In the News

Another Great Article in the Words of FF Journal…Well Said @ffjournal!

HELMET HEAD

By Lynn Stanley

Mishimoto let Plebani design two display helmets to attract visitors to its booth at the 2015 Special Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas.

This story was originally published as a web exclusive and updated for the July/August 2016 Top WebEx issue.

Extreme designs combine with function and fit to create geek-worthy welding hoods

July/August 2016 – Critics called it “eye popping, groundbreaking and unthinkably successful.” They were writing about Walt Disney’s long-awaited December 2015 release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” But they might just as easily have been describing the work of custom car fabricator Eric Plebani, who awakened a force of his own when he began designing and building one-of-a-kind extreme welding helmets in February 2015.

A self-avowed Star Wars fan, Plebani’s career path made the jump to light speed when he employed his design and metalworking skills to build himself a welding helmet based on his favorite Star Wars character: Boba Fett, the bounty hunter. His friend snapped a photo of Plebani working in the helmet and posted it on reddit. The photo went viral and ignited a fan base that has been clamoring ever since for welding helmet one-offs.

The radical personal protective gear also caught the attention of New Castle, Delaware-based Mishimoto, which manufactures performance cooling and aftermarket products for the automotive and racing industries.

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“I’ve had a longstanding relationship with Mishimoto due to my involvement in motorsports and racing,” says Plebani. “They were looking for ways to create a buzz around their booth space at the 2015 Special Equipment Market Association show held in Las Vegas. So I convinced them to let me design two display helmets that would get visitors’ attention.” SEMA is a global trade event for automotive specialty products. “As an attendee for nearly 20 years, I knew the show had never seen anything like this.”

Plebani also fabricated engine displays for the Mishimoto booth and hand-delivered the helmets under wraps. On opening day, his unconventional creations ignited a social media firestorm and attracted large crowds to the booth.

The consummate craftsman says he wanted to make something nobody had seen before so he pulled the helmet designs from his own “favorites list.”

The first piece of protective headgear was fashioned after a TIE fighter from the newest installment of the Star Wars franchise. Plebani used Mishimoto colors for its paint scheme and one of the company’s oil coolers as a rebreather. The second helmet was based on the extraterrestrial warrior from the 1987 film “Predator.” Plebani used Mishimoto vacuum hoses to create the creature’s trademark dreadlocks.

“The feedback was amazing,” Plebani recalls. “People were getting their pictures taken with the helmets. And nationality didn’t matter—the helmets spoke a language everyone could understand.”

Observing the artful protection equipment’s crowd appeal, Mishimoto’s people also saw an opportunity. “The company has built its business by taking items that are innovative and using a mass production environment to make them available to everyone while keeping the cool factor intact,” says Plebani. “The owner, Mike Sullivan, has tremendous vision when it comes to building and scaling a brand and a business. He also knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with demand as a one-man show so we joined forces.”

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The ever-creative Plebani used Mishimoto vacuum hoses to create the dreadlocks of the extraterrestrial warrior in the 1987 film, Predator.

In Plebani’s new role as Mishimoto’s director of innovation, he’s able to pursue both passions—designer safety gear and custom car work. The self-made mechanic, metal fabricator, tuner and licensed race car driver brings the full complement of his skill sets—honed in the harsh, unforgiving world of racing—to his own workspace at Mishimoto. “I call it the Creation Station,” he says. “It’s a fantasy factory but my area is where the magic happens.”

And Plebani has been busy. This year he completed a design/build for a twin-turbo Viper, a job he says is a record in terms of most man hours he has spent on a custom car build.

“Crazy has tripled, but in a good way,” he says. “The trade show solidified the marketability of my helmets proving personal protection doesn’t have to be boring to be effective.”

Plebani also co-founded a new company called Arkane, and will soon introduce the industry’s first modular, customizable safety gear under this brand. With this line, individuals will be able to take a basic helmet shape, choose their character or theme and have it built and shipped to those specifications. “It’s a little like the Mr. Potato Head concept,” says Plebani.

Customers can build their own helmet at an entry-level price or invest in a custom-designed helmet built by Plebani that is interchangeable with any type of welding operation.

Plebani is also developing the first carbon fiber helmet to fit his new modular platform. He is basing his original design on the Kylo Ren character from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” but the artistic interpretation will be crafted “for my own personal use.”

Fitting into a corporate environment is another first for Plebani who acknowledges he is not your typical 9-to-5 worker bee. “Now that I’m interacting with a team, I know my work style was as much of a shock to them as engaging with other people was to me,” he says. “I’m on 24/7. I don’t need a drawing or a print to make something. It’s all in my head. My hands just do the work. There is no equation. Whether it’s the helmet line or the automotive side of the company, I do whatever I see that needs to be done.”

Plebani follows a list of virtues penned by founding father Benjamin Franklin, who defined American qualities and values to include determination, self-sufficiency, perseverance, hard work, frugality and reliance on a strong set of ethics.

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Eric Plebani completed a design-build for a twin-turbo Viper, spending a record number of man hours on the custom project this year.

Researching and developing original part designs for Mishimoto’s automotive business, the ability to apply his unique spin to both the safety gear and the company’s aftermarket products gives free rein to Plebani’s fertile imagination and his formidable skill sets. He also has access to such tools as CAD software and 3-D printing equipment.

“I can have a functioning prototype within hours,” he says. “As a result I am able to put my ideas to the test fairly quickly to see if they are viable. If I don’t like how something is working, I can go back and fine tune. I can produce short-run pieces within days. This technology gives me the ability to make anything my head is thinking. If I get an idea at 1 a.m., I can remote access CAD and get to work designing it.”

The first one at the office and the last to leave, Plebani’s passion has been contagious among co-workers.

“I tell them the investment of time and skill to handcraft or fabricate something requires commitment and common sense. It’s also about having pride in the work you do. I’ve seen the level of care and interest amp up. Their brains are beginning to be rewired to a goal-oriented work approach.”

A patriot and staunch supporter of the United States military services, the new gig  allows Plebani to take his mission on the home front in a new direction.

“I get a lot of emails from veterans who are using welding as therapy,” he says. “A large number of them have special requirements. For example, one veteran needed extra temperature compensation because he had lost the ability to sweat. We have an idea board set up specifically to work on these requests because some of them require development of new approaches in the way a helmet functions. It’s one way to give back.”

Like building a new house, Plebani is laying a solid foundation and framing it up while paying close attention to the details that matter.

“The wheels in my head have been turning for a long time. I am already thinking about how to do things faster and more efficiently,” he says, adding, “This job gives me the tools I need to implement those ideas.” FFJ

Our Mastermind in the Words of FF Journal…Well Said @ffjournal!

FABRICATING

PLEBANI’S RULES

By Lynn Stanley

Custom fabricator embodies patriotism, values through medium of metalforming

July 2015 – Founding father Benjamin Franklin believed the most important American qualities and values included determination, self-sufficiency, perseverance, hard work, frugality and reliance on a strong set of ethics. It’s a code Eric Plebani also lives by and one he wants to pass on to young people.

Like Franklin, the custom car fabricator is a patriot and staunch supporter of the military. “The sacrifices that have been made and continue to be made on a daily basis to defend my freedom have allowed me to pursue what I love,” he says.

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For Plebani his love has always been cars. A National Hot Rod Association licensed driver by the age of 23, Plebani learned the skills of welding, fabrication and mechanical repairs in the harsh, unforgiving environment of racing. “Building things and putting my own creative spin on them has been my forte,” he says.

His work ethic and skills caught the eye of World Racing, where he has handcrafted engine-driven works of art for more than 19 years. “The industry pushed me and my team members to try things no one else would do,” he explains. “Consequently, we were always ahead of the curve in areas like machining, metalworking and understanding the limits of metal fatigue for parts we were making. It’s the best way to learn.”

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Treasure hunt

In February 2015 he established Plebani Built LLC to support a new venture designing and building one-of-a-kind extreme custom welding helmets. He also confesses to a fascination with military equipment. “I’m a World War II history buff,” he says. “I bought a Hummer H1 about five years ago. I tore it apart to see how it was engineered. It was really rather ingenious.”

The Hummer was originally designed exclusively for military use but due to popular demand, a civilian version of the four-wheel-drive utility vehicle was released in 1992.

“AM General used components that were readily available in keeping with the military practice that you don’t want to put unique parts on a vehicle being used in the field for obvious reasons,” Plebani says. “I discovered the H1 had older Chrysler Jeep parts, Ford components and a GM engine and transmission. It was really a collaborative effort between the Big 3. If you knew what you were looking for you could go to junkyards and find what you needed. I hand-fabbed the Hummer’s entire exterior with parts I found at a nearby industrial scrapyard.”

The restoration project took Plebani two years to complete. Oval snorkel-style exhaust, industrial chain link crash bar and a light bar with USA stamped in each link provide the details that mark Plebani’s style. “There was a learning curve because the parts were so big and heavy compared to the small, lighter weight race cars I work on,” he says. “I had to buy oversized tooling just to work on the Hummer.”

The paint job is a urethane coating Plebani borrowed from the marine industry. “It’s a non-slip coating that has the texture of concrete,” he explains. “When I take it places the first thing people want to do is touch it.”

Plebani uses his workspace to expose students from area trade and tech schools to an active custom fabrication job shop. “I try to personify the characteristics this country was built on,” he says.

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Standards

At the age of 20, Benjamin Franklin developed a list of 13 virtues that he attempted to live by. Plebani has developed his own set of standards to work by. “The investment of time and skill to handcraft or fabricate something requires commitment and common sense,” he says. “I share these ideas with students in the form of questions. ‘Is this something you would want to give someone?’ ‘Would you be happy with the work you did?’ ‘Would you want the product yourself?’ If the answer is no, then you have to redo it. It boils down to having pride in the work you do.”

Pride in one’s work is the quality Plebani finds among veterans when he’s looking to hire. “They already possess discipline and self-initiative,” he notes. “In this business you have to be up for the challenges and they are. I see a big disconnect in these areas with a lot of the students that are still sitting in a classroom.”

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Social media has boosted the popularity of Plebani’s welding helmet creations and attracted a large following of military men and women, many of whom are mechanics. “I created stickers for my helmets and then threw them up on my website along with some T-shirts,” Plebani says. “I got an email from a female mechanic stationed in the Middle East asking if she could purchase stickers and shirts for her unit. I shipped the items free of charge because I felt it was a small way to thank them for their service.”

Plebani later found out that his stickers are being put on pieces of large military equipment and weapons being used at a forward operating base in the Middle East.

“That was the ultimate payoff for me,” he says. “I’m a custom fabricator and mechanic for the racing industry. That crew overseas is using those same skill sets to protect our country.” FFJ

Read more about Eric Plebani’s extreme custom welding helmets and why the one-offs are burning up social media platforms and sparking renewed interest in the welding industry in the July-August issue of FFJournal.

Courtesy of FF Journal online: http://www.ffjournal.net/item/13130-plebanis-rules.html

 

Who would have thought?

After all of the accomplishments around Eric Plebani in the auto and racing arena, even Eric himself couldn’t have predicted the infamous Boba Fett welding hood craze. Who would have thought that a simple hood that he created for himself would have caught so much attention by a simple internet post by a friend? It just took off thanks to the wonders of the internet and social media, and it hasn’t stopped since. With over 2.8 million views just from Reddit/Imgur and supporters like Weldporn, Mishimoto and 3M Speedglas (just to name a few), who continue to feature our work, we are extremely grateful for all of the support! We also appreciate all of the fans who keep us pushing harder to come up with sick stuff!

Weldporn Logo   3M Speedglas Logo      Mishimoto Logo 2

What started it all Boba Fett

After all these years…

Although his customers feel he is the “magic man”, he really is magic…he has this crazy way of building things that just keep mysteriously appearing. Here is the latest that has resurfaced out of the blue…a 2JZ build he did 5-7 years ago that is now gaining attention again years later. Almost 50k likes, 3800 comments and 3500 shares, not bad for a classic! Thanks for the throwback 1320video.com!

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Boba Fett: Feared Mandalorian Bounty Hunter… Skilled Welder?

Boba FettEric Plebani, one of our sources for an upcoming suspension article, made the mistake of showing us his geeky side… now we’re showing you. Better yet we’ll let him do all the work, take it away Eric, “I’ll sum this up as quickly as I can. I admit that I am a complete Star Wars nerd, the movies practically raised me. I’d watch them almost every day after school as a kid. I don’t know if I was more fixated on the special effects or just how they came up with all the models, spaceships, outfits etc… In any event I was fascinated. The Bad Guys had the best uniforms. I was Darth Vader and Boba Fett so many times for Halloween as a kid that I can barely remember the count. Now with that being said the rough, tough, and venerable Boba Fett was always my favorite character… I mean the guy has a jet pack and a missile on his back. It resembled who I am. Rough, tough, mysterious, and someone who gets the job done while not looking pretty doing it.

Boba Fett WeldingI have a good-sized collection of Star Wars memorabilia, but always wanted to build a killer Boba Fett welding lid. So that’s what I did, I modified a wearable helmet into my welding lid for my daily grind at the shop, it was purely for my own satisfaction of having unique items no one else has. I guess you could say it was well received. I’ve gotten so much feedback and offers on the helmet I don’t want to use it anymore for fear of damaging it! It may just graduate to a glass case with my other memorabilia.”

Well done Eric, but if you make a suit of Mandalorian armor expect an intervention.

 

 

 

Road and Track 

This Porsche 911 has a purist-outraging turbo four-cylinder swap

Don’t tell the PCOA.

What lurks behind the rear axle of this Porsche 911 SC? As you may have expected, it’s not an air-cooled flat-six, but it’s not the small block GM mill you might have been thinking of, either. Maybe this car’s owner wanted something a bit more serviceable and tunable than the stock flat-six, or maybe he really wanted to upset the local chapter of the Porsche Club of America.

Whatever his motivations, Eric Plebani has dropped a turbocharged Mitsubishi 4G63 into the rear of his 1980 911 SC and tweaked it to produce about 650 hp. As he toldTurbo Magazine, the swap wasn’t as easy as just machining a few new brackets to mount the engine (it rarely is), but in this case, a new cooling system had to be built from the ground up. This meant lots of modifications to the front of the car to house a radiator where there once was none. It all came together rather nicely and resulted in the racy yet tidy front bumper, which is consistent with the very clean look overall.

 Whether you think it’s brilliance or blasphemy, it’s freaking fast. Plebani says it has done the quarter-mile in 11.4 seconds, and it also serves as his daily driver. Watch the video below to see it action, but be warned that it could hurt your brain to watch a 911 accelerate while hearing the sound of a turbocharged Japanese four-banger.

Videos courtesy of talontsi97

At WORLD Racing, he helped build some unique race cars way ahead of their time

 

     

Photo Jul 25, 11 06 14 AM      Photo Feb 08, 1 26 32 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Street Network

Turbo Update – After press time, Plebani recorded a 9.54 @ 144 at the IDRC Maple Grove event August 12, 2000.

Star Attraction: Eric Plebani’s Diamond In The Rough

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Adding New Fuel To An Old FlameWhen Eric Plebani’s Starion first graced the pages of November ’99 Turbo, it caught our eyes by being a fast, budget-conscious Diamond Star. Budget-yes, but bucket, hell no! It proved that innovation can be achieved for pennies-good ideas cost nothing. Our first encounter with Plebani’s ’87 Mitsubishi Starion was on May 15th, 1999 at Island Dragway in New Jersey. The vehicle debuted running consistent 11.5s at 124 mph, which is enough to be considered a very worthy Starion even to this day. Back then, the Diamond Star was equipped with a bone-stock 4G63 Eclipse powerplant plugged into a bone stock OEM Starion transmission with the help of a Buschur Racing motor mount kit. Advanced Clutch Technology was able to design a bulletproof clutch set up to transfer the ponies to the rear. A ROM-tuned ECU working in conjunction with an HKS VPC (Vein Pressure Converter) and Buschur Race Pump handled fuel management. “The motor was originally bone-stock because we didn’t even know if this set-up would work at all,” said Plebani. “After it debuted at the IDRC event, we were confident the platform would be capable of running good numbers.”

That Was Then, This Is Now!In just under a year, Plebani was able to move up the ladder from double to single digits. His home track is Atco Raceway and this is where the long process of getting the car to hookand book began.

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Once he realized the set-up was working flawlessly, Plebani swapped out the 20G turbo for a larger T-66 Innovative turbo. The new hair dryer was set for 27-psi of boost pressure, just like the original. Besides the turbo swap, Plebani also had Buschur Racing open up the cylinder head and load the engine with forged pistons and billet rods.

The first gremlin Plebani encountered was the OEM transmission. With the motor ingesting 27 pounds of boost pressure, the transmission would literally spin apart on him. While covered in gear oil after yet another transmission change, Plebani decided enough was enough. Soon after, a Chevy Powerglide was poised to be installed into the determined Diamond Star. Plebani brought the Powerglide to a local V8 shop that fitted the transmission with a set of friction-free roller bearings designed to help the little four-banger turn the gears. After a few test sessions with the ‘glide, Plebani determined the stock rear end gear was too tall, so he installed a shorter one-this is when magic started to occur.

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The Starion landed in the land of 10s with the ‘glide and all of the other engine mods, so it was time to play with the suspension. At the time, Plebani said, “I wanted the car to run reliably at 27 psi and once I have it dialed in at that amount of boost, I will go to 30 psi.” Today he said, “to get into the 9s, I had to play a lot with the shocks, tire pressure and anything else that could get my car to hook and book. I videotaped all of my runs and the footage made a big difference in learning what the car was doing down the track. What made the biggest difference was the Ground Control set up in the rear. I played with different shocks and spring rates, but the Ground Controls seemed to work the best. As a matter of fact, I still haven’t made the jump up in boost, but with a little more suspension tweaking, the car will be ready for 30 psi.”

Although the motor was still very healthy, Plebani made the decision to install a Stage III Buschur engine complete with a Buschur sheetmetal intake and fuel rail, a set of Unorthodox Racing pulleys and one big-ass Spearco intercooler. After all the mods, the Screamin’ Starion grasped the nines in June and has since ran its best time of 9.73 at 141 mph at the ’00 Diamond Star Shootout. Plebani and his Starion have seen trap speeds in the 146-mph range, and with a little more suspension tuning, the car should be in the low 9s and knockin’ on the 8s.

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Mightymax pickup that Eric dropped a turbo Mitsubishi 2.0 into…this thing was a sleeper!

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