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IAME: The Kart Engine Makers

 

1Iam sure that everyone who has raced seriously in karting will have heard of IAME. If you have raced 100cc machinery then you will have either used one of their products or been beaten by one of their products at some time in your career. The IAME story starts a long time ago when only a handful of those still involved today were karting back in 1959. The Parilla motorcycle factory decided to put their toes in the water of the burgeoning kart market by producing a bespoke engine for this growing sport. The engine was a fan cooled 2-stroke of 100cc capacity with a 48mm bore and a 54mm stroke running up to 11,000rpm. The engine probably produced about 11 horsepower and was suitably called the V11. This engine was designed by Cesare Bossaglia, a name that was to become synonymous with famous models of kart engine for many years. At that time Bruno Grana was export manager for Moto Parilla.

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A very good relationship developed between Grana and Bossaglia and, following the success of the V11, many other Parilla kart engines were produced such as the S12, S13, BA13, TG14 and the GP15. All these models were Bossaglia creations, culminating in the first World Championship win for the GP15 in the hands of Guido Sala in 1964. In 1961 Grana founded a new company named Komet Italiana and contracted Bossaglia as his designer. The product of this relationship was the Komet K12 with an ‘over square’ bore and stroke of 51 x 48.5mm, this was also a fan cooled engine and its success was guaranteed when a single order for 750 units was received from ItalKart. Incidentally, Tal-Ko took their name from these two manufacturers, ItalKart and Komet, for whom they were the UK concessionaires. Cesare Bossaglia continued to work for Grana on a freelance basis and through the following few years Komet and Parilla continued to compete against one another with definite divisions between their supporters. All the popular Komets were short strokes and the Parillas long strokes. Komet users would always have bigger rear sprockets and tended to feel superior in that era.

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The Komet K77 and later the K88 in particular, were very successful indeed. In 1968 Bruno Grana was approached by three American industrialists and together they formed the new company of Italian American Motor Engineering (IAME). After a while the American interest died away leaving Bruno Grana with total ownership and control of IAME, a position he was to retain until he died in August 2005. In 1975 IAME took over the Sirio company that belonged to the Rovelli family, and in 1976 they also took over the BM company. The four big names of Parilla, Komet, Sirio and BM then formed the nucleus of IAME with these four names 44still branded products today. Bossaglia was a vital part of IAME until he died in 1985. While the company has always concentrated on kart engine production they did produce engine for light aircraft under the KFM brand between 1981 and 1991. These engines were produced in both 2 and 4-stroke models. At that time they became the reference point in their field for quality and performance. I believe it is true to say that Bruno Grana was IAME. He ran the company with a passion for the sport he loved. While he was ultimately competitive by nature, he also believed in the future of the sport as a whole and he would often sell vital components to his arch-rivals. The quality of IAME components is well known and many winning engines of other makes will be found with an IAME connecting rod.

IAME manufacture their own crankshafts and conrods, generally respected as being the best. Some years ago, pistons were the Achilles heel of 100cc engines, Grana set about finding where the stress came from that was causing piston failure and the IAME piston developed almost 15 years ago solved the problem. This piston has been copied but never bettered and remains the preferred choice to this day. Anther important figure joined IAME in 1978, Paul Conde. Well versed in international business, Conde became Grana’s right hand man. As IAME expanded Conde gave the company extra flexibility that meant that they could be 55represented in more than one place at a time. Paul also took care of the international distributors. Cedi Nap in France is a wholly owned subsidiary of IAME managed by Thierry Seminger. France is an important market for IAME, the infrastructure for karting and their unrivalled circuits make it an ideal testing ground for new products. France was among the first to run TaG engines in any quantity and they now have strong sales for the Leopard, X30 and 80cc Gazelle models. IAME currently produce in excess of 6,500 engines a year in about a dozen different model types with the factory employing 55 people in total. It was a real pleasure to have the opportunity recently to tour the factory and see everyone quietly going about their business. There is no rush or panic here, just well ordered, quality engineering taking place.

The factory is on one floor with plenty of space between workstations and machinery. There is a wide range of lathes and milling machines with both manually operated and modern, multi-axis, numerically controlled examples. There are production build areas and a specialist build shop for race team equipment. No one seems to be in a hurry but the work gets done quickly and efficiently. While we were walking through, I saw one man assemble a JICA engine in a matter of minutes. True, all the correct tools and equipment were to hand, but it was easy to see that this bloke knew what he was doing and getting it right was second nature to him. There is a separate design and development department where I saw a piston being measured on a shadowgraph. Next to the R&D offices were three dyno rooms. In fact this was the only area that our happy snapper Chris Walker was not allowed to photograph in detail. There was a new model TaG engine revving away on one dyno and another on the bench being examined. I have to say they look the business! Probably 50 or 60 race engines all prepared, labelled and ready for action also really looked the part. There is no pretension at IAME, just solid purposeful manufacturing of a world-leading product. The best quality raw materials are a prerequisite and quality is controlled right through the factory until the finished article is produced. IAME have a reputation for best quality products and many other manufacturers aspire to equal them. It is a matter of opinion whether any of them achieve it. Since the death of Bruno Grana, Mr. Fagnani has been appointed as Managing Director. With no disrespect to Grana, Mr. Fagnani has a modern attitude to business and management.

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Well ordered, quality engineering produces in excess of 6,500 engines a year, and all for karts

While the industry has unlimited respect for the memory of Bruno Grana, it has to be accepted that things will change and these changes will be for the better. While Grana had a very successful, if autonomous management style, Fagnani has a much more open and modern approach. He believes that every member of staff has their special skill and that they should have a voice. In this way he has opened up the lines of communication within the factory to unprecedented levels. Every member of staff is now able to put their point of view to improve any aspect of the IAME product. A board of directors has been formed including Paul Conde and the production manager Guiseppe Mioso. Other important names in the management structure include Mr. Molinari, head of design, Mr. Pelizzoli the purchasing manager and Pinuccia Donatelli who keeps them all in order as head of administration. The final jewel in the crown came last December when Mr. Fagnani managed to woo Cesare Bossaglia’s son Andrea on board. While there are still strong ties with the past and sound foundations are essential to the success of any business, IAME are dedicated to the future. They are a stand alone kart engine manufacturer and do not make any other products.

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While their race engines for Formula A, ICA and JICA are of great importance to them, they do have a very good feel for the commercial needs of the industry. At the moment their top selling model is the 125 TaG Leopard, followed by the newer model TaG X30. This has a more modern appearance with a very neat crankcase housing a balance shaft and starter. While the engine still has an external water pump at present, the Cedi Nap team in France have mounted the pump on the engine with a belt drive from the crankshaft. One of the advantages of the IAME product is the cast iron cylinder liner, allowing a wide range of piston sizes to be retro fitted, giving the engine a very long life expectancy. IAME also make all their own clutches, a quality example is the clutch drum that is machined from cast iron.

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Engine assembly is second nature to these experts

The JICA engine is third in their popularity poll which is not surprising really. JICA has become a Parilla benefit in the last couple of years and the PV100 Swift is the reference point in the class. It is a short stroke ‘over square’ engine. Perhaps it should be called a Komet! Chris Walker and I very much enjoyed our visit to IAME. We both thank Mr. Fagnani for changing his busy schedule in order to see us. We would further like to thank Mr. Bossaglia for his very informative factory tour. It has been a pleasure to write this article, I hope I have done IAME justice, at the very least it is an insight into the production of kart engines. IAME have been at the top of their game for many years and they look set to stay there for the foreseeable future.

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Mr. Fagnani (right), the new boss of IAME, explains the company’s philosophy to our man

George Robinson