A Look at Scat Enterprises’s Tom Lieb and His American Dream

Check out this exclusive feature from the September issue of Drag Racer magazine–on sale now!

Tom Lieb and His American Dream

 

Let it be known, whether you buy a hard part or vehicle seat from Scat, you’re doing business with Tom Lieb, a certified car guy, not some faceless multinational conglomerate, churning out everything from door knobs to toilet seats.

 

Since the mid ’50s, Lieb’s had close to 400 cars. Today he counts 20 in his possession, including an outstanding ’29 Ford Highboy roadster on ’32 rails, which he’s owned since high school. In 2010 it won the highly competitive Street Roadster Class at the prestigious National Roadster Show (formerly the Oakland Roadster Show). If you want something more upscale, he’s also won the Vintage Class at world-renowned Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance three times with three different vehicles. Not too shabby!

 

Before you get your nose out of joint, this guy’s no silver spooner. Lieb’s just a SoCal kid from a large middle class family who was an entrepreneur at a young age. In the early-’50s he was cutting grass with an old push mower, but had his eye on a gas model, so he could increase business. He made a deal with a neighborhood gardener to repair one of his gas mowers, a task which he successfully completed. He soon discovered there was more money to be made repairing broken gas engines, including his friends’ Whizzer motorbikes.

Four hundred pounds of steel about to be turned into a 65-pound Scat custom crankshaft.

Four hundred pounds of steel about to be turned into a 65-pound Scat custom crankshaft.

 

At 15 he was working at a neighborhood Flying A gas station, now repairing his friends’ cars on the side. The core of auto repair in general and hot rodding in particular in the ’50s and ’60s was used parts, few could afford the luxury of new equipment.

 

Sections of the Los Angeles area were home to acres of wrecking yards. Tom developed a relationship with the yard owners and regularly scoured their properties for needed parts. L.A. was also home to several large engine remanufacturing facilities, including Montgomery Ward. He developed relationships with these companies and became one of their main suppliers of used parts for their rebuilding programs.

 

Cranks awaiting their next step in the Scat precision finishing process.

Cranks awaiting their next step in the Scat precision finishing process.

 

After graduating from high school in ’58, he bought a used Ford Ranchero pickup and rented a portion of the family garage for his growing automotive business ventures. The steady flow of cash allowed him to attend college in addition to running the business.

 

His customer base grew to encompass speed equipment manufacturers, including Isky and Racer Brown, who bought used cams to be reground. All the SoCal-based Performance transmission builders: C&O, Hydro Motive and B&M and a couple more, all had standing orders for used hydromantic transmissions and converters; the Spar brothers at B&M were good for 20 a week.

 

One of Lieb’s early major successes was making a connection with a Buffalo, New York, wrecking yard owner who had a contract with the state of New York for recycling state vehicles, including Dodge pickups, which were powered by 392 Hemis. Through this source he became one of the major West Coast Hemi engine suppliers, providing long-blocks for, among others, Ed Pink, Keith Black, Surfers and Tom Sparks.

 

A trail of detailed paperwork follows every Scat crank. Each order is carefully monitored.

A trail of detailed paperwork follows every Scat crank. Each order is carefully monitored.

 

The VW portion of Lieb’s business began in the early ’60s as Beetles became a big seller in the U.S. His engine remanufacturing clients expanded to include that market. Through the ties he nurtured with VW of America and the wrecking yards, he expanded into supplying VW parts. He also had the foresight to see the VW’s performance potential. In just a few years he’d become the first distributor for EMPI, who, at its peak in the ’60s and ’70s, produced some of the most sought after VW parts and accessories. Remember the EMPI Inch Pincher VW gasser?

 

Vintage Bugatti Type 57 cranks (at $15,000 each) awaiting Scat’s craftsmanship.

Vintage Bugatti Type 57 cranks (at $15,000 each) awaiting Scat’s craftsmanship.

 

By the time he graduated from college in ’64 Lieb was making more than $1,000 a month, big money for that time. In short order that year, Scat Enterprises was officially born and relocated from the family garage to a rental in Inglewood, California, which now included his newly formulated speed shop. More and more hardcore manufacturing equipment began showing up, including a crankshaft grinder and balancer. Soon the “crank shop” became part of his performance business, which supplied cranks to major performance crankshaft companies throughout the country. In ’73 Lieb expanded operations with the purchase of the well-respected Crankshaft Company.

 

In ’75 he built the facility where Scat is now located. The fabled Vic Edelbrock also owned a construction company and was responsible for the project.

 

Through the years Lieb became friends with Mose Nowland, who had been a key player in Ford performance engine development since the early-’60s; before retiring, his final project was John Force’s Ford nitro Hemi engine.

 

Scat connecting rod on honing machine. Diamonds instead of stones are used for the process; they’re more expensive but they create a better finished product.

Scat connecting rod on honing machine. Diamonds instead of stones are used for the process; they’re more expensive but they create a better finished product.

 

In ’80, when Ford “officially” returned to motorsports, Nowland recruited Lieb to build cranks for Ford’s race engines. But in order to take on the job he needed to purchase a crankshaft milling machine costing three quarters of a million dollars, quite a sizeable capital outlay. But the investment paid off handsomely. The newly acquired machinery allowed Scat to turn a 400-pound piece of metal into a 65-pound crankshaft much quicker and more accurately than the competition. For the next 15 years Scat provided crankshafts for all of the performance crankshaft companies. They sent their raw forgings or billet material to Scat where Lieb’s crew would bring the cranks through two thirds of the process and send them back for finishing. Scat also developed into a private label manufacturer, building cranks that were repackaged and sold under other company’s names.

 

Scat’s Ford connection developed into relationships with all of the major domestic and Japanese automobile manufacturers. It became the go-to company for pre-production crankshaft development, including the LS Chevy, Dodge Viper and Ford V-10 pickup engines. One of the most interesting projects was a straight eight-cylinder engine developed for Chrysler’s two-seater Crossfire sports coupe. Unfortunately it didn’t see production.

 

High tech computer design ensures a high quality finished product.

High tech computer design ensures a high quality finished product.

 

In the ’80s, for a variety of reasons, the forging houses, those producers of steel castings and forgings in the U.S., started closing down. Crankshaft manufacturers began scrambling for new sources. Scat turned to British Steel for billet, and as the rest of the industry did, to China for castings and forgings. Without China the performance crankshaft industry would virtually have been out of business.

 

Reams of articles have been written on the pros and cons of the “China Connection,” but Lieb maintains China is home to the most modern facilities in the world and excellent steel mills, noting most of the manufacturing equipment and training comes from America and Europe. The key is to control the entire process. For the past 30 years he’s made regular visits to his Chinese suppliers, constantly evaluating all of the steps in the manufacturing process. And perhaps the most crucial steps in the manufacture of crankshafts, the finishing processes, are all done at Scat’s facilities in Southern California.

 

Tom Lieb’s award-winning ’29 Ford roadster. Not a trailer queen, Tom regularly drives this beauty. He’s had it since high school.

Tom Lieb’s award-winning ’29 Ford roadster. Not a trailer queen, Tom regularly drives this beauty. He’s had it since high school.

 

The Scat operation, utilizing the most modern, high tech equipment available, employing cutting-edge design and product control, manufactures a wide variety of crankshafts. They’re available in billet, forged or cast designs, for almost every Big Three engine:  Chevy and Ford small- and big-blocks, Pontiac, Chrysler (including early and late Hemis), Ford Flatheads, As and Ts, foreign, sport compacts and VWs.

 

Scat also uses its equipment, talent and materials to create custom-forged and billet cranks for almost any application. All race cranks are nitrided.

 

Attached to those cranks, Scat also produces connecting rods featuring the same high quality materials and craftsmanship that is featured in its cranks. The rods are made from two-piece chrome-moly steel forgings in I- and H-beam designs for a wide variety of Big Three and foreign engines and applications.

 

Additionally, Scat is a one-stop source for rotating assemblies available for more than a thousand GM, Ford and Mopar applications.

 

Tom Lieb has seen his dream grow from literally a backyard operation to the current 42,000-sq-ft facility, using the finest equipment and design techniques available. Even though much has changed, he’s still a hot rodder at heart, with the desire and focus to provide the best product possible.

 

Text by Pete Ward

Photos by Pete Ward and Courtesy of Scat Enterprises

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