These guys show why you should get into working on cars as a kid – an interview with Engine Power
When you think about tuning an engine, you probably imagine a 10, 20 or maybe even a 50hp gain by fiddling around with an intake system or the ECU. Tune-in to Engine Power on POWERNATION however and you’ll see Mike and Pat (the two top engineers and presenters on the show) building and testing engines well past the 1000hp mark.
Using techniques from old school cylinder head work to boosting via supercharging and turbocharging, these guys use years of experience in the engine building field to produce motors for road cars, hotrods, endurance racers and even boats.
I managed to grab Mike and Pat for a chat about the show and how they managed to accumulate the skills needed to produce such powerful engines in the most American of ways.
So where did you guys learn your trade?
Mike – “I grew up just outside Daytona Beach so I was on the doorstep of U.S. motorsport. My dad was a circle track racer and restored cars in his spare time. I was always around the garage.”
Pat – “I got into hot-rodding from a young age and I knew I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. I taught myself how to run a lathe when I was 12 years old and I just took apart stuff to see how it went back together. My first job out of high school was at a machine shop and I did everything from rebuilding 2.5 horsepower single-cylinder engines upwards. I’ve been building engines professionally now for 32 years.”
How much of engine modification comes down to experience over doing it from instruction manuals?
Pat – “Engines can be predictable. No matter what it is, it’s going to burn fuel and these things are going to behave pretty much the same. They all have rods, pistons, oil, they do the same things. You’re always working on an air compressor that has combustion so the principles for making more power are essentially the same.
“In engine building, they all can be expensive, they all can make power and eventually they all break so you’re always trying to look for the weakest link every time.”
What’s your go-to powertrain for a project?
Mike – “In the States, the LS platform has taken over. Mustang drivers are dropping LS motors into their cars, old hotrodders are doing the same, getting rid of their small blocks. You can put turbos on them and make 800-900 horsepower.”
Pat – “The aftermarket support for the LS and the simplicity of it make it hard to beat, it is very user-friendly, with budget builds still making serious power. It’ll almost always be better than a small block Ford or Chevy engine.”
Do you guys want to work on more European cars?
Mike – “With the engine swaps that are going on in the States, working on European cars is becoming more popular. I’m actually doing an LS-swap on a Porsche Cayman S. It’s fun to work on different stuff so I don’t mind working on European cars.”
Pat – “Structurally, the Europeans generally go for small engines with high specific outputs, mostly down to boost. Some of them need a bit more creativity to work on seeing as there’s not as much aftermarket support in the States for them. Here, we are obviously biased towards American cars, we have been raised with V8 horsepower.”
How has the game moved on?
Pat – “I’ve been in this industry 32 years now so I’ve seen the switch from carburetors to mechanical fuel injection and then to electric fuel injection. That evolution has shown me how much of engine tuning is now about usability – partial throttle, idling, cruising; electronic fuel injection has moved the game on massively in terms of making seriously powerful cars more drivable than ever. No more vapour locking or misfires, everything is ultra clean.
“Saying that, in terms of outright power at full throttle, a well-tuned mechanical system will make just as much power as an electronic system.”
Which series or episode would you pick as a showcase for what you guys do?
Mike – “I think the original Monster truck called ‘Bigfoot’, that’s where it all started. We were given the opportunity to restore the blown engine that was in the original Bigfoot. I think that was one of the most memorable episodes for me seeing as I watched machines like that as a kid.”
Pat – “I think our Ford build called ‘Black and Blue’ was my favourite – a small block that was a three-stage build that ended in a single turbocharger being bolted on there. In terms of showing the technical side of the show, that was a good one.”
What are you working on now?
Mike – “One project we’re working on is a small block Ford engine for an endurance racing team at Mid Ohio. They are running against Porsches, Ferraris and BMWs with a Foxbody Mustang and they’re struggling to keep up. So we’ve teamed up with Summit Racing to build an endurance engine to run sixteen hours of racing.”
Pat – “They want to make between 550-600hp, and I don’t think their engine right now even makes 200hp. It’ll need to rev to around 8,000rpm and run for hours on end. It’s an awesome challenge and we’ll show exactly how such an engine goes together in the series. The big race is in October so we’re extremely excited to see how the engine comes together and how it does on track.
“We have the best job in the world – we get paid to make really cool stuff and then beat the snot out of it.”
To watch the guys in action, click the link below to subscribe to POWERNATION: