UPC” stamping helps sell the quality of the parts Carl builds. “That’s called a square dot matrix code,” Carl said, pointing at the icon stamped in a head. “In NASCAR today, the legality of parts is no longer up to the discretion of tech officials. If a part has that mark, it’s legal in NASCAR and it shows street performance customers they’re getting a NASCAR grade part.”

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Wegner does all of its Research & Development testing and CNC work in-house. According to Carl, this adds up to time and cost savings, but more importantly it allows him to control the quality of everything he makes.

Since moving into the street performance market niche, Carl realizes that he will need more than racing exposure to reach customers. “Up to now we’ve thrived on racing support and word of mouth advertising, but my son Casey is going to get more involved in going to car shows and trade shows.”

At Done-Rite Automotive, Ed Casar feels that “image” is very important. His headquarters facility is professional-looking, clean and spotless. Ed is a dealer for several aftermarket suppliers and manufactures his own supercharger kits for classic Mercedes. The office wall is lined with neatly organized, clear plastic document pockets that hold flyers and catalogs for the items he sells.

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Rather than surprising customers with a big bill for parts he’s installed after the job is done, Ed presents them with a recipe for what they want and sells them on how to get there. “We’ll tell them what cam, heads, compression and fuel injection system will give them the requirements for the power they want. I find that everyone is eager to have a hot car and like a road map to get there.”

Ed works with, instead of against other shops. “Say the customer wants to use his own engine builder,” Ed explained. “We’ll give that shop a recipe too, so instead of looking at the tuner as competition, they look at us as collaborating with them to give the customer what he or she wants.”

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The “control room” alongside Ed’s chassis dyno, with its bank of computers and big picture window is a business builder. Customers can watch in fascination as their car gets tuned and they can see an impressive array of data and fuel maps on the computer screen right in front of them.

Ed has seen his customers wants change from a do-it-themselves approach to a desire to take their cars to a one-shop-does-it-all facility. This has created a need for change in the way he operates. “We are focusing on getting things out faster,” he says. “We realize that these days you have to work lean and still keep everything moving and going."

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Technical Tips

During their interviews with Engine Builder, Carl Wegner and Ed Casar passed on some interesting technical tips that others involved in the building of engines can probably use in their business.

Carl stressed how important his investment in specialized machine tools is. “We have a cylinder head with a very deep seat axis,” he said. “Our machine has computerized controls that can actually retract and go in, so I can undercut underneath the seat and then go back in and do the seat.”

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Another thing Carl told us is, “You should know that whatever part you buy from an aftermarket parts vendor might not fit without help. Luckily, we have everything here to make stuff fit.”

A 454 Chevy street performance V8 with 990 hp was being worked on at Wegner Motorsports. Carl praised its idle air control (IAC) system. “For a street car it’s amazing,” he pointed out. “It will sit there all day and idle at 800 rpm.”

Carl emphasized that 80% of an engine’s power comes from the cylinder head–cam-intake manifold combination, but said a shop can’t stop there. “The more you do on those, the more you have to ensure that con rods, pistons and crank are up to supporting the other parts. One chases the other and the customer has to understand upping power will add costs for other upgrades.”

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Put away that flow meter, says Carl Wegner. “Basically, we don’t even flow a lot of heads anymore. We do most of our calculations through fluid dynamics and a cross sectional area. If a port has to have a certain taper, we do that in a CAD model and then CNC the part to fit that CAD model.”

According to Ed Wegner, shops can add a lot of bolt-on horsepower for customers. “We bolt RHS heads on older 5.0 Mustangs and, with a tune, we see a 70-hp increase at the tires. After bolting headers on and tuning a 2011 Mustang, we have seen 65-hp increases. Any head and cam combo with headers and a tune on a GM LS engine will net a 100+ rear-wheel increase.”

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Another tip from Ed to other shops is, “Stroker kits and blowers and turbos are crazy power adders. They are durable, have excellent drivability and get super mileage, but the more things you bolt onto a newer car, the further the calibrations will be off. When you change parts on the car and increase horsepower potential, the computer (black box ) will also need to be changed.”

Ed warns other engine shop owners, “Seek out a proper Air/Fuel meter to tune the engine for the customer or find a professional dyno center to help out. Getting a motor properly calibrated is just as important as the parts you put in!”

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Ed emphasizes, “Putting any exhaust headers on a customer’s engine is a benefit just so long as you get something that’s got a thick enough flange, so you know the customer won’t be having continual gasket problems later.”

Ed says it’s important to give the customer an exhaust system that supports itself. “When the headers unbolted, the system should hang there rather than drop down,” he says. “If it drops down it’s going to eat gaskets and you won’t see that customer again.”

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