They make the fastest 4G63s in the world. As an assignment for Gearbox Magazine, this one sounded rather simple. Drive up to Toronto and interview the team from Magnus Motorsports. Then report back on who they are, what they do, with some history to back things up. For two months I have been struggling to write this article. With my book of excuses almost exhausted, the fact is that Magnus Motorsports is not what I expected. If you don’t know who Magnus Motorsports is or have never heard the name, we better start with a quick history lesson.
History of Magnus – Book 1
To start the lesson, you might want to know that Magnus has the fastest 4G63 motor on the planet. Many argue they have the fastest 4 cylinder car on the planet, but Magnus didn’t use a tube frame chassis strapped to a motor to achieve their records. They did it the hard way by pushing an actual chassis down the track. Regardless, in the Mitsubishi world of performance, Magnus represents the top of the food chain.
They are renowned for their development of components and products that seem to defy normal expectations of what is possible from an engine. In 1999 they brought a sheet metal intake manifold to the market which performed so well it almost became a cultural icon to have it proudly displayed under your hood. In 2001 when everybody was scratching their heads as to why the generational change of 4G63 motors developed a chronic problem with crank walk, Magnus took a band saw and cut the motor up to find out why. They not only published an actual theory on crankwalk, but also devised the steps needed to transplant the previous generation 6 bolt motor into the newer cars.
In 2002 after having some early relationships with Ross pistons, Magnus completely redesigned the dishing profile and design of the piston for the 4G63 motor. The new design was virtually silent in the bore and created a new detonation profile that opened the realm of increased power. That same year, they identified the 2.4L swap for the 2.0L engines. Magnus started working on high compression 4G63 motors in 2001, moved to running alcohol in 2002. While everybody else complained about blowing head gaskets, Magnus worked with FelPro to develop a new one that would not give out. They developed race motors which would push over 60psi of boost without spilling a drop of coolant. When all of the aftermarket head bolts stretched with higher compression, Magnus worked with A1 fasteners to develop a better head fastener that would stand up. Remember that record they have for being the fastest? We should probably mention that they secured that record over 5 years ago, giving them the title of “authority” on the 4G63 motor. Before you dismiss them as a one hit wonder with that motor platform, appreciate that they really got their start with the rotary motor and they make parts for an array of race cars around the planet. While that is not even the Cliff Notes version of history of Magnus, it is enough to get you clearance in the door with us as we walk around for the tour.
After Hours at Magnus
We took a walk around Magnus after hours, to get a glimpse of where Magnus keeps that secret recipe which has secured them the top spot for so long. Our guide was the owner and heart of Magnus Motorsports, Marco Passante. Marco’s passion for engines extends beyond measurable levels resembling more like a symbiotic bond with the internal combustion engine. After establishing himself as an authority on rotary engines, this mechanic’s son opened Magnus Motorsports back in 1996 as a way to feed that passion. Walking into Magnus Motorsports is a bit of a sensory overload. Witnessing a precision manufacturing facility built around a performance shop you start to appreciate the ability to start and finish an entire conceptual design for a race car without ever leaving the walls. Tucked into the corner of a chain of buildings, Magnus’s secret lair is disguised as a Vespa scooter dealership, with the markings still in place from a previous occupant.
There is no showroom here waiting for gawkers to stand on a polished floor, browsing glass cases of products they only think they need. This is a shop made by gearheads, reserved for those who have not bought into the bling kool-aid that has saturated the market. Along the walls and in every corner are projects, none of which are politically correct. Ask about the vintage motorcycle or the Alfa Spider shell sitting there, and the response you get is that they are going to be “epic shit” that you obviously don’t understand. If you think they are joking, just call the Alfa an MG and watch the reaction to realize there is passion behind the projects.
When the dyno isn’t running, the main room transforms into a project staging area. Take two steps and you are in the machine shop, which wraps around to the fabrication area, which actually creates a nice arc out to the sales office where everything gets packed and shipped.
There is a secluded engine assembly room in the back to build the project motors, which just so happens to have a vintage Super Sprint video game system ready to challenge anybody to a 3 way battle. My advice is to not challenge Marco at this game, who apparently has been playing it since birth. You can only enter into the part that looks like a normal automotive shop by passing between the two huge Okuma CNC machines.When your project car travels to this surgery room with the lift, it brushes by the 6 second talon and the infamous Rx7, patiently awaiting for somebody to call them out for a rematch.
There are two areas to escape the noise which become an oasis for the team. There is a rather nice employee lounge overlooking the shop area where you can observe the current projects on the lift. Then there is Marco’s office which sits above the manufacturing floor, giving you a look at the flow of the product as is it gets created and moves out the door. It is in here where most of the design and engineering work happens.
Walking around Magnus off hours, it was still a challenge to keep Marco from working. The next thing you know he is moving an engine block or staging some parts before the real work week arrives Monday. You would almost think he was doing everything every day, but a few crew members popped in and out to let us know normal operations could not possibly be run by one guy alone. It is really a balance of three operations going on. You have the origins of the business which is a performance shop bringing in cars for generalize speed or track preparation.
There you have Robbie, Chief Mechanic with 15 years of experience staging the workflow into the surgery room as cars come in slow and go out fast. If you call for parts, you likely get to talk to Seann, who runs the sales/customer service front end of the operation moving the parts. Feeding that sales demand is the manufacturing business, which gets staged on the demand of the order flow. While Marco jumps into the machining work often, Adam is the Chief Machinist, keeping the parts moving to keep up with the demand of the sales flow. In fairness, there is a 4th layer of engine building as motors get built up and shipped out in crates to destinations around the globe. Extra hands are brought in on demand, and like one of those reality cooking shows, Marco wears the chef’s hat, making sure everything is in tolerance. With the man who never stops working and the flow of shop visitors, we managed to squeeze in an interview, eventually escaping to the office area to get some questions on the table.
Marco Passante… The Interview
Gearbox: Magnus has been around since 1996. We have seen the cars on videos and at the track. Why hasn’t anybody seen inside the shop until now?
It is a big thing for me to let people in the shop to take pictures. I have always tried to hide the shit we do from everyone’s prying eyes.
Gearbox: That sounds like a conspiracy theory.
It isn’t a theory. We have had a lot of product designs duplicated and copied over the years, which tears apart the business. I went through the design and development to make a Subaru intake manifold and so many counterfeits hit the market that even with the patents I have, I can’t keep up with the duplicates.
Gearbox: So how did you hold onto the recipe that made you the fastest?
For a while we were not ready to disclose everything that made us so fast because we were worried about competition. A few years went by and nobody was coming close, so we started telling everybody what we were doing. We told people that we designed a 4G63 motor with a head gasket with no o-ring that would run over 60psi of boost without a problem and they wouldn’t believe us. So now we sell our motors and parts for everybody to achieve what we have done.
Gearbox: The recipe isn’t really a secret at all?
It’s all in the details. Our parts are proprietary, but they aretotally different than what everyone else sells you, the untrained eye won’t be able to tell, but such is the path of refinement, small details, slowly improving the breed. I sold a motor overseas and the guys took it apart and called me, trying to find out what was different. They thought I had some secret sauce, and it really comes down to sound engineering and quality workmanship, and knowing what the fuck you are doing. They soon ran 8’s with that motor for 3 years in a row. From a customer perspective, if you call me up and say you want to run 7s, I will sell you the recipe to get you there.
Gearbox: Why hasn’t anybody else caught up yet?
Real racing took a nose dive after 2005.
Gearbox: Ok, I’ll bite, what happened in 2005?
2005 was the creation of YouTube. Nobody has put another chassis based car into the 6’s (sub-6 second quarter mile) since then because everybody is too busy posting videos up how they have the fastest car with green wheels or some other claim nobody gives a shit about. They record how fast their car goes down the track once, on some obscure, Wednesday night test and tune, and most of them can’t do heads up racing any more. Make a car that runs 6 second quarter miles, without blowing anything up every time, then we will be glad to dust off the cars and bring them back out to defend the title.
Gearbox: What made you guys so successful before 2005?
I honestly think we were doing things to this motor before others were thinking of trying it. We always built things the hard way, which put us ahead. We were making manifolds to put the largest turbos we could on these motors while everybody while the industry was just getting excited over 16G and 20G upgrades. I didn’t even know what a 20G was because were already strapping the largest turbos we could find onto the motor. I was the only guy walking into the turbo facility for the large diesel trucks, asking them for the biggest thing they could make.
Gearbox: Magnus opened in 1996, but how did you get started?
In racing? I started with rotary motors. Growing up around my father’s shop, I was always surrounded by cars. I bought a used 1984 carbureted Rx7, which I wanted to make fast as my first car. I saved and scrutinized over the catalogs for upgrades and made a car that I thought was ready for the drag strip. I took it to the track and the motor let go on the first pass. < I walked off that track to find everybody in the area was clueless on rotary motors. All I needed was everybody telling me that rotary’s were impossible to work on in order to push me to figure them out. I bought a used donor car, which turned out to be a completely different motor, and found myself tearing everything apart to understand how it worked. The car became quick, and I became known as the guy who knew about rotary motors when nobody else did.
Gearbox: After 15 years, where are things going next, or what would you like to see happen in the upcoming years?
I would like to see people stop buying junk that doesn’t work. Stay away from the Chinese knock-off parts. I see guys out there breaking things every day. I go into the forums and read about people trying to re-learn what we already know. If you aren’t making it through a season on your motor or if you are trying to figure out why your build doesn’t stay together, just recognize that we have already been there.
The interview didn’t really stop here. In fact, this defines the beginning of only good things to come. We didn’t just get a random invite to walk into Magnus as the first people ever to actually perform an interview inside the walls of this facility. We asked if they could help us help gearheads build high performance machines, and now we know why they agreed to help. We are both after the same goal – knowledge. Behind the scenes, some things we can’t show you… Imagine knowing the secrets like who shot Kennedy and not being able to tell the world. Walking around Magnus and hearing some of the real stories, you get exposed to a few things you agree not to disclose. While we promised not to share everything, I can certainly get your imagination working overtime.
Canadians survive at Tim Hortons. It is not really a secret at all, but it breaks the ice. I found it entertaining to run around and take picture of the coffee cups before Marco tried to snatch them up before the camera could. Actually they survive off of espresso, but Tim Hortons holds them over in between. When I say Magnus influenced the industry, it goes deep like Watergate. Deep like there are dudes that started shops only after working at Magnus and seeing how it was done. Other shops started off as friends who would come over to learn the model that made everything successful. Just like any good conspiracy, the infiltration runs to the top. Marco swears like a sailor. Not a secret at all for anybody who has met the man, but if you are reading this article after you’ve met Marco, you probably didn’t believe a word of the interview. We left a few F-bombs in there for authenticity, but a lot of it was softened to make things a little safer for work. The shock factor wears off after a few hours, then the language actually starts to make sense, which is even scarier. Here is your Marco authenticity check, as I asked him about the build up of the thew new 4B11 motor.
Marco: I am going to make so much fucking jam out of that pile of shit motor, people are going to cry. The head and that block on the 4B11 will murder the 4G63. There is a significant problem with the 4B11 motor, which nobody seems to have identified. I am working on that.
In the end, it wasn’t really hard to write this article. It opened my eyes into the inner workings of the industry. Before I walked through the door, I considered myself fairly knowledgeable in the workings of my own car and the experience was rather humbling. Marco described the intake flow characteristics of my car, relating how most people just cut up a piece of tubing to make their intake tube. I had to remember he was not actually speaking directly to me as he went on to show all of the parts that fail when you try to go that route on your own. From calculating the rate of flow off the bend radius, to identifying how the MAF is going to read the signal, and how air turbulence after the MAF can cause issues, I decided I had nothing to offer to that discussion. I went home and re-labeled that bin of piping at home “Ask Magnus first.” Magnus was built around a simply philosphy: Make it work, make it look good, make it the best. Gearbox Magazine wants to help gearheads build high performance machines & lives. That’s a partnership, right there. We’ll get Marco and the Magnus team back on the front page soon enough. In the meantime, why don’t you click on over to MagnusMotorsports.com and get reacquainted. Go fast with class. Press on regardless.