No Curbing Their Enthusiasm

Dec 1, 2009

If it’s winter then it must be engine building season. But for shops that service the hot rod market, what type of season should they expect?

After all, for many in this business, 2009 was a year to forget-or at least one to get through as quickly as possible.

However, traditional hot rod gatherings nationwide report strong attendance this year, and many industry insiders note that it will take more than a little economic slowdown to pull people away from their passion of driving and showing the cars of their dreams.

For speed shops and builders in it for the long haul, now is the time to take steps to ensure a successful 2010 and beyond. With a quick recap of what occurred this year and some educated guesses on where things are headed-plus some suggestions on how best to get there-the opportunities in the hot rod market seem promising.

Happy Hot Rodders

One might think that with the recession in full swing, spending on discretionary hobbies like hot rodding would have decreased in ’09. And while that may have been the case at least somewhat, there’s something to be said for the dedication drivers feel toward their beloved hot rods.

“Although there is still plenty of big money, there was a contraction of sales from those with less discretionary funds,” says Andrew Starr, EFI specialist for Hilborn Fuel Injection, Aliso Viejo, Calif. “But that did not curb the enthusiasm of the hot rodder.”

Bill Spiekerman, hot rod instructor at Universal Technical Institute’s Avondale, Ariz., campus, has seen a similar occurrence.

“Theripple effect of the economy has certainly reached professional racing, as well as the hot rod and related parts industries,” notes Spiekerman, who has 45 years of experience in the industry and helped develop UTI’s Power & Performance curriculum. “Individuals who hot rod as a hobby, however, continue to do so within the constraints of their budgets. We’ve seen hot rod education come on stronger than ever, as the performance hot rod industry becomes more mainstream. As the economy begins to recover, we expect these industries to come back even stronger.”

Joey Moriarty of Total Seal sums up the 2009 hot rod market in one word: “busy.”

“We’re seeing lots of diversity in the marketplace; lots of new and unusual areas that generally would not be considered a part of this industry popping up.”

And the encouraging thing is that business seems to be heading in the right direction.

“It has been an interesting year thus far in 2009,” says Shawn Mendenhall, VP production for Coast High Performance, Torrance, Calif. “We have seen business picking up as of late and feel the trend will be good for next year. Our mid- to higher-end engine sales have not really fallen off.”

With that in mind, there are emerging trends that speed shops can watch for when cultivating hot rod business in 2010.

“We’ve seen an increase in long-block and complete engine sales,” notes Mendenhall. “People seem to desire ‘one-stop shopping.’ I believe people are looking for tried-and-true engines. Customers are definitely looking for a higher-quality part and a lower cost now.”

Starr says to watch for “the potential up-shift in the already large crate engine market and the aftermath of a slowing economy.”

And Moriarty points out maybe the most encouraging sign of all-optimism.

“Look for business getting busier,” he says. “I’ve heard from a lot of people that took the 2009 season off or ran an abbreviated season that are getting back out there and enjoying themselves instead of sitting at home worrying about what might happen.”

Three Things

To take advantage, these product suppliers offer three things they believe will help speed shops and engine builders be successful in the coming year.

“Ultimately next year will be about grabbing the dwindling market share,” Starr predicts. Ways to do that, he suggests, include:

“Developing or repairing relationships with customers to grab market share.”

“Providing a high-quality product at a reasonable price for awin/win scenario for the customer and the shop.”

“Becoming more involved and spending more time at the track to cultivate relationships.”

Moriarty recommends shops focus their efforts on price, advertising and offering value to the customer.

“Though I expect to see a busier year next year, people are price-conscious. They are looking for the best value for their money. The builder that can offer them the added value of premium parts and good, reliable power at a good price is going to be successful.

“Advertise your forte,” he continues. “If you’re in a specialty engine market where you are better than the other guy, you’ve got to get the word out. There are a million builders-what makes you special?”

Finally, use your skill and experience to your advantage.

“Impress the value of having a professional do the work and getting it right the first time,” he explains. “I had a lot of customers ‘do it themselves’ this past year, only to find out they have no experience in building engines and it ends up costing them more in the long run.”

Finally, Mendenhall advises broadening your horizons and learning more about the latest product applications and improvements.

“Expand into other makes-even imports-and have a greater breadth of product selection and knowledge.”

“Learn about the newest offerings and newest engines that are being manufactured right now, because they will be what your customers will want next.”

“Talk to your vendors to stay on top of the curve of new applications and offerings.”

Crystal Ball

When it comes to predicting the future, everyone has their best guesses. When it comes to the hot rod market, many of those predictions involve owners who want a vehicle that satisfies their individual needs.

“In 2010, we anticipate that an increase in the use of electronics and more mainstream application of turbos and blowers will provide a major impact on the industry,” says UTI’s Spiekerman “Controllable performance, done right, is a growing trend. With continued improvements in technology, an in-depth and ongoing education is crucial to keeping up with this ever-changing industry.”

Total Seal’s Moriarty foresees more at-home work for hot rod owners, which means speed shops need to make an impression on customers when they visit.

“Expect to see more do-it-yourself customers,” he notes. “The builder has to get them when they come in for the machine work and reel them in.”

Coast’s Mendenhall says to expect more variety and personalization of individual rides.

“I think the hot rod market in the future will include more and more retrofitted engines,” he says. “I believe more people will opt out of the original engines offered in the vehicles for engines created for currently manufactured applications. People want to have something different from what everyone is used to seeing, and the horsepower levels and reliability of late-model engines eclipse that of their early counterparts.”

But, whatever you see coming for your particular shop, know that it will, in fact, come.

“I liken all car guys and gals to those with an addiction,” says Hilborn’s Starr. “You see, once hot rodding is in your blood,you always want more and therefore the hot rodding market will always have enthusiasts who are ready to purchase. One should never give up on or count out the hot rod market.”

Advancements in Engine Break-In Oil

What’s the point of spending time putting together a perfectly balanced and tuned hot rod engine, only to have it damaged in less than 1,000 miles, thanks to improper break-in?

We contacted Lake Speed Jr., general manager of Joe Gibbs Driven, Huntersville, N.C., to ask about the science behind the company’s engine break-in oil, and how local speed shops can use it to make more money.

Please tell us about your break-in oil for hot rods.

We offer a complete line of high-zinc oils for hot rods. Our BR Break-In oil is the highest zinc content break-in oil available, and it is the only low-detergent break-in available as well.

We are also excited to announce our new conventional formula hot rod oil for classic cars. The Hot Rod oil features over 1,200-ppm of zinc, along with U.S. military-specification rust and corrosion inhibitors. It provides extra storage protection for cars that don’t drive on a regular basis, and it has a high level of zinc with no bottles of additive needed.

Why is it important for engine builders to use it?

The “old school” engine builders always preferred non-detergent oils for break-in, and that was because detergents “compete” against the zinc. The zinc (ZDDP) is trying to create an anti-wear film on the parts. Detergents are trying to keep deposits from forming on the parts, so the two are at odds with each other.

During break-in, you don’t want the zinc having to compete against detergents. You want the zinc protecting your camshaft. Our BR Break-In oil has the high zinc content engine builders are looking for, and very low levels of detergents. It can be used for up to 500 miles of street use or a complete dyno session. The BR is excellent for ring seal as well as flat tappet camshafts.

What type of research went into its development?

Since NASCAR requires flat tappet camshafts in the Sprint Cup series engines, we had to develop oils to assemble, break-in and race flat tappet camshafts. Joe Gibbs Racing started having abnormal cam wear issues related to low-zinc oils over 10 years ago.

As a result, Joe Gibbs Racing started working with an international expert in lubrication technology to develop these oils. In the last 10 years, Joe Gibbs Racing has spent over $10 million on engine parts, testing the longevity of oil formulations to find the optimum combination of engine durability and horsepower.

The BR Break-In oil we sell is the same BR Break-In oil Joe Gibbs Racing uses to break in our NASCAR engines.

The Hot Rod oil was originally developed for the U.S. military to protect engines during storage and shipping. Since tanks don’t have catalytic converter, this oil still has the good levels of zinc in it.

How does the product help builders make money?

First off, the BR Break-In oil and Engine Assembly grease prevent flat tappet camshaft failures, so preventing reworks saves a builder a lot of money and headaches.

Second, the Hot Rod oil prevents rust and corrosion that could occur while engines are waiting to be installed in the car.

Finally, we don’t sell our products through the mass merchandisers, so an engine builder or speed shop can make 25 percent or more selling their customers a product they need.