By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer
Smokey’s Dyno & Performance provides a vroom with a view of exotic motor vehicles.
It’s a place to take your car or truck when 200, 300 or even 500 and higher horsepower isn’t enough.
“We’ll work on anything,” said Brandon Masidonski, the 29-year-old president and co-owner of the newly relocated and growing business in Green.
The shop takes in everyday cars, trucks and SUVs — Chevrolets, Fords, Dodges and the like. But wander around a bit and you may encounter a Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and other high-end foreign and domestic vehicles, some vintage, whose owners want to improve upon already impressive performance.
Smokey’s started out in a 900-square-foot shop in North Canton. It relocated last year to the former food workers union building in Green — about 17,000 square feet of space — off Fortuna Drive behind the Lexus of Akron-Canton dealership and near the Regal Cinemas complex off Interstate Parkway.
Masidonski and co-owner Peter Zoumberakis have plans for further expansion but are keeping specifics quiet. One direction they may expand into is upgrading vehicles owned by professional athletes. The custom shop also will convert vehicles to run on natural gas.
A key part of their business: A state-of-the-art, four-wheel computerized Superflow AutoDyn dynamometer — dyno for short. The device accurately measures horsepower and torque performance from drive wheels, telling Smokey’s technicians how well their modifications are working.
“It really is an indication of how serious the shop is,” said Peter MacGillivray, spokesman for the Specialty Equipment Market Association, also known as SEMA. “A dyno is a highly sophisticated performance machine. People will target shops with dynos. That demonstrates expertise and commitment.”
Not too many years ago, the bulk of work done by mechanics involved hand tools, MacGillivray said. Now, vehicle technicians need laptops to work on increasingly computerized and complex vehicles.
Smokey’s is part of a $30 billion-a-year-and-growing industry to enhance motor vehicle performance and styling, MacGillivray said.
Motor vehicle owners increasingly want to personalize and improve their cars and trucks, even high performance super cars, he said.
“They have tapped into that,” he said.
“This is the dream. We love what we do and people see that,” said Zoumberakis, who at age 32 is the oldest person at the seven full-time employee shop.
He and Masidonski created Smokey’s after Zoumberakis’ family sold its Springfield Township business, Quality Mold Inc.
“I wanted to do something I really wanted to do,” Zoumberakis said. His passion was in making cars and trucks look better, particularly with custom wheels, while Masidonski, who has a background as a mechanic, is in improving performance.
The two decided on Smokey’s as a brand name.
“We’re bringing in cars from out of state. We’re bringing in money from out of state,” Zoumberakis said. “We’re trying to bring business to the area.”
One car enthusiast and collector trucked a Lamborghini Diablo sports car from Miami for Smokey’s to work on.
Smokey’s, meanwhile, also sends its staff for specialized training “all over the world,” Masidonski said.
Smokey’s has relationships with other local businesses, including a specialty paint shop, that can do work on vehicles that Smokey’s cannot provide, Zoumberakis and Masidonski said.
“We’ll have to hire more people this year,” Masidonski said. “We really don’t do advertising. It’s all word of mouth.”
Smokey’s uses social media such as Facebook and a YouTube channel to promote itself. A blog gives detailed information on how the shop tuned specific vehicles, including how installing new spark plugs at a cost of $16 added 12 horsepower to a 2000 Camaro SS.
Matthew Smith, a 25-year-old technician, has been with Smokey’s almost three years. His most recent big project was installing a turbocharged Corvette engine in a Nissan 350Z.
“That’s probably the most fun that I’ve done,’ ” Smith said. “It came in as a stock 350Z.” He has also worked on several Lamborghini Aventadors.
Smith’s personal vehicle is a 2005 all-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8. The stock 265 horsepower turbo-charged four-cylinder engine didn’t stay stock for long, he said.
“It’s currently 450 horsepower,” Smith said. “I’ve made all kinds of changes.”
The cost for a basic tune-up at Smokey’s starts at about $500 and may add 15 or more horsepower and also improve gas mileage, Masidonski said. The shop works with customers to meet their needs and their budgets, he said.
The work often involves looking at making changes to the engine, engine intake and exhaust and making sure all the related electronics and sensors work properly.
Part prices can escalate rapidly with exotic nameplates. For instance, a carbon fiber air filter to help a Lamborghini engine breathe more easily can cost $800.
If someone pulled in with a $1.7 million Bugatti Veyron, Smokey’s would charge $19,995 for a tune-up that would add about 200 horsepower to what is already an exceedingly powerful exotic vehicle, Masidonski said. He noted that the cost to change tires on a Veyron, one of the world’s fastest production cars with a top speed of more than 250 mph, runs between $30,000 to $40,000.
If the team at Smokey’s does its job right, the driver will not notice a difference in the driveability of his or her vehicle until the need to quickly accelerate, Masidonski said.
“We want everything as smooth as possible,” he said. “The goal here is to make a car run like it is stock until you step on the gas pedal.”
Standing near the four-wheel dynamometer is not for the faint of heart. It can get painfully loud when a car, safely tied down, has its engine pushed to the maximum during testing. Ear plugs are required to stand near by.
Technician Smith showed off work he was doing on a new Chevrolet Camaro. The dyno’s computer monitor showed that the car was producing 607 horsepower. When the Camaro was first brought in, stock horsepower was 510.
“We gained about 98 horsepower,” Smith said.
“That’s the fun stuff,” Masidonski said.
Many modifications involved using a computer to tweak software settings on a vehicle, Smith said.
“You need to know the computer systems in order to program them,” Smith said. “Everything on the car is computer programmed. In the old-school days you could turn the distributor a little bit, change a couple of jets and you’re good. Now you have to change five to 10 [computer] tables just to get the fuel to change or the timing to change. It’s all integrated now. ... It can get pretty high tech.”
Smokey’s makes use of computers and the Internet in other ways, as well.
The shop lets customers watch work being done on their vehicles via 16 live webcams set up around the business.
“A lot of times we’ll take before and after videos” of project vehicles, Masidonski said.
Smokey’s takes on project vehicles to experiment with and to use to market the business. This year’s project vehicle is a 2014 Chevrolet Corvette that the shop will modify and showcase.
“We have a lot of plans,” Masidonski said. “We definitely are growing. We’re excited for the year. We have a lot of good plans.”
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.