You'd think that, as a reputable enthusiast magazine, people in the tuning world would be smart enough not to jerk us around or burn us. But it happens from time to time. For over a year, I had been planning and laying down the groundwork for a new engine for Project Nissan 350Z. We've vacillated between ideas of V8 power, a stroker kit or even an all-out NA engine. We finally settled on turbocharging our Z with a Jim Wolf Technology twin-turbo kit and a built low-compression engine.
While we know many reputable and trusted engine builders who are more than capable of taking on this project, no one had the time. Then we had a run-in with a new tuning shop called Violent Racing Technology that specialized in turbocharging Zs with JWT's turbo kits. The owner, Michael or Miguel Alvarez, depending on who he was talking to, was chomping at the bit to do all the work on our Z for some exposure.
My gut feeling at the time was one of skepticism. He was just too eager and trying too hard. He also wasn't a car guy, even though he knew how to talk the talk. Fair enough, there are smart businessmen who can run a successful shop with the help of serious technical talent. I would just bide my time and see how the shop grows. VRT did make serious headway in the next six months, despite the internet squabble we sometimes encountered. Maybe I was wrong.
I finally pulled the trigger to go with VRT, based on reputable friends in the industry who vouched for it. We sent a 4000-mile fresh VQ35DE long-block, along with pistons, rods, the turbo kit and a whole gaggle of other parts to start the build before the car was driven down.
That's when the problems started. We're understanding and used to delays and setbacks in building cars, that's just the nature of things. But when we got a call from Mr. A months later, we started wondering. He requested new 0.020-inch-over pistons, because the stock-bore JE Pistons we sent wouldn't work, on account of the motor having to be re-bored. This seemed rather unlikely, since the motor we sent was so new, but there was no way to verify the claim. We made arrangements with JE to have another set custom-made and rushed to VRT, as long as the original set was returned or paid for. Little did we know that our block had already been torn down, rebuilt and sent off with the original set of JE pistons (that were never paid for) in another of VRT's customer cars.
Our fears were temporarily set aside when I finally dropped off Project Z at VRT's HQ. It was a large, clean facility with several lifts and an engine-building stand, where a block and all our parts were laid out for photography and assembly. I left the keys feeling assured that VRT would give our car back soon. As encouragement, we gave Alvarez the opportunity to participate in the 2007 USCC on the condition that he build a homemade Skyline by converting a car to all-wheel drive with twin-turbo power. That visit was just a few days before VRT terminated its lease and moved back to its residential garage roots. We were never told.
Alvarez never came through with the homemade GT-R. Instead, he showed up with a customer's G35 with his time attack car's hurt engine swapped in. His plan was to win the USCC with this car just tuned to make silly power. Something we weren't too interested in.
About the same time, we started getting pictures over the internet of our Z sitting in front of Casa de Alvarez, with its engine torn out. I inquired about this and was told the car had been moved to his private residence for safety, as the shop had been broken into. He failed to mention that the 'shop' no longer existed and Violent Racing Technology as a corporation was bankrupt. He was now operating under various other corporate guises, like Mr. A Enterprises, Verified Racing Technology or VRTparts.
Even when we confirmed that VRT was out of its lease and now operating out of a residence, the deception and excuses continued. We requested that Alvarez stop work on the car and prepared a laundry list of parts to have ready when we went to pick it up. Two days before the pick-up, we were told Alvarez would not be in town, even though we had already scheduled the appointment. In reality, he was in town, but scrambling around to put together an engine for our car using the original block. He had also sent off our turbo kit (the second complete system he scammed from JWT using our name) in yet another customer's car. By the time we got our car back, the old supercharger and built motor both had parts missing, and the 'core' that came back was nothing but a box of scrap metal with damaged heads and a block minus its main caps (although the new owners of VRT did eventually cough up another long-block).
What finally broke the camel's back was that VRT managed to steal our front brake calipers (even though the wheels were put back on), some cosmetic parts and the rear anti-roll bar, which had nothing to do with pulling the engine. Project Z had been raped and we had been taken by a con man.
According to the new owners of VRT, Alvarez is no longer involved, although the operation still runs out of Casa de Alvarez. We finally have our Z back and it's being restored under the capable and well-trusted hands of Steve Mitchell of M-Workz, along with the help and parts support of Nissan Motorsports and JWT.
While we strive only to present and refer to shops we trust and have a long relationship with, we still get suckered on occasion. I just feel bad for those on a long list of VRT customers who have also been burned and have to suck up the loss and rebuild their cars out of their own pockets. It would be great to see everyone gang up and take legal action, but at least Mr. A is done in our industry.