History of EMPI

May 06, 2023

EMPI (European Motor Parts, Inc.) is a well-known manufacturer of aftermarket Volkswagen parts, particularly air-cooled Volkswagen parts. The company was founded in 1956 by Joe Vittone, who was a successful drag racer and auto parts distributor based in Southern California. The EMPI brand became synonymous with the Volkswagen Beetle and Bus in the 1960s and 1970s, and the company played a major role in shaping the culture of the VW enthusiast community.

The origins of EMPI date back to the early 1950s, when Vittone began importing Italian-made exhaust systems for hot rods and other custom cars. Vittone soon began to specialize in Volkswagen parts, as the VW Beetle was becoming increasingly popular in the United States at the time. In 1956, Vittone established EMPI as a distributor of VW parts and accessories, with a focus on high-performance components for the burgeoning VW racing scene.

One of EMPI's early successes was the development of a performance exhaust system for the VW Beetle, which helped to increase the car's horsepower and improve its sound. EMPI also produced a range of other high-performance parts for VWs, including carburetors, camshafts, and cylinder heads. The company's parts quickly became popular among VW racers and enthusiasts, and EMPI began to expand rapidly.

By the mid-1960s, EMPI had become a major player in the VW aftermarket, and the company had opened several retail locations across Southern California. EMPI also began to manufacture its own line of VW parts, including wheels, shifters, and body kits. The company's signature logo, which featured a stylized "EMPI" lettering with a winged foot, became an iconic symbol of the VW enthusiast community.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, EMPI continued to expand its product line and its reach within the VW community. The company sponsored several VW racing teams and events, and its parts were used in many high-profile VW builds and customizations. EMPI also became known for its innovative marketing campaigns, which often featured eye-catching graphics and slogans that appealed to the VW enthusiast demographic.

In the 1980s and 1990s, EMPI faced increased competition from other aftermarket VW parts manufacturers, as well as from the rising popularity of Japanese import cars. The company struggled to adapt to these changes, and in 1998, EMPI was acquired by Bugpack, another Southern California-based VW parts manufacturer. Under Bugpack's ownership, EMPI continued to produce VW parts and accessories, but its prominence within the VW community had begun to wane.

Today, EMPI remains a respected name within the VW enthusiast community, and the company's legacy can still be seen in the many custom VW builds and restorations that feature EMPI parts. The company's history is a testament to the passion and ingenuity of the VW enthusiast community, and to the enduring popularity of the Volkswagen Beetle and Bus.

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