International Engine Work - Engine Builder Magazine

International Engine Work

We caught up with several engine builders here in the U.S. to talk about their international engine work and reasons why they think U.S. shops are getting so much international attention.

Why Foreign Countries Choose U.S. Builders

Like the famous Johnny Cash song, “I’ve Been Everywhere,” many engine builders in the U.S. have grown their businesses beyond the shores of North America. Sending engine builds all over the globe, the builders we’ve talked to over the years have listed the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Dubai, and the United Arab Emirates as just a few of the places they’ve sent engines.

Yes, these countries have engine shops and machine shops of their own, but it seems plenty of foreign customers still seek out the aide of U.S.-based shops instead of the alternative. Is it possible no one does it quite like the great shops here in the USA?

Obviously, there are a multitude of reasons why foreign customers choose to get engine’s built by shops thousands of miles away here in the U.S., but first and foremost, today’s internet capabilities and social media platforms make it easier than ever to submit an engine job from anywhere in the world. We caught up with several engine builders here in the U.S. to talk about their international engine work and reasons why they think U.S. shops are getting so much international attention.

Consumer Confidence

For any good or service to perform well from a sales standpoint, there needs to be strong consumer confidence that what they’re receiving is worth the price to pay for it. Engines are no different, and depending on the builder, what you pay for and what you get can be two very different things.

“Engine work is all about familiarity within the shops, but the market is all about confidence,” says L&M Engines owner, Michael Rauscher. “Some of these customers don’t have a lot of consumer confidence because they’ve been burnt. There are quality guys over in the Middle East, but they tend to take shortcuts. In Europe, there are excellent guys over there, but again, consumer confidence must be lacking.

“When shops aren’t familiar with [certain engines], you’ve weeded out thousands of shops. You get maybe one or two shops that can deal with it, but they don’t get the press and it’s too small of a service market. When they do work on these engines, they tend to fail and word spreads like wildfire. Consumer confidence is the biggest thing and parts availability.”

Many people buying an expensive, performance engine are buying from an emotional perspective and they want confidence in being able to put the key in, turn it over and have it work. If you keep giving that to them, people will keep coming to you no matter where they are.

“We get calls from pretty much everywhere,” says Mitchell Wilson, owner of Engineered Performance. “I ask those clients, ‘Why would you spend all your time and money to have an engine built clear across the world when you’ve got more than capable people there who can handle the job?’ It boils down to the fact that a lot of these shops in these other countries don’t want to branch out to anything different, even though they do excellent work. They’re just flat out not interested in working on a Nissan or anything like that.

“The flip side of that coin is they may do the work, but they don’t do a very high-quality job. The track record from a lot of people is that some of them are okay and not many of them are, so these clients end up searching outside the boundaries for people who specialize in a particular platform. That’s where we ended up getting phone calls.”

In Engineered Performance’s case, the shop specializes in Nissan engines, and the shops located in places like Australia won’t work on them, so Mitchell receives a lot of VG30 engine jobs that get sent to Australia.

“Shops in Australia have built them and then they don’t even get 200 miles before they completely fail,” he says. “It’s unfortunate. It’s a combination of consumer confidence and guys seeking out a quality build that is bringing them to builders here in the States.”

A shops reputation has always played a large role in garnering business, but when it comes to expanding international engine orders, it is the key to being known for good work and growing that business.

“Once you become reputable, it just grows from there,” says Clint Anderson, owner of CNC-Motorsports in South Dakota. “They want to buy from somebody in the States that they can trust to deliver them a decent product and not rip them off. It’s pretty scary when you spend $7,000, $8,000, $9,000, $10,000 and you’ve got to pay all the taxes and this and that with some other country. You’d hate to get a bunch of junk from somebody.”

In fact, paying $10,000 for an engine is the low-end of the scale. Many performance builds can be $50,000, $60,000 and $70,000, and that’s some serious cash to spend if you’re unsure of the end product you’re going to receive.

“There are guys who are good mechanics in places like the Middle East, but they just don’t know the LS like we do,” says Bruce McKillop, co-owner of CBM Motorsports in California. “They’d rather just spend the $1,400 to ship it here and $1,400 to ship it back and pay for the rebuild here and know that it’s done right rather than hope that it’s done right.

“I think knowledge and availability are probably the two key reasons foreign customers come to the U.S. They know how to take stuff apart and put it back together, but they don’t know what the latest, cutting edge stuff is.”

As many shops have found customers in the Middle East, so too has Kyle Thompson, owner of Thompson Motorsports in Texas.

“According to them, there just isn’t anybody there who is doing it well,” Thompson says. “They’re having issues with the engines that are being done, especially when it comes to the American platforms. Most of them don’t call and buy one engine. Usually, most of the guys I sell to over there buy like five or seven at a time. It’s very rare to have them call and just pick up one engine and move on down the road.

“I think they buy a lot of spares just because they don’t have any way of going through and fixing them, so they don’t want to have to chase parts or do anything. They just want to have it all there and ready to go.”

Flexibility and Options

Another key factor aiding U.S.-based shops is the flexibility and options they can provide customers overseas due to a robust aftermarket. The vast number of shops here in the States are also capable of working on nearly every engine you could possibly think of, from LS, Ford and Chevy to air-cooled and import to diesel and heavy-duty, and so on, the shops in the States have you covered. Many other countries don’t have that level of luxury at their disposal.

“A lot of guys will come here for domestic stuff and the domestic stuff just is not as popular over in foreign countries as it is here,” Anderson says. “Places like Australia or New Zealand may be familiar with domestic stuff, but when you get over into Europe, South America, Asia or the Middle East, they’re not familiar with anything domestic.

“When we build engines for international customers, a lot of them will be for drag racing, road racing or circle track racing. It all depends upon the country. If an engine is going over to Europe, Europe is typically going to be road race or drag race applications. If you send something over to New Zealand and Australia, that’s going to be a lot of drag race and circle track. The stuff we’ve been sending to the Middle East area has been a lot of LS platforms, so again, drag racing and street racing stuff.”

On top of many U.S. shops having 10-20 years of international experience and the U.S. being full of shops with the capability to build a plethora of different engines, parts availability and price also come into play as reasons foreign customers inquire here.

“In a lot of these countries where they stock parts, there is so much tax on the particular items they’re trying to purchase that it becomes almost an unobtainable product for them,” Wilson says. “They can call over to the U.S. and we might have something on the shelf or we can simply drop ship it to them and they’re saving themselves $200-$300 right off the bat due to all those taxes and tariffs that they’re experiencing.

“I feel bad there’s a lot of that going on, but it’s also good because we’ve stayed fluid with parts sales and it helps our bottom dollar and keeps our accounts fluid with piston and rod manufacturers to keep our discounts strong.”

Wilson says he could sell a set of CP pistons here for $700-$800 and that same exact set in Australia might be $250 more. It is a concern for a lot of foreign customers, but they’ve found ways to get around it.

That level of flexibility and available options is also critical when you consider all the different applications foreign customers use these engines and parts for.

“These countries all have their various race circuits,” McKillop says. “There’s some drifting stuff going on in China and Japan. In Saudi Arabia there’s guys building trophy trucks. In Dubai and Qatar it’s mainly sand rail business. In Indonesia, they have a race series similar to trophy truck racing. In Australia, we send parts or complete engines for restoration work.”

Forms of Contact

Anyone looking to purchase an engine, of course, wants one built in a quality way, and it’s now easier than ever to reach many shops in the U.S. through the internet and social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. However, word of mouth still gets the job done too.

“We’ve been doing international work for 15 years,” Wilson says of Engineered Performance. “Just like here in the States, international engine work grows through word of mouth. We have built an engine for clients and they talk to their friends in the country and we end up getting an engine build out of them.

“The majority of international business we get is mostly from our Instagram or Facebook, however, and primarily Instagram because it’s more of a mobile platform on your cell phone. It’s always in the palm of someone’s hand. They see some of the work that we’ve done and it peaks a lot of people’s interest.

“From a machining standpoint and the builder’s standpoint, if our work isn’t speaking the volume that we need it to, then we’re doing something wrong. That’s where our social media comes into play because people get direct access to exactly what we’re working on and they see what we’re doing.”

Michael Rauscher of L&M Engines agrees, saying, “These customers get on the internet, social media and forums and they talk about your business, which is great, but then you’ve got to support it with good work and good service.”

When the internet doesn’t give these customers a good enough look at a shop, some customers even make a trip to see the facility in person, as was the case for CNC-Motorsports in South Dakota.

“We’ve had several foreign customers come to the shop in person,” Anderson says. “However, most of our international orders are done online, through email or over the phone. There’s usually a phone call involved somewhere along the line.”

For Bruce McKillop at CBM Motorsports, his international engine work started from selling his personal sand rail to a customer in the Middle East.

“We’ve been doing international business for 10 years,” McKillop says. “In 2010, I sold one of my personal sand rails to a customer in Dubai and it was such a crazy built car that it was kind of a one-off and it got a lot of attention. Ever since then, they just started buying motors. It was a big breakthrough for us.”

In fact, Bruce’s business partner Chris, now goes over to Dubai and Qatar twice a year to help build, fix and tune motors for customers.

And when it comes to any language barriers, that’s where social media, email and the internet can be a big help as well. Just ask Kyle Thompson of Thompson Motorsports.

“They contact us through email or the website,” Thompson says. “They do a pretty good job of getting the information that they need translated to English for us and we’re able to piece together what it is that they’re looking for. Most of them speak a decent bit of English, so it makes it a little bit easier.”

Clearly, many countries fancy the quality work done by many U.S.-based engine and machine shops, and it’s become extra income and a boost in word of mouth and reputation for the shops that have dipped their feet in those waters.

“The international market is very lucrative,” Rauscher says. “I’ve sent engines all over the world. Thank god for the internet.”

Will your shop be the next one sending engines overseas? EB

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