Bitchin' Auto - 90 Minutes With Dave Smith at FFR!
  • 90 Minutes With Dave Smith at FFR!

    Monday I left to come to Boston for a conference for work. The plan was to be here most of the week. When I found out, I dropped an email to Factory Five Racing to see if I could get a tour of the plant. Their front lady, Sally Bean, sent me back a note saying they could oblige. I was ecstatic (as you could probably tell from this blog post). When I got to Boston, I got in the rental car and started my hour trek down to Wareham, MA. I arrived a little early due to being able to grab an early flight. I was glad I did, as I don't think I would have made it to the Factory Five shop before they closed ... or without enough time to really get any kind of tour. Sally asked me if I could wait a little bit as the person who would be able to give me a tour of the place was already giving another tour. This wasn't an issue with me as there was plenty to see in the showroom. I waited around for a while and the employee (don't remember his name) and the customer (I believe his name is Al Ornstein) came back into the showroom from their tour. The employee came by and asked if I needed any help. I told I was hoping to get a tour. He said he had to leave, but I could wait for another employee who would be coming back from an errand. I said no problem ... I hadn't come all this way just to leave empty handed. So, I continued to wait about another five minutes and guess who walks into the showroom ... none other than Dave Smith himself, owner of Factory Five Racing. He came up to me and shook my hand. He asked if I needed any help and I gave him the spiel. He said no problem. He grabbed me and Al and took us on a journey through his place. All I can say was AWESOME (high lilting voice twinge there ... ).

    The first two cars he showed us were these two cars in the engineering room: one Cobra, one Hot Rod. Both sport the new Ford Coyote engine. Dave told us while he still loves his Cobra (I'll show you the pic later) with the BBF (427 I believe), running the Coyote engine in these cars makes them so much more drive-able and therefor more fun.







    The Cobra was in the shop to get some new headers. They are in the process of engineering a kit solution for the Coyote engine which they do not have yet. There are a lot of one off pieces in it which they are in the process of figuring out. The Hot Rod was up in the air for some reason ... I think it was getting some final work done on it so it too would be on the road. Now that I think of it, there was interior work going on. I do have to say, I am not fond of how the rear wheels look. I think there needs to be more offset or something so they fill the flares. Dave said these wheels are brand new ones he had made up. Anyway, just my personal opinion.

    From there he took us to the where the staging area for the newly formed kits are put awaiting transport to their final destination: the customer! In this picture you can see there are several kits in the waiting. While I was there, the transport truck showed up and they started loading kits into it. Dave told me they ship out around a dozen cars a week (if my count is right). Even with this crappy economy, people are still buying these things like there is no tomorrow. I don't know about the counts for the Type 65 or the Challenge Car, but for the others they sell around six Mk4, three Hot Rod, and one GTM Supercar kits per week (if I remember what Dave said). According to their website, they have sold more Mk4 roadsters than all the other kit companies out there. Here's the staging area:



    You can see the car bodies are the correct color ... red ... for a car This is the gel coat which covers the fiberglass. I'll talk more about it in a little bit. In the same area as the kits ready to be shipped was this part finished Hot Rod. (Sorry the first picture is a little blurry.) Dave showed us that the exhaust could be ran several different ways through the frame, making the car that much more adaptable as well as configurable to the builder's taste.









    The second two pictures are from the Hot Rod in the showroom, but I wanted to show you how the front end on it worked. I don't know if you can tell, but the front end has the shock inboard behind the radiator. The front arms are cantilevered. This does a few things for the front end of the car, one of which being you have less unsprung weight in the running gear. Dave told me the front end on the Hot Rod is race inspired and proven. You could take this out and do laps at a raceway. Dave said it's just that good.

    Next Dave took us back through the fabrication area where they cut and weld all of the parts for their cars. While this may not be the most glamorous portion of the tour, it definitely is where some work gets done. The pictures show several different areas and people (I wish I could remember all of the names, but there was just way too many people ... I have to say though, they were all cool. They were nice and treated us very well. It was nice to meet them all.)



    This is a picture of a jig which is used to get all of the alignment of the frame correct. I believe this is the one for the GTM (I don't think it's either the Hot Rod or Mk4 as they are almost always in use). The way it works is, they tack weld the frame together in the jig, then they pull it out and finish weld it on a carousel.





    One of Dave's welders told us they have built 7776 Roadsters. Of those, he had welded on all but around 200 of them ... that guy must be one HECK of a welder. He's been with FFR for about 15 years.

    Next we went into the where the fiberglass is laid. There is three phases to creating the fiberglass bodies. First they have to cut the fiberglass, which is done via computer on this machine:



    Next they lay it out by hand in the molds. Dave was saying in 2008 with the downturn of the economy, their business was no different than most other businesses. While their business was waning, Dave decided he needed to do something which would completely affect his business. He decided he would take all of the profits from the business and reinvest them back into the business. During this time they completely reworked how they did their fiberglass and also designed and produced their '33 Hot Rod. For about two years he took no salary so he could do this. The outcome was, while other companies were laying off people, he didn't have to. Their redesign of the fiberglass makes the panels lay up almost perfectly when put together. This in turn makes finishing the car a lot cheaper. Dave had talked to one body guy who was working on throwing paint on a Mk4. The guys said it would only take him ~40 hours from start to finish to put paint on the car. Dave said what once would cost about $10k for a decent paint job, could now be done for around $3800. The prep work is just that minimal. While other companies might raise their kit prices to make more money per kit, or otherwise cut the cost of their kits to the bone in an attempt to make to make their kits more desirable, Dave was making his better, spending a load of money on it in the process. Because you can now finish it for a lot less, he actually made it so your out of pocket expenses are now less, reducing your overall costs while not having to lower his prices. It is a win-win situation: he stays in business; the customer keeps more of their hard earned money. How many other companies can brag that?

    After the fiberglass is laid out and is cured, it gets taken to a five-axis mill where a computer trims the excess off of the panels. After this step, they look great! Dave said his fiberglass team is the best in the business and after seeing the product, I'd have to say I agree.

    In this area, they put the bits and pieces together so they can make sure they have everything together for shipping.



    If you look closely, you might be able to tell the frames on these two Hot Rods are bare metal. Almost all of the other cars which go out of FFR have a frame which is powder coated black. Dave said they only deal with black because it wouldn't be business smart to try and deal with all of the different powder coating colors. While almost all of the other cars are good with black frames, the Hot Rod is different. Most builders like to color match the frame to their overall body color scheme. With the Hot Rod, it is shown as part of the beauty of the car. I can't imagine why Here are some more pictures of the assembly area where they put the kits together:







    From here we went back through the warehouse area where they stock all of their parts. We came upon this stack of doors and trunk lids for the Mk4 kits. Dave pulled one up and showed us how the edges are radiused and not just cut. The piece is actually two pieces of fiber glass which are bonded together. There are separate parts on the inside which are cut out so you can get inside of the piece to do the wiring. Another small piece goes into place to cover the hole. There are also metal pieces which are cast into the fiberglass to add strength to the piece. These are the places where things like the door hinges get bolted to.



    Dave showed us they had started using brown cardboard for their boxes instead of white as they used to do. They are doing it this way for several reasons, but among them is that the white boxes are more expensive, they very easily look dirty, and the brown boxes can be recycled (the white ones cannot). Sounds like a good deal to me

    From the warehouse, we went back to the showroom. Here are some pictures of the cars and products they have up front:



    I saw this Cobra replica on the road during the 2009 Hot Rod Power Tour.

    They have two chassis inside the showroom which do not have a body on them. This Cobra replica has a very special engine in its bay ... it's kind of sad it isn't used anymore, considering it's heritage ... read the placard in the second pic. Also, in the third pic I wanted to show you how short the driveline is in a Cobra ... wow.







    And here is the stitched image I told you about.



    All-in-all it was a great experience. I cannot say enough about Dave and how well he treated me. It was exciting at the very least. I hope Dave didn't think I was weirding out on him when I didn't have much to say: I was dumb founded! Walking around with Dave Smith! Can you imagine a better way to spend an afternoon? I know I can't. Thanks Dave, for a very memorable 90 minutes.



    Comments 2 Comments
    1. WS6kid's Avatar
      WS6kid -
      Nice article, I would have needed a bib and a diaper to walk through that place. Thank you for taking the time to put this together.
    1. Tony's Avatar
      Tony -
      Hey everyone, I just wanted to let you all know this article is now complete. All of the pictures are back online. If you want to see some great cars, this thread has them!
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