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This month we interview one of Mopar's seminal figures. Ken Black is the son of Keith Black, iconic manufacturer of blocks, heads, and valvetrain components for Mopar's Hemi-head and wedge motors. After the death of Keith Black, there was some talk in the industry that the KB business was going to be sold to another party. But, as often is the case, there was a lot of talk but the cash didn't change hands. Ken Black and the family retain and continue to operate the business, and are still making, under the Mopar brand, parts for Chrysler’s Hemi and Wedge motors that can be bought through the Mopar parts catalog.
We decided to send our in-house West Coast Mopar freak, Darr Hawthorne (Project Fighting Fish 'Cuda), to interview Mr. Black and bring our readers up to speed with what is and isn't happening at the KB shops. Ken talks candidly about the past, present and future of the company as well as some family history.
: Can you tell me what happened that caused you to initially shut the doors of Keith Black Racing Engines? Or did you shut the doors?
Ken Black: We never shut the doors. That’s kind of a misnomer. What basically happened is, like a lot of companies, the phones stopped ringing. There were days we’d take our cell phones and call just to make sure the phones were still working. Now we’re not the only ones who did that. I’ve talked to others who had the same deal. With the economy the way it was, things just stopped. What happened was we had a gentleman who came, and people knew we were interested in selling the business possibly. Like anybody, for the right price you’d sell under certain conditions. So this gentleman approached us, made a substantial offer for the business and the name and stuff. So we went down that road, and amongst all that, he had made announcements that he had already purchased the company, had taken it over, was going to do things. I finally had to nail him down and say, “Look, if you’re going to do this thing, I need you to sign the papers and do what you agreed to do.” And this whole thing went on for months and months and months. Finally it got down to a point where he couldn’t get his funding. I always try to look at the better side of people. I think in reality, his heart was in the right place, he just didn’t have the wherewithal to do what he wanted to do. He had, I think, good intentions.
: How is Keith Black Racing Engines different today from the way it was in the past?
KB: Fewer people are working here, but we’re still making the same products, and trying to I introduce new products like our forged block. We started on it several years ago, and we’re continuing with it now for the top end market. We’re doing a lot of street application blocks like our KB 500 Chevy blocks, the KB600 Olds block. People are starting to call again as the economy starts to do better. They’re starting to do their projects. Whether it’s, “I’ve waited long enough and I want to do this before I can’t,” or “well, knock on wood things have started to pick back up.” Sales are going on and we’re continuing on, albeit smaller and more compact than we were and just trying to be more efficient at what we’re doing.