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Vortech seeks to drive sales beyond auto engine superchargers

The Oxnard manufacturer of auto performance-enhancing kits diversifies into other industries to weather the weak economy.

September 04, 2011|By Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times

Sales grew quickly, but it took a decade for Middlebrook to land the capital he needed to do all of his own manufacturing. In 2000 he moved Vortech to the company's present location in Oxnard, eventually acquiring competitors including Paxton Superchargers.

Today, Vortech is located on a four-acre industrial park campus with 60,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The heart of its assembly line is three horizontal milling machines that enable two to three employees to accomplish what used to require seven or eight.

The machines, which cost $2.5 million each, can be programmed to operate virtually around the clock.

"You save time. We call it 'lights out' engineering because no one has to be here. It is much more efficient than the way we used to do it," Middlebrook said. "We pay more attention to all costs. What we are managing now is very competitive."

Vortech's main competition is Eaton Corp. of Cleveland, a $13.7-billion industrial heavyweight with powerful automotive connections. In contrast to aftermarket players like Vortech, Eaton supplies supercharger technology directly to General Motors Co. and other original equipment manufacturers.

But hard-core enthusiasts such as Richard Holdener said no factory-installed supercharger is good enough to meet his exacting standards. The 48-year-old Vacaville, Calif., resident said he bought his first Vortech supercharger in 1990, adding it to a 1988 Ford Mustang GT with a 225-horsepower engine. He said the Vortech supercharger and other improvements doubled the horsepower.

"We drag raced it. We beat the heck out of the thing and never once did it leave me stranded. It was the epitome of reliability," Holdener said.

He recently bought another Vortech supercharger to add to a 430-horsepower LS3 engine he plans to shoehorn into a 1970 Datsun 240Z sports car.

"I'm a hard-core performance guy, so it's going to be fun," he said.

That kind of loyalty has Middlebrook committed to the speed business for the long haul, even as Vortech continues to venture into other industries for growth.

"We're car guys," Middlebrook said. "That's not going to change."

ron.white@latimes.com

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