What’s In Performance Plumbing and Fittings

Dec 2, 2009

Performance plumbing and fittings form a product line with a split personality. Racers use them and so do street machines; selling to both markets is a natural. We asked industry experts for their input and got some great information. Our first question of many was, “How do you see the market?”

Market Status

Kyle Fickler of Aeromotive starts us off with a laugh, “Through bloodshot eyes… sorry, just had to throw that in. We are having a fantastic year, and at this point, there are no signs of slowing down. A good portion of our customer base is likely to quit eating before they quit racing, and if we can help them keep racing, we certainly will.”

Couple the passion in racing with product innovation and you’ve got a winning combination. According to Jiffy-tite’s Duane LaFleur that’s a growing trend as he sees the market’s timeliness cooperating with a willingness to open up to new ideas. “(Customers want) a quality product that can be delivered in a timely manner,” he says. “The customers do not want to wait for a product, so you need to have them available and ready when they order them.”

Longevity is also a strength in the plumbing and fittings market. John Julis from Fragola notes that, “The market for AN hose and fittings continues to be very strong, because no one is going to come up with something that will obsolete the retailer’s inventory. Unlike the latest carburetor, manifold, or camshaft, we are still selling and using the same hose ends and adapters we used over 30 years ago.”

Three decades worth of product maintainability is an impressive statistic, but it can also trigger the thought of what lurks on the horizon. Stark Manufacturing’s Michael Moore concurs, saying, “The question we as ‘Hot Rodders’ continually ask ourselves is, ‘what is next?’ Every time it seems it’s all been done, here comes the next big thing. What’s hot and what’s not?”

He continues by using the analogy that building a car is like getting a tattoo. “Ask yourself, ‘Will I still love this in five years?’ We continually see the trends fall back toward more subtle builds. Let’s face it, everything costs more today than ever before, so people tend to spend more time researching parts to make sure they get exactly what they want.”

In terms of product selection, what do they want?

Product Summary

Obviously there are many plumbing and fittings parts manufacturers that place a variety of products on the market. Matt Held of Earl’s Plumbing gives a definition of these products. “There are really three types of looks in this market right now: Stainless hose with traditional red and blue hose ends and fittings, stainless with black hose ends and fittings, and all black hose with black hose ends and fittings. The latter two are becoming increasingly popular in the hot rod/street rod and muscle car markets.”

As for the products being purchased, there’s a lot to be considered. Mr. Gasket’s Bill Pasco talks about choosing wisely. “Currently there are a lot of competitors,” he says.”Prices are all over the scale from dirt cheap to Cadillac-expensive.You want to go with a company that has been around awhile and has a proven reputation in the business with plans to be around for even longer. Just remember, when shopping for hose and fittings, you get what you pay for.”

For most companies, certain products sell better than others whether the reasoning involves quality, price or another factor. For Jiffy-tite, LaFleur says the best moving connectors are “the -4AN through -10AN male and female hose ends as well as our 45 degree and 90 degree fittings. The push-to-lock and O-ring port seal fittings have started to move nicely as well.”

Julis credits a much different element. “Colors,” he says. “We’ve added three more colors in our hose end and adapter selection two years ago. Last year we added more numbers to the mix, and the sales have been outstanding.” Fragola Performance now offers traditional red and blue, black hardcoat, clear (shiny) anodizing, and plain for those wanting custom colors or polishing.

Custom or specialty items seem to be in demand. According to Michael Alan from Stark Manufacturing, specialty hose kits and radiators are popular. “For instance we have a complete kit now with all a/c radiator, and trans hose and fittings for Jeep/Hemi conversions,” he says. “This is one of our most popular kits.”

To racing customers, there might be a completely different set of motives when making a purchase. Take into consideration that racers need to be fast and want their cars to capture attention. Held reports that Prolite 350 with ANO Tuff Swivel Seal hose ends and ANO Tuff Fittings are hot items. “Racers love it for the weight savings and the durability of the ANO Tuff finish,” he says. “And the street, muscle car, hot rod, and street rod guys love the stuff for its looks.”

Sometimes it’s just the good ol’ reliable products that bring in sales as Pasco suggests. “Standard size fuel lines and fuel fittings mostly 3/8-inchand 1/2-inch in straights, 45 degrees and 90 degrees still sell best.”

Overall, Aeromotive’s Fickler says, “We have seen tremendous growth in our fitting line. Many of the adapter fittings we offer are the only (ones) of their kind, and offer an innovative solution for builders trying to adapt AN style plumbing to OE style connections. We also offer several different swivel fittings that allow the builder to utilize components with ORB style ports but ‘clock’ things appropriately, or in some instances provide the solution to space and clearance issues.”

What’s New?

Customer’s always want to know about the latest and greatest available products. Even in the relatively unwavering plumbing and fittings market, there are new products and processes.

Julis reports that Fragola has just completed the full-range of the new Series 2000 Pro-Flow hose ends. “These are different from our Series 3000 hose ends in the fact that they employ the ‘single nipple’ method of hose attachment, and are made with the same one-piece ‘billet’ bent tube,” he says. “The Series 2000 are available in traditional red and blue, as well as black hardcoat, and all Fragola’s aluminum hose ends have the double-swivel feature. The Series 2000 hose ends are available in -4 through -16, and in all eight popular shapes.”

Alan presents Stark’s most recent advancement. “We now have black AN fittings and hose, we also have a new clip style a/c fitting (that’s) very easy to use. We also have a huge new assortment of bulkhead fittings, billet and steel – all machined in-house.”

At Earl’s, the lightweight Ultra-Flex 650 hose combines a woven Kevlar braid or high tensile 304 grade stainless with internal smooth bore Teflon tubing for increased flow with a convoluted exterior for incredible flexibility. Ultra-Flex 650 Kevlar is 60 percent lighter and the 304 stainless is 40 percent lighter. “It has an average of 14 percent larger ID than our (and our competition’s) stainless braid protected rubber hose. Since it is made with Teflon tubing it has a very large range of applications.” Held says, “We feel this is not just a new line, but a new level of plumbing high-end racing vehicles and for the discriminating enthusiast.”

Fickler talks OEM conversions, “We have introduced many new OEM adapter fittings that simplify adapting AN style plumbing to OE connections. Four numbers in particular have proven very popular, P/N’s 15117, 15118, 15120 and 15121, respectively, adapt from either 5/16-inch or 3/8-inch GM style quick connect fittings to AN plumbing. P/N 15120 and 15121 actually splice into an OE connection without alteration, and provide an 1/8-inch NPT gauge port and either an -6 ORB (15120) or -8 ORB (15121) port for installation of a nitrous system or some other requirement.”

Of course, safety can always be an issue when speaking about automotive products. Jiffy-tite has addressed some of these issues with its new products.

“New for 2008 is the all new ‘Stealth Black’ fitting line,” says LaFleur. “Jiffy-tite offers its entire quick-connect line on an all black to go along with the hose manufacture’s black light weight hose. Jiffy-tite also offers its O-ring boss seal fitting, push-to-lock. EPDM seals are also available to include more types of fluid applications. Lastly, Jiffy-tite is offering a lanyard style quick-connect so during an impact the connector will disconnect on impact rather then braking apart causing fluids to leak which is a huge safety concern in the motorsports industry.”

Putting It Together

Now that we’re educated about the market and its current offerings, how about some installation tips? Alan discusses the cutting procedure. “When assembling AN style fittings, tape the end of the hose where it will be cut leaving about1/4-inch tape on the hose. If you only have hand tools put two blades in a hacksaw facing opposite directions, this will cut down on number of strokes causing less fraying.”
Held believes that getting educated by simply reading is the best route. Follow proper instructions and procedures will pay dividends in the end.

“It is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when starting out,” he says, “especially using stainless braided hose and cutter style hose ends. The most important thing to remember when cutting hose is to make sure it is as close to a 90 degree cut (straight) as possible.”

He continues by explaining that this method makes it easier to start the hose end and to help eliminate the possibility of an assembly leak in the line. The hose should always be cut through the tape and while the tape should be removed before hose end assembly. “Wrap the tape tightly so there is less chance of ‘blossoming’ after the cut,” says Held. “Do not use a band saw with stainless steel; it can tear the outer braid if the blade is not sharp enough. Do not ever use a chisel, snips, pliers or a shear with Teflon hose, it crushes the liner and the hose end will never seal correctly.”

He suggests using a sharp bladed chop saw on s/s rubber line, while a sharp, 32-teeth-per-inch hacksaw blade also works at home.

“With Teflon line brake and clutch hose – if you are using removable hose ends – put the socket on the line before you cut it making sure it is facing the correct way,” Held explains. “This makes it extremely easy to finish the assembly by just bringing the socket up the line and screwing it onto the hose end.”

Pasco tips that experience is second-to-none when installing fittings. He offers up his advice by saying, “Use a lot of lubricant when installing the fittings onto the hose and wipe it clean afterwards. Lubrication seems to help the best with the AN style fittings onto steel braided hoses.” However, “when using the standard rubber push-on hose and fittings, lubricate the barbs on the fittings only and then use a heat gun to soften the rubber. The hose and fittings will then slide into the hose in a snap.”

Using the right materials is a must. Fickler harps on using the proper O-rings with ORB style ports fittings in fuel system applications.”Most garden variety O-ring kits are not fuel-compatible, which can be a significant problem,” he says.”If you’re not sure about your O-rings, buy from the proper O-ring from an Aeromotive distributor.Also, our tech line gets calls regarding fuel vapor. Most of the stainless braided hose available today is not a true Mil-spec hose, and does not seem to be as durable given the different additive packages common in pump gas today.Fuel vapor escaping from braided hose is the most common complaint.Some car builders are starting to use Teflon lined hose to keep the vapor from permeating the rubber and stainless braid. It’s harder to work with compared to steel braided rubber but does a better job of controlling vapors. Teflon line requires special fittings. Keep in mind that if you smell gas in your garage, you may not have a fuel leak, but rather a ‘vapor leak.’Of course, most hot rods don’t have vapor canisters like OE cars, so the same gas in different cars will have a different effect on the olfactory senses.”

Explaining the benefits of his company’s product line, LaFleur states that, “Jiffy-tite Quick Connect fittings can be used in most fuel, water oil and transmission applications. Jiffy-tite can eliminate the number of connectors in most plumbing applications.”

And, of course, if all else fails, go to the Internet.

“The Performance Warehouse Association has a very fine web site called PWA University,” says Julis. “Fragola Performance has posted six easy lessons on that site that cover everything from how the AN hose and fitting business began, through hose selection, planning a plumbing job, completing the sale, and installation tips. Jobbers should contact their area PWA warehouse distributor for the access information.”

There’s your market view of performance hoses and fittings.