Rich Olivier admits he had zero interest in engine building when he got his first glimpse at it. At the time, he held a job working as a pipeline welder. His love for engine work didn’t develop until he met a girl who would change his life forever. He moved to Napa, CA for her and ended up getting a job in an auto parts store.
“At the time, the machine shop was paying me $40 a head to weld in the evening and I started hanging around the machine shop and started in the automotive industry that way,” Olivier says. “It was a total accident. I didn’t have any interest in being involved with anything automotive. But once I was involved in it, I figured out pretty quickly how much I enjoyed it and how challenging it was and how technical it was.”
That same girl Olivier moved to Napa for was soon convincing him to open his own shop and make engine work his livelihood.
“When the opportunity arose for me to open up my own shop, a closing shop came in and offered me a machine shop, but I declined it,” Olivier says. “I went home and told Leti (my then girlfriend) about my day. I said, ‘Someone offered to sell me a machine shop today. I told him absolutely not.’ She told me what a fool I was and to go back and renegotiate. So I did. I bought the shop I started working for in the ‘90s. It was all her doing.”
Rich bought TEM Machine Shop in Napa, CA in 1995. And his girlfriend, Leti, is now his wife of 23 years.
“I got started because I came to Napa for this girl,” he says.
TEM Machine Shop was actually a Beck/Arnley Auto Parts store with a corporation name of Trans European Motors (TEM). Rich kept TEM as the machine shop and Napa Auto Parts took over the parts portion of the business.
“When I bought TEM Machine Shop, it didn’t technically exist,” he says. “There was signage and a yellow page ad. When I realized how much phonebook ads cost and how much signs cost, I kept the name the same. We took the dots out of TEM and just called it TEM Machine Shop.”
Since taking ownership of TEM in ’95, the shop has moved locations four times – once due to the building collapsing in a 2014 earthquake! Fortunately, no one was hurt. However, TEM was left with few choices for its current shop space.
“We found out nobody wants machine shops in Napa,” Olivier says. “We don’t do wine. We’re not a bed and breakfast. So we are currently in a 3,300 square foot tin building. It’s small, but it doesn’t fall in earthquakes. We’re in downtown Napa Valley in the middle of wine country building race engines.”
TEM does everything in-house with the exception of grinding cranks and cams. The shop will handle everything from prototyping and 3D printing to balancing, machining and assembly. The shop was initially very involved in cylinder head development, and today TEM specializes in European performance. For 11 years, TEM was under contract with Ferrari doing factory warranty work and Ferrari Challenge support.
“We’re not under contract now, but that really secured a niche market that was happening in my shop without me realizing it,” he says. “We fell in that European niche – a lot of valve advancing, multi valve, different angles – all that stuff is pretty mainstream. We’re very familiar with 4.5mm valve stem, 50-degree valve faces, radial valve jobs, and certainly aluminum blocks and sleeving. What we dreamed about as kids seems to be our everyday now over the last 20-something years. It’s been an adventure.”
TEM Machine Shop has 5 full-time employees, and they focus on builds like this Lamborghini Diablo VTTT engine. It’s just one of six in the world, and Mike Tyson owned the first one.
“He totaled it,” Olivier says. “There’s four left in existence. Two of them are in Dubai. One of them got halfway finished out of Prestige Lamborghini in Los Angeles. That car got tied up in a court case. Later, someone bought it in an auction and it ended up here, which is neat because it’s one of four factory, twin-turbo Diablos left.”
The Diablo VT Lamborghini V12 is a pretty common platform, according to Olivier. However, the VTTT – the extra two Ts stand for twin-turbo – is not very common. The engine came to TEM via a new customer who was referred to the shop through several people.
“The story behind this engine was it was built three times, but never made it more than 200 miles,” Olivier says. “This guy found the car on auction, paid a ridiculous amount of money for it because of the pedigree involved with the car and he needed this engine done correctly. The car came over from San Jose, which is about three hours south of us.”
Since this rare Lamborghini had been having serious engine issues, the first thing Rich and his TEM team had to do was diagnose what was causing the engine failures. Once they got inside the engine, they found there was very little done correctly.
“It was [rebuilt by] someone who had an engine shop who really had no level of experience doing something that requires this amount of precision,” Olivier says. “We had to do absolutely everything.
“The biggest issue was the person who got into this engine sleeved the bores to absolute max. They got off the alloy pistons and put custom pistons in this thing that were radically too big for the piston speed and ratio that the rest of the engine had in it, so it shook the crank. The harmonics that shook the crank ruined everything from tip to tail in the crankcase. The cylinder head was really, really poorly ported. There were oversized valves put in it. For the valve adjustment they put in it, they put valve shims underneath the lifter shim to space it up because the geometry was so far off after their valve job that they couldn’t get valve adjustment in it.
“We replaced the crank and balanced it correctly putting heavy metal throughout it. We had to re-sleeve the engine. We had to figure out a way, without disrupting centerline too far, to get the align hone straightened out. We used custom-made fasteners to accommodate everything. The first time the thing ran, the cylinder heads got no oil. We bored and put bearing in-lays in the front cam journals of the cylinder head because it scorched. And since the particular cylinder head that matched that platform wasn’t available, we had to fix what we had.
“We did a lot of welding, re-porting seats, complete set of valves – it was everything from tip to tail and we had to save the aluminum. It wasn’t like we could go get a second set of heads.”
Clearly, the TEM team had to correct a lot of work, making this Lamborghini Diablo VTTT engine an eight and a half month job. The saving grace was Olivier’s previous experience with the VT platform and notes he had kept on the shop’s Cam Doctor.
“The build required everything from recalculating piston speeds to fixing centerlines to crankshafts,” he says. “We’ve never put 18 slugs of mallory in a 12-cylinder crank. The build had a lot of challenges and took a lot of education trying to find out what the factory did with the twin-turbo stuff. We ended up getting one of the head mechanics from Prestige Lamborghini on the phone to talk to us about what they did inside the motor and he revealed some trade secrets for us that obviously now we have a lot of notes on. That was priceless to talk to the people who were involved with these six cars. That’s how we learned that Mike Tyson had the first one.”
The engine diagnosis and machine work was one thing, but TEM also had to select new parts for the engine. TEM used LA Sleeves to get the bores correct. The crankshaft was rehabilitated through welding, nitriding and proper profiling. JE made the pistons. The rods came from a company in Europe. Webcam took care of the cam profile. A1 Technologies was used for the engine’s bolts and SI Valves did all the measurements for the valves and made them per TEM’s spec.
“It was the most expensive engine that’s ever come through this shop,” Olivier says.
The engine and car are now back in precise, working order, and TEM has gained more business from that customer since. The Lamborghini Diablo VTTT engine puts out around 700 hp, which Olivier admits isn’t a lot compared to today’s engines.
“It’s not a lot,” he says. “It’s just rare.”
If you have an engine you would like to highlight in this series, please email Engine Builder magazine’s managing editor, Greg Jones at [email protected]