As with any business or person, there has been and always will be a need to adapt to changing times and conditions. This month’s interviewee, Aaron, started to figure that out a few years after starting his business, ATS Racing. Previously Aaron’s business focused only on tuning Toyota MR2’s. When many of his clients started to outgrow their MR2’s, Aaron was caught somewhat unprepared, as many of those clients turned around and started bringing Aaron their Ferraris and Lotuses that they bought to replace the MR2’s. Aaron and ATS had to do something or lose business with many of their loyal customers. Aaron saw this as an opportunity to bring mechanical engineer Rob Rudeau into the business. Together they started ATS Exotics, sort of a company within a company. This month’s car is a 1988 Ferrari Mondial 3.2 that represents a relatively new chapter for ATS and a culmination of Aaron and Rob’s automotive experience.
Aaron began wrenching on cars mostly out of necessity. He hails from tiny Vernon, TX in the northern part of the state. In a small rural town, having a car is a necessity for getting from point A to point B simply because of how spread out things tend to be. His ‘85 Corvette was fun, but expensive to maintain. Being the GM halo car, just about every repair shop in the Wichita Falls area charged a “Corvette tax” to work on the car. Aaron hated this and he’d finally had enough when he was quoted as much as $800 for the same water pump that would’ve been much less expensive on other GM models with similar V8 engines. He decided to replace the water pump himself with a toolset he’d received as a Christmas gift. Everything went well, and eventually, Aaron had equipped the Corvette with a 406 stroker engine that helped it run 13-second quarter miles down at the drag strip. Aaron had become a driveway wrencher out of necessity, but the next step that he’d take would be based more in pure fun.
A couple years later, Aaron, who had just been hired by Bose, had to move to Denton, TX for work and sold the Corvette in order to cover the costs of the move. It wouldn’t be such a big deal. After all he would be getting a company car. Unfortunately for Aaron, by that time a diehard gearhead, the company car was a Dodge Grand Caravan. He had a bit of money still left after the move and decided to go out and buy a project car that he could work on for fun. After spotting a Toyota MR2, Aaron decided he wanted one and bought a non-turbo ‘90s model not long after. He equipped the tiny car with a Nitrous Express system that was leftover from when he had the Corvette and started meeting other MR2 owners in the area. Two of those owners were Scott and Todd McClenden, with whom Aaron became friends. 4 years later, the trio founded ATS Racing.
Initially, they were happy to work on anything. This included a project testing performance camshafts for the Nissan 350Z, which were to be offered by Jim Wolf Technologies. However, as time went on, it became clear that ATS were mostly interested in working on MR2’s. This worked well for them for a while, but a few years ago, it became clear that that was changing. MR2 owners who had been clients for years, began to outgrow their Toyota sports cars and often replaced them with old exotics like Ferrari 308’s and Lotus Esprits. They’d often bring the cars by ATS, asking Aaron and the team if they could work on them. They didn’t for a while, but eventually, they realized that they ought to learn how.
Aaron’s Mondial isn’t just a car that ATS tuned for fun. It is a running and driving proof of concept of what they can do to breath new life into old exotics. When many of Aaron’s clients began to outgrow their Toyota MR2’s, they started turning to exotic cars made during the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. These cars are still generally off the radar of millionaire collectors and the collector car auction crowd, and have exploded in popularity with younger enthusiasts. The only issue is that a lot of these old Ferraris, Lotuses, and other exotics are easily outrun by even the most basic of modern hot hatchbacks. ATS has found their new niche by offering a solution to this problem.
Many of the exotics that ATS works on came with fuel injection systems rather than carburetors back in the day, a feature that made a huge difference when it came to emissions and driveability. However, horsepower and acceleration often suffered. With age, many of these fuel injection systems start to lose what vigor they had when new and even when replaced, they don’t have the same responsiveness that a modern injection system has. ATS upgrades these old exotics with ECU computer tuning, sometimes upgraded parts, and in this case a large turbocharger.
While Aaron has another Mondial that only has a turbo kit and a mild ECU tune, the Mondial this writer rode in is equipped with a fully-built engine(upgraded cams, ported heads, forged pistons), Koni shock absorbers, and upgraded brakes in addition to the aforementioned turbo and ECU tune. Granted, the Mondial we rode in had been equipped with most of the parts by a previous owner, but Aaron used that as a launching pad to create an even higher level of performance. This is what ATS enjoy doing. They handle the scary engine building and ECU tuning while letting customers otherwise customize the car to their expectations. Considering that Mondials are going for around $25,000 lately, it’s definitely a tempting prospect. It’s such a fun build that Aaron doesn’t want to get rid of the car even though he might have to.
For Aaron, the Mondial has become more than just the fun proof-of-concept project that it was originally meant to be. It has become something that brings everybody in his world together. He recalled piling four adults into the car at work one day just to take friends to lunch. His 12-year-old son loves riding in the car and even pushes the front passenger seat all the way forward before going on a ride as though he’s going to be chauffeured around. Aaron told us during our interview that the Mondial is a car that you can share with your family, and he’s definitely right. It’s the rare 2+2 Ferrari GT car and it’s actually inexpensive to buy. All of this makes it much harder for Aaron to sell it. He mentioned that it might just have to go in order to fund another project, and that’s a tragedy. After all, a fun, inexpensive car that can be shared with friends and family doesn’t come around all that often, much less one with a Ferrari badge on it.