We all know the vaunted award winning N54 engine is a beast out of the box. 300hp and 300 lb ft of torque. However there are certain BMW enthusiasts that think too much is never enough.
With that in mind we at BMWBlog wanted to learn a little more about one of the quality tuners that offer enhanced performance for the N54 engine. So we had a little chat with Terry Burger of Burger Motorsports. Terry took some time out and give us some insight on why his company does what it does and a glimpse at what is in the future for Burger Motorsports.
BMWBlog: Terry thanks for taking some of your time and going through a few things with us. We understand you are a busy man these days. Before we dive too far into the future. Tell us a little about what started Burger Motorsports?Did you grow up around cars? Have a lead foot in High School? How did it all begin?
Terry: I think my passion for cars started with “stompers” as a child,which were miniature electric cars that ran off a 1.5 volt battery. I would get together with friends and modify them with larger batteries,
taller tires, stronger motors, and compete in little races. From stompers I went to electric RC cars, then gas powered RC cars, and before I knew it I was working on the real thing.
During high school cars were always a central part of my Social structure, often I would get together with a small group Of friends and we would purchase inexpensive cars (e.g. less than $500) just for fun on a weekend, modify them a bit by removing the mufflers and taking off weight, add nitrous, race fuel, and other little things, and smash them around in on the road destruction derbies. One of my favorites was a Pontiac LeMans with a three on the tree manual transmission that I bought for $120. It didn’t last a week.
I suppose I got started professionally with my 1993 Chevy Camaro, which was the first year of the fourth generation.It Had a six speed manual transmission, 275hp, and major drool factor at high school. A car ahead of it’s time. I began attending drag racing events with it, joined an online car forum, and began to make my name as a player in LT1 modification.
At one point I had the quickest LT1 on the internet, running 10.80 at 129 in the 1/4 mile, and soon after began receiving solicitations to tune others for similar performance.
BMWBlog: That’s interesting. So your passion started young and you stuck with it. That’s great. Tell us more. How many solicitations did you receive and from whom?
Terry: Often local enthusiasts who happened to have the same car with similar mods, but were running slower times, or were having various tuning related problems such as a rough idle or poor gas mileage and needed help correcting them. We would meet at the track, or local car club events, and I would inspect the car and offer advice. Sometimes using logging software, sometimes just a “gut feeling”. Early on the tuning was much less complex, and was often mechanically based.
Such as setting the fuel pressure, adjusting a stand alone timing retard box, changing spark plugs, changing supercharger pullies, and the like. Later on we moved in to ECU programming via new “chips” stand alone fuel injection systems, and much more sophisticated things driven forward by competition within the community.
Actually a major driving force behind my interest in the field when I started, and one that continues today, is just the competitive nature of modifying and racing. And being able to communicate with others world wide via car discussion forums really heightens it.
During the time I was building and racing the 93 Camaro I had a rivalry going with another car enthusiast in Texas (I’m in California). We would post our weekly exploits, trash talk, and of course the entire community jumped in on the fun and would support one of us or the other in online flame wars.
Anyway as far as a fee for my tuning services often it was performed in exchange for pizza, in exchange for car parts, and on occasion for a modest flat fee. At that time I was primarily a college student, majoring in computer science, and paid the bills as a software engineer.
BMWBlog: Do you feel that being a software engineer in the past is playing a part today in the tuning of the newer cars?
Terry: Without a doubt. I think if you look at successful tuners today you’ll find that having a software background is a common theme. Todays cars rely on software for every aspect of operation, for example the BMW 335 even uses its DME/ECU software to run the electric water pump and windshield wipers! Being an active software engineer also helped with one of my “big breaks” in tuning in 2001, working with a then popular Corvette tuning shop first in the development of business software, where I got a real appreciation for the business side. How to treat customers, and how not to treat customers. And why controlled beta testing is so critical.
Later I had an opportunity to help with cracking the LS1 ECU code and development of end user software, which my software and automotive background made my uniquely qualified. There is an awful lot of work that goes in to flash tuning if you have an interface and the binary file mapped out in to tables,
where you know what each table is supposed to do.
But with this LS1 project they were actually doing the mapping of those tables, locating check-sums, and determine which bytes perform what physical function. And correlating them. Talk about trial by fire! But I always brought more than just engineering to the table.
It was really more about elegance. Getting the desired effect with as few modifications as possible. Optimizing parts to work together and eliminating those that weren’t pulling their weight. To put it in car terms, I would rather change one or two parts and pickup the bulk of the gain. It might seem an obvious position.
However many enthusiasts become addicted to modification and simply assume that any factory part must automatically be inferior to an aftermarket. I spend a lot of time talking people out of certain modifications that aren’t going to really contribute to the overall package.
BMWBlog: No doubt cracking the LS1 ECU and then mapping out the tables required a lot of time and attention to detail. You said you also learned the business side of tuning there as well. Tell us how you think customers should be treated and not be treated? And why beta testing is critical?
Terry: I wish I could take credit for that LS1 project, but the owner of the shop, an EE engineer himself, was really the driving force. But the experience was invaluable. Regarding customers, there is a growing trend to rush products to market which results in customers being unwitting beta testers.
There is a lot of pressure on manufacturers, BMS included, to release products sooner as opposed to later to grab market share, fund the business, and the like. And many underfunded companies, that Corvette shop that I worked with being one of them, can fall victim to it and release products with serious flaws.
Customers also play in to it by demanding products that are not yet ready, so they can get an edge in their next big race, or to set a dyno record, or for the internet forum glory of being the first to run a particular part. In the case of the Corvette shop they released a batch of larger displacement sleeved engine blocks
without proper long term testing.
The result was a 50% failure rate, and when the the part you’re selling requires twice its cost in labor to install, many frustrated customers. It ultimately ruined that business. An example in the software tuning world would be a tune that resulted in unanticipated check engine lights, or worse.
The key to avoiding this is proper testing, and not just under ideal circumstances. For example with our BMW tuners before release we targeted diverse geographical regions based on ambient weather, altitude, gas formulation variations, and the like to ensure there would be no surprises down the road.
But getting back to customers, tuning is a customer service business. And with the connectivity of the internet its more important than ever to ensure every customer is 100% satisfied. So to that end we employ customer friendly policies. Reasonable pricing, return policies without restocking fees, fully tested products,
and we take technical support and after purchase support very seriously.
Most tuners will respond to questions quickly before the sale. But the true test of a good tuner is how they communicate with you post sale.
BMWBlog: And do you feel that beta testing and customer service differentiates BMS from the competition? With all due respect to the competition of course.
Terry: The biggest differentiation point is our products themselves, and our approach to product design. Keep it simple! This lends to better support because the product itself has less points of failure. But customer service is a big point of differentiation as well.
For example we maintain a tech support cell phone, that either I personally answer, or an employee if I am tied up. And we do everything we can to answer that line after hours, nights, and weekends. I’ve taken calls as late as 1am on a week night to help a customer resolve an installation issue. And not just special customers or personal friends, all customers.
BMWBlog: Speaking of products. Do you have plans to expand your product suite beyond your current offerings?
Terry: Of course, we have a variety of projects in the pipeline. Our most popular product to date has been our Juice Box Performance Tuners for the N54, which are currently offered in a “Stage 1” and “Stage 2” variety.
We’re currently developing a “Stage 3” offering which departs from the first two in that its based on a programmable microcontroller. Benefits will include more horsepower on pump gas, smoother operation as we’re intercepting additional engine parameters such as throttle position and air intake temperature that we couldn’t previously with the “Stage 2” hardware, map switching including a fuel economy map and race gas map, and some other neat features to keep the JB3 under the radar on BMW’s new diagnostic equipment.
We are also testing a version of torque management that lowers boost as lower speeds to let the car gain traction, and then raises boost as you’re already moving, to preempt the DTC system from having to kick in and ruin the fun.
We’re working on an integrated digital boost gauge / air intake temperature display that will install quickly using the existing boost and air intake temp sensors. This will work with any tuner, flash, and even on a stock car.
Finally we’re developing a stage 2 version of our popular air intake, which will feature improved heat shielding and cold air ducting for those looking to collect every last single horsepower.
BMWBlog: That certainly is a lot of products in the pipeline. Where do you see the future of BMS going? What direction are you going to push to company towards? And what do you think of Shark Injector and Shark Edit? Will BMS possibly develop some maps for use with Shark Injector?
Terry: I like to keep us agile, able to turn on dime as new challenges and opportunities arise. Shark edit is one of those opportunities we will explore. I’m a strong believer in reflash technology as the preferred method of tuning, but the devil is always in the details.
Will it be detectable by BMW? (another ethical question but one on the minds of our customer base), will I have access to all the tables I need to provide a safe tune? Will there be other advantages within the flash mapping we can exploit that we can’t with piggyback tuning? Time will tell, but if this technology is everything it is cracked up to be.
I envision BMS offering Shark edit maps, and offering upgrade programs like we do currently for customers to transition in to those maps. We currently have the worlds quickest 335i, which puts out around 400rwhp.
So it can only get better with more ECU control. :)
BMWBlog: Last question. Do you think BMS will offer a tune with a warranty? If that is something that more and more of the consumer base demands?
Terry: My focus has always been to provide conservative products that don’t lead to failure, rendering the warranty issue moot. But it’s certainly something we would explore if enough customers demonstrated they were willing to pay a premium for it. :)
BMWBlog: Thank you very much for your time Terry.