EMPI’s new owner enjoys next ‘restoration wave’
Anaheim, Calif.—Air-cooled Volkswagens have long-enjoyed a vibrant automotive aftermarket, and for good reason. There were a lot of them to keep running, with more than 21 and a half million of just one model, the iconic Beetle, sold around the world from its first production in 1949 to the final one rolling off the assembly line in certain countries, including Mexico, in 2003. It enjoyed more than a quarter century of export to the United States, with the final “old” Beetle, a convertible, coming off the boat in 1980.
The EMPI of today traces its roots to the original Engineered Motor Products Inc. (EMPI) company, founded by Volkswagen dealer Joe Vittone in Riverside, Calif., in 1956, to provide replacement valve guides for air-cooled cylinder heads--a part that was not available through Volkswagen and meant only a new head was available--and which quickly became a VW-performance pioneer.
Building on that innovation foundation, EMPI again grew after its 1973 purchase by Mr. BUG, followed by the acquisition of other Volkswagen-specialist companies Bugpack, Treuhaft, Auto-Haus. It now distributes to its wholesale accounts, which include other distributors, jobbers, and installers, about any part an enthusiast of air-cooled Volkswagen can think of, including five pages in the catalog of a wide selection of cylinder heads, from stock-type to big-valve, competition-oriented CNC-ported pieces.
And with the recent acquisition of the company by private equity firm Dubin Clark, the company is growing its product-offering portfolio, said Marketing Manager Ron Kong.
Although its “bread and butter” remains air-cooled Volkswagen parts, “EMPI will begin offering parts for water-cooled VW, Porsche, and potentially other German-made vehicles,” Kong said. “In addition, we will place a greater emphasis on both quality and performance. You’ll see more branded and speed parts and a redoubled commitment to incredible customer service.”
Describing an aftermarket that is “bigger than for 1969 Camaros,” Kong said the iconic Beetle, along with its relatives, the Type II Transporter; Karmann Ghia; Thing; and Type III, in Fastback, Squareback, and Station Wagon Type variants, are “in the midst of the next restoration wave.”
“What seems to be different about this wave is that fewer of the owners are DIYers, and they have greater disposable income than any prior wave. These buyers are spending money for quality parts, correct parts, and parts to go fast.”
The recently completed 2018 catalog offers more than 5,000 SKUs for “bumper to bumper, from engine cases to interior parts. Our customer may supply end-user demand one item at a time or in large restoration orders.”
The 606-page catalog can be downloaded at EMPI’s website, www.empius.com, which at press time is expected to be updated at the time of this article’s publication. It will be enhanced to provide easier, more detailed part searches, product reviews, installation videos and a dealer locator, as EMPI sells only to sellers with an established account, not to the end-user.
More than 400 other Volkswagen parts have been released, including a high-torque gear reduction starter from Wosp for six-volt Type I (Beetle) applications, for engines up to 11:1 compression; a “banjo” vintage-style steering wheel; a Porsche 356 front disc brake conversion kit; Rebel and Corsa wheels; the “40K”-series carburetors in singles and kit systems; competition-oriented EMPI GTV2 DRD-design cylinder heads, cast with extra material to allow them to be offered with extensive porting; and the retro-style EMPI cast-steel distributors, available in points or electronic ignition.
Product improvements in EMPI’s adjacent driveline business include 100 new CV boots and rack-and-pinion bellows for late-model applications “from A to Z” and are “made of high-quality Neoprene, put through rigorous testing to ensure performance and reliability,” Kong said. “Through our research and development department, EMPI produces a high quality product to fit to exact or better than OEM specifications and standards: better design, material, or both. As an industry leader, we are continuously researching, testing and prospecting new product to bring to market. Depending on customer feedback, we may develop value-priced options for some products, as well.
“A number of other projects are currently in various stages of development for release throughout 2019. We will soon introduce a line of EMPI-exclusive Wiseco pistons. These join a host of other premium products introduced in the second half of 2018. We are also partnering with several leaders in our industry to jointly develop new EMPI-brand performance products to introduce this year.”