(Wall-o-text warning. But its worth it...I am also posting this on other forums to raise awareness.)
As shown in my signature, I had Karl build me a 383 back in June of 2016. Between him building the bottom-end, and Lloyd spec'ing the cam and heads - I knew this engine was going to be a screamer, and it is. However, that's not really what this post is about. Instead, its about the all-important 'customer service' that exists (or doesn't) on the back-end and how that sort of thing can make or break a business.
From day-1, Karl (and Lloyd) were endlessly patient with me and my myriad questions. This was a metric crapload of cash I was putting out, and I was probably more nervous than I should have been. As a result, I am sure I wore out their ears, and fingers via email, with my questions. Karl and I spoke on the phone for about an hour before the build even started and we went through what my options were for parts and machine work, what I wanted to do with the car, and what was realistic given my budget.
Now, it should be noted that I originally contracted Karl to build me a "budget LT1" 355 short block. Shortly after I put the money down, Karl emailed me and said "Hey Dan, I've got a 4-bolt 383 block in the corner, and some matching custom Ross forged 2618 pistons that I need to get rid of. How about a 383 for $0 more?"
Needless to say, I was f-ing thrilled. "Hell yes", I said, and the build was on. Fast forward a few weeks and I'd sent the heads, cam and intake to Karl for assembly. The engine arrived all buttoned-up, and I spent a day installing it. The time came to turn the key and the engine cranked right up with authority.
But sounded absolutely godawful
. "Klack klack klack klack" at idle that followed the RPMs all through the range. I immediately shut it down and emailed Karl. He alleviated my initial fears of the engine having detonated on start, and told me that he'd machined the block a bit bigger to give the pistons 5-thousandths clearance and that the 2618 alloy expands more and the pistons are short-skirt, so it'll make noise on cold start. I took his explanation as gospel and continued driving it. Over the next few days, the knock did get noticeably quieter, but it never did fully go away.
Another few calls and emails with Karl, along with some videos, and he said that while the piston slap was largely harmless,
"I should have let you know up front about that, and I am sorry."
"The noise will probably never fully go away because of the clearances and the alloy. If you decide you just can't live with it - let me know and we'll figure something out."
I continued to drive for a few weeks, and the noise continued to get better and better until it reached a plateau - where it continues to this day. The car sounds like a diesel bus in the morning, but once its warm, the noise is mostly gone - but never totally gone.
I decided that I couldn't deal with this on a street car, so I sucked up my gut and decided to tell Karl we had to figure something else out. Now, having dealt with stuff like this in the past with other vendors, I was prepared for the worst. I'd even gone as far as calling my attorney and getting advice on the front-end should his services be needed.
My email went something like this:
"Hey Karl. Dan here. Its been a month or so and while the noise has gotten better, its still there. I don't think I can deal with it and I am worried that a klacking engine - even if its harmless - would hurt resale. You said 'we'd figure something out' and I'd like to start down that road. What do you suggest?"
Now, at this point, I wouldn't have been surprised if he said that I was SOL since I'd driven it a good bit. OR, that I was SOL on a 383 - but he'd build me a 355 since that's what I paid for, that he'd build me a 383 but with lower-end parts, that we'd split the costs, or some combination of all of the above.
"Hey Dan. That's understandable. I will build you another shortblock - no charge. I'll ship it to you and you swap it out and send me back that one.
A free, no hassle replacement all-forged 383 shortblock - no questions asked.
He later explained to me that since this one was a replacement, he'd have to get his other builds out the door first and that this would take a couple / few months. He assured me that provided I didn't blow-up the engine he'd already sent me, I'd be good to go. So I settled in and just drove the snot out of the car. As the weeks ticked by, we kept in touch with each other and he'd had some personal issues pop up, and then he had an issue with the first block having an inclusion after the bore - which is viewable on my build page.
Then he had to source another good block and have it machined. This all took time, but I had Karl's word that he'd continue to honor the agreement.
By the time it was all said and done (and since I'd been such a patient fellow) he had the block machined for some top-of-the-line Mildon main-caps and installed them - again for $0. I just got notice yesterday that the engine was being finished up and will be shipped out today.
So let's recap:
- I paid for a budget 355. He provided me an all-forged 383. (Now, it should be stated that the situation in which this was offered was a nigh-impossible alignment of conditions that I just happened to be the beneficiary of. He had parts on the shelf, and he needed the space. Do NOT expect this if you have him build your engine...)
- The 383 he built was, and continues to be, a monster and runs perfectly, I just couldn't deal with the piston slap from the forged pistons and the block being machined for a little spray.
- He offers to replace my 383 with another all-forged 383 for $0 - I just have to wait for it. (Only the cost of shipping, and even then - only one-way)
- At this point, I've got a fair amount of miles on the engine he originally built me - and he's still honoring the $0 replacement.
- Since it took longer than expected, he upgraded me to Mildon caps for $0
The entire time, he continued to have the patience of Job in dealing with me. I had a lot of questions about other things (compression ratio, possibility of a new cam, what gaskets to use, what other parts I may want to upgrade since we're starting over, etc.) He never wavered in his demeanor and the eagerness in which he got back to me.
In short, I simply have never encountered this level of exceptional customer service from anyone when it comes to a high-perf engine. Its borderline unbelievable.
Yes, Karl's engines are more expensive than Golen, and loads more than ATK. But in the end - I highly doubt you'd come anywhere close to this level of service on the back end.
Ellwein Engines is truly dedicated to ensuring YOUR standards are met and that you are happy with your build. If you are in need of an LT1, do not bother with anyone else. Spend the extra cash and get the engine from Karl.
Thanks Karl. I can't say it enough - you and your shop are flat-out the best engine builder I have ever encountered. (And Lloyd - you're equally awesome to deal with!)