At any moment Mountune-prepared engines are generating horsepower somewhere in the UK, the US, Australia, China, or a host of other nations. It is an interesting and unlikely story of how a relatively small English company came to cast a footprint across the world.
The tale can be traced back to the late 1970's, when David Mountain went to work for UK-based Swiftune. The company focused on building and servicing performance engines for British Motor Corp’s. Mini, an enduring and properly iconic English brand.
But young Mountain found his world turned upside down in 1980. “I was working for Swiftune and for one reason or another learned that the company was getting out of the business,” Mountain recalls. “The main reason being was that Glyn Swift decided he wanted a change of lifestyle and change of business. Although the company is still in business today in the Mini world, in 1980 they got completely out.
“A few of the Swiftune customers said I should rent a shed somewhere and they would bring their engines to me for a service. So that was me on my own initially, building Mini engines.”
The upstart mechanic soon discovered that he alone could not handle the volume of work, and the first employee has hired. Then another, then another, then another. “It eventually led to four or five of us, working on those Mini engines,” he said. “There was no plan, really, just all of us working on engines and that was that.”
Mountune, as the entity became known, was just getting started. In due course Mountain began to see other opportunities, beginning a tenure that now stretches toward four decades of commercial operation.
The path for the company began to broaden, and diversify. Working on one brand—and one brand only—has its advantages, but that would not be Mountune’s destiny.
“I suppose the first real change for us was around 1985 when the Ford RS Turbo Mk1 engine became available,” Mountain says. “People started to race that car, and we were approached by a few people to do their engine work. We basically realized right away that there was a lot more money in the Ford market. Someone racing a Mini usually couldn’t afford anything else, because that was the bottom end of the market.
“It was a pretty big decision at the time to stop working on Mini engines to concentrate on getting Ford work. Many people we had worked with in the Mini market were shocked when I told them we were going in another direction.
“David Vizard lives in the US now, he’s an English guy who wrote what is considered ‘the Bible’ for the Mini. I did a lot of work with David in the early days, and he was pretty shocked when I told him we were getting out of the Mini market.”
The decision to pursue Ford was fateful for Mountune. It opened up a new market, and would eventually lead to a strong and enduring relationship with the giant American brand.
“We started winning races with the Mk1 engine and getting customers, and what really got us launched was the SV Sierra Cosworth in 1986 and ’87. That car was an awesome piece, a turbocharged Cosworth engine with a lot of power and everyone was excited. We started building those cars and won both saloon car championships that first year.”
A telephone call was about to change the course of Mountune, and perhaps the course of Ford performance in the UK. Mountain can’t conceal his enthusiasm as he recalls the time.
“The big break came when I got a call from Ford Motorsports, they had noticed that we had built some good racing engines. They asked us to build an engine for Carlos Sainz at the 1987 Spanish Rally Championship. Carlos won the race and afterwards was jumping up and down about how good this engine was.
“That led to another call from John Taylor of Ford, and he asked if we would do a Rally engine. We didn’t know anything about Rally engines but we were familiar with the Cosworth engines, so we gladly took that on. It ended up with 25 of us at Mountune building these Rally engines for the World Championship.”
By the early 1990s Mountune was tightly connected with Ford, a relationship that endures to this day. “It was a matter of us growing closer and closer, and we were soon working right alongside Ford on their projects. It was a very good relationship all round.”
Today Mountune is a key provider of horsepower in several series, most notably the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), World Rallycross, and Red Bull Global Rallycross. They have also launched a growing initiative in the street marketplace, and teamed with Ford Motor Company, Mountune Performance.
The engines built by Mountune follow a range of closely controlled specs in a variety of series, often resulting in an engine that is comprised of a mix of factory and aftermarket components. “There really is a mix that is about halfway between two elements,” says Mountain. “For example, in British Touring Cars the regulations require a stock cylinder head and block, and we design and build new connecting rods and pistons. We change camshaft profiles, and we do a lot of work with the wet sump system. It’s all quite interesting.”
The BTCC presence is probably Mountune’s highest current motorsport profile. “We currently have nine cars we look after in BTCC, providing engines and support,” Mountain says. “Today a front-running team would run on about £1.5 million, covering 10 race meetings with three races per meeting. So a lot of races, really.
“Our responsibility is to design certain components, assemble the engine, and provide support on-site at race meetings. The support we provide today has really changed because of electronics and that sort of thing. The Mountune team at the track are mainly hands-on guys who have been trained specifically as an engine builder. They are very familiar with the use of laptop computers and data logging programmes.
“We then have two or three people—whom I would call engineers—who are mapping engines on the dyno rather than being hands-on with the assembly itself. They might get a call from the track requesting information, or might get data emailed to them if the guys on-site cannot handle something. They might look at the data and suggest changes, or might even make the changes at the shop and e-mail them to the guys at the track. “It is very detailed and we have realised how important it is to have guys at the track, and also competent people back at the shop to act as a support network.”
While their alliance with Ford remains strong, Mountune also works with other brands and makes as well. For example, since 2016, Mountune supply engines to the Manufacturer's BTCC Team, Adrian Flux Subaru and prepares Honda engines for competitors in the Red Bull Global Rallycross series. The series is one of the fastest-growing in all motorsports, drawing several manufacturers including Ford, Volkswagen, Honda, and Subaru.
It’s been pretty big news in motorsport,” Mountain insists. “It’s a very good spectator sport, a bit like rallying in some tarmac and some dirt, and a jump. It’s growing very quickly in the US, and a lot of sponsors are getting on board. We do some of the Ford cars and supply engines for the Honda cars. These are quite interesting cars, 600-hp with colossal powerful turbocharged engines and four-wheel-drive. That’s our biggest program in the US, Global Rallycross. “What supports that series is another called SuperCar Lites, a four-wheel drive car with a 2.4-litre normally aspirated engine with just over 310bhp. We do all of those engines.”
The Mountune headquarters is in the town of Hutton, about 30 miles northeast of London. The company is operated from two buildings, with the main building boasting about 40,000 sq-ft. The main building is split into an engine build facility on the ground floor, and also contains offices, a fabrication shop, machine shop, and a workshop with ramps for conversion work. A second building of about 5,000 sqft contains five dynos and various operations.
“If you look at the overall Mountune business, on the racing side of things we have about 22 people. On the ‘road car’ business we currently have about 15 people. Most work directly in our headquarters. And then we have about six people at an operation we recently opened in Los Angeles.”
In recent years Mountain made his first trek to the PRI show, and he laughs as he recalls the initial trip: “It was mind blowing!” he exclaims. “I had heard all about it, but I couldn’t possibly imagine how big it was. I’m used to going to the shows here in the UK, which are vastly smaller in comparison. So you really have no way to appreciate the size of the PRI show until you attend. It’s quite something.
“So you know, to be able to see in effect, all this machinery and all these manufacturers, and all these suppliers at one show, that is very impressive. For instance, we ordered a Superflow dyno at the PRI show for our US operation. We also ordered a soundproof engine cell, and found a company doing ultrasonic cleaners and ordered one of those as well. It was a very, very good experience.”
In addition to multiple dynos, the Mountune shop features an array of various tools acquired in recent years. A Superflow flow bench is used to test cylinder heads, and what Mountain describes as a “basic” machine shop features a variety of lathes and tooling.
“Most of our components are manufactured by specialised suppliers,” Mountain explains. “Connecting rods, things like that. Our approach has been to design and develop a component, and then work with a manufacturer to provide us the parts in volume. We’re not really looking to do volume manufacturing here at our location.”
Leveraging their significant experience in motorsports competition, Mountune is nurturing a growing business segment that was brought about by the company’s relationship with Ford. Customers looking for additional performance can order a Mountune Performance Upgrade for their new Ford, installed by the dealer and fully warranted. Mountain says the relationship has shown some very exciting potential.
“The opportunities are opening up all the time through the Ford network,” he says. “For instance, just a few weeks ago we launched with Ford Australia, making our Performance Upgrade available to customers there.
“The significance is that each region is quite an approval process. Once everything has been approved and Ford switches on the access for that region, the dealer has to be able to plug the car into a machine and download the performance programme into the car. That takes quite a bit of doing, to get there. We’ve currently got Australia, New Zealand, the US, and parts of Europe. If you think about how well Ford is doing in the US and how many cars they are selling, that’s where the volume is.”
It is worth noting that the programme brings knowledge and information—born through decades of racing experience—to mainstream consumers. For example, Mountune recruited longtime Cosworth executive Ken Anderson to lead their recently launched US Operations.
“That relationship started by pure chance, as these things often do,” says Mountain. “Somehow Ken and I were introduced at the Autosport show in the UK, I had heard of him when I dealt with Cosworth. We got on well, and as we discussed the business Ken said something like a throwaway line, something like, ‘Mountune would do well over in the States.’ We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Great idea!’
Our presence there is very much focused on the Ford aftermarket business. Ken is supplying Ford Performance USA with upgrades, and selling retail products from his website and showroom. Eventually we want to be able to do the same stuff there that we do here—build engines, rebuild engines, service customers, dyno testing, product development, and the like. It will take time and we’re growing it slowly but that’s where we want to be.”
New opportunities bring new challenges, a fact not lost on Mountain. He talks candidly of how difficult it is sometimes to manage prosperity; the more prosperity, the more challenging it will be. Whether it is success on the race track or his growing reach into the mainstream performance market, it requires a combination of planning, risk, and hold-your-breath moments.
“It’s very difficult to manage that growth, there is no doubt about it,” he insists. “The big issue is finding the investment to do the things you need to do to support the new projects. If you’re not careful you end up in a cash flow problem because you’re trying to keep up. Parts to stock that require long lead times, shipped from all over the world, trying to manufacture more at our US location…it is challenging.
“The keys are funding the growth, and finding the right people. We’ve been lucky to find people like Ken, and a number of others. In fact, four of our five people in Los Angeles are former Cosworth employees. They bring a great deal of talent and experience and that is important.”
Even in “quiet” times, managing a global entity brings new issues to confront. It was simple all those years ago when Mountain serviced Mini engines out of his “shed.” The customers were all local, and the circle of competition was small and easily defined. Today, however, Mountune products are reaching customers all around the globe.
“I have discovered that the real challenge in that instance is not so much in building the engine,” he says, laughing easily. “The challenge is the support, because most of our customers require support of the product, and that means at the track. The engines are getting more and more complex because of electronics, and that requires skilled people on site to address any issue with the engine that might arise.
For example, at any given weekend, we will have approximately six support engineers dotted all around the globe, so it is indeed challenging in terms of logistics.”
As Mountain talks of the current global business climate, it is evident that he has spent some time thinking of the future. This seems to be a bit unusual in the performance world; people tend to think “long term” means next weekend. But Mountain is obviously paying close attention to the world around him, and it has sparked a considerable amount of thought.
“There are a number of challenges out in front of our industry; some of them are immediate and many are much further away. For example, if you look at the UK and BREXIT, I don’t think anyone fully understands what could happen when we eventually leave.
“We’re also looking at many possible changes in the international world; the biggest challenge is the whole environmental issue. It wasn’t that long ago that people were dreaming of electric cars, and now they are here. “I suppose we have to wonder, long-term, over the next 15 or 20 years, what things are going to look like. That’s the biggest concern, I think. Are we going to have to look into modifying electric vehicles? I just don’t know.”
Like every entrepreneur, Mountain says he is always open to following new paths. What if an opportunity presented itself in a very different arena than saloon cars, or rally cars? Would Mountune look at new horizons?
“We’re always looking into new things, obviously,” he says. “But right now with the rally cross and the touring cars, we’re pretty full-on. So I think we are where we need to be, at least for the near term. Unless something came along that was pretty attractive, I’d have to say, we’re busy.”
"The brand new Mountune Racing website has recently been launched, which is dedicated to the sale and support of our high-end race engine components, covering both Duratec and EcoBoost engines, the majority of which are designed and engineered by the Racing team." added Mountain. "The new website will be used to keep our audience up to date on the latest products and mountune powered news."
If you peel away the layers, at his core Mountain is still a racing man. He is proud of his company’s success, but nothing compares to the thrill of winning on the race track. As he looks back at nearly 40 years of competition, he thinks fondly of some his finest hours.
“There are things that stand out, yes, things that stay in the memory,” he says. “I look back at moments like winning the Monte Carlo Rally, that was an incredible moment. Ford hadn’t won it for many years, and it’s a very special event. When we won it in 1993 with Francois Delecour and the Ford Escort, that was special. Winning the Safari Rally with Colin McRae in 1999…winning the BTCC in 1990 with the RS 500, those are all major victories.
“On a business level, landing the Ford Motor Company’s works contract was incredible. That was very important and it was a turning point for our business. If someone would have predicted what would happen, I would have laughed. It wasn’t that many years before that I was just an engine builder, in a shed, turning out Mini engines. Those have been big moments.”