Reflections from Hank
Reflecting back on the fifty years of Manley Performance's life span, I am struck by the galactic changes in the way we conduct
business today compared to when I started. It's hard to imagine, especially if you were born after 1980, a world without computers, without cell
phones, without texting, without emails, without 800 phone numbers. But that was the reality. Orders were mailed. Invoices and checks were
hand written. Monthly statements were photo copied. How did we do it?
The first Manley valves were manufactured on a Monarch lathe that was twenty-five years old when I purchased it second hand in
1967. It was wired for 440v power. It had been built and sent to England as part of the United States' Lend-Lease effort to help our ally fight
Germany before Pearl Harbor forced us to enter the Second World War. A single Bridgeport mill completed the manufacturing arsenal.
After twenty years on Race Street in Bloomfield, New Jersey, I looked at several acres of scruffy pine barren in the nascent
Lakewood Industrial Park. I was told I could purchase the property for $3000 an acre, but I had to begin construction of a factory within six
months and complete the project within a year. It was understood I would hire a large workforce in the town. I agreed.
Bloomfield employees were bussed the sixty miles to Lakewood to view the area, see the new facility going up, and hopefully decide
to move with the company. All reported their excitement to leave the congestion of northern New Jersey for the healthy, relaxed atmosphere of
the Jersey shore.
Ultimately, none but the executive staff made the move. On the day Manley Performance opened for business in Lakewood in 1988,
I looked out into the parking lot to witness sixty strangers who had responded to my advertisement in the local paper.
"You're all hired," I said. And in straggled the new Manley Performance work force.
The original building in Lakewood has now been expanded twice, the latest addition to the manufacturing space completed in 2014.
In place of the lonely Monarch and Bridgeport are 75 CNC spindles producing stainless steel and titanium valves, aluminum pistons, steel
connecting rods, chrome moly push rods, steel and titanium retainers and valve locks. Scrolling back from today's impressive physical plant to
the early days on Race Street brings fond recollections, but the most poignant memories involve people I met along the way.
In 1968, I flew to California and drove up Sepulveda Boulevard until I found Joe Mondello's modest shop. Joe was the premier
cylinder head porter in the country. He took me to his home, introduced me to his wife, and we had dinner where, over several bottles of Italian
wine, we became fast friends. He told me that we'd stand on each other's shoulders and take the valve business from Ed Donovan. His death in
2011 was a terrible personal loss for me.
Around 1970 I attended a trade show at Chicago's Navy Pier. It was a drafty, cold place, but as I stood behind my card table the day
brightened considerably with the arrival of Jungle Jim Liberman's zaftig wife Bobbi. Within seconds she convinced me to sponsor Jim's funny
Without doubt, Jim was the most flamboyant, charismatic racer in the country. His 1000 foot burnouts were legendary, and he
typically backed to the staging lane at 100 miles-per-hour with Bobbi directing him from behind. He refused to lift when a run was out of
control to the delight of his legions of devoted fans. He became a great friend and was a vitally important entrée to the fuel market. I mourned
his tragic death in 1977 which was a monumental loss for drag racing.
In addition to being a terrific driver, Grumpy Bill Jenkins was the most intelligent engine person I ever met. He seized on my idea to
develop thin stem valves for his Pro Stock car. The concept of 5/16" stem valves soon cascaded into all other gasoline classes. When NHRA
mandated that Super Modified use "stock stem" valves, I developed the "Pro Flo" valve and called Bill to ask if I should first take the idea to the
governing body or just quietly flood the market. His sound advice, which I followed, was sell to all I could before they reacted. I considered Bill
a wonderful friend and was proud to picture his car on the cover of ten Manley catalogs. Along with the rest of the drag racing fraternity I still
miss The Grump.
There were thousands of other racers and engine builders I met visiting the tracks and customers' shops across the country. Many I
considered friends. Many helped me with ideas for products. Wally Booth called me one day and explained the concept of the reverse twist
piston ring. I immediately added them to the line as another Manley first in the industry.
I guess half a century is more than enough. The engines I designed and manufactured for are fossils. The old Small Block and Big
Block Chevy engines have been largely replaced by the LS series. The Ford Cleveland is ancient history, supplanted by the Modular series of
power. The iconic 426 Hemi has been shelved for the 5.7 and 6.1 liter iterations. I can't tell a Mitsubishi block from a Subaru.
It's Trip's turn now. He has proven himself more than capable. For the last decade he has been in charge, and I've had the
extraordinary privilege to watch as a proud parent while he has taken the company to record heights of achievement.
I thank all the customers who have supported the company's efforts to produce quality, innovative products over this long, fifty year,
period. I assure you Manley Performance will continue to meet and hopefully exceed your highest expectations in the future.