BREMERTON – From his motorcycle racing days as a teenager to building high-performance Porsche engines, fast machines have been a big part of Alex Raphael’s life.
“I’ve always been somebody that wants to make things better and faster,” said Raphael in his Bremerton-based MAXRPM Motorsports office.
Raphael grew up in Port Townsend but moved to Bremerton when he was 13, because all the race tracks were on the Bremerton side of the Hood Canal bridge.
Raphael said he used to race motocross during his grade school and high school years. He was sponsored by Husqvarna and Yamaha in the late 1970s.
“Always doing my own engine building and building my own motocross bikes … I started racing professional motocross at 16,” the minimum age to obtain a pro license, he said. While racing, he also worked as a motorbike mechanic. After about five years of racing he switched to building and tuning engines.
“I worked for American Suzuki, American Honda. There was a company called FMF – Flying Machine Factory … I was like an engine builder,” he said.
Not the sort of engine builder that would assemble engine-after-engine all day on an assembly line, mind you, but a builder that did custom designs.
“We built motors and we went and tested them out at the track and then I went with the race teams to the races,” he said. Sort of a full factory mechanic that traveled with the teams.
He did contract work for local motorcycle shops, also. But because motorcycling is largely a fair-weather hobby, he also wound up working on cars.
“I’ve always been into performance stuff so I kind of ended up working on everybody’s cars,” he said.
“Mechanics is mechanics,” when it comes to motorcycles and cars. The main difference being the motor is inside a car instead of being easily accessible on a bike.
Raphael started a business called RPM House around 1977 which was focused on motocross and engine building. It became MAXRPM Motorsports around 1997.
Raphael said he’s had the “Porsche bug” for many years.
“Always liked Porsches. Always had a picture of a turbo Porsche. You know back in the day probably everybody did.”
The 930 turbo, especially, comes to mind, with its wide fenders.
“The 930 was a very sexy body … wide voluptuous, curvy and it was expensive.
“Porsches are a real driver’s car,” he said, adding that BMW was in his opinion the next-best driver’s car.
“There’s a lot of guys that are in the Beemer club and whatnot but they’re into track and you’ll see a lot of those guys out at track days.”
“Ferraris – they’re unique. You’ve got guys with Ferraris you know and they get 10,000 miles they’ve got to trade them in because they’re afraid they’re going to lose the value of the car. It’s a little different. And I love Ferraris.”
The 12-cylinder Testarossa 512 TR is Raphael’s favorite Ferrari.
“It’s the Miami Vice era of wide body, big gills on the side. It’s a badass car. Mechanically speaking it’s a handful for somebody to take care of them. So you’ve either got to have the money to do it or you’ve got to be able to do it yourself.”
Porsches, Raphael said, were fairly reliable, especially the newer models.
“In Europe people drive those cars … they’re not garage queens. Over here we’re a little bit different – that’s the nice car we take out on the nice day.”
That love of European cars led MAXRPM Motorsports to specialize in service and repair makes including Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen and Ferrari.
“We also do stuff that other shops don’t do — engine building, tuning, design work on special customer projects.”
“We do all our own in-house cylinder head work, porting and valve work.”
“A lot of people just think we’re a race shop or something but we do regular scheduled maintenance – lube-oil-filter stuff, we do alignments, we do brake work, suspension work. Everything like a dealer would do. … on the other spectrum of it we do things that if somebody wants to do some performance upgrades or whatnot or suspension upgrades that are different and more focused, we can do all that.”
The shop has an all-wheel-drive dynamometer for testing.
In addition to working with customers in the Puget Sound area, “We have cars from Texas (and) San Diego that that get shipped up here for our big project cars.”
Raphael said his shop specialized in the turbo side of the Porsche market. He said other shops focused more on the track-car side of the market.
“I do more turbo projects; huge engine job type deals like the one we have in the back is like 1,000-plus horsepower at all wheels. We’ve done numerous jobs that are 1,200-1,400 horsepower Porsches.” Those were 996 or 997 turbos, he said.
The shop will work on American cars as well, such as doing software upgrades on Camaros, Raphael said.
In addition to an interest in automobiles, Raphael said he also mixed sound at live concerts for rock bands such as Queensryche, Def Leppard, Metallica and Heart during the 1980s and 1990s. He described the experience as “mulletsville.”
Raphael said Q Prime management was working with those bands at the time.
Raphael said Queensryche and Def Leppard had been on tour together, and then when that tour ended he switched to touring with Metallica.
“You kind of knew everybody because all the management was the same for all those bands. You kind of kept working with those people because they knew you, they trusted you.”