TUNED TO PERFORM
For years, VCM Performance has been at the forefront of everything LS
The brainchild of Mario Pancione, VCM is a business that has been built on a passion for performance, quality and innovation.
From designing an OTR that became the yardstick against which air intake excellence is measured, to developing one of the most comprehensive tuning software programs on the market with HP Tuners, Mario and his talented team have proven that with a bit of Aussie ingenuity, a healthy dose of elbow grease and a never say die attitude, that anything is possible.
“I’ve always been a car guy. I was born and raised on a farm. We just didn’t have enough money to pay other people, so growing up, I was always working on farm equipment, and I must admit, I loved every minute I found myself with a spanner in my hand,” Mario said.
Mario admitted that by age 10, he already knew he was going to leave the farm and do something mechanical, and in 1991 he opened Auto Technique and has never looked back.
“We started out specialising in Brock Commodores, and we built some pretty stout show cars back in the day that lifted our profile,” Mario said.
“These were a lot different to the show cars you see today, but at the time, some of our Commodore builds became pretty famous, and it wasn’t long before the workshop was flat out keeping up with demand.”
Mario took his builds to shows all over Australia, growing his reputation as a gun builder and tuner.
“We were just building some cars for a bit of fun, going to stacks of car shows, and having a blast with it. And if I can be honest, they were probably the best times of my life,” Mario said.
But as we all know, things can quickly change in the automotive aftermarket. In 2000, GST was rolled out, it was the start of a new millennium, and it was also the tipping point where the Chevrolet LS engine started to overrun the much-loved Aussie five-litre V8 on which Mario and his team had cut their teeth.
“2000 was a massive year, and it was honestly a case of sink or swim,” Mario said.
“There was a lot to deal with as a business owner, and I remember that at the time, the only computer in the building was the one on the dyno.”
Of course, change breeds opportunity, and in 2001 Mario had a chance meeting with Chris Piastri, who today owns HP Tuners.
“Chris just walked into the workshop one day and said, hey, I’ve purchased one of these new Monaros, and I was thinking about tuning it. Are you able to help us out,” Mario said.
“And I’m like, yeah, I can put it on the dyno and give you some power figures and see if it’s running rich or lean, or if it’s pinging or what have you. But in terms of tuning, I don’t have any software.”
This was the point at which Mario and Chris started using LS One edit, but together they found it pretty basic, and the seed for developing their own software tuning platform was planted.
In 2004 Mario changed the name of the business to VCM Performance and launched the new tuning software, branded as VCM Suite in Australasia and as HP Tuners for the rest of the world.
“The launch of the LS engine in the Holden Commodore was a watershed moment for the industry,” Mario said.
“It breathed new life into the performance and tuning market, and we were there riding the crest of that wave.”
When the VY Commodore was released, Holden approximated 10,000 LS-powered variants, many of which ended up in the hands of tuners using the VCM Suite.
“The VY was such a good vehicle to modify,” Mario said.
“Holden had left so much power on that table, and even with just a new intake and a tune, the increase in performance was impressive.”
Of course, VCM Performance was not the only one with a workshop full of new Commodores.
Harrop, PWR and the likes were all busy adding their own demon tweaks to LS-powered vehicles, but no matter which workshop you visited during that period, Mario says you were sure to find a tuner using VCM Suite to unlock the engine’s potential.
“It was a crazy time. Guys like Martin Donnan started selling LS twin turbo kits, Harrop Engineering were releasing new intakes and superchargers, PWR was involved with Magnuson, and a whole range of businesses were developing camshafts and other performance components to keep up with the demand for LS upgrades,” Mario said.
“Our software was a real catalyst for change as it gave people a reason to buy hard parts.”
To put the success of VCM Suite into perspective, Chris and Mario were invited to the GM proving ground to help the engineering department tune the iconic EFFIGY concept car because it was running HP Tuners.
Mario remembers turning to Chris at the time and saying, “is this really happening? We’re just a couple of schmucks, and now we’re at the proving ground tuning a prototype for GM. That’s unheard of.”
To which Chris responded, “just shut up. Just fake it till we make it, right?”
Not long after, one of the GM engineers said to Mario, “boys, we love what you’re doing because it gives people a reason to buy our cars,” at which point the duo realised just how much impact they’d had on the industry.
“There was a bunch of people modifying and tuning LS Engines around that time, but they all needed our software,” Mario said.
“You could say that we had the key to the kingdom in terms of people needing to tune these vehicles, so it was a right place, right time type of thing.”
Before the launch of VCM Suite and HP Tuners, it was the engine builder who tuned the car. But from about 2006 onwards, a new job title – Tuner – was added to the organisational structures of many of the larger workshops around the world and today, well-respected Tuners can earn more than $150,000pa.
“I’m proud to say that we were instrumental in changing the face of the performance industry, not just locally but around the globe,” Mario said.
Following the VCM Suite’s success, Mario realised it was time to shift gears again and take on the big boys at their own game by manufacturing a range of performance parts.
“I was starting to miss getting my hands dirty. After all, many of our team members at VCM Performance started as mechanics, myself included, so I started investigating the potential to manufacture our own range of performance products,” Mario said.
“There is no doubt that it was a steep learning curve, but working alongside our talented engineer, Ken Nunn, we made it happen.”
Ken cut his teeth at Harrop Engineering and was Ron Harrop’s right-hand man for 14 years before joining the VCM Performance Team.
Together they identified the opportunity to manufacture a range of quality products people needed to get the most out of tuning their car using VCM Suite.
Starting with an OTR intake, the VCM Performance range grew quickly, and today it includes induction, valve train and supercharger products.
“I’d come up with the concepts, and then Ken would develop a prototype,” Mario said.
“We jumped on 3D printing technology very early in the game, embracing what was at the time a very new technology. Adopting this technology early has paid dividends. It streamlines the development process, allowing us to bring new products to market quickly and cost-effectively.”
Always looking ahead of the game, VCM has its sights set on the Euro market and, more specifically, BMW, Mercedes and Audi.
“We’ll always have a soft spot for the Holden Commodore and the LS engine, but I believe that if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards, so we are broadening our horizons,” Mario said.
VCM is now the official distributor of Magnuson Superchargers in Australia, providing the team at VCM with products for Jeep and Mercedes Benz – two brands which have proved highly successful in the Australian new car market.
In addition, VCM also stocks a wide variety of quality performance products from iconic brands such as K&N, DeatschWerks, Improved Racing, PSI Performance and PWR.
“We have a passion for the industry. We’ve been in the car game a long time, and I reckon we know what our customers want,” Mario said.
“We live and breathe it, and when it comes down to it, that’s really what’s at the heart of our success.”
To find out more about VCM Performance, visit www.vcmstore.com.au