Pete was born in 1952 on the eastside of Detroit and resided upstairs from his grandmother. He was the 1st of 6 boys which came to parents both of which had some college with his dad getting and engineering degree after fixing war planes in New Guinea. At age 3, Pete and his two brothers moved to Harper Woods to be closer to his Uncle Cass. At age six and while visiting his grandmother for a summer week, he wondered off, driving poor grandmother hysterical when she could not find him, to visit an elderly gentleman who had a big ham radio antenna on his garage roof. The basement station was certainly more impressive than his one crystal yellow radio that he had built. The family added brothers and Pete continued to tinker with different household electrical components, like Victrola and radios by simply taking them apart to see what made them work.
The influence of his uncle, who worked at Chrysler in the instrumentation group, was significant. He once rode in a Turbine Car that Uncle Cass brought home for the weekend. His first employment was caddying for four years which provided tuition money for Notre Dame High School in Harper Woods. Pete was accepted into the University of Detroit Engineering Program while living at home. His first car was a new Plymouth Duster with a 6-cylinder engine. He traded weeks driving to college with a high school friend, Bob Fratti, whose dad gave him a 1970 Challenger 340, special edition with 375 horsepower. This was Pete’s first exposure to performance cars.
While in College, Pete worked to pay the bills, started a lifelong hobby, and met his future wife. Pete worked as a Dock Master at the Detroit Yacht Club and two years with Holly Carburetor working on their first electronic controlled carburetor as a night job to pay the bills. The first day as a sophomore year he met Judith. It was her first day as a freshman, she was cute, and he was trying to recruit ladies to a fraternity party he was pledging. She asked if Pete knew math, he said yes, and he magically had the girl he would marry 6 years later. Black and Decker provided a summer job and co-op experience. Elective classes, as he was an Electrical Engineering, were Thermal Dynamics, and Internal Combustion Engines. This sparked new fun and excitement. For fun, Pete passed the Ham Radio Exam and built the necessary radio and transmitters. These were eventually donated to his uncle who was also a Ham. He graduated during the 1975 US employment downturn, but an interesting opportunity arose as a Biomedical Engineer at Sinai Hospital. The job exposed him to instrumentation and numerous open-heart operations as a member of the pump team.
Pete received a call from his uncle who worked at Chrysler. He said to get my resume to Chrysler. With the economy, no one was hiring in May 1976, but he received a call a week later asking if he wanted a job at Chrysler. Pete accepted and started as a member of the Engine Electrical Group. Work assignments were voltage regulators, alternators, and ignition components. One day, there was a need for someone to design the ESA, Electronic Spark Advance system, for use in all of 1977 vehicles. Pete’s new job required design of the electronics, coordination with the manufacture in Huntsville Alabama, and emission compliance to certify the vehicles.
The next couple of years were a few firsts in his personal life. Pete worked at both Chrysler and Sinai Hospital. The two jobs helped Judith and Pete purchase their first house. During Judith’s medical school residency Christmas break in 1977, Pete and Judith were married with a honeymoon to the Bahamas, their first exposure to warm sand during cold Michigan months. His first sports car was purchased, a Porsche 911E. After two-years of track use, it was his first engine rebuild and very successful.
Pete’s Chrysler career was starting to focus on performance. Chrysler encouraged him to obtain his master’s degree. He resigned from Sinai Hospital to attend the University of Detroit with the advisor who help him get the Sinai position. With the extra classes taken as an undergraduate, Pete earned his Master’s in Electrical Engineering in under 2 years and promoted to senior engineer. Another Chrysler Engineer, Scott Harvey, who oversaw the Performance Group and was a winning pro rally driver, needed help assembling and crewing his rally car. After helping Scott for a few events, Pete decided he could build and rally his own car. An open class rally Dodge Colt was built, and after some initial struggles, it finished 5th overall at Sunriser and the Press on Regardless Rallies in 1982.
Pete got a chance to emission certify a private DeTomaso Pantera for one of the Gentleman transplanted from Ford with Iacocca. He was also asked to help emission certify the Triumph TR8 program for Chrysler Electronics for the American Market.
With his experience in the ignition/emission groups and experience in the performance group, he was asked to lead Chrysler’s Shelby organizations as Carroll Shelby had joined Chrysler from Ford with Lee Iacocca. The goal, design and build the Dodge Shelby Charger for production in a year. By the middle of 1983, it was ready for production. However, Pete spent time figuring out who and what Carroll was about. He decided to race the Shelby Charger before production to help with durability testing and Marketing exposure since Chrysler was doing little. Pete met with marketing for money and recruited drivers from Car and Driver Magazine, Chrysler Engineering, and the Direct Connection racers. Selected Engineers from many groups inside Chrysler were recruited to build and crew 3 of 6 development Cars. This group tested the cars before the Nelson Ledges 24 Hour event. The goals were to find the weaknesses, reengineer solutions, and enter the Nelson Ledges Longest Day 24-hour event in June of 1983. This was the birth of Team Shelby.
The Shelby Charger teams ran the race with a few issues but finish three naturally aspirated, front drive cars, 5th, 8th and 11th overall. An impressive accomplishment given the field of V8’s and turbos rear drives in the event. The Car and Driver Shelby, driven by Csaba Csere, Don Sherman, Rich Ceppos, and Jean Lindamood, was actually 5th, and we naturally received a lot of marketing exposure no one expected. Several durability issues were discovered that resulted in engineered solutions for production across the company. An example of racing improving the breed. Team Shelby gained the reputation for getting any car project done right. The team produced future Team Viper Members, Dick Winkles, Ken Nowak, Don Jankowski, Neil Hannemann, Al Fields, and Ray Shilling and worked with an outside vendor for engines who played an instrumental part at Chrysler and the Viper Program. His name was Bill Hancock, owner of Arrow Racing Engines. Mike, Pete’s son was born in November 1983.
While still leading Team Shelby, Pete’s next assignments were Turbo and Knock system Development from 1984-85, 3.3L and 3.8L V6 Engine Manager from 1985-87, and the Minivan Powertrain Manager where he first met Roy Sjoberg. The 2.5L Turbo was quietly designed in Dyno Cell 13 with Dick Winkles and given to the VP of Engineering for the weekend. The program was quickly elevated into production to alleviate the lack of 3.0L V6’s. Additionally, a 3.3L High Output was developed for Carrol Shelby’s Sports racer and a 2.0L NA was developed for Skip Barber’s Sports Cars.
During those years, numerous race and rally programs needed coordination. Team Shelby was racing a pair of 2.2L Turbo Shelby’s and won the 1985 and 1986 Show Room Stock SSA Endurance Championships. Rally cars won the Production and Production GT Championship from 1984 thru 1989. Starting in 1984, Pete built an L Body (Charger) Turbo II Rally car which had a few top 5 overall finishes, but Pete was too busy to seriously rally. It also needed four-wheel drive to be competitive. The car was sold to a young lady who won the US Divisional National Championship in the early 1990’s.
Over the next 4-5 years, Pete oversaw other race programs as well. He was never asked or told to manage the race programs but as funding from Marketing and Engineering was budgeted, racing programs expanded. Development of the Walker Evans off road Truck afforded Pete a seat in the Barstow 250. In 1986, the LeBaron was chosen as the Indy Pace Car. The Indy Pace Car Performance package with Turbo II was developed to meet pace car requirements. Pete enjoyed the challenge to keep so many cars at the front of their race divisions in IMSA, SCCA, Off Road, and Grand Am.
While on the Mini Van platform (1987), Pete managed the reintroduction of the Town and Country personally for Lee Iacocca. Late 1986 also saw him take on the design and management of a new Family Home in Troy Michigan. His daughter Lindsay was born in 1987 and the house was finished early in 1988.
Team Shelby had one more project which was how far could you push a 2.2l engine. A Daytona or G-Body 2.0L GTU Spec car was built in 1987 with its first race at Watkin Glen later in the season. It finished the race but needed improved aero and handling. In 1988, the car was rebodied and updated. It was so fast that it passed IMSA prototype light cars on the straights at Daytona. The result was IMSA banning turbo engines for GTU in 1989. At the 12 Hour of Sebring, the car finished 4th in class after the steering rack loosened and car pitted for tightening. That engine, packaged in a LeBaron for Bonneville, set a land speed record in the hands of one of the Mopar gents.
When Walker Evans needed an engine for his Stadium Truck, a 2.3L Twin Cam Maserati engine was built that led to several victories. That engine was reduced to 2.0L for IMSA GTU for a Dodge Team again winning several races.
In early 1988, Pete was asked to work on an ignition system for a V10 engine and it was delivered with a lot of mystery, but he got to see the original Viper Prototype at Metal Crafters in California. Pete was asked if he wanted to work on the production version of this car, said NO, and then was harassed by a few VP’s into accepting the Chassis and Powertrain Manager Job at Viper. He was at the initial Introduction at the Auto Show and at the Internal Styling Dome meeting. He was also part of selecting the original Viper Group, so a number of Team Shelby members were selected just to help the program happen.
Pete’s motorsports endeavor slowed down a bit as he was building a four-wheel drive Mitsubishi Talon. In 1990, Doug Shepard and Pete won the Ojibwe Forest Rally with a 2 wheel-drive Dodge Daytona Turbo ll+, a first in an era of 4 wheel-drive. The 4 wheel-drive, 350 horsepower Talon Rally Car started racing in 1992 and was very successful with many top 5 performances, a few close seconds, and a number of rollovers which caused the chassis to be retired. A fresh chassis was prepared for the 2000 campaign.
The Viper program starting in 1989 was 3 years of intense work. Finding a place to house the team, supply it with latest generation computer power, devising a time-based program for design and a development, helped change the culture with the supply base and emission certifying the V10 beast. The team gelled, components were designed and developed, and the car was launched into production on schedule in 1992 after it paced the 1991 Indy 500. The team worked on significant chassis upgrades that were incorporated in the and RT10 in 1994 and the Viper Coupe in 1996.
Pete also started scuba diving on one of our 20 trips to the Cayman Islands and now has over 275 dives in 20 countries around the world. Pete also joined Forest Lake Country Club in 1994 so golf could be enjoyed with Family and Friends.
In mid-1995, Pete was asked to become the Manager of Small Car Platform Vehicle Development and start the second-generation Neon Program. It was an opportunity to learn an existing platform, fix the development and warranty issues, and create a platform for production. The Neon went into production in 1999 for the 2000 model year under budget and with the best warranty status for any Chrysler vehicle well into the 2000’s.
An interesting outcome of the Neon development happened during the final meeting with Senior Management. Pete was asked by Mr. Lutz if engineering had enough wind tunnel time. The meeting had gone very well, so Pete stated more wind tunnel time would be beneficial. The problem was renting time at Lockheed’s tunnel. Lockheed had it booked testing airplanes and our only recourse was using tunnels in Europe. Mr. Lutz signed the wind tunnel program package that day.
Another interesting outcome from the Small Car Platform was the development of the Tri Teck engine, a 1.6L with BMW which was scheduled to be used in Chrysler’s small European Cars. Small Car participated on the development for the re-introduction of the Mini Cooper and the S Supercharged Model with this engine. Chrysler decided not to use the engine in its vehicles. The plant down in Brazil was sold to BMW.
In 2000, the PT Cruiser development was started as it shared the Neon front architecture. Pete although had in mind to convince the Platform that they needed a performance variant to raise the visibility of Neon and built 2.4L and 2.4L turbo development cars without anyone knowing. After a senior level meeting and demonstration, it was decided because of Fuel Economy Effect that they did not want to take on these programs.
Pete packaged up all the drawings, went to the Viper Group and said this car should be built. Another senior level meeting with Mercedes Management occurred and he had a new job as Senior Manager for Powertrain SVO/PVO/SRT and the SRT4 was born. His new role also included the Crossfire SRT, the final years for Prowler, the Viper powertrains and then being asked to manage the 6.1L Hemi program.
In 2000, Pete finished the build on a 4 wheel-drive Eclipse Rally Car, and it won its first race in Tennessee and helped Mitishubi win the 2001 Manufactures Championship taking numerous top 5 overall finishes (2000-2002). Being responsible for the SRT4, the team finished a Neon Version Rally Car, took it to the SEMA Show (2002) where he was already speaking and introduced it to the world. Pete also purchased his only and current sports car, Porsche Boxster S.
2003 and 2004 were busy years. Pete built the first Gen 3 Viper engine personally and it was used in the Dodge SRT V10 show truck for the auto show. The SRT4 was launched with almost no marketing support but quickly gained the reputation as a pocket rocket by the younger generation. A rally version won the 2003 two wheel-drive championship with Doug Shepherd and Pete as drivers. A second SRT4 rally car was driven by Buff Books whose notoriety significantly elevated the car’s popularity. The increased sales allowed the assembly plant to stay open when Neon volumes dropped. More horsepower was needed in the rally car for 2004 and the Turbo Stage kit were developed and calibrated at Pikes Peak rally. Once again, the car won the 2004 two wheel-drive and Manufacturers Championship for Dodge. Lastly, the 6.1L engine with 425 horsepower went into production in under 2 years. It was introduced to the press on the 50-yard line at the Rose Bowl. The engine package was a huge success in the marketplace as it matched many attributes of the original 426 Hemi.
2004 had the Family travel to Kenya and Tanzania on a medical and sightseeing 17-day tour. Seeing the Masa on the Serengeti Plains, all Big 5 Animals in the wild, the lack of hospitals, hot air balloon trip, and playing golf on the equator with the chimps were some highlights.
At the start of 2005, Viper had a 600-horsepower goal for 2008 Gen 4 and development began on unique camshafts and software to meet emissions. SRT Caliber engine, transmission and suspension needed significant work just to get to production and work began on the next generation 6.1L. Senior management were shown development variants of the 6.4L (392), a 6.1L Supercharged engine, an aluminum 6.1L, direct injection and a variant out to 426 CID. The 6.4L was chosen. In 2005/06, Doug and Pete again rallied the SRT4 winning the 2 Wheel-Drive Championship. They were invited to the X Games where they rolled their car ending its useful life. Also in 2006, Doug and Pete campaigned the British Champion’s (2005) Subaru in the World Rally in Wales finishing in the top 40 after an off on the second last stage.
Early in 2007, Pete was asked to help build a private Class 1 Buggy for the Baja 1000, which was going to be powered by a Viper engine. It was tested in Mexico and broke many suspension and driveline parts. Solutions were engineered and it finish 9th in class.
Also in 2007, Pete was asked to take the lead of the Challenger program as it was only going to be launched with the 6.1L engine in April 2008. Pete “found it cool to be in a Performance Challenger again as I was in 1970 with the 340.” Pete introduced the Challenger in Europe with Motor Trend Magazine traveling from Modena to England and the Goodwood Festival. Stops included a former Formula 1 track in France where the Grand Prix movie was made, Le Mans for high-speed laps a week after the 24 hour race, and Normandy before taking the shuttle over to Portsmouth. We met up with an original Team Starfish (Scott Harvey) Barracuda Rally Car that had won the Historic Monte Carlo Rally. Pete had helped repower the Barracuda with an original spec engine. Pete’s wife, Judith, got to experience right hand drive roads in the Challenger driving the pair of them back to London.
November 2008 was the start of the Great Recession and Chrysler decided to offer early retirements to as many as possible. Pete joined 8000 others in the decision. A full retirement with all the benefits at age 56 was not Bad. The remaining SRT staff launched the 392 (6.4L) in 2011, the Supercharged 6.2L in 2012, and upgraded the Viper V10s in Gens 4 and 5. A great Legacy of performance.
While Pete is retired, the rest of his family is working. His son, Mike, earned an Engineering Degree from Michigan State University and works for Lockheed located in Seattle, Washington. His daughter, Lindsay, earned her undergraduate from University of Michigan and Law Degree from Ohio State (go figure) in Privacy. After working at State Department and several firms, she now works for Google Search in Washington, DC. She and her husband Nick were married in 2015. Judi, Pete’s wife, is a Dermatologist with a private practice in Grosse Pointe Michigan with plans to retire with Pete late 2022.
In retirement, Pete has kept busy. Doug Shephard asked Pete to co-drive the Eclipse rally car as a control car for some US Rallies in 2010. He renewed his Ham Radio License. He has managed to be net control for 3 of the US rallies over the next 8 years, setting up effective communication systems in 2 states. Pete also began competing in Ham Radio events for 10 to 48 hours in length in the US (K8PGJ), Caymans (ZF2PG) and Curacao (PJ2T). He has won 5 contests overall in the world with a team of Hams in Curacao and finished top 10 in the US in numerous other events. He has had the opportunity to play Ham Radio from a number of countries including a vacation trip to Bora Bora in 2015.
Doug Shephard and Pete continue to play golf weekly in Michigan and have played throughout the Caribbean. Judi and Pete play Golf as much as possible and travel extensively collecting 62 Countries around the World as experiences and have just returned from an Italian cooking class and time in Florence with the Grand Kids, Felicity and Lucas.