Let's talk about Karl Ellwein and his engines... - Chevy Impala SS Forum
LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
post #1 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-14-2017, 08:34 AM Thread Starter
Senior Member
Join Date: Oct 2011
Location: Atlanta
Posts: 481
Exclamation Let's talk about Karl Ellwein and his engines...

(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." he said.
"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.

His reply:
"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!)

1995 Caprice ERE 383, CIA long tubes, Dynomax VT's, RAISS, Kore3/Z06 brakes, 3.42 posi, Boss 338 20's, 12 way seats, Impala SS console, etc etc etc

Last edited by atlantadan; 04-14-2017 at 10:25 AM.
atlantadan is online now  
Sponsored Links
post #2 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-14-2017, 10:06 AM
Senior Member
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: St. Louis
Posts: 6,258
In 1,356 Words Or Less

Your high regard also shows in the spellcheck, grammar proofing and correct punctuation. ;-) But, captured here in one post sounds pretty much what I've picked up 3rd hand over many years here regarding this bloke.

Finding Good Builder = Fortunate
Finding Great Builder = Lucky
Finding Great Builder With Unbroken Performance and Service Record = Priceless

\'96SS SOB: SSRI, Herter Tune, Tri-Y II, SLP SS, 3000 Edge, F/HO bars, METCO extendeds and CV MMC, Bilsteins, currently Vredestein Ultrac Sessanta (315/35 rear)
\'96FWB BUW-Butt Ugly White: SS Bars, METCO LCAs, Koni Reds, PowerTrax No-Slip
96 Black is offline  
post #3 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-14-2017, 10:33 AM
Senior Member
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: Arizona
Posts: 559
Send a message via AIM to FaSSt9602
Yea, that Karl...he's a real A-hole!

He's was always a major leader in the Impala community long before he started ERE. Always a great guy to bounce things off of, and a ton of knowledge behind him. When I started reading your post I was already on defense for Karl. People tend to only spend the time on a post like this when things go bad, and in many cases, it's the end user that is the bigger issue.

1996 DGGM Impala SS
Project Resurrection 396 in the works!
FaSSt9602 is offline  
post #4 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-14-2017, 01:38 PM
Senior Member
secretasianman's Avatar
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Maryland
Posts: 202
For some reason when I first started reading I thought this was a post where you going to complain about Karl. He has always had great customer service. Glad you were able to work out your problem.


1996 Impala SS
2003 Cadillac Escalade
2005 Audi A6
2006 Grand Cherokee SRT8
secretasianman is offline  
post #5 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-14-2017, 05:39 PM
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Posts: 68
So sounds like when I am ready to build a monster Karl is the go to guy?

Does he also do LSX engines as well? I am looking at building a couple of engines in about 5 years. One for my 9C1 and one for my Truck. My 9C1 has a low mileage LT1 currently sitting in it in storage (< 80k miles). My truck has a 5.3 Vortec with 270k miles (Just put rebuilt heads on it to replace cracked ones) I expect to build my 9C1 into somewhat of a monster for summer driving and my truck into an off road monster.

Thanks for your Review...

rodney is offline  
post #6 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-14-2017, 06:26 PM
Senior Member
ocala's Avatar
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Ocala, FL
Posts: 2,039
Congrats on your engine!

I can't resist posting this up.

Karl built an engine for me, and I couldn't be happier with every possible aspect of his work.

I went with the 4032 alloy pistons for exactly the reasons described by the OP.

The engine is in the car, but I still have some buttoning up to do and oil system plumbing before I can start it.

I'm expecting to be very happy!


95 DGGM 396 Stroker, Eagle crank & rods, LT4 heads, LT4 intake, LT4 hot cam, Finish Line long tube headers, 2 1/2" exhaust, Big Baer brakes, 3.73 rear, Hotchkis lowering springs, Front and rear Hotchkis Sway bars, aluminum driveshaft, Metco aluminum boxed trailing arms, K&N, Gary's Cables, 42# Green Giants, T84's,T56 Magnum
ocala is offline  
post #7 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-15-2017, 09:17 PM
Senior Member
ProTools4's Avatar
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: SoCal, USA
Posts: 4,497
Send a message via AIM to ProTools4
I have personaly dyno tuned and driven several ERE motors

They are the real deal.
They stand tall above the norm.
ERE delivers!

NotoriouSS Tad
96' ImpalaSS - Johhny 5 - 7.9 @ 89.07 1.734 - sshhhhh......
96' 9C1 - POS / surf sedan / Beater - traps 103MPH / 30+MPG freeway~
73' Top Secret Bad Ideas Gone Wild
67' El Camino - Rosie - 7.9 @ 86.5 1.77 60' on a street tire NA
15' Cruze 2.0L TD <-- hate it <--
ProTools4 is offline  
post #8 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-16-2017, 06:52 AM
Senior Member
Toms9C1's Avatar
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: Maine
Posts: 2,281
This is why I will go to Karl when the time comes !

ISSCA Member #2540
95 B4U: LT4 LE Cam 1.6 RR Eibachs 17" SS Whls K&N XPypes Mech fan delete+Gary's wiring harness RM Lthr seats Imp SS Rear Disc Eaton Posi Motive 3:73's Moser Axles Stainless brake lines NEW 4L60E/Dacco 2000
94 9C1: Eaton Posi 3:73's XPypes Stainless Brake lines
95 L99 DCM: SS Clone Vogtland springs Monroe SS shocks XPypes Front end overhaul w/Alum bushings
96 RMW Woody Black / Red guts
96 RMS

Toms9C1 is offline  
post #9 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-17-2017, 09:59 PM
Senior Member
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Carbondale, IL
Posts: 317
Karl sounds like a top notch guy. I'm curious though--what's a budget 355 rebuild typically cost?

--'94 Caprice "SS" wagon, NO LONGER FOR SALE!
--'96 Roadmaster wagon, SOLD!
--'04 Mustang Cobra, '08 BMW M5
--1125R, 1050, VMax, VFR800, DRZ-400E
TheFleshRocket is online now  
post #10 of 13 (permalink) Old 04-18-2017, 08:06 AM
Senior Member
ocala's Avatar
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Ocala, FL
Posts: 2,039
Originally Posted by TheFleshRocket View Post
Karl sounds like a top notch guy. I'm curious though--what's a budget 355 rebuild typically cost?


$1500 plus parts and machine work.

Click image for larger version

Name:	ImageUploadedByAutoGuide1492520649.915456.jpg
Views:	23
Size:	82.1 KB
ID:	157825

95 DGGM 396 Stroker, Eagle crank & rods, LT4 heads, LT4 intake, LT4 hot cam, Finish Line long tube headers, 2 1/2" exhaust, Big Baer brakes, 3.73 rear, Hotchkis lowering springs, Front and rear Hotchkis Sway bars, aluminum driveshaft, Metco aluminum boxed trailing arms, K&N, Gary's Cables, 42# Green Giants, T84's,T56 Magnum
ocala is offline  
Sponsored Links

Quick Reply

Register Now

In order to be able to post messages on the Chevy Impala SS Forum forums, you must first register.
Please enter your desired user name, your email address and other required details in the form below.

User Name:
Please enter a password for your user account. Note that passwords are case-sensitive.


Confirm Password:
Email Address
Please enter a valid email address for yourself.

Email Address:


Human Verification

In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.

Thread Tools
Show Printable Version Show Printable Version
Email this Page Email this Page
Display Modes
Linear Mode Linear Mode

Posting Rules  
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are On

For the best viewing experience please update your browser to Google Chrome