The Masterminds Behind AMS Performance
From humble beginnings sharing a 3,000-foot shop with a power washing company and using a tarp to separate the two companies, Martin Musial and his best friend since grade school, Arne Toman, pursued a dream that one day two kids from the northwest suburbs of Chicago could build a company that possessed the same passion and enthusiasm they had for cars and transform it into an authoritative leader in automotive performance known today as AMS Performance.
It's been seven years since AMS opened its doors to the general public and within that short time span, this small, rather unknown company has quickly managed to become a worldwide leader in aftermarket performance. AMS recently opened a newly established 17,000 square-foot facility in the rural parts of Chicago.
Holding numerous records and titles in all categories of import performance, ranging from drag racing and engine horsepower bragging rights to road racing trophies, the AMS crew shows no signs of slowing down as they claw their way to the top and continue to bring us the hottest products and fastest cars this side of the hemisphere.
The team at AMS recently held a celebratory grand opening at their new facility, offering a dyno contest, free pizza, games, and raffle prizes to customers as a way of showing appreciation for all of their support over the years. Throughout the madness ensuing that weekend, I managed to pull aside the owners of AMS, Martin and Arne, for a few minutes to reveal their personal experiences and how the history of AMS Performance has evolved for them over the years.
Turbo: How did the whole automotive infancy begin for you two?
Arne: When I was in high school I was into V-8 muscle cars. My first car was a '71 Monte Carlo with a 350ci engine and a four-speed. Martin and I tinkered around with it whenever we had a chance. At the time, Martin's dad wanted to buy him a car but he couldn't have anything more than four cylinders because his dad had this theory that V-8s were hard to perform a tune-up on. (Both laughing) American cars were forbidden in Martin's family so it had to be some sort of "European vehicle," so he picked up a Merkur XR4Ti.
Martin: Yeah, at the time Arne and I didn't know much about cars or how to work on them. Brake torques and burnouts were our way of showing power. My dad is old school and believed that I shouldn't be tinkering around with cars. His expectations for me were to be an engineer, lawyer, or a doctor.
Turbo: That's so typical of any parent. Did you follow his advice?
Martin: I went to college at Iowa State University and worked on receiving my degree in mechanical engineering. While attending Iowa State I joined their Formula SAE program. We built race car chassis around motorcycle engines. I was team captain for our school's program and entered competitions in Michigan where each vehicle ran a series of events, ranging from acceleration, slalom, braking, and an autocross all with these homemade cars powered by motorcycle engines. Within the five years of taking on these projects I learned how to weld, fabricate, and use my engineering knowledge I obtained.
After graduating I came back home and worked for my dad's wire forming business for two years until I couldn't take it anymore. (Laughing)
Arne: It was then that we both decided we wanted to get back into modifying cars. Martin and I picked up another Mercury XR4Ti back in 1998. We wanted to build the car to autocross and drag race so our plans were to modify the turbocharged engines with exhaust, intake, boost controller, and more.
Martin: We began playing with the engine and got the power up to 360 whp on pump gas. Mind you, this was back in 1999. The only ECU tuning available at the time was modifying the factory ECU calibrations with a mod called the EEC Tuner. We took the car to Great Lakes Dragway and ended up roasting the tires in every gear, but we managed a mid 13 and an 115mph trap speed, which was pretty impressive for that time era. I became so involved with Merkur's it became our testbed of sorts. I learned everything from turbocharging to intercooler designs. I also learned to weld aluminum by making the custom radiator and intercooler setup using this car.
Arne: At the time I was working at a truck shop called Fries Automotive, towing semitrucks. We stored the Merkur there and Martin would come by and work on the car while I was working the evening shift. When I got off of work I would join in on the fun. Every opportunity we had, we both ended up working on the car, even on weekends.
Martin: I fondly remember using the towing yards MIG/TIG welder dubbed "Weldzillla." This thing was literally 800 pounds and it burnt the crap out of me on numerous occasions as I tried to figure out how to work this contraption. The amateur I was at the time, I didn't know how quickly heat transferred on aluminum when welding and ended up frying my arm. I recall one day I decided to port the cylinder heads at Arne's garage and ended up in the hospital the next day. I was only wearing safety goggles and managed to lodge some cast-iron chunks into my eye. Those were good times.
Arne: Martin and his friend Fritz Moore, a NASA engineer, decided to build some turbo spec cams for the Merkur since no company had them at the time. The reason why AMS was first born was to sell these cams.
Martin: Back then, before we even had a shop, I became a Quaife and Turbonetics dealer by doing group buys on the Internet while I was still working for my dad. The car parts sales were part time out of my dad's machine shop. It's funny because even today we still get calls for the cam we sold. I'd have to admit those were the best cams ever designed for the Ford 2.3 liter. The sales of the cams were good for a short time but the demand rapidly fell off so we began looking for another product to design.
Arne: Martin was driving around a Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 as a daily driver. At the time there wasn't an aftermarket intercooler kit upgrade for the car so he and our friend and now shop manager Tim Salefski decided to build a custom kit to sell on the market. And that's pretty much how we both got involved in the Mitsubishi camp.
Martin: Tim and I made an intercooler kit that managed to retain the factory bumper and reinforcements without having to hack or chop it up. As you know the VR-4 was a four-door sleeper with a factory turbocharged engine, which I thought was pretty cool. I made a custom down pipe, exhaust, and added a boost controller. With those simple mods I thought my DSM was the fastest sh*t in the world. From the factory, the VR-4 was rated around 200 hp or so and with the homemade bolt-on stuff and controller I was able to bring it up additional 60 to 70 hp. I managed to make some 13-second passes in it back in 2001. From that point on we focused out attention toward working on DSMs.
Arne: Martin didn't want to upgrade from the factory 14B to the larger 20G turbo's on the VR-4, because of the turbo lag so we took what we learned from the Merkur and bolted on a Garrett T3/4 hybrid using an adapter plate to the stock manifold. Back when the 20G was king we were one of the first to run a hybrid Garrett turbo in a Mitsubishi. The money we made selling the Mitsubishi products was dumped right back into the company, as we scraped up whatever funds we had and purchased welders and tooling machines. Martin was living with me at the time and paying little or no rent while I was working minimal hours at the tow yard. I don't know how we pulled it off but my wife and I managed to pay our mortgage while Martin and the guys spent day and night building and designing performance parts to sell. The first two years after opening the shop, we invested all the profits back into the company not even taking a paycheck. Every cent we made we put it back into the company and managed to keep on expanding.
Turbo: Did you guys have a dyno at the time?
Martin: The dyno; I had to get a home equity loan on my first house just to buy one. We didn't have one back then. March 2001 was when the company was incorporated. We didn't start working on customer cars till August of 2001. That's when we first opened our shop and moved out of my dad's shop. I'll admit I wasn't a mechanic at first but getting the shop going I had to be a mechanic, engineer, and sales rep. I told myself, "Hey, I can't do this with only Arne," so we hired three others. Over the years we've grown in staff to 32. At one point we had 23 employees in a 6,000-square-foot facility. We were ass to elbows in terms of workspace. At that point we decided if we wanted to grow we had to move out to a bigger place.
Turbo: What would you consider was a breakthrough year for AMS Performance?
Arne: It was 2004. The year after the Evo came out and we designed our first Evo VIII turbo kit. At the time we were one of the Top 3 fastest Evo 8s in the world, which was running mid 10-second quarter-mile times in full weight street trim.
Turbo: Was your goal to be the quickest in the world or did that just fall into place?
Martin: We wanted to be the quickest right from the get-go. We wanted to attack the car and make products for the Evo XIII to help improve its performance.
Turbo: Whom were you gunning for at the time? Who had records you were looking to smash?
Arne: Turbotrix Racing was one of the first to build an actual purpose-built Evo race car. Our car was a street car still at the time. We took out a loan to purchase this Evo VIII, and we couldn't bear to tear it apart and strip it down. They had the record at 9.7 seconds for a year and a half. We finally caught up and took the title in 2005.
Martin: We built the car and improved our times from 10-second to 9-second passes. I drove the car in its earlier stages when it was still hitting 140 to 142mph trap speeds, but I was so busy with product development for the shop that we decided to have one of our techs Eric Jones take over since he was a good driver. His first pass was in 2005 at Englishtown where he made the first 9-second pass in our car at 9.92 using Nitto drag radials.
Turbo: That was back in 2005. You guys currently hold the title of the quickest and most powerful Evo in the world. How much horsepower does the Evo VIII drag car lay down?
Martin: It lays down 1,130 whp as of recent with plans to extract another 100 hp or more but the transfer case has become a limiting factor with that much horsepower. The Shepherd-built factory five-speed transmission is still holding up nicely but the transfer case is a whole different story. We were also snapping rear ends, but we've seemed to resolve the problem using a different setup.
Arne: Seems like we were getting five to 10 launches and poof, there goes another $1,000 transfer case.
Martin: I'll never forget the carnage our Evo VIII experienced off the line at one event. We usually increment the boost on the car from 20 pounds in First gear, then program full boost through the rest of the gears. We happened to be prepping the car in the pits and for some reason we didn't adjust the boost, so Eric is sitting at the staging lights on the two-step and launches the Evo. The car immediately shot to 50 pounds of boost and launched so hard, spinning all four tires, that it tore apart everything. The diff, tranny, transfer case, carbon driveshaft-all went spitting out of the car. I saw sparks from the U-joints and the carbon driveshaft flying out from under the car. All I could think about at that second was "Sh*t! There goes 6 grand worth of damage to the car." It was like a grand for every 10 feet the car moved and it went 60 feet. (Both laughing) It was hilarious but painful to watch at the same time.
Turbo: Off the top of your head what was one of the proudest things your company accomplished?
Martin: Last year, we sold 250 intercooler kits for the Evo VIII. We must be doing something right.
Turbo: Did you accredit much of your success to the street racing scene?
Arne: As bad as it is to say, we made our name with street racing. Our mechanic at the time Adam Dubienczk owned a Galant VR-4 that pulled 11 seconds in the quarter-mile, with ski racks on top and all. The car eventually progressed into a high 10-second machine. We would all go out to the street races and find the biggest, baddest V-8 whether they were trailered or rolling on a set of slicks. Adam would spot the guy out with a couple car lengths, but that didn't matter because he'd always take that V-8 out. After retiring the Galant we would "campaign" my wife's 400whp Talon for street racing duty. Eventually, the car got too fast for her and was sold to Eric Gaudi, our sales manager. We built it into a 600-plus whp, mid 10-second car and, of course, we still claimed it as "my wife's car" at the street races. (Laughing). We were almost undefeated back in our street racing days so it helped build our reputation and create the AMS name in Chicago. Even today if you have a Mitsubishi with an AMS sticker on the window and go out to the illegals, I'll guarantee you won't get a race. Those were the good times before the whole The Fast and The Furious thing took over where kids started coming out with minivans and sh*t to the street races. Everyone was on the side of the road doing stupid stuff and the cops started cracking down. That was when we stopped and haven't gone to the street races for over four or five years. I believe its better to take the races to the track and have an official number where nationwide or worldwide spectators can witness how fast you are with some form of safety taking place.
Turbo: What are your thoughts on all these knockoff companies looking to cheat their way into making a buck or two off the AMS name? For example that $400 turbo kit on the Internet we were looking at earlier?
Martin: (Laughing) Junk? That's ridiculous. When we first started manufacturing products we found a company called XS Power using a photo of our actual intercooler and couplers. They used pictures of our actual product, but sold the consumers some crappy knockoff. It's disgusting because you put a lot of time and effort into designing a product that's proven to work. What pisses me off is that when a company and their products finally establishes themselves as reputable to the public, some knockoff company magically comes along and takes that same idea and builds on that cheaply. The quality suffers and the name becomes tarnished because consumers seemingly associate the knockoff product that's complete garbage to your company's name. The sad thing is that a lot of consumers in this market shop on price alone and purchase this crap.
Turbo: They basically buy into it.
Martin: Not only do they buy into it, but the sad part is it's more expensive because they end up buying the product twice because it doesn't perform as well and/or it breaks or falls apart.
Turbo: The hardheaded consumers will argue that the intercoolers are built exactly the same. Can you prove them wrong?
Arne: We took that fake one and tested it out on the dyno against our own AMS intercooler setup. We found Internet people complaining how we charge too much for an intercooler when the knockoff is nearly half the cost. They look the same, but on the dyno the knockoffs make no more power than a factory unit.
Martin: I think the knockoff stuff is still a big problem. We could try to sue them but overseas patent laws and variations to the products make them less applicable to lawsuits, preventing us from doing anything. If I can come face-to-face with these people I'd like to ask them, "Do you have a soul? How do you sleep at night?" We love doing what we're best at and that's building quality products. Fake blow-off valves and fake wastegates can leak and kill performance on cars like Evos, which use a MAF setup causing them to run erratic. My theory is: Buy what you need to get the job done but don't go cheap and skimp on quality. Our production costs are high because the quality is good. Good welders, good equipment-it comes down to only the best products we make and offer to our customers.
Turbo: Any future products we can look forward to from AMS Performance?
Arne: The Evo X products are a few of our projects in development with a few already on the market. I can't reveal too much at the moment, but we're in development of our 850R turbo that we've been working with Precision Turbo to release. It's another big thing our customers can look forward to. Camshafts for the 4G63 Evo VIII being released also offer some promising numbers. We plan to expand with a few more engineers and a racing division. We want to build a professional race program to build and race cars for our company as well as clients. It's automatically assumed that we have this unlimited funding going through all our cars, but the reality is the car was funded almost entirely by ourselves. We used our time attack Evo as our testbed to prototype and test products for endurance and durability. We did manage to surprise quite a few people at the racetracks. Some of our competition drives to a race with a Toterhome and Stacker trailer, while us AMS guys show up and bunk for the night sleeping in a cargo van on a bean ag with a 28-foot enclosed trailer. We are hoping that in the future our race program can actually catch up with the caliber of our race cars. (Laughing)