There is a common expression that "One should never
meet their heroes". The idea being that nothing can live up to the hype in your mind about the entity you appreciate. In the case of Supersprint, I have been a fan of their products and mentality of honesty for years, a fact which many of you are familiar with. While visiting Italy last week, I was fortunate enough to get a private tour of the facilities from a contact I made over the last few years. I came in with huge expectations, and frankly, left floored.
Never meet your heroes? Bullshit.
*Disclaimer* Photos were being snapped quickly as I moved throughout the facility. As a result, they are not studio quality work. This will also be a long thread. You have been warned.
For starters, Italy is a wonderful country. The drivers understand where they should be relative to their speed, no one gets angry about passing, and outside of a few speed cameras (all of which are very clearly marked), you are free to drive as you wish. Supersprint is located in more northern Italy, so the roads are rather wonderful. This was the satellite view of the B&B where I spent the night prior to my visit. More on this later...
From the front gates you get the impression it is a rather small facility, oh how wrong that assumption is.
Research and Development:
First stop was the R&D facility. This is where they bring in fitment cars for the initial mock up, dyno test the prototype products, and design the jigs for future production (faces blanked out in all photos). Sadly, I forgot to snag a photo of the dyno, but it is an impressive unit. 4WD capable that measures both crank and wheel HP (using engine rundown to calculate drivetrain loss), with sensors for exhaust pressure, exhaust temp, fan setups for front and rear engines, water sprayers for FI intercoolers, and so on and so forth. Extremely impressive unit.
F30 335i currently being mocked up. As they discovered that it shares the same floor pan as the F8x M3, they were able to run a true dual pipe setup instead of the stock mono pipe. Please note that this is a fitment prototype.
Jigs being fabbed up for later use.
Stepping out of the R&D facility takes us to metal stock storage, and one of many jig storage facilities. As Supersprint has been around since 1955, and both makes exhausts for nearly every slightly performance related vehicle and keeps them around, there is a near endless amount of jigs. Pretty much any place they have extra room, they store jigs.
As all Supersprint exhaust pieces are made from 304 stainless, which does not rust, they are free to store all their pipe outside. Depending on application (race vs street), pipe thickness can range from 1mm to 1.5mm, as the tradeoff of weight vs strength is balanced.
First jig storage sighting. I won't be posting all the photos of jigs as there are a ton.
Jigs are all individually catalogued and labeled for easy later access.
Some jigs are stored inside.
And some jigs are stored outside. Jigs jigs jigs.
Pipe Cutting and Bending:
In an ideal world, exhaust pipes would have no bends. As we all know, that really doesn't work in the real world. As good as Supersprint is at smoothing the bends, some pipe bending is still needed. In addition to bending the pipe to the needed form, this is also where pipe cutting is done, to facilitate the later welding of collectors, flanges, resonators, cats, and mufflers. A plasma cutter is used.
Pipe bender in action.
Alignment is then confirmed using the fitment jig.
And then again measured precisely to confirm fitment.
Finished parts are then stored for next section.
This is where the real Italian artisan aspect comes into play. Supersprint does not
grind or polish any of their welds. Nor do they use machine welds for anything more than spot welds to hold the parts together. The level of skill in this section was nothing short of mind blowing.
Spot weld machine.
Hand welding flanges to a mid-pipe.
Header welding for a WRC car. Renault or Citroen (can't remember which) submitted their header design to Supersprint, who in turn built it to spec along with their own design which they felt was an improvement. Both were submitted back to the OE, who ended up picking Supersprint's design over their own.
Finished product. The OE's WRC team needed a number of units. Because it is a WRC car, strength was favored over lightness, and as a result, 1.5mm pipe was used. Product was still very light in the hand.
Batches of finished products ready to head onto the next stage.
If you own a Supersprint product, this is something you are familiar with already. The product fits as well if not better than stock. If you have worked with other aftermarket parts, you will know this is rarely, if ever, the case. There is a very good reason for that level of fit.
Each product is tested individually to confirm alignment and fitment. And yes, those are even more jigs on the walls.
One of the more interesting parts of QC, the negatives. These are the opposite ends of the flanges found on each Supersprint exhaust component, and each piece is tested with them to confirm a proper mating seal.
HJS race cat. Those who know the business know these are the best. Those who don't, this is why Supersprint race cat mids are expensive. The majority of the cost is this item. One of the few parts that is outsourced.
This is also where the polish level of the tips are inspected before being finished (chrome, satin black, satin silver, etc). The applied finish hinges heavily on the right prep work. The smudge is a fingerprint.
Another item Supersprint is known for is their 2-1, 3-1, 4-1, 4-2, and in the case of the E60 M5, 5-1 collectors. Making them requires specialized negatives, precision to not create conflicting flows, and the aforementioned welding.
They make the negatives in house, as the R&D into the design of them is fairly intense. This is true for many of the tools and such that they use.
A 4-1 negative. Note the smoothness of the curves as to not reverse pulse waves and create turbulence, both of which reduce flow and power. This applies to the pipe bending mentioned earlier.
Prototype 4-1 collector. Even in this "rough" state is a fantastic bit of work.
Cleaning and Shipping
Final stage for all items is heading over to the cleaning and shipping facility. It's hard to convey how large the initial plant was, but I can definitively say it is significantly larger than the Lamborghini factory I visited the previous day. This is also ignoring the large yards of even more jigs. I have visited other places like Fabspeed before, and frankly, they felt like a Meineke in comparison.
The cleaning and shipping building is actually a separate facility across the street, which itself is actually quite large.
Exhaust components are hooked up to this rotisserie, where they are cycled through a number of cleaning bathes to remove process grime and work oils.
The slight yellowing is normal for 304 stainless, and is as far as they will ever wear (a fact I can back up as someone with Supersprint components that have seen over 100,000 miles of the rust belt).
Items are then shrink wrapped and packed up for shipping if there is an active order on for them. If the item has to be specially made, there can be up to a 3 month lead time to work it into the production cycle.
Finished product storage.
Items are sorted out by manufacturer and then car. Gracious host blurred out for his privacy.
Stacks upon stacks...
Talk about being a kid in a candy store.
I went in with extremely high expectations (most of you know I'm pretty uncompromising to say the least), and still left highly impressed with their operations. From the R&D calculations to the artisan welding, every part was on a higher level than I anticipated. I'm not one to lavish praise, but here, I really feel like I can't say enough. I now know exactly why they make exactly the power they claim if not more. I now know why all their parts fit exactly like stock or better. I now know why even the OEs struggle to come up with header designs that are even on the same level. And I now know why it is so easy for Supersprint to be completely honest with their products.
The entire team felt like a giant family (it is also family business), each of which had great pride to be a part of such a company. Supersprint has been around since 1955. The business plan is not short-term profits and a quick buck before the consumer finds out what they purchased. They are in it for the long haul and it truly shows. In this modern Walmart economy, we are lucky to have them. I hope to still be using them 50 years from now with whatever car I have at that point.
Being in a foreign country, it's not often you strike up a real conversation about interests you actually have. Being a die hard car guy, that conversation window narrows substantially.
Fortunately, as one might expect, Supersprint is full of car guys. Conversation immediately went to the glorious driving roads Italy has, and how best to access the cream of the crop between Florence and Rome (my next destination). On their recommendation and GPS coordinates, we found the
best driving roads I have ever been on in my life. I want to move to Italy.
The result was 8 hours of pedal to the metal back roads bombing up and down mountain switchbacks and large rolling hills of Italy. It was simply incredible. I certainly wanted my own car, but was surprised how well the rental Fiat 500 stood up to 8 hours of high RPMs/redlining, extreme brake use (had to pause for fade), and non stop WOT. Thank goodness it was manual and on Michelin tires, which with the window cracked provided the auditory feedback on grip that the EPS via the wheel could not.
Clearly, HD is best.