For those who think their German cars should be roaring like a tiger, here come AC Schnitzer and ABT to the rescue
I want to be turbo-charged

THINKING of spicing up your German car? Then, AC Schnitzer and ABT should come to mind for their work with BMW, Volkswagen and Audi.

Life! caught up recently with Mr Peter Heisler, director of sales and marketing for AC Schnitzer, and Mr Hans Jurgen Abt, president of ABT.

The latter was in town visiting AutoVox, ABT's representative, while Mr Heisler was here for Performance Motors' launch of its AC Schnitzer range of after-market goodies.

LIFE!: Where do you stand in comparison to competitors?

ABT: ABT has the biggest involvement in motor sports and caters to the widest range of VW and Audi vehicles.

We work closely with both factories as we are the appointed tuning arm.

I think most customers in Europe and Japan consider us No. 1.

HEISLER: AC Schnitzer was accepted by the BMW Group as its official tuning arm in 1987 although we are an independent group.

Back then, the AC Schnitzer race team was formed, too, and we are now one of only two companies which receive 100 per cent support from BMW.

LIFE!: What makes you unique?

ABT: Tuning engines is our life. What makes us different is that we can fabricate performance parts, which others will buy to sell under their brand names.

Also, we tune cars very closely to the data provided by manufacturers.

HEISLER: We have the most racing experience for BMW worldwide and are the only one with a comprehensive range of accessories for all BMW models.

Also, our philosophy is to transfer racing experience for further developing street cars. We are involved currently in touring cars, sports cars and GT races, and are the only official team for BMW.

LIFE!: Do you sell more styling than performance kits?

ABT: About 60 per cent styling and 40 per cent performance.

HEISLER: Performance parts are not important for us because a customer can buy from BMW.

We concentrate more on exhaust systems, suspension kits, aerodynamic packages, wheels and interior kits.

Another reason we don't want to go inside the engine is there are too many rules around the world.

LIFE!: What is your hottest-selling item?

ABT: We try to push the whole package as it won't look right just buying the wheels and not lowering the car's ride height.

Otherwise, the wheels and suspension package is the most popular.

HEISLER: Wheels in general.

LIFE!: What is your philosophy in styling and performance kits?

ABT: People have to be able to recognise that it's an Audi or VW, but with the ABT touch.

As for performance, we can do extreme tuning, but that's not workable with VW and Audi as they want us to increase power within a given guideline.

HEISLER: All our products must fit the original concept of the car.

We use only high-quality materials, such as carbon fibre for better fitting and durability.

I don't want to see our customers ruining their Schnitzer kit just because they go over a large hump. As for suspension kits, we develop them not only on the race tracks, but also according to real-life situations.

We don't want it to be so stiff that it's unbearable for everyday driving, but still capable for track days.

LIFE!: How has motor sports helped in sales?

ABT: Customers realise our competence through motor sports. We can show them what we can do and not just make claims like many other companies.

HEISLER: A lot.

LIFE!: So why are many other tuners not involved in motor sports?

ABT: When you race in big events, you are running against factory teams. You need the right amenities and knowhow to build the right car.

We have a dedicated team to build race cars.

HEISLER: As a works team, manufacturers work only with one company, although BMW has BMW Motorsports in F1, with AC Schnitzer taking care of the rest.

Moreover, the technical knowledge and equipment technology have to be up to scratch while the people have to be completely dedicated to the brand, too.

LIFE!: Do you think turbocharging is the way to go or naturally-aspirated?

ABT: Definitely turbocharging. With the current and future emission standards, naturally-aspirated engines will not have enough punchiness and it's expensive to develop something that has the best of both.

Moreover, turbocharging allows you to have a small capacity engine with the capability of something twice or more of its size.

A turbo-charged engine has a lot of torque and it suits Singapore.

HEISLER: None of the above, actually. In both tuning and engine manufacturing, I would say supercharging is most appropriate for getting more power.

You don't have to change too much of your engine's internals and that means you can use an existing engine instead of designing one from scratch.

For after-market tuning, as long as you have space under the bonnet, fitting a supercharger shouldn't require you to upgrade its internals as long as the power gain is kept to 10 to 20 bhp.

Furthermore, modern superchargers are compact and light compared to 10 years ago.

LIFE!: What is the wildest car you ever built?

ABT: The new Audi TT-R. It's got a 2.8-litre six-cylinder engine with two turbos, producing 350 bhp. The body kit was designed in a wind-tunnel and it has an F1-style gearbox.

HEISLER: The wildest race car was the turbo-charged M1 with about 1,000 bhp. As for street cars, we had a few for customers who didn't care about reliability and durability.

They wanted a car for the race track; one example is a 500 bhp M5 with a supercharger.

LIFE!: How do you differentiate yourselves from Japanese tuners?

ABT: Our products have a longer life than most Japanese products, not in terms of durability but in terms of being in the market.

Usually, what you see today of Japanese-made products will be replaced by a newer version in six months or a year, especially for electronic items.

We try to keep the product long enough for people to notice it's an ABT and they mustn't feel the product is old a year after the purchase.

They will feel cheated if you keep having new versions out so frequently.

HEISLER: I think Japanese tuners like big wings and they like that attention-grabbing image. That's totally opposite from us.

We like to individualise cars but not to that extent. It has to be subtle and classy; so you can use it to go to work, but it must look sporty on a race track.