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I just heard on another site that Joe Vittone, founder of the original EMPI has passed away at age 86. :'(

RIP, Joe, you did a world of good for the VW world and then some!
 

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Words fail to convey how Joe will be trully missed. His grit and determination coupled with inspiration and the talent to surround himself with equally talented individuals, made VW performance and sport as much of an icon as himself..Godspeed. Joe The world will surely miss you.
 

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If it wasn't for Joe would we all still be here on UAC?

Would there even be a UAC?

Probably not!

Joe, Godspeed!!

Thank you for all that you have left us!
 

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I'm bawling so hard right now please forgive me any spelling or grammar errors.
I didn't know Joe for a long time, like some of you did, but I knew him, I could share so many memroies I would use up every inch of bandwidth this place has.
Getting him out to Kelley Park, after a close to 35 year hiatus from the VW thing..
Having him and his wife, Helen, out to the FL Bug Jam, where he sat with Richard Guarino, and signed autographs, EMPI GTV steering wheels, and just generally was a true class act, to all of his fans.
The magical night before the Fontana Bug-In, when he was there with Richard, Tom Leib of SCAT, Bob Tomlinson of CB Performance, the Schley Brothers, Fumio Fukaya, and dozens of others from the bygone era of VW High Performance.
The night I spent with Joe and Helen at his home in Ocala, FL, eating a fantastic home-cooked dinner.
Getting my GTV wheel signed, and receiving a set of EMPI cuff links from Joe personally.
As I have said on some other forums, it's like losing my Father, all over again.
It really REALLY hurts.
I LOVE YOU, GUISEPPE VITTONE.
If Helen, or Darrel, or Michael Peter, happen to read this, I am only an e-mail away.
[email protected]

Dave Cormack
 

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Even though I'm from a little island in the caribean, it hearts. My condolences to Joe's familly for their loss. He ment a difference to us in the vw world
 

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This is a sad day. My regards go out to Darrell and the rest of the family. In my mind Joe wasn't just one of the many pioneers of our industry, he was the pioneer! Like I said----a sad day.
 

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Thats sad news to hear . He is probly there bsing with other late VW gurus now. I hope they can watch races up there from all over the world . RIP
 

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Thought this would be cool to read to remember his wonderful life.

VW Trends Interview
20 Questions with Joe Vittone

March, 2009
Photography by Glenn Miller

As most of you know, Joe Vittone was a founding father of the VW high-performance industry. He founded European (later to be called Engineered) Motor Products, Inc. in Riverside, Calif. in 1956, making replaceable valve guides for the 36hp VW head. At the time, if a head needed new valve guides, VW would scrap the old head and install a new one. From these humble beginnings, a dynasty was born--that of EMPI. Vittone is still very active. He built and currently flys a Velocity XL RG aircraft, with a Lycoming IO 540, 300hp engine, and enjoys flying it. VW Trends was fortunate enough to catch up with this very busy, special man for a session of 20 questions:

VWT: What was your first car?

JV: The car that I really feel was my own first car, was a 1932 Ford, Model "B" four-cylinder Victoria. I always loved cars, and it was possible when I was a kid, to buy an old car that didn't need much work, fix it up and sell it for a little profit. I had a lot of old cars, I remember one car, a DeSoto; it was a roadster. Oh, what a beautiful car it was ! But it was a little heavy.

VWT: Were you in any car clubs?

JV: I belonged to the "Outriders" car club, in Los Angeles. I was so young at the time, though, that my parents wouldn't let me go to all the meets. Once in a while, we would get up to El Mirage Dry Lake, not as often as I would have liked to have gone, though. But it got me involved with a lot of people, like Eddie Meyer. It got me interested in engines and what people could do with them. I made friends with Vic Edelbrock, Roy Richter and Ed Iskenderian. Cliff Collins and I were very good friends. Cliff had a company called Harmon-Collins that made an excellent ignition system for flathead Fords.

VWT: What made you decide to go into VWs?

JV: I had a motorcycle shop in Stockton and sold interesting motorcycles like Royal Enfields, Douglas, Zundapps and Ariels. In doing this motorcycle business, I was fortunate to work with some very skilled mechanics. Through them, I not only learned how to make the engines go faster, but also to last longer. It's one thing to build something that goes fast, but only goes for a short time; you don't keep too many customers that way. At that time, a guy came to see me; it was 1952, with a funny-looking little car; it was the Volkswagen Beetle, which I was already familiar with, because I read all the car magazines of that time, even back then so I knew about the Volkswagen and it being "Hitler's car." The guy wanted me to be a dealer. I had to buy two cars and an enormous amount of spare parts inventory. You wouldn't believe the parts package that was involved with becoming a dealer! I told the guy that I thought the cars were pretty good, but if they were that good, why did I need all those extra parts? It didn't make sense, you know? I turned that guy down and referred the guy to a friend of mine, who took the dealership offer. In one year, that guy had sold only one car. Seeing that, I thought my decision not to become a dealer was all right. The next year, I think the dealership sold two or three cars. In 1954, they began to sell a little better and, at that time, I bought one. I tried to break that car and it wouldn't break! I put a couple of Amal motorcycle carburetors on it; I made a couple of manifolds and, of course, that increased the performance of the car quite a bit. I took the engine all apart and it looked to me to be a pretty strong little car, you know?
At that time, I decided that I would apply for a Volkswagen dealership, which I did and I was offered my choice of a whole bunch of locations, one right where I lived in Stockton, but I didn't want to take that one, because it would have meant taking it away from my friend, Jack Thornton, who had the dealership there.

They offered me about five different dealership locations in Southern California and I chose Riverside, because it had a racetrack there; a dirt track. So that's what made me decide to go into VWs. Of course, I didn't have any money, but I rented an old building, that used to be an old Hudson dealership. The distributor at that time was John Von Neumann and he liked motorcycles and because of that, I got the VW dealership.

VWT: What made you decide to race VWs? Did you originally intend to become involved in drag racing a VW or was that the influence of Dean Lowry?

JV: Well, that was normal for me. I would race anything on wheels. VW looked like a natural to me. I mean, it had the advantage of not having to worry about getting the weight onto the rear end for traction and an engine that was similar to a motorcycle, and it didn't look very hard to me to get some extra horsepower out of that engine. So, I had this VW dealership, and I hired Dean Lowry to work at the dealership.

He was a real nice guy, extremely knowledgeable and he was into drag racing Chryslers at the time, as I recall. I had been into drag racing motorcycles for a long time. Instead of racing stuff with large cubic inches, I always ran motorcycles with small engine displacements and made them go as fast as I could.

VWT: When did you start racing VWs?

JV: It must have been around 1957. I'm guessing now, but that should be about right. I was working on VWs, that still had the 36 hp engines, I got some help from my friend Cliff Collins and we changed the crankshaft. I believe we enlarged the displacement, but not very much, as there were no "big bore" kits around at that time. I believe we used a Porsche crank. To the best of my recollection, that car ran 91 mph the first time we ran it and that was encouraging. VW had a lot of problems back then. It wasn't common knowledge, but it was not unusual for a guy to come driving into my dealership with a broken crankshaft (they would still run with a broken crank). I would never tell the customer that it had a broken crankshaft. We would change the crank under warranty, but never tell the customer what the problem had been. Then, working with Cliff Collins, we drew a design for a new crankshaft, that corrected some of the faults of the original VW crank.

I tried to have the crank forged in the United States, but the forging companies here wanted more money than I could afford, to do it. So I flew to Germany and I talked to the Porsche factory there (I was also a Porsche dealer), made friends with the folks in the parts department and they told me who all of their suppliers were. I went to the manufacturer who made the cranks for Porsche and they made cranks for me. That started the crankshaft business.

At that time, I had no intention of starting a business. All I wanted to do was to help the Volkswagen factory get more of the youth market and the factory didn't seem to care one way or the other. I was very disheartened. Another thing I noticed was that the valve guides on the VW engines deteriorated very rapidly. It seemed like at about 20 or 25,000 miles, you would need a valve job and Volkswagen said you have to buy new cylinder heads. I thought "This is crazy! I can replace these guides and I can make them out of better material!"

It was always our intent to try and help the factory. We tried to sell these guides to the factory. They were not interested and they also said that if I persisted in this type of activity, I might find myself without a franchise to sell VWs! Well, I went ahead and did it anyway. I kept trying to work with them, but they were just so hard-headed I couldn't do anything with them. At Economotors, we offered the customers a choice of the normal 1131cc motor or the 1300cc with the EMPI crank for only $200 more. That really got me a lot of heat from the factory, but EMPI cranks didn't break.

VWT: What made you decide to start EMPI?

JV: I had ordered some stuff from an accessory outfit back East and when the parts got here, the quality was atrocious! I mean it was really junk. I called the place and asked about what kind of guarantee they had and the guy told me "if it breaks into two pieces, you own both parts." I thought, "Well, this guy really needs some competition!" Right there, that day, EMPI was born. I decided that we would have parts too, but in my opinion, it didn't just have to be as good as the factory part; it had to be better. The only thing I preached was quality, quality, quality. We got the best materials and we tried to improve upon the factory parts in every way. We went to all the best manufacturers, got acquainted with them and as you know, we had a lot of pretty nice products.

VWT: What is your most memorable race with the Inch Pincher?

JV: I would say that it was the race in Long Beach, Calif., Darrell was driving the Inch Pincher and Darrell won by beating a pretty fast Corvette. See, at that time, it wasn't common for Volkswagens to go that fast.

VWT: What is your proudest moment?

JV: I took my Dune Buggy (the EMPI Imp -ed.) to the Frankfurt Auto show and the Chancellor of Germany, Konrad Adenauer, sat in it along with Carl Hahn. We took pictures of everyone sitting in the car and then Dr. Hahn said that they would like to buy the car and put it in their museum in Wolfsburg. They did and the car is there today.


The EMPI Story
http://beetle.cabriolets.online.fr/gallery/kseume/empi.html
 

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. . . . and here is Part 2.

20 Questions with Joe Vittone
The Father Of EMPI Part Two

As most of you know, Joe Vittone was a founding father of the VW high-performance industry. He founded European (later to be called Engineered) Motor Products, Inc. in Riverside, Calif. in 1956, making replaceable valve guides for the 36hp VW head. At the time, if a head needed new valve guides, VW would scrap the old head and install a new one. From these humble beginnings, a dynasty was born--that of EMPI. Vittone is still very active. He built and currently flys a Velocity XL RG aircraft, with a Lycoming IO 540, 300hp engine, and enjoys flying it. VW Trends was fortunate enough to catch up with this very busy, special man for a session of 20 questions, continued from our 25th Anniversary Issue:

VW Trends: How do you feel about today's VW industry as a whole ?
Joe Vittone: I think they really have a winner in Ferdinand Piech. I think he is one of the best automobile people in the world, no doubt about it. I think VW makes good cars, good quality, just super. Great company!


VWT:
Who would you say was your biggest influence in the VW industry?
JV: I would say that I had a lot of negative influence from VW when I was a dealer. I think they had a good car, but the management at the time just missed the boat.


VWT: Where did you go to school?
JV: I went to a lot of different schools, because my parents moved a lot. My dad bought and sold farms, and he had a couple of different manufacturing companies; he did upholstery work and many other things. I went to a school, at one time, where Grades 1 through 8 were all in one room. I went to school at Montana State College in Bozeman, Mo. [now Montana State University--ed.], and I went to the College of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., and to UCLA in Westwood, Calif.


VWT: Did you know, or have any idea, when you made replaceable valve guide for the 36hp VW head that it would turn into EMPI?
JV: No, my intent was always to try and help the VW factory.


VWT: If you could do something differently, what would it be and why?
JV: I'm not very good at looking back, I always look forward and I wouldn't change anything.


VWT: How many GTV Beetles did EMPI/ Economotors assemble themselves? Quite a few, or only a handful?
JV: What we did was this: EMPI would manufacture the kits, and we would ship the kits to dealers around the United States and the dealerships would put the car together. My own dealership, Economotors, did about a hundred cars. I don't recall the numbers that other dealers did, but none of them did nearly that many. Some of the dealers did a dozen or 20 or so, but that was it. The dealers would get threatened with the loss of their franchise if they had an EMPI car on the showroom floor.


VWT: Did customers ever complain about the BRM magnesium wheels, that they needed polishing too often to stay shiny?
JV: They complained quite a bit. I told the customers that they had a choice--that they could either polish them and then clear coat them or just let them fade to their normal color. Either way, it wasn't too bad. We designed that wheel in Riverside and sent the plans to England to get bids on manufacturing them. This one company, that had a subsidiary called BRM, which raced the old Formula 1 cars, came up with what I thought was a very nice product, and the wheel was made out of magnesium. [Veteran racecar driver] Graham Hill was a driver for this company, and I got to be friends with Graham. Nobody else was making wheels out of magnesium. I wanted to lower the unsprung weight of the car and get the best quality possible, so I made a deal with them and they also agreed to let me use their name on the wheels. That's why they were called BRMs. BRM had nothing to do with us whatsoever. Speedwell was Graham Hill's company and my distributor in Europe.


VWT: The EMPI catalogs were unmatched in quality and detail. What made you decide to invest so much into a parts catalog?
JV: I always felt that we had quality, and I wanted to convey to our customers that EMPI was quality. Quality, quality, quality! Not equal to OEM, but better. We used to say that EMPI equals: EMPI Means Product Integrity. I wanted the catalog to convey this, and in order to do that, we had to spend quite a bit of money; which we did. I printed that catalog in-house and we had our own in-house advertising agency; we had a pr person. My EMPI crew worked together, very, very closely. I was always on the lookout for the best people and I feel that I got them. You know, some real winners.


VWT: Any humorous anecdotes from the early EMPI days?
JV: I was going to the Paris Auto Show, so I ordered a Beetle from Wolfsburg and shipped an EMPI engine over and we switched engines. I was driving it and the engine was good for, oh, around 130-135hp, so the Beetle would really perform. I didn't change anything on the exterior; the only thing else I did was put sway bars on it. I had a ball driving it around Europe; I think I drove it maybe 4000 miles, drag racing from stop signs and blowing people away on the Autobahn. I went to the Paris Auto show and had an invitation to drive on the old Montlhery Race track. Anyway, a guy there from Renault--a pr person for them--asked me where I was staying, and I told him, "Gosh, I don't have a room yet," and he said it was very hard to get a room in Paris. He had his secretaries call and they got me a hotel room. He was explaining to me how to get there and I told him that I'd get lost, so he volunteered to show me the way. He had this Renault Gordini [Renault Gordinis were quite a nimble, quick car, and in stock trim would easily beat a stock VW--ed.] and said "just follow me." He asked me about my car and I said it was one that I picked up at the factory and he didn't give it a second look. So, we started going. He was driving faster and faster, wilder and wilder, over sidewalks and everything, I mean he was just going wild! My VW was right next to him all the time. Well, when we got to the hotel, I never said a word. He was surprised and said, "did you have any trouble following me?" and I said "no;" I was just very nonchalant about the whole thing. He came over and wanted to look at the motor on the VW, but there was a lock on it, so he couldn't open it. Boy, he was really shaking his head! I never did tell him.

VWT: Of all the races that the Inch Pincher was in, which car did you like beating the best? VWs or domestic cars?
JV: Well, the domestic cars, sure ! The big Detroit iron.


VWT: Now that you are pretty much removed from it, do you ever miss the VW scene?
JV: Well, I keep pretty close to what's going on. I'm involved in all kinds of different activities that keeps me travelling around. I follow CART racing very closely and Formula 1 racing, and with Darrell being involved in the business [Darrell, Joe's son, runs Techtonics, a very respected VW speed/tuning shop, in Sheridan, Ore.--ed.], so I keep pretty much informed on what's going on through him.


VWT: What would you like to tell our readers about Joe Vittone that they may not know?
JV: I always felt that quality was important, and instead of trying to make the most money possible, I was trying to do the best I could and make the best product. The slogan was: "Service is our keyword"...And never look back because, "Everything is from now."


VW Trends: Oh, Joe, one last quick question: What's your favorite VW Magazine?
Mr. Joseph Vittone: Well, there's only one, isn't there? VW Trends!
 
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