Living Large: A look at Michigan Powerhouse Livernois Motorsports

At Livernois Motorsports in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, everyone and everything has a purpose. This is clear from the moment you walk in the front door of the well laid-out 36,000 square-foot facility and the salesperson asks if you need help with the parts on display, and again as you enter the vehicle installation facility. A place where multiple cars, wearing license plates from multiple states, are receiving modifications from exhaust to engines.

The continuous hum of the CNC machines is testament to the volume of cylinder head work in the machine shop.

A few steps away, in the machine shop, the roar of ever-busy CNC machines is music to the ears, and in the cylinder head development area, rows of the company’s cylinder heads for late-model Ford, GM and Chrysler vehicles await heir turn in the build process. Just around the corner, in the engine build area, pistons, rods and rings are laid out on tables with great care, as though they are surgical instruments.

Helping to fine-tune various engine combinations are two chassis dynos plus an engine dyno, and when they are in use, the sound of power resonates throughout the facility and sometimes spills onto the street, offering people walking or driving by a taste of a high-rpm pull.

An engine being tuned on the engine dyno. There are also two chassis dynos in the facility.

Livernois Motorsports is ran on a day-to-day basis by Dan and Tom Millen. We wanted to learn about some of the behind-the-scenes technology and processes and about the company’s strengths as a manufacturer. For that, we looked to Rick LeBlanc, Marketing and Website Administrator, for a tour of the facility, and to Mike Schropp, Engine Department Supervisor, for some schooling.

Engine Building and Fabrication

powerTV: Livernois Motorsports’ engine build facility is state-of-the-art, and while much of what goes on there is classified, what will you share about it?

Engine parts, laid out like surgical tools.

Mike Schropp: “We have a climate-controlled clean room in which we do the actual engine-building and in which measurements are taken, and we have multiple stations set up so we can have multiple builds at the same time. We can have all the parts laid out and then bring in a machined block that is prepped and cleaned and ready to be assembled. This allows us to have ten, fifteen or twenty builds going at once, depending on our current workload.

The facility allows for some flexibility where we could have laid out that many builds if need be, but we keep it from getting confusing and out of hand and we try to keep it to four or five builds at once. There are three full time engine builders, including me, and most of the time, the two main guys do the majority of the work and I do some builds here and there, but I primarily do more development work.

Given the two-to-three man workforce, we’re able to adjust as workloads go up and down. While we do a little of everything, including all makes and models, we specialize in Ford Modulars, from the original Two-Valve, and the Three-Valve and Four-Valve in the 4.6 and 5.4. We’re unique in that we have been around for a long time and specialize in that area. We originally did Pro Stock and Ford development, and we did a lot of Modulars when they came out because of our close ties with Ford, but we now focus on GM LS and Mopar Hemi engines…in addition to Modulars. We still do pushrod engines every now and then, but we primarily focus on late-model engines. We work on a mix of race and street engines.”

A few engines going together in the shop.

PTV: What is the focus of the company’s cylinder head development?

We specialize in Ford Modular, GM LS and Chrysler Hemi heads.

Schropp: “We specialize in Ford Modular, GM LS and Chrysler Hemi heads. We do OEM-work, like larger production jobs, but from a development standpoint. When something is going to become available, like a new engine family or a new production line, we get first dibs on it. It gives us a good starting point as far as by the time something is readily available, we can get our hands on it. Usually, when we get product in our hands, we already have the knowledge for working with them ahead of time. If we’ve worked with something for six months or a year, we can get up-to-speed without having to go through a process.

Most of the time, it would be along the lines of a product, like an engine or heads, and we would never really have direct access to something. We might be working with a company that is working with one of the OEM’s to develop a part. It’s a collaboration that gives us the ability to be in motion when that part comes out because we’ve had access to it. The majority of development work for the companies is private. We have a fair amount of customers that have shops that do their own engine work, but might not have access to a CNC machine or the ability to do finished heads, so we have a lot of customers that we just do heads for.”

A GM LS-series cylinder head undergoing porting in one of Livernois Motorsports’ CNC machines.

PTV: The machine shop certainly has modern equipment. What does your CNC machines do all day?

Schropp: “From the CNC side of the business, we have three dedicated CNCs that just do heads, prototype and block work. There are two main machines that just do heads non stop and there is a third machine that bounces back and forth for development and prototype.

We have a cylinder hone which does all of the honing for all of the blocks and we have an alignment machinem a digital balancer and a new CNC machine center for pretty much all of the block work that does boring of mains and lifters and cylinders and decking. That one we just got. It’s the latest and greatest.”

From the CNC side of the business, we have three dedicated CNCs that just do heads, prototype and block work.

PTV: What kinds of projects are common in the fabrication shop?

Schropp: “We used to do a lot of roll cages, but we almost became too diverse with that and the full machine shop and cylinder head development, so now we send the roll cage work to people in the area. That helps us with timetables. A lot of fabrication work we do on our customers’ cars includes what it might take to complete a build, like exhaust systems, custom cooling, fabricating a shroud and under-hood pieces or billet pieces for the engine and sometimes suspension work.”

Parts and Vehicle Design

PTV: In addition to selling performance products, Livernois Motorsports actually designs some, too?

Schropp: “If we’ve really developed a niche, it’s for designing overall components for an engine. We used to buy, like most shops, off-the-shelf pistons, rods and cranks, and machine them and put them together. But then we started designing the components because we found that, while buying off-the-shelf works, you can actually get an improvement in performance and durability of the engine and heads if you designed them to work together, so we design the components themselves and work with companies to make them for us.

Handle with care, this head gets the hands-on treatment at Livernois.

We looked at producing some parts in-house but for practicality reasons and to provide the best product, if we work with a company that has knowledge, we are able to offer our insight and information and we can work with that company to make a part that is just for us.”

PTV: How would you describe the company’s niche vehicle design?

Schropp: “It’s basically that we will take in a customer’s vehicle, and if they have a certain look or finished product that they want, we can go in and based off of those things, get the right synergy and engine and drivetrain and finish it so it comes out to their design. There is a lot involved there.”

Working With the OEMs

PTV: What about Livernois’ engineering service?

Schropp: “A lot of the engineering work we get is outside customers, other manufacturers, OEM, where they will bring us a proposal or products and want us to do engineering work to make the product become reality. So, the company comes in and offers a proposal saying they want to make ‘XYZ’ part and we would do the design, machining and testing through to the end component.  We give them something and we can produce parts here or they can take it somewhere and have it made. We have the ability to produce whatever it is in-house and if it has to go someplace, we can do the up-front work and pass the information along.”

Some of the 'hardware' floating around the engine room.

PTV: Interesting, so what is some of the OEM-level work that Livernois Motorsports performs?

Schropp: “As far as development, the big three brings us engine and head designs and we work with them with goals or specific issues, or if they need another company that has expertise in an area new to them. We offer information, assistance, development and insight, and it helps them to not have to have so many divisions inside of their company. It would be difficult to be an expert in everything. We can help them quite a bit with racing and engine design and durability.

At this facility, we have a good knowledge base to work with and we have access to a lot of machinery and equipment that OEM work requires. Our facilities and capabilities allow us access to a broad range of things that we need for our work, from designing a small part to doing an entire build. We’ve always kind of worked with the big three and OEMs on different things, through our other company, Livernois Vehicle Development, so it’s been growing over the years as we do more things for them and they see the capabilities we have or how we can do something that involves less logistics than if they did it in-house.”

“Right now, we are doing development with the newer series of engines, including the Ford 5.0, the Ford 6.2 and the GM Ecotec engine. We offer a fair amount of products, components and heads and engines for those, but we’re still in development with them, too, since they’re newer to the market. It’s all pretty exciting to us.”

From OEM development work, machining, assembly, tuning, plus chassis and engine dyno work, Livernois Motorsports is truly a one stop shop for anyone looking to get a complete vehicle makeover. From air intake installations to OEM-level design work, no job is too big or too small for the folks over at Livernois.

Livernois Motorsports all inclusive facility in Michigan.


About the author

Mary Lendzion

Formerly a writer at the Detroit Free Press, Mary Lendzion writes for Power Automedia, NMCA and NMRA, is the director of media and public relations for Summit Motorsports Park and is happiest in the driver’s seat of her Mustang.
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