Ulrich Gauffrés, Brabus’ CTO, can easily be called the one of the masterminds of the company’s success. His philosophy and vision for engineering have put Brabus on the map. This is his story about the hunt for performance and speed fuelled by an incredible passion for engineering.
Ulrich, you’ve been a part of Brabus for quite some time now. When did your story with the company start?
I started with Brabus in 1985 right in the middle of its biggest competition with Affalterbach rival AMG (now part of Mercedes-Benz). It was an amazing period working on the 190E 3.6 version. That was the moment Brabus really took off. Since then I helped shape its philosophy on how we see power and performance and its unique place in the market. On top of my function as CTO I’m also overseeing the projects at Brabus Classic, my hobby project if you will [laughs].
What is that philosophy exactly?
Although we mostly describe our car models with their power figure (Brabus 900, Brabus 700, …) at Brabus our actual main focus is torque: 97% of the time people drive their cars using its torque instead of power. When a person comes to me and asks for more power, I continue investigating their needs and quickly you realise that the oomph they describe is actually torque, not horsepower. To put it in practical terms: here at Brabus we will never increase a car’s power at the cost of its torque figure.
What’s the process going from a Mercedes-AMG donor car to a Brabus?
When AMG releases a new model or engine we try and get hold of it as fast as possible. We start with running engine tests and putting it on our test banks to see where its limits are. From there we start making calculations and we start experimenting with new ECU setting or new parts such as turbos, con rods or pistons. At some point we’ll find a baseline where we feel comfortable putting a car in production. At that moment the car might produce 880bhp, but we want to promise 900bhp. So, we fine-tune the engine to look for that extra 20 horsepower. Once we achieve that goal, we freeze our development and put the unit into production. Although behind the scenes we’re actually already looking ahead to develop the unit even further to its next evolution.
Brabus has been pushing the internal combustion engine for over 30 years now. Do you feel you’ll be reaching its limit soon?
Yes, our jobs have become a lot more difficult in recent years. This is because of various factors. Manufacturers have been pushing themselves to also create more power from their engine units, so the harder they work, the better the end product and the more challenging our jobs become. On top of that we’re seeing a big trend towards downsizing engines, mainly because of emissions. This means that we no longer have big engines to play with, but our customers still expect us to deliver the same kind of power from that small unit.
Has there been a car that was “untuneable”?
In the past there have been one or two cars where we said “no, we’re not touching that”. There can be so many factors at play here. Sometimes the car has a gearbox that’s already at its limit. We can upgrade the gearbox, but this comes at a cost. Often, it’s also a question of economics and how much a customer is willing to pay for an upgrade: €20.000 on top of a 45,000-euro car? Probably not, that’s why our A45 performance kit is much more sensible. Within this bracket there is not that much room to start swapping pistons etc... More importantly all of our cars come with a three-year warranty. So, we have to make sure that it can and will perform without issues. If we have a customer that blows up his engine because of our modification, it’s not only bad for business but that means we also have to pay for a new engine…
In your career you’ve seen the move from mechanical turning to ECU and turbo charger tuning as we see today. Do you have a preference?
No, not really. Before I joined Brabus I worked for Mercedes-Benz and helped develop their Kompressor engines, so I was even involved with this way back in the day. At that point, having a turbocharged engine was very difficult because we didn’t have direct injection, but drilling out engine blocks and making them larger also had its charms. When direct injection came around it was much easier to work with turbochargers and ECU management: there are much more reliable ways to improve performance.
Looking back, was there a highlight for you?
There are so many in my career here at Brabus. One of my favourites came early in my career. One of our cars, a 190E 3.6 S I believe, participated in a group test organised by a magazine called Auto, Motor und Sport. In that test were three other Mercedes’ performance cars. Among them was an AMG. The magazine decided that the Brabus engine was the best, better even than the AMG. That was a very proud moment for the team and me.