Revival is survival: Ivey Engines

Images by Steve Nickless

Revival is survival: Ivey Engines

Vintage Motorsport / Historic

Revival is survival: Ivey Engines

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In the ’90s, another Kent FF engine guru, the late Jake Lamont, successfully persuaded the SCCA to accept aftermarket engine components — with the stipulation that there be no performance advantage. Ivey was front and center in those and subsequent discussions with the SCCA, beginning his own “quest” for quality aftermarket parts.

In no particular order, Ivey Engines direct involvement and constant communication with the SCCA staff and comp board has resulted in:

  • Crankshafts, now manufactured by SCAT — development funded by the SCCA in 2001 and now marketed exclusively through them;
  • Pistons, now made by CP in Southern California, approved in 2005 — Ivey funded development;
  • Connecting rods, now made by SCAT — Ivey funded development (and makes available the jig for the 50-60 thousandths machining needed to clear the cams);
  • Lifters — Ivey bought out the complete remaining inventory from the Stanodyne Lifter Co. when Federal Mogul quit making chilled iron lifters;
  • Valve springs — Ivey found a supplier and purchased in ridiculous minimum quantity (5,000!)
  • Valves — Ivey funded
  • Aluminum cylinder heads, designed by Pearce Manifolds (the company acquired by Ivey in 2018 when Pearce decided to scale back), approved in 2001 (first appearing at the Runoffs in 2001) and now manufactured by PBS and Ivey.
  • Blocks, upgraded and now manufactured again by Ford (more about this below).
  • Over the last 30 years, Ivey has invited other engine builders to participate in and help fund development of these key parts, but to date he’s had no takers.

Back to the late 1980s: With 1600 parts hard to come by and FF fields in the U.S. slowly shrinking, Ivey Engines expanded into the 2-liter market. A strong engine for midwest FF2000 driver Thomas Knapp led to the opportunity to build an engine for Tom’s brother Steve’s successful factory Lola Sports 2000 team, which led in turn to Knapp’s entrant Carl Haas and, soon, a very profitable engine supply deal with Lola’s dominant U.S. importer.

Empringham and Ivey Formula Atlantic Toyota engines was, for a time, a nearly unbeatable combination.

Ivey’s 2-liter engines were a huge hit, bringing him his first Runoffs win in 1989 courtesy of Jay Hill, while his engines had dominated the ’89 SISAPA Records S2 series, claiming every pole, fast lap, victory and the championship via John Fergus, the titlist in both ’88 and ’89.

As well, Ivey was pulled by another customer into the Formula Atlantic market, developing a skill with the Toyota 4AGE that earned his engines both acclaim and the ’93 Atlantic title courtesy the brilliant David Empringham.

Though Kent Ford sales were dwindling, he saw light at the end of the 1990s tunnel. With sales rocking and his company almost literally being forced out of the Gresham shop by noise complaints from the neighbors, Ivey took advice he’d received from East Coast FF engine tuner Joe Stimola to “no matter what, own your own building.” With guidance from friends like Howard Groff and Monte Shelton, Ivey Engines went in deep on land and a new building in Portland, close to home in Fairview as well as both Portland Airport and Raceway.

His timing could not have been worse, as it turned out.

An engine deal with Oldsmobile forever changed Pro Sports 2000, while the rules changed to allow fuel injection in Formula Atlantic and all the tuning business went to another engine builder — disastrous double hits for Ivey even as his new building was being fitted out.

How bad was it? In 1989, Ivey turned out 257 engines; in 1990, just 60.

The new building was finished in May 1990 but, with rapidly declining sales, the bank would not give Ivey the capital needed to finishing outfitting it.

“I’m so f–ked with this building,” Jay remembers thinking. And how close a thing it was with 2-liter Ford and Toyota Atlantic sales drying up overnight and FF1600 beginning its own death march through the 1990s, the bright spots few and far between in that decade.

In 1989, though, at the 20th Anniversary Formula Ford celebration at Willow Springs, Ivey, journalist Jeremy Shaw and SportsCar publisher Paul Pfanner hatched a plan that would become Shaw’s Team USA Scholarship, which every year since 1990 has sent one or two Americans to England to do battle against the rest of the world — most recently at the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch and Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone.

The first Team USA scholar, Jimmy Vasser, an ultra-successful Ivey FF2000 customer.

The first Team USA scholar was Jimmy Vasser, a talented young Californian who Ivey had helped in the Export A FF2000 series. There are no “special engines” coming from Jay’s shop, but over the years there have been “special drivers” Ivey has gone way above and beyond the call to assist.

Vasser was the first, but not the last; in the ’90s, Ivey developed a special relationship with Greg Moore and his father, Ric. He was devastated by the young Canadian’s fatal accident in the IndyCar race at California Speedway in October 1999, closing out “one of the toughest 10 years I’ve ever had,” Ivey remembers.

With help from friends like the Knapps, Rick Galles and many others, the business survived to see Y2K. Though volume was down to a trickle, Ivey’s Kent FF engines continued to collect SCCA National wins and would claim two more SCCA National Championships in the ’00s courtesy of Kyle Krisiloff (2001) and Scott Rarick (2004).

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