The fuel pump itself has just one simple, but supremely important job: send fuel — be it gasoline, methanol or E85 — from the fuel tank or fuel cell to the point of injection into the engine. Whether you’re driving a 1992 Dodge Grand Caravan or a 10,000 horsepower Top Fuel dragster, your car has a fuel pump; unless, of course, you drive a 100 percent electric vehicle. The vast majority of fuel pumps are electric, utilizing a small electric motor to spin fuel out into the feed line and onward to the engine.
Electric pumps can feed fairly high-powered hot rods, up to and sometimes beyond 1,000 horsepower, given the whole fuel system is up to par and tuned correctly. When consumption demands more fuel than even the best electric pumps can offer, you’ll be looking to upgrade to a mechanical pump.
While going from electric to mechanical in most cases would seem like a step backward, using the engine itself to power the pump becomes necessary at this point because building an electric motor to keep up with the higher demands would be both physically imposing and place a major strain on the alternator to feed it enough juice.
While fuel pumps aren’t the most complicated component on a race car or high-horsepower street car, its role is certainly one of the most important. Ask any hot rodder who’s melted pistons or blown a hole in the side of his engine block, and many times the culprit will be a fuel pump that failed, or was just not powerful enough to feed the engine’s demand for fuel.
Aeromotive Fuel System has always focused on providing its customers with pumps and supporting components that ensure those situations don’t occur. We spoke with Bub Miller, Aeromotive’s motorsports director, to discuss the upcoming public release of its all-new Terminator fuel pump. What he told us is, quite simply, pure gearhead awesomeness!
A Need Arises
To say race cars have evolved in massive leaps and bounds over the past decade would be an understatement. As Miller points out, five or 10 years ago, only full-on drag racing vehicles boasted four-digit horsepower levels, with the very rare exception of an extreme street/strip build. Any car destined for the street with those horsepower levels would have a professionally-built engine and custom-built induction system, and it took constant attention and tuning to keep the engine happy.
Today, you can drive home a new Camaro, Mustang, Challenger, or Corvette — just make a telephone call and order everything needed to have your comfy new daily driver putting 1,000-plus horsepower to the wheels, while maintaining power steering and air conditioning. And if you have a little experience around the toolbox, you can likely install the entire thing in your garage with common hand tools over the course of a weekend or two.
That’s a fairly drastic change in the hot rodder landscape, made possible because of companies like Aeromotive, that not only focuses on component performance, but durability and reliability. When Aeromotive’s president and co-founder Steve Matusek decided he wanted to try his hand at Pro Modified racing, the company was faced with a bit of a “pickle,” as they didn’t offer a pump that would reliably feed a mega-horsepower, twin-turbocharged, methanol-guzzling powerplant.
They couldn’t very well run the company colors on the car and use a competitor’s fuel system, so Aeromotive did what true innovators do, and built their own. What came to be from that decision is one of the most badass fuel pumps ever to rest between the framerails of a drag car.
However, the pump itself wasn’t originally intended to be available to the public. As Miller puts it, “We did a year’s worth of R&D in about 90 days, because we had to have the pump finished and ready to go before the car itself was finished. At that point, we had the pump Steve needed, but we never really intended to take it to market … it was just more necessity than anything.” Matusek ran the car for several seasons with zero fueling issues, proving the pump was more than up to task as far as flow and reliability were concerned.
Miller took the pump apart to service it for the first time after four full seasons of use and realized it had only lost a scant .15 gallons of flow volume, or less than one percent, from the 18.25 gallon per minute it flowed when it was first installed. Only then did they realize they had viable product that should be made available to the public.
There are two main benefits offered by the spur-gear design that led to Aeromotive’s decision to use the spur-gear over the other types of pump. The spur-gear style of pump is excellent at combating cavitation, even at high pump speeds, and it is nearly impervious to debris and contamination. In other spur-gear pumps, there’s often a need to use a separate pump to prime the main pump, but Aeromotive machines the Terminator to such precise and exacting tolerances that it primes itself and fires the engine after only a few turns of the starter.
When it comes to contamination or debris, many pumps simply cannot tolerate foreign matter, but the spur-gear design itself, along with Aeromotive’s attention to detail, allows the Terminator to simply “chew it up and spit it out,” according to Miller.
If It’s Output You Need …
we had the pump Steve [Matusek] needed, but we never really intended to take it to market … it was just more necessity than anything. – Bub Miller, Aeromotive
Aeromotive sent Larson a pump and it performed flawlessly, if not a bit too good. Larson’s setup features a link from the Terminator’s drive to the oil pump drive that allows Larry to easily activate and deactivate the Terminator when swapping the truck from street duty to the track setup and back.
Miller recounts one instance where Larson was returning the truck to street trim at the Street Car Super Nationals in Las Vegas, got distracted, and forgot to remove the drive belt from the fuel pump. He did, however, remember to cap the fuel line carrying methanol from the pump to the engine. When Larry cranked his S-10, he gave the engine a couple of quick revs, at which time the Terminator, cramming all 20-plus gallons of its output into a capped-off fuel line, ruptured a fuel filter designed to withstand 1,000 psi. Amazingly, the pump itself sustained no damage, showing zero drop in flow from what it produced the day it left the factory.
The Terminator pump also found a perfect niche in Nostalgia Funny Car competition. Nostalgia Funny Cars rely on fuel pump restrictions to keep the class from becoming a battle of bank accounts, by limiting the cars to precisely 21 gallons per minute, with all pumps tested by an independent contractor in California before being shipped on to the race team. Miller said that they found out just how precise their tolerances need to be to meet the demands set forth by the independent flow test.
Taking into account variances in fluid temperature, barometric pressure fluctuations, and the actual fluid used for the test, Aeromotive has been able to nail down its tolerances to produce pumps that consistently flow almost exactly 21 gallons per minute, without exceeding that number and being unusable.
Why The Terminator?
As you transform from street/strip use to all-out track use, you’re very likely to reach a point that even the best electric pump just cannot keep up with your engine’s demand for fuel. This threshold, usually around five gallons per minute, is when you will need to seriously consider upgrading to a mechanical pump or risk serious damage to your engine when it decides it needs just a little more fuel than the pump can supply.
At first glace, Aeromotive’s Terminator may seem like overkill, but if you look at it as likely the last fuel pump you will ever need, it’s a sound investment that will feed your future upgrades with ease.
The Terminator series of mechanical fuel pumps from Aeromotive are a fantastic line of pumps. -Travis Quillen, Quillen Motorsports Engineering
Nostalgia Funny Car ace John Hale said the Terminator is the best out-of-the-box option available in his opinion, boasting that they know they can count on the pump to perform flawlessly with zero modifications needed when it arrives.
Travis Quillen, a tuner, fabricator and fuel system expert and owner of Quillen Motorsports Engineering, located in north Alabama, has now built a few fuel systems utilizing the Terminator pump. “The Terminator series of mechanical fuel pumps from Aeromotive are a fantastic line of pumps; the ability to configure inlets and outlets as well as add accessories like shut-off valves and distribution blocks add a lot of value for the dollar spent,” Quillen said.
“On the flow bench, I’ve found the Terminator to have a very linear flow curve, and very little internal leakage with increased fuel pressures,” he added. Certainly high praise from a man who has assisted with fuel systems on a wide array of cars and combinations.
In discussing streetability, many don’t see a mechanical pump as a viable option, but that’s simply not true. For those who want a serious mechanical pump mounted in the rear of the car, the Terminator can be driven by a cable running to the rear of the car, similar to what you might find on your weed-eater. This opens up a huge group of enthusiasts who want their pump mounted close to the fuel cell in the trunk, while still laying down insane horsepower at the track, all the while maintaining perfect manners while cruising around town.
With upgrades planned for our own Project BlownZ Camaro, including a move to methanol, we will be upgrading to a Terminator for the 2016 season. The decision to make the swap from Q16 to methanol would mean a demand for double the volume, and the Terminator is a perfect candidate to meet that massive demand. The inside diameter of the feed line from the fuel cell to the pump is 1-1/16 inches, with a AN -12 outlet from the pump to the filter, 10 from the filter to the fuel rails, and a -10 outlet from the fuel raise back to the regulator. The pump will be driven off the hex drive attachment on the CDS gear drive. A new Chiseled Performance five-gallon fuel cell for the methanol conversion will again be mounted on the passenger side, fore of the front wheel, with Fragola hoses and fittings supplying the fuel to and from the fuel rails.
Sean Goude, the crew chief for BlownZ, complimented the design and craftsmanship of the Terminator. “I was impressed by the craftsmanship. It’s a killer looking piece. It is very well-built and I know it’s going to handle our fueling needs with alcohol easily.”
That price may sound steep, and it is certainly not cheap, but as Quillen pointed out, the value is excellent given the output and quality of the pump. Aeromotive’s attention to detail and build quality are second to none, and the Terminator perfectly embodies those traits. It isn’t intended for everyone, but to those of you who are ready to step up to the Terminator, it could very well be the last pump you ever buy.