Made in Milwaukee: Mofoco Enterprises
Made in Milwaukee is new series about the businesses that sell to the world but call Milwaukee home. Presented by House of Harley-Davidson, Milwaukee's locally-owned Harley dealer, we're shining a spotlight on these iconic companies – their histories and their futures.
Year founded: 1969
CEO: Roy Henning
Number of employees: 12
Location: 4170 N. Lydell Ave., Milwaukee
Between the years 1938 and 2003, Volkswagen built 21 million Beetles, and even today, the "Type 1" stands as the longest-running and most produced car in the world. Hundreds of thousands of those iconic Bugs are still on the road, and one Milwaukee company exists solely to build and rebuild their air-cooled engines.
Mofoco, which stands for Motors For Competition, is a 48-year-old Milwaukee shop, started by Randy Henning in a one-stall garage on the East Side. He moved it to 1st and Capitol Dr. in 1977, and now owned by his son, Roy, Mofoco sits nestled back a few blocks north of Capitol, quietly servicing VW customers around the world.
And even though the Beetle is no longer made, its engine is still used in VW busses, Zambonis, kit cars, airplanes and farm irrigation systems. The younger Henning, 39, says it's the most versatile engine ever built – and it's enjoying another renaissance.
"There are thousands and thousands of dead cars lying around that people wanna restore," says Henning. "You can buy a motor for (a VW) for $5,000. If you're restoring a '72 Mustang, it's gonna cost you $50,000 to restore it, but a beat-up Volkswagen Beetle? You can spend $15,000 and restore the entire car."
"It's the cheapest, easiest to work on and most versatile engine that was ever built," he says.
Customers from all over the world send Mofoco engines from their old Bugs, but the business also builds them from scratch, with new machined parts built right here in Milwaukee.
Says Henning, "About 75 percent of what we do is build brand new engines with parts that are sourced from United States, South America, Europe, China and made by us as well. People will also send in their old engines and say, 'Hey, rebuild this.' They want to keep the number matching on the case to the car."
Mofoco builds the stock 56 horsepower, 1,600 cc engine, and they produce an upgraded 175 horsepower motor for $6,000 to $8,000.
Henning, who can now build a Beetle engine from scratch without so much looking at a diagram, says Volkswagen no longer supports the classic Beetle. So Mofoco's clients reside outside Milwaukee and the United States.
"The U.K., Canada and Australia are probably our biggest international market sales." he says. "Nobody does everything that we do under one roof."
That means Mofoco operates multiple CNC machines and all kinds of different engine rebuilding equipment. They also manufacture the cylinder heads; Henning says his shop is the only company in the world to manufacture an air-cooled Volkswagen cylinder head – made 100% in Wisconsin.
With 12 employees, Mofoco is also a family business. Randy still works at the shop part-time, and Roy's brother Paul is also an employee who does everything from sales to customer service to manufacturing. Roy's best friend, Matt, has been with the company for 20 years.
"It's cool that I have a job that nobody else has," says Paul, Mofoco's general manager. "It's pretty unique to work with my dad and my brother because we play to each others strengths and understand each other very well."
And with demand always high, Roy, always the entrepreneur, puts in a lot of hours.
"Running the business, it's not what you see on TV, it's not what you read in books," he says. "A lot of the stuff you're doing is by yourself at nights, planning for the next day, answering emails. I come in at night just to work on engines to get a little bit farther ahead, because our demand is so much right now."
Wait time is typically 8-10 weeks for a motor, says Henning. He can crate a complete, 250-pound engine and send it anywhere in the world. Mofoco charges about $3,000 for a brand new stock motor.
For Henning, who grew up in Mequon, has lived his whole life in the Milwaukee area and built his first engine at 12, the symbolism of working in a manufacturing environment isn't lost on him.
"When I first remember coming to Mofoco with my dad on 1st and Capitol, the street was lined with car manufacturers, tire manufacturers, things like that – that are all gone now," says. "We were in the center of an industrial complex, and now we're in the center of a business district instead."
But business is still booming, and VW Beetle engines will be in high demand for many, many years. Mofoco will be here to serve them.
"We're a little archaic, but there still needs to be places like us around," he says.
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