Today, the normally tranquil San Gabriel mountains reverberate with the ferocious fanfare of a superbly outrageous V10, each ascending peal of exhaust roar punctuated by a quick exhaust explosion as you effortlessly upshift with the click of a steering-mounted shift lever. Then, as you cut into the myriad switchbacks that twist away from the abbreviated, glass-smooth straights, downshifts are accompanied by a screaming, winding, ripping sound like the world’s most pissed off zipper.
Something is different here, though, as the long, full-throttle bursts of acceleration are accompanied by the subtle but distinct supercharger whine of a supercharger belt at ascending revolutions—all but inaudible through the Lamborghini’s audacious engine noise, but nevertheless present. Sourced in Germany, assembled in Italy, there are few powerplants in the street-going automotive realm that sound quite like this one. But here, today, Italy is not the end of the story. This car, a 2010 LP 560-4 Spyder in shimmering Giallo Midas, has seen its final tuning under the sunny skies of Southern California—just miles from where you now terrorize the alpine clefts and summits.
It has been 15 years since Anaheim, California-based VF Engineering started from humble beginnings, sharing shop space with a fellow car tuner. Those beginnings have grown into something quite different altogether. While you might still spot the odd Volkswagen or B5 S4 on the shop floor, those cars have become the exception rather than the rule.
The day we arrived to drive the yellow Spyder, the VF garage was populated with a Spyker C8 Spyder, a partially disassembled R8 5.2, and another LP 560-4 Coupe in pearlescent white. All these cars have two things in common: They are all mid-engine exotics (the R8 perhaps arguably so, although we’d argue with you all afternoon that it qualifies as exotic), and they were all subject to VF’s roots-based supercharger system.
Today, VF Engineering is a full research, development and installation facility. It retains a fairly humble veneer, housed in an unassuming commercial/industrial unit in north Orange County. You’d drive right by and never necessarily know what goes on here on a day-to-day basis. Flash and bling is not a part of the VF Engineering corporate philosophy. Creating stealthy, superfast exotics definitely is. The company lets the cars speak for themselves—and for itself.
This Gallardo kit represents the pinnacle of the company’s engineering prowess and the culmination of the last decade and a half of research and hard work. It is the company’s new flagship product. In spite of the fairly extroverted Lamborghini subject matter, the kit, a comprehensive engine treatment system, is designed as a cost-effective and totally reversible upgrade that does not require any permanent changes to the existing mechanical or structural systems, or for that matter, vehicle cosmetics. The most involved procedure, other than adding the supercharger and supporting cooling systems, is recalibrating engine programming through the ECU’s OBD-II port.
The Gallardo system literally came about as the next logical step as the company has gone from one car to the next. First contact came about with the V8 in the B6 Audi S4, which was itself the forebear of the eight-cylinder, direct-injection power unit developed for the original R8 4.2.
To hear them tell it, a customer had taken delivery of a new R8 and approached VFE to strap a supercharger onto it.
“We didn’t have [a kit] for it yet,” states VF Engineering principal and chief creative force Nik Saran. “We did have an S4.” The R8’s V8 differed from that in the S4, such as its use of FSI direct-injection fueling, so the team knew the system would require some changes to adapt it to the new car. But according to Saran, working through the project put them in the correct mind-set to work in the exotic car market and with mid-mount architecture like that in the R8.
Once they had designed a system for the 4.2 and mastered adapting it to that car with multiple installations—as well as designing a similar setup for the Spyker C8 Aileron and Spyder, which also employ a midship 4.2-liter Audi V8—the next step was adapting a system for the Audi V10 as found in the R8 5.2 FSI. This particular moment is where the company really distinguished itself from its peers. The V10 kit was a virtual coup, since the finished application was the first of its kind on the world market. In supercharging the R8 5.2, VF Engineering beat out not only the North American exotic aftermarket, but their German competition as well—including such well-established European houses as MTM.
And since, other than being hindered by small internal differences such as camshaft profiles and certain software parameters, the V10 in the R8 is physically identical to that in the Gallardo, Sant’Agata Bolognese was the next logical destination after quattro GmbH.
The claimed power figures from the VF-supercharged Gallardo V10 are an additional 200 peak horsepower and 200 peak lb-ft of torque. That’s a total of 760 hp and about 600 lb-ft at the flywheel. According to the company’s final dyno testing, available in graphic format on the company website, that equates to about 502 hp and 341 lb-ft at the wheels.
The numbers might sound conservative compared to some 1,000-hp cars we’ve heard about—and they are, by design. Drivability and reliability are vital to the VF philosophy. All the power in the world is useless if it can’t be properly deployed or if it flings you into the center median. And the potential damage to drive systems or engine internals doesn’t make for a particularly reversible kit, or for a vehicle that you’re supposed to be able to operate on a daily basis, both of which were key objectives.
Whereas others employ a cast-alloy manifold based on a sheetmetal prototype to feed air into the combustion chambers, VF Engineering went a step further. Using computer simulations and CNC machining, all of their 5.2-liter supercharger systems, Audi and Lamborghini alike, use an intake manifold carved from a solid block of 6061 T6 aluminum billet—a block of metal produces an end product that is as much work of art as engine component. The compressor itself is an Eaton TVS2300 roots-type unit that perfectly suits VF’s conservative tuning philosophy.
According to VF, the neatly cut and rounded 200 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque were not specifically targeted incidental to said philosophy, where the engineers devise a formula that strikes a balance among the three corners of the combustion “triangle”—fuel, spark and oxygen. Each parameter is pushed in relation to the other two, until equilibrium is achieved. All told, boost pressure runs between 5 psi at around 2000 rpm and peaks at around 6.5 psi at redline.
The manifold incorporates a bar-and-plate air/water heat exchanger (aftercooler) to keep the intake charge dense. Twin water coolers are placed up front to assist in engine cooling, along with an aluminum water reservoir and Bosch circulation pump. The factory MAF housings are replaced with high-flow sensor units to free up initial induction. The final step is recalibrating the ECU with custom software optimized for either 91- or 93-octane fuel (760 hp is the standard quoted output on 91 octane, though this number could conceivably go higher with higher octane ratings).
True to the company’s mission statement, all of these mods are completely reversible (i.e., removable with no permanent modifications to the vehicle’s existing systems or structure), should the need arise.
On road and in practice, the enhanced power output is suitably impressive. Hard acceleration is literally breathtaking, especially since the relatively conservative gains are easily deployed by the Lambo’s all-wheel-drive. Long, open stretches are where it feels most at home. The more dynamic portion of our drive took place in the aforementioned mountains, on a particularly kinked and winding stretch of road. Here the output starts to feel just a little bit ridiculous, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun. Fun tinctured with a healthy dose of terror, and driving this thing on a road like this encourages unbending concentration and respect. It’s also a testament to the brilliance of the new 560 chassis that it is able to harness the enhanced output and remain composed while diving into and then barreling out of switchbacks and tight curves.
For his part, boss Saran is already looking to the future, establishing a strong support network for ongoing development with the V8s and V10s—as well as possible challenges for the future. The way we see it, he’s still got two more cylinders to tackle.
“We only want to do whatever presents a unique challenge,” he says. “I don’t want to do what 10 other companies can already competently do. We’ll stick to the difficult, intellectually challenging stuff. We’re not getting rich doing this, but we’re sticking to our guns.”
Profile: VF Engineering
Nearly 15 years ago, a bright young kid named Nik Saran stopped by our office and left a set of VW keys on our desk. His only request was that we drive it hard and tell the truth about its performance. Fitted with a centrifugal supercharger, the base-level Mk III Golf in question behaved like a GTI on military-spec stimulants. The entire kit sold for relative peanuts and while Saran didn’t get rich, he was having fun and making customers happy.
Supply and quality concerns led VFE to switch to Vortech compressor units. Made in the United States, Vortech has earned a solid reputation for its quality, innovation and service, exactly what VFE demanded.
We fitted our own Project Corrado VR6 with a VFE supercharger and the end results made it one of our favorite cars ever. The system was indestructible, would happily run on pump gas and gave our Corrado a fabulous power boost. We’re still kicking ourselves for selling it.
Later, VFE began designing systems for BMWs, starting with the E36 chassis and later the E39 cars. As that generation gave way to the new chassis, VFE was there with a full product line. We had VFE supercharge our own E46 M3 for a healthy power boost. Despite bumper-to-bumper LA traffic, an occasional stint at Willow Springs Raceway, the M3 performed flawlessly.
Normally aspirated Porsches (996 and 997) got VFE love as well. Anyone familiar with the cramped 911 engine architecture will tell you it’s no easy feat stuffing more hardware in there but VFE did so with a factory-correct appearance.
VFE developed new systems for Audis, the V6, V8 and V10 cars to great success. Stasis Tuning began a dealer program offering highly tuned VFE-supercharged cars with factory warranties. The Spyker Group took notice and decided a VFE supercharged version would be especially sweet. And thanks to Audi’s platform sharing philosophy, Lamborghini cars could be fitted with similar VFE supercharging systems.
Located in Anaheim, Calif., VFE started its operation out of a 300 sq-ft attic. It quickly outgrew the space and now resides in a sizable 5,000 sq-ft facility, complete with a four-wheel dynamometer, R&D area, fitting room and sales office. Utilizing the latest in CAD tools, each supercharger system is developed with a factory-like mentality. Intake piping is wrought from the same stuff found beneath the hood and factory hardware is used wherever possible. The end results rival the best tuners worldwide.
Despite its growth, VFE maintains close contact with its clients so any issues are resolved quickly. And in the highly connected marketplace, it only takes a few disgruntled customers to make a big stink. The only real option is to have a bulletproof product. VFE has done that.
VFE 2010 LP 560-4 Spyder
Longitudinal mid-mounted engine, all-wheel drive
5.0-liter V10, dohc, 40-valve. VFE supercharger system, charge-coolers, revised MAP sensors, high-flow injectors, GIAC ECU
Six-speed E-gear automated manual. Heavy-duty clutch and pressure plate, chrome-moly halfshafts
OEM calipers, Brembo rotors
Wheels and Tires
HRE 843R, 19-inch
Continental SportContact 3, 245/35 (f), 305/30 (r)
Peak Power: 760 hp
Peak Torque: 600 lb-ft
0-62 mph: 3.1 sec.
Top Speed: 204 mph