Burnouts and powerslides are some very entertaining ways of utilizing horsepower, but man does not live on hooliganism alone. Granted, forward propulsion is the primary function of an engine, but driving the accessories is equally as important. Consider this: Without a belt to transfer an engine’s crankshaft rotation to the water pump and alternator, a 1,000-horsepower street machine would be lucky to make it 1,000 feet down the road. Furthermore, an engine’s accessory drive system powers just about every convenience feature imaginable, whether its power steering, air conditioning, or any electrically operated accessory that relies on an alternator. That said, numerous engine accessories offered by various manufacturers can be matched in an almost infinite range of combinations, which makes it much more difficult to dial in a reliable accessory drive system. Fortunately, March Performance has been tackling this challenge head-on for over four decades.
Although the company traces its roots to the aircraft industry, since the ’70s it has established a reputation as a leading manufacturer of accessory drive components for muscle cars and street rods. Today, the company manufactures thousands of different pulleys and serpentine drive systems, as well as a wide range of engine accessories from its Naples, Florida, headquarters. To get a better handle on what goes into designing accessory drive systems that can handle the rigors of today’s high-performance engines, we sought the expertise of Kim March. Here’s what we found out.
March Performance was founded in 1974 by Edward March and his sons Kim and Craig. The company initially machined aircraft parts, but hot rodding was a firmly ingrained March family tradition. By the late ’80s, as the aircraft business slowed down and Edward had retired, the March brothers shifted their focus to machining automotive parts. The transition wasn’t easy, and Kim and Craig worked seven days a week to get the new automotive business off the ground. “We would work all week to manufacture the products and get them out to distributors during the week, and then we’d load them into a trailer to hit the car shows on the weekend,” Kim recalls.
The company has grown dramatically during the decades since, and it now offers a full line of pulleys, accessory drive systems, and engine components. Today, Kim performs all product design duties, and then works with in-house engineers to transform those designs into real products. “We have about 20 different small-block Chevy accessory drive kits, and each of those has different finish options to further individualize the product,” explains Kim. “Our kits range from our entry-level custom series kits to our high-end, exotic-styled Ultra Drives.”
Serpentine vs. V-Belt
As a manufacturer of both V-belt pulleys and serpentine drive systems, March Performance knows the benefits and drawbacks of each setup very well. “Steel V-belt pulleys have a history of throwing belts because of three problems: wobble, groove design, and offset tolerance,” Kim explains. “At March Performance, we use super-precise CNC machines to accurately cut deeper grooves and create perfect alignment. Our serpentine pulleys are manufactured using the same process. One of the primary advantages of serpentine pulleys is that they allow accessories to be arranged in closer proximity to each other for a cleaner look and better fitment in tight engine compartments.”
For the highly stressed components in an accessory drive system, billet aluminum offers multiple benefits. That said, not all billet is the same, even if it appears similar on the surface. “Casting pulleys and brackets is very common, but the problem is that all cast parts have a certain degree of porosity. If you don’t remove the air bubbles during the casting process, you’ll end up with a weak part,” Kim explains. “In contrast, March Performance uses 6061-T6 billet aluminum exclusively in all of its accessory drive components. The aircraft-grade extruded billet aluminum bars that we use are tempered, which makes them even stronger. We buy material in such large volume, we can get the aluminum in a special alloy that’s custom blended to our specifications. All of this improves strength and durability.”
Housed in a 50,000-square-foot facility, March Performance relies on its dynamic manufacturing capabilities to streamline the process of taking parts from concept to reality. “Having 27 CNC machines allows us to set up our machines for one specific type of part so we don’t have to change the fixturing or programming very often. This, in turn, improves product consistency,” says Kim. “We don’t want everyone to have the same cookie-cutter parts. That’s why we make over 20 accessory drive kits for the small-block Chevy alone. We try to give people what they want, and our manufacturing capability enables us to quickly R&D parts. If someone has an idea for a custom part and it sounds feasible, we’ll make it for them. The same concept applies to our in-house powdercoat department. We can apply all kinds of different colors and finishes for a more custom look.”
Installing a set of underdrive pulleys decreases the power required to drive an engine’s accessories, thus increasing horsepower. Contrary to popular mythology, as long as the drive ratios are carefully designed, underdrive pulley systems do not compromise the performance of engine accessories at all. “March Performance makes a variety of under and over drive pulleys for a wide range of applications. In the past, most hot rodders would just use a larger alternator pulley to slow down alternator drag,” says Kim. “However, we’ve learned that carefully adjusting the ratios of the water pump, alternator, and crank pulley increase horsepower even more and eliminates belt-throwing due to the slower belt speed. We also make high-flow water pump ratios for customers trying to improve engine cooling. Larger displacement engines can benefit from the increase in water flow. These high-flow ratios also improve A/C performance, coolant flow, and alternator output.”
Polished billet surfaces may look great but require lots of maintenance in order to maintain that appearance. Likewise, both polished and raw billet surfaces are prone to oxidation. March’s solution is applying a maintenance-free powdercoating to all of its pulley systems. To improve durability, March also applies a hard coating to high-wear areas, which hardens these surfaces to a 65 on the Rockwell scale. According to March, that makes these surfaces harder than steel and twice as hard as forged aluminum. “Our powdercoating ensures that your whole accessory drive system stays looking new for years to come. We are currently the only company that utilizes clear powdercoating on pulleys and brackets for a durable and low-maintenance finish.”
March offers several different types of drive systems. They are by no means one-size-fits-all systems, and they are designed to accommodate a vast range of applications. Whether you need one pulley or a complete system, our tech crew will assist you in selecting the correct solution for your needs,” Kim explains. “March Performance offers many different designs or styles to account for the packaging requirements of different types of applications. For example, high-mount or inward-mount style brackets will be suitable for street rod applications but not for muscle cars. On the other hand, March Performance’s compact style kits—such as Style Track, Revolver, Pro Track, or Ultra—offer different aesthetic styles to aid in producing a complete custom look. For those looking for a more OEM look, our black powdercoat finish does the job. And customers that are looking for a more shiny setup, we also offer a chrome-plated finish. We have recently been experimenting with different powdercoatings, like flats and graphites, to create even more unique options.”
“One of the many perks of upgrading to a serpentine drive system is that it bundles together all the engine accessories—such as the water pump, alternator, A/C compressor, and power steering pump—into one kit. In addition to convenience, this approach ensures that each of the components are compatible with each other. Since the accessories must be as reliable as the drive system components, March has partnered with the best suppliers in the industry. The suppliers that we work with are the ones that make the most durable products and offer the best customer-friendly warranties. March Performance has partnered itself with the most reputable companies in our industry such as PPG, Edelbrock, Tuff Stuff, Sanden, Vintage Air, Mechman, Dayco, Milodon, and Meziere.”
When mixing and matching brackets and pulleys, it’s easy to mess up belt alignment. Since March manufactures individual brackets and pulleys in addition to serpentine systems, it’s substantial experience in customizing accessory drives can save its customers the agony of tossing belts. “March Performance has the most experience and largest selection of accessory drive components,” says Kim. “Our complete kits are the way to go to prevent the headache of trying to pair individual brackets and pulleys together, but if a customer chooses to match individual brackets and pulleys together, our technical staff can assist with figuring out what will work.”
Immediate overheating, a dead battery, and loss of power steering and A/C are just some of the consequences of belt slippage. According to March Performance, the most common reason for belt slipping or belt throwing is improper belt tension. The company designs its idler systems with the ideal amount of tension to prevent this from happening. Likewise, belt misalignment is another culprit. “Due to so many variations in manufacturing with aftermarket parts, misalignment is very common. We do our best to control this with our all-inclusive kits,” says Kim. “If we are able to supply all the components, we have more control over the variations for better fitment. In the event a customer experiences misalignment, once again our tech department can help on correcting it.”
Although March Performance is best known for accessory drives, the company manufactures some very slick engine accessories and dress-up components as well. “We manufacture some of the industry’s most unique and exotic air cleaners, alternators, and power steering pumps on the market. They are styled to match our brackets but look great by themselves,” says Kim. “We also manufacture valve cover accent pieces, wire looms, power steering covers, oil fill tubes, A/C line adapters, and decorative parts designed to support our matching air cleaner and serpentine system combos. All these components help maintain a consistent styling theme in order to create a very impressive engine compartment. Likewise, we are now distributors of air-conditioning systems that mate with our drive systems from companies like Vintage Air, Old Air, and Nostalgic Air.”
The continual evolution of parts development at March Performance has led to an extremely diverse catalog of parts. According to Kim March, this evolution is a direct result of interacting with customers and taking their suggestions to heart. “March Performance started out in a garage with a lathe and kerosene stove, and we just grew from there. My brother Craig and I designed our product line based on what parts people told us they wanted at shows,” he recalls. “One of our very first products were underdrive pulleys, and when we noticed a shortage of quality brackets on the market, we started making those too. Those early underdrive kits made 16 horsepower on 5.0L Mustangs, and when the Camaro guys wanted them too, we moved into the Chevy market. When people approached us with their cooling problems, we started making overdrive pulleys. Not long after that, we noticed that the pulleys were picking up dust and debris from the belt, so we developed a hard anodized finish on the wear surfaces to improve durability. We were the first company to do that, and they’re using the same technique in NASCAR now.
March Performance takes customer service very seriously. “Many of our phone calls involve helping customers with fitment, but we can also assist with everything from priming power steering pumps to selecting different pulley ratios to selecting different alternators and water pumps based on each customer’s needs. We don’t believe in sending out a box and telling a customer, ‘Here it is, install it.’ We offer customers the ability to customize their accessory drive systems based on the performance, fitment, and styling needs of their particular application.”