PO Box 638, 1001 State RT10 West, Clinton, IL 61727

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The heart of a Mustang

Clinton company adds extra power to Ford's ponies

By Chris Anderson

CLINTON -- Rick Anderson can't recall the last time he served a customer from Central Illinois. He counts his walk-in traffic on both hands.
Anderson's customers typically hail from New York, Pennsylvania, Australia, England, Germany, New Zealand and even Kuwait. The parts and service director of Anderson Ford-Mercury's Anderson Ford Motorsport in Clinton, admitted he's one of the area's best kept secrets.

Yet Anderson has done more business in the last six months -- about $1 million in sales -- than he's done in any previous six-month period in 15 years. And it all hinges on designing and building high performance parts for Ford Mustangs.

"I'm doing the same thing I did as a 16-year-old. I am lucky enough to find a niche and enjoy it," said Anderson, 47. "Randy (his brother and owner of Anderson Ford-Mercury Inc.) has held me to the business end. You need to make a profit as well as be an enthusiast. We've always just grown slowly. We make parts that nobody else makes."

Since he was a kid growing up in Lexington, Anderson and his brothers, Randy and Ronnie, have raced anything that moved, including motorcycles and drag racers.

As they grew older, the brothers turned their passion into business. They first owned a Kawasaki dealership in Bloomington, which they sold before opening the Clinton Ford dealership in 1987.

Anderson credits repeated exposure in Muscle Mustang/Fast Ford and 5.0 Mustang & Super Ford magazines for mail and e-mail orders from around the world. Specifically, an article about a 1979 Mustang Anderson built with a 499-cubic-inch motor launched the business.

Since then, 58 articles primarily based on performance testing Anderson and his crew of six employees complete on a dynamometer have appeared in the magazines. Anderson has two "mules" -- a 2000 GT Ford Mustang with a two-valve engine and a 2005 Mustang with a three-valve engine -- which he uses exclusively for performance testing.

The in-ground, chassis dynamometer allows Anderson to test performance of engine superchargers, fuel injection systems, camshafts, air filters, intake pipes, mufflers and more.

"We test independently for manufacturers. We only sell the best products," said Anderson. "When we started, we sold everybody else's products."

Now the business is bursting at the seams with parts designed and made in Clinton as well as top lines for such manufacturers as Trickflow, Edelbrock and Vortech. About 125 "speed dealers" around the country also sell Anderson Ford Motorsport parts.

The company typically ships 400 to 1,600 packages every month. The company's Web site -- andersonfordmotorsport.com -- has received 475,000 hits since 1998.

Anderson credits his employees, especially parts manager/drag racing enthusiast Brian Koestner with continued business growth. Anderson further pointed to his wife, Diane, as a major supporter of the business and Anderson's off-hours work to perfect performance parts.

Power Pipes, engine supercharger intake pipes which increase airflow by cubic feet per minute, have become the company's claim to fame. Anderson first approached a manufacturer about making the pipes, but learned the manufacturer was not interested in gearing up for production.

"They're like Kleenex in the performance engine business. We registered the trademark and make 14 different kinds," said Anderson, who also offers a line of locally designed camshafts, air filters, power bypass kits, switch panels, flywheels, clutches and plug wires.

The company's latest hit is the hand-held Programmable Engine Management System. Anderson Ford Motorsports is the exclusive distributor and offers technical support for the system.

Designed by a South Carolina manufacturer, the computer overrides Ford Mustang stock computers that control fuel injection and other function. PMS allows quick adjustments of engine timing, fuel mixture and fuel injection. Adjustments can be made in 500 rpm increments from 2,000 rpm to 9,000 rpm.

In November, the company launched Mr. Freeze, a methanol/water injection system to increase engine horsepower. So far, 140 units have been purchased.

"It's like windshield fluid. It just hasn't been used with a supercharger," said Anderson, who puts all his creations to the ultimate test on a drag strip. "This year has been phenomenal. We got on the `Two Guys Garage' TV show. And we changed our advertising to feature more of our own products."

Ford's release of the 2005 Mustang, featuring its own chassis, also has boosted sales and interest. Anderson said earlier Mustangs, like the 1965 model, featured a Falcon chassis. Similarly, the 1979 model was a Fairmont chassis.

"The new model launch tells people the company is going to stick with the Mustang," said Anderson. "Muscle cars are coming back because you can get your cake and eat it, too."

Continued business growth for the company will mean adding employees in the near future. Anderson also sees a time when the company will fill its own building instead of a small backroom parts area and dynamometer testing garage sitting at the back of the Ford dealership lot.

"In the next six months to a year, we'll be adding similar parts for the Dodge and Chevrolet markets. We'll be changing the business name to Anderson Performance Products," said Anderson.

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