photos by: Daean Chase/AES
GM EFI takes a tour of Automotive Engineering Specialties to see what it really takes to make record-setting builds, from start to finish.
Getting the exclusive look inside of one of our favorite shops is like getting a backstage pass at a rock concert. Recently, GM EFI got to check out all of the behind-the-scenes operations at Illinois’ lead machine shop/performance shop, and upcoming top engine builder in the country, Automotive Engine Specialties (AES).
Not only did we get to pick the brains of the experts at AES, but they also showed us where the magic happens, from custom machining, to fabrication, to assembly, and everything in between. Their facility is home to some of the top talents in the industry, and the machinery needed to tackle any project.
Located just minutes outside of Chicago, AES is a rising leader in the world of motorsports. Their level of craftsmanship and precision pairs perfectly with their creativity when it comes to customizing, and is complimented by top-tier machinery and manufacturing processes. What it all adds up to is attention to detail that only the top shops in the country can compete with.
AES is owned by Tony Schroeder, who is a true gearhead. Tony has been building engines for over two decades and has some major builds under his belt, but his passion started as a child when he spent late nights and weekends working in his dad’s machine shop. After high school he started a career as a tool and die maker, as well as an expert CNC machinist. Over the years, Tony became a very skilled craftsman who can operate the most sophisticated tools and machinery to make precision machine automotive parts. It was after Tony left the tool and die trade that he started building race engines professionally.
The very first engine Tony built on his own was a mild street/strip Olds 455 engine, this put him on the path of professionally building race ready engines. He put in his time working for some of the top builders in the industry before venturing out to open his own shop.
The shop was developed on the idea of meeting the demand in the market. People wanted a name they could trust, and a company that brings innovation, quality, performance, and integrity into every single build. Using a business model that addressed those needs, Automotive Engine Specialties was born over 18 years ago.
“AES is adamant about building long-lasting relationships with their customers.” -Tony Schroeder, Automotive Engine Specialties
When Automotive Engine Specialties was first established, it brought together over 35 years of experience to offer to its customers. They made a name for themselves after building some extreme engines. The shop has built some of the fastest engines in the country, including numerous record-breakers, such as Anthony Manna’s LSX Camaro (check it out here), George Raygoza’s small-tire ’68 Nova, and Rod Hendrickson’s Buick-powered Regal. While they once almost exclusively specialized in 2,000+ horsepower builds for drag cars, they have shifted their focus to meet the demand of more affordable street/strip engine builds.
The AES customer base is not limited to just one type of enthusiast. They cater to a combination of professional racers, weekend warriors, street car owners, and speed shops all across the country. When a customer contacts AES, they are ready to provide them with exactly what they want. No matter what the demand may be, AES will get it done.
Even though they do offer complete packages, don’t expect anything cookie cutter from AES, they definitely steer clear of one-size-fits all builds. Yes, they take proven components, processes, and techniques and implement those qualities into every engine, but innovation is a continued core player in each build. They want to cater to the customer’s specific wants and needs, with excruciating attention-to-detail; offering a package that the end-user will truly be satisfied with.
Over half of the engines built by AES are of the LS variety. They know the GM market, what works, what customers want, and how to make a LS engine the most powerful and reliable street/strip engine possible. Their specialty is engines in general, not just ones made on the LS platform. Recently, they’ve started offering packages for the new LT generation engine.
AES is one of the very few shops in the world that offers a fully-built LT5 crate engine – this stems from a friend requesting a larger-bore version of the C4 ZR-1’s for his own Corvette. AES has only built a half-dozen or so of these, but they are hitting the competition where it hurts! The AES LT5 powers some of the fastest ZR1 Corvettes on the streets (and track) today.
AES is a leader thanks to their innovation and technology found inside their facility. It’s both the innovation behind the operations, and the machines they use that pushes them to the top of their field. Since the shop uses the best and most advanced machinery, they can easily apply their breakthrough methods and ideas to all of their builds.
“We are a full service machine shop and do most of our own machining, welding, and fabrication work. We are also known throughout the Chicago area for our complete body and mechanical restoration. We are a one stop shop for performance, repairs, maintenance, and parts.” -Brenda Schroeder
The 4,000 sq.-ft. facility is packed with equipment that allows their 11 employees to work smarter.
AES is equipped with:
- Block Surfacer
- Crank Balancer
- Seat and Guide Machine
- Line Hone for Mains in Blocks
- Tig Welder
- Flow Bench
- Sunnen Cylinder Head Hone
- CNC Porting Machines
- Boring Machine, to name a few
These machine work services are all just pieces of the puzzle. What really sets Automotive Engine Specialties apart is right there in the name. The engines that leave the shop have other builders scrambling to keep up.
“When it comes to making our customers happy, we believe great communication is the key. We are a true custom engine builder, working step by step with our customers to design and deliver each build exactly to our customer’s specification. We also offer a wide range of budget-minded engine packages, to accommodate the needs of every customer.” -Tony Schroeder
In addition to being one of the top machine shops/engine builders in the country, they also offer complete car, body and mechanical restorations. AES is not limited to just one aspect of the automotive world, which definitely has contributed to their quick rise to being a major name in the industry. From parts sales, manufacturing, machining, and putting everything together, there’s no end to what this shop has to offer — oh, and did we mention they also build Monster Jam monster truck engines?
To ice the cake, the name behind some of the fiercest builds out there is down-to-earth; a genuine family company, run by a husband and wife team who bring business savvy and technical skill to the table everyday. The whole shop is tight-knit; working together to make the best possible end product for every customer — be it from cylinder head repair or an entire restoration, AES does it all!
Elizabeth is a hardcore horsepower enthusiast with unmatched intensity for making things faster and louder. She wakes up for power and performance and only sleeps to charge up for the next project that’s heading to the track. From autocross to drag racing, Elizabeth is there with you, so stay tuned for her unique perspective on horsepower news, builds, tech info, and installs — with her, it’ll never be boring!