There has been much written
about the heyday of Econo Motors and the original Empi - both
the brainchild of the late Joe Vittone. But behind the scenes,
if there was one individual who made Empi what it soon became,
that would have to be Dean Lowry. For it was Dean who headed
up much of the R&D that went on with new product development,
and the true success of the famous Inch Pincher racecar. But
even though Dean was given basically free reign over his department,
he still had ideas that Vittone just wasn't interested in pursuing,
namely a larger engine bore kit than 88mm. But after doing some
early testing, Dean was convinced that a 92mm bore kit, based
on a 270-cubic-inch Dodge piston, would work.About the same time
Dean was working on new ideas, he continued to have ongoing conversations
with his younger brother, Ken, who had worked for Econo Motors
at a time, before moving to Arizona to work for TRW.
Those discussions brought
up the idea of opening their own shop, breaking away, and doing
their own thing. This was mid-1968 and, ironically at the same
time, Dean was having similar conversations with Gene Berg over
the phone, who had his own shop in Renton, Washington. Dean and
Gene had a lot in common, as both understood the workings of
the VW engine and what direction it should take for better performance.
Gene had come to the point that he needed to move to southern
California to be closer to the heart of the industry, and the
timing for the Bergs and the Lowrys appeared to be on a similar
course and speed. By September of 1968, Dean had decided to leave
Empi, and Ken began to move his family of four back to southern
California. Gene and his wife, Dee, and their three sons, were
getting closer to pulling stakes in Washington and moving to
Orange County. By October, the Lowrys opened their doors at 605
E. Alton, in Santa Ana, a 1,200-sq.-ft. building.
The Lowry business began
with a $16,000 total investment, a partially completed racecar
(not the Inch Pincher, but one of Dean's former street Bugs)
and a ton of ideas to pursue. The name of the company came from
several different factors, including Joe Vittone who used to
call Dean Lowry "Dino" for short. Since Dean worked
so closely with an engine dynamometer, the name "dyno"
usually came next -- Dean's dyno. Now at the same time, a hit
cartoon series was on TV known as the Flintstones -- a stone
aged family with modern day problems was becoming very popular.
And to add to this mix, the Flintstones had a purple pet dinosaur,
named "Dino." The story goes that one night when Dean
came home from work, his daughter, Joanne was watching the Flintstones
on TV. And when see saw dad come into the room, she said, "There's
Deano Dinosaur!" Since Dean's favorite color was purple,
it all made sense to his family and friends. The company name
was born: Deano Dyno-Soars. But the next step was to create some
kind of artwork and logo, for which the Lowrys went to see Richard
McPeak in Riverside, to see what he could come up with. Richard
sketched out a rough idea of the company name using the heads
of dinosaurs on the "D"s and Ken and Dean loved it.
The next step was to come up with a caricature of a purple dinosaur,
similar to the Flintstones' pet, and they had the basics for
their trademark logo.
On October 20th, 1968 there
was to be a large all-VW event at Orange County Raceway, and
both the Lowrys felt they needed to make a big showing at the
first Bug-In. With little time to fully prepare a new racecar,
Dean went to work night and day to get this car on the strip
in a matter of weeks. The rolling car went over to Snider's in
Riverside for what was supposed to be a candy purple paint job,
but somehow, it came out a goldish-orange color. So be it. Next,
it was trailered over to McPeak for lettering and striping, and
it was here that, for the first time, Richard created the now
famous purple "Dyno-soar" riding on the roof of Dean's
gasser. The car made it to the Bug-In, much to the surprise of
everyone, including Darrell Vittone who took over the driving
chores of the Inch Pincher once again. Darrell ended up beating
Dean that day, but everyone knew things were about to change.
Back in the shop, work went
full steam ahead on developing a new product line, which was
highlighted by a 92mm big bore kit. At the same time, a new shifter
was being designed (based on a Mercury Cougar automatic transmission
T-handle), and so were new lightweight spun aluminum wheels.
After the first prototype cylinders were tested using a machine
fin arrangement pressed over an L.A. (steel) Sleeve, it was time
to send it to NPR Piston Ring Company in Japan for production.
About the same time, a new oil pump and a shifter were also given
to NPR, and those products made their public debut at the 1969
SEMA Show in Anaheim, California in the spring of 1969. The first
pair of "Alum-A-Lite" spun aluminum wheels found their
way on the front of Dean's car by late '68, which were 13-inch.
The 15-inch rears would follow months later.
In February 1969, the NHRA
Winternationals were the next milestone that would certainly
showcase the company's new 92mm bore kit (their engine size now
boosting 2180cc), which would place them squarely in H/Gas competition.
His eventual class win on Saturday, and going three rounds in
Sunday's Modified Eliminator, placed him in a very elite group.
By the time the Lowrys had
settled-in at their Alton shop, Gene Berg had decided to join
forces with them, creating a very interesting dynamic of talents,
part sources and personalities. By August of '69, it was quite
apparent that their present shop would not be able to handle
the company growth. So a new building was located on the other
end of Santa Ana, this time a brand new 6,000 sq.-ft. concrete
tilt-up was leased, but only after getting the landlord to agree
to paint the new structure bright purple with orange trim! The
shop, at 1322 E. Borchard Ave., became the Dyno-Soars' new home
for both the Lowrys and the Bergs. This is where the family dynamics
came into the picture, as each of them had growing families,
and in most cases they brought them to work when they weren't
in school. So, understand that under one roof you had Dean and
his second wife Loyal, and their four children (Joanne, Julie,
Marla and Larry), Ken and his wife Nancy and their two children
(Connie and Donald), not to mention that brothers Dean and Ken
Lowry married sisters (Loyal and Nancy Fulton). Then add Gene
and Dee Berg's three children (Gary, Doug and Clyde), and you
might get an idea of how hectic it was. Did we mention that brothers
Mark and Paul Schley soon became employed there as well? Holy
While the combined talents
of both the Bergs and the Lowrys looked impressive on paper,
in reality, things inside were quite different. For the most
part, Dean and Gene were hands on mechanics and engine builders
who felt most at home in the back room, working on new part development.
Up front in the office, you had Ken and Nancy, running the business,
with Loyal doing the shipping, Dee Berg chasing parts in the
company Dodge van, and the Schleys getting up to speed with the
new company by filling in where they could. It wasn't long before
the relationship between the camps began to show strain, as Berg's
voice in the way the company should be run wasn't being heard.
So by December of that same year, the Bergs severed their business
relationship and moved out to start their own business in the
city of Orange.
The year, 1970, was a busy
time for Deano Dyno-Soars, as their H/Gas entry at the NHRA Winternationals
saw a new paint job, purple this time, but transaxle woes put
an early end to their season opener. On March 8th, Dean won H/Gas
at Bakersfield, and was displayed on the cover of the March 1970
issue of Hot VWs, only to flip the car at Sears Point on March
15. This horrible crash destroyed the car, but somehow Dean walked
away from it even though the car was not fitted with a roll bar.
In less than three weeks, the shop, along with the help from
local VW clubs, built a new gasser, using parts from the #1 car,
had it painted purple, lettered at McPeak's, and competed at
Bug-In 4! From that point on, Dean began to take the car to NHRA
events across the country, including the Springnationals in Dallas,
Texas in June, the Summernationals in York, Pennsylvania in July,
and the Indy Nationals in September. On October 25th, Dean set
a new H/Gas record at 11.54 in Texas. But not all the company
energy was going toward drag racing, as Ken built a sleek fiberglass
Amante GT kit car to run both the dry lakes and Bonneville. Named
the "Tera-Soar," Ken drove the Deano-powered car to
a new G/SR record of 153.88 mph at the Salt Flats, went 160+
the following year.
With Dean spending so much
time on the road drag racing and promoting the business, much
of the burden of running the shop was left up to Ken and Nancy.
About this time, two new employees joined the team, Walt and
Peggy June, who Dean had known since he was a teenager. Their
input into the company was either a blessing, or a thorn, depending
on whom you talk to. As 1971 rolled around, things were not going
smoothly inside the walls of Deano Dyno-Soars, or on the racetrack.
The Winternationals saw another broken transaxle, Phoenix yet
another, and the working relationship between Dean and Ken was
deteriorating. And by March of 1971, Dean left Deano Dyno-Soars
to start his own company down the street, later named Deano's
Competition Compacts. The two brothers decided to part ways.
Ken bought out Dean's portion of the business, but allowed him
to use the name "Deano's" in future VW-related business
ventures. Ken and Nancy, along with the Schleys, remained to
run the company without Dean, but few outside the circle of friends
knew that the Lowrys were no longer in business together. The
famous H/Gas sedan stayed with the business, later raced by Paul
and Mark for a short time. But as all things come to end sometime,
the famous Dyno-Soars racecar was sold to Billy Mitchell, turn-key
and able to set records, on July 25, 1971.
March 1971 was certainly a turning point in both Dean and Ken
Lowrys' lives. After three years of working together to build
Deano Dyno-Soars into a formidable VW performance company, the
two decided to part ways. So while Ken and his wife Nancy remained
at Deano Dyno-Soars, Dean moved down the street and opened his
own shop, specializing in Toyota performance called, Deano's
Competition Compacts. The early '70s saw a huge influx of compact
cars from Japan, and Dean thought that perhaps Toyota would be
interested in sponsoring a drag Corolla to compete against the
mighty Volkswagen. Dean's one employee, John Johnson (later of
J&G Clutch fame), recalls that even though Dean and Ken were
no longer in business together, they still, almost everyday,
had lunch together.
So for the next two years,
Dean and his wife Loyal worked hard to sway Toyota to look at
drag racing as a way of increasing sales, but that was not meant
to be. Likewise, Ken saw the need to diverse his company as well,
and the first move was to slightly modify the name from Deano
Dyno-Soars, to just DDS (Sept. 1971). This was done for two reasons:
Dean was no longer part of the company, and it needed to reflect
a wider company scope of Volkswagens and Japanese compact cars.
But for Dean and Loyal, after two years of trying to make a go,
they closed the shop in Santa Ana and decided to move to Tucson,
Arizona. Dean soon opened up a new repair shop called, "Deano
de Tucson". For the next ten years, Dean worked on foreign
cars in general, but still, was very much a part of the VW scene.
Back in Santa Ana, right
after selling the H/Gas gasser to Billy Mitchell in July 1971,
Ken began to build an all-new chop-top sedan, with most of the
fabrication work done by then employee Harold White. This car
was setup to run I/Gas, and was named just "Dyno-Soar,"
with Dean doing most of the driving early on. Later on, DDS employee,
Dave Vanderbeke raced the car as well. This gasser made its public
debut at the 1971 SEMA show. So new was the car, that much of
the final graphics and lettering, were done in the booth by Richard
McPeak, just hours before the doors opened. In 1971, Ken ran
the Tera-Soar Amante at Bonneville for the second season, bringing
home another Land Speed Record of 161.57mph.
By late 1974, the large purple
building on Borchard Avenue was no longer needed, so DDS moved
to 675 N. Main Street in Orange, to a smaller building, but soon
thereafter, leased the unit next door to expand once again. Ken
could see that getting more involved in making castings and foundry
work would make more sense that just supplying parts to the consumer.
So in 1976, when the foundry he had been working with came up
for sale, Ken made a deal and bought them out. DDS then moved
to 1188 N. Batavia in Orange, where they further expanded to
the building next door later on. From that point on, DDS began
making castings for many different VW companies including Auto
Haus/Race Trim, Treuhaft, Bugpack, Rimco, Sandmaster and others.
This may answer why many parts like cast oil sumps, valve covers,
linkage and intake manifolds have a similar appearance, but with
a name change cast into the molds.
Looking back, the one single
product that Deano Dyno-Soars developed that helped launch it,
was of course the 92mm pistons and cylinders. What started life
as a partnership between Joe Horvath (of Revmaster), the Lowrys
and the Lambie brothers, became extremely popular. But once these
kits became a money maker, apparently their supplier, NPR, began
shipping these kits to Australia, and elsewhere in the world,
without the knowledge of the Lowrys. By the time the full extent
of this backdoor policy was fully realized, the damage was done
between the Lowrys and NPR. Packaging and piston labels were
altered, and even another brand, ISS was created. Problems with
NPR were not limited to the 92s, as the shifters and oil pumps
also being supplied by them had problems that weren't being addressed
in Japan. Shipments were refused, threats were made, and finally,
a lawsuit was filed. The bottom fell out, and ultimately, Ken
had to drop the name Deano Dyno-Soars/DDS all together. From
that point on, in 1977, the company name was changed to A-RPM,
or Aluminum Racing Products Manufacturing to start anew.
With the expansion of the
on-site foundry, and a desire to make new VW parts, Ken began
to share ideas with Dean (who had since moved back to Santa Ana
and opened up Deano's VW Dyno-Soar Parts on Walnut Street in
April of 1982) about casting an all-new VW head. With design
work done by A-RPM's Lance Young and Dean Lowry, in partnership
with Dee Engineering, the Super-Flo head was born. With its release,
this head, followed shortly with the Angle-Flo casting, and two
new VW cases, opened up a new phase of performance for the brothers
Lowry. Now, while Ken's company was now known as A-RPM and he
no longer was using the Deano Dyno-Soar name, due to legal reasons,
interestingly, Dean was now using a variation of it, naming this
new head simply, the "Dyno-Soar" head, although later
on it was changed to S/F or Super-Flo.
During the time between 1982
and 1985, with Dean now back in Santa Ana and closer to Ken,
he devoted a tremendous amount of time to cylinder head and case
projects. This included the development of the first aftermarket
2-piece VW case (with the optional dropped cam) which came from
Hans Herman's design. The 3-piece A-RPM engine case came later,
thanks to Harry Sanders and John Carmonne. After Dean's divorce
from Loyal in 1974, and his brief marriage to Darlene Icley in
1978, he seemed more focused on his many performance goals for
the VW engine. During this time, his daughter, Marla, worked
for him both in Tucson, and made the move back to California
in '82. The two campaigned an 11-second drag sedan named "If
you got it... Flaunt it!", along with a rail buggy, now
owned by Jeff Denham. Daughters Julie and Joanne, and son Larry,
remain in Arizona to this day.
Dean next moved his shop
to 1241 E. Chestnut Street, still in Santa Ana, where he lived
in one of the units. This fact was only known by few racers,
and rarely shared. As you can imagine, that did not go well with
the rest of the Lowry family, so eventually, daughter Joanne,
asked dad to move into her home at 5219 W. Redfield Road, Glendale,
Arizona. Which he did in 1985, and continued to work in the garage
with great success. After Joanne's divorce in 1997, she gave
the house to Dean, who now lived there with his partner, Peggy
June. You might recall this name from the early years on Borchard
Ave., where Peggy and her then husband, the late Walt June, were
hired on to help with marketing. We should mention that Dean
and Walt June's friendship dated back to when they were both
growing up in Riverside, and were in a car club together. During
his time in Glendale, Dean worked on both the first 9-second
Pro Stock, as well as a Bonneville/dry lake Super Beetle, that
ran a 3.0 liter Type 1 engine, developed by Revmaster's Joe Horvath
and Dean. He continued to port cylinder heads, design clutches,
and build engines for customers for the rest of his life - something
he was so good at, and loved to do.While Dean may have considered
his move back to Arizona a retirement, that was certainly not
the case. Both Lowrys continued to work on new VW projects throughout
the seventies and eighties. Ken and his close friend and long
time mold maker, Jerry Magnuson, worked on developing a Roots-style
supercharger for the VW engine in 1972, but while it would increase
power on a stock 1600cc engine to over 105hp (using the famous
Deano correction factor), it never actually reached production.
The 2-piece engine case proved
to be more of a hassle to produce, due to the limitations the
company had to machine such a complicated piece of engineering.
To produce this case, Ken finally had to lease a larger Hitachi-Seiki
4-axis CNC machine from George Kaiser, which then raised the
production cost beyond the point of making a profit. That then
lead to the development of the 3-piece case, which was more in-line
with A-RPM's production capabilities. According to A-RPM's John
Carmonne, trying to machine those cases on an Acroloc M15 CNC
machine was a real nightmare. But still, cases were produced
in limited numbers. Ultimately, the cylinder head and case program
was acquired by Dee Engineering in 1988, who owns them today,
and still produces the Super-Flo and Angle-Flo cylinder heads.
For Ken, having his own foundry opened new doors for growth,
and in the fall of 1981, moved to 1356 N. Santiago Street, in
Santa Ana, to increase production. This was to be the final location
for A-RPM, as it was eventually sold to Soligen Technology on
June 30, 1994, and the A-RPM name was dropped for good.
Throughout the Lowry's business
ventures, if there was one single common thread it was the use
of the color purple, for both Dean and Ken found this color to
reflect their goals in life. When asked about purple, family
members, former employees and admirers all have their own reasons
why they used it so often. Some felt it had metaphysical significance,
meant spirituality or it was about creative imagination. It could
have meant healing, or respect for one's surroundings. Many of
us attempt to read into the underlining meaning of purple on
nearly everything the Lowrys did - what they built, what they
wore, what they raced and even where they worked. But when asked
during a 1995 interview with Keith Seume, Dean simply replied,
"I like purple - purples and oranges". Could it be
that simple? If you ask the Lowry daughters, nothing was ever
so simple with their Dad, depth was crucial.
Dean's aunt, Lillias Apland
perhaps was able to pinpoint his character very well in our conversations,
for the two shared much family history, and at times deep conversations
about life, work and family. According to Lillias, Dean always
had something to aspire to, he was never satisfied with the status
quo. He was never in fear when the odds were against him or his
goals. His mechanical ability came from deep inside, and he related
best to people who were their own persons: full of integrity,
honest and responsible. Dean Lowry passed away on June 11, 1999.
After Ken and his wife Nancy celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary,
months later, he passed away on Saturday, January 29, 2011.