With all of the faceless internet auto parts retailers and “discount” parts warehouses around, it’s rare to find someone who can talk the talk and walk the walk. Too many of those places put a high priority on ultra-low prices and not enough priority in customer service (or quality parts).
Porsche enthusiasts have known for some time that when they need quality parts and even better service, they need to call on Electrodyne, Inc. Electrodyne is located in Alexandria, Virginia and is owned and operated by Chester Vincentz, or “Chet” as his friends call him.
We sat down with Chet a few months ago and chatted with him, covering everything from racing to the retail parts industry. Chet is a true car enthusiast and was extremely accommodating during our interview. We started by asking Chet for a little history on Electrodyne.
“We got our start in 1968 in the aerospace industry, manufacturing complex electrical and electromechanical simulation equipment. However, after the US successfully placed a man on the moon, the purchase of that type of equipment slowed drastically. A group of us, who were all sports car enthusiasts, had been traveling the world [with their jobs related to the aerospace industry] and we found ourselves in Europe quite often.
“Somewhere in the early 70′s, I joined the Porsche club, and with the help of another friend, he and I ran the Porsche store for about a year or so. After our year was up, we decided to keep the store going, and kept buying parts as we traveled across Europe. By 1972, we were doing quite a business (as parts retailers), and by 1975, we sold off the electronics division and concentrated 100% on the Porsche parts business.”
At this point, Chet tells us that Electrodyne was able to become the exclusive importer for some really great European parts including Momo, Nardi, Recaro, Carello Lighting, and a few others. This was quite an accomplishment and launched them into the accessories business.
Soon afterward, Electrodyne became involved with IMSA racing, by serving as team management for Gianpiero Moretti. They ran the entire operation from Electrodyne’s Alexandria shop, and it wasn’t long before Gianpiero had Chet buying himself a race car. Moretti knew of a Porsche 930 in Italy that he felt would work well for Chet, so Chet bought the car and started racing as well.
Electrodyne ran a two car team for a number of years; Gianpiero ran GTS, Chet ran GTO, and throughout the 80′s, Electrodyne raced Porsches on the weekends and sold Porsche parts and accessories during the week. By the mid-to-late 1980′s Electrodyne was racing a few different Porsche models but in 1988, when Porsche’s motorsports director died in a plane crash, Porsche pulled the 944 and GTO programs. That tradegy would mark the end of Electrodyne’s professional racing involvement.
Along with a weakening US dollar came a decrease in new Porsche sales, and Electrodyne decided they needed to find new business opportunities. “A friend of mine had started a company called Racing Dynamics, and he was ready to move back to Italy, so we bought his company and brought on the Racing Dynamics name.”
“Fortunately for us, Porsche’s decline in the late 80′s coincided with BMW’s rise – if you’ll recall, BMW’s were starting to become more prominent in the late 80′s and early 90′s,” says Chet, “this worked out well because we really needed to bring on a new car marque for our accessories line.”
The cards continued to fall in Electrodyne’s favor, because at about the same time as the Racing Dynamics purchase, Kamei GmbH of Germany was looking to close its US operations. Chet saw this as an opportunity, and purchased their US factory. He and his staff moved the entire Kamei manufacturing facility from Connecticut to Alexandria – it would become the basis of the “Freedom Design” line of body accessories for Electrodyne.
We chatted at length about the body accessory business, and eventually asked him the question that everyone’s dying to ask – where do you get the cars for your “test” vehicles? Do you buy them, get them from the factory, or what?
“That’s where Roadfly really became an asset to us. Not only were we generating sales from advertising with Roadfly, we were also able to post to the forums, asking members to let us borrow their cars so we could make new accessories without having to buy a car for everything we wanted to build,” says Chet. “Through their enthusiastic membership, we’d get all sorts of people who were willing to let us test fit parts and pieces, and it worked out great for everyone. This has been a huge value to us – in fact, we have a MINI in the shop right now that belongs to a helpful Roadfly member.”
“The internet has really helped us do things that wouldn’t have been possible years ago,” he says matter-of-factly.
Electrodyne has approximately 30 employees at its 35,000 square foot facility which is located on Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria, Virginia. They have their own R&D department, complete with their own model shop – this is something that’s unique to Electrodyne – very few shops have the abilities to manufacture their own molds and mock-ups in house.
Chet states, “We have a guy here who is a genious at crafting wooden mock-ups. He can design something in wood, test it and we can build it from there. It might sound odd, but the wood models are really helpful for the mock-up process.”
By keeping the majority of the production equipment and machinery in house, Electrodyne is able to keep a close eye on quality, and can quickly develop a new part or accessory if and when the market demands it. “It really gives us an upper hand in the business,” as Chet points out. “We create things that people normally copy.”
Electrodyne also campaigns show cars, and has been featured in various magazines. They’ve built everything from Volkswagen Golf’s to BMW 5-series, and they’ve built ‘em well. They use the vehicles to showcase new products and to help give consumers some ideas of what’s available for their own vehicles.
From Audi to Volkswagen, BMW to PT Cruiser, Electrodyne has a product or replacement part that’s sure to suit your needs. They’re constantly developing new parts and don’t seem to be content to rest on their laurels. Their business philosophy is simple – stock what you sell, know what you’re selling and try to build everything better than everyone else.
Chet and the gang at Electrodyne are top notch people, and we’re proud to have been able to chat with them. Visit them on the web at http://www.electrodyne.cc/, or call them at 1-800-296-8850 and be sure to tell them that Roadfly sent you.