It happens all the time… a group of enthusiasts on an Internet message board find out that they all have the same problem with the car they love. Be it bad bushings, electrical problems, weak something-or-other, or any other item that might fail. They share their frustrations, discuss options, and come up with solutions. The more complex solutions may be solved by an after-work inventor/engineer with access to a CAD, who is able to produce a drawing. Another person with access to a metal shop might end up manufacturing the item. The community gets its specific parts, its inventors and producers get a few bucks for their trouble, and everyone is happy.
Recently, the Nissan 300ZX community came together for another reason. They claim, with strong evidence (click link for examples, left column), that AMS Motorsports of Canada (Not to be confused with AMS Performance from Chicago, or Atlantic Motorsports from Gaithersburg MD, or any other AMS) is taking the very parts that this community has designed, and reselling them as their own. Because the alleged copied parts sold by AMS are manufactured overseas, their price is comparably lower. This takes sales away from the originators. Additionally, the quality of the AMS parts has been brought into question.
These parts do not carry a patent, however, which means AMS is technically not doing anything illegal. Since the price of obtaining a patent can easily reach into the tens of thousands of dollars, it does not take a Wharton graduate to figure that the grassroots parts creators have a difficult task if they wish to procure one. As such, the designers and manufacturers of the original parts cannot file a lawsuit against AMS, or any other company conducting similar alleged business.
In order to be fair and to show both sides of this story, I called AMS. I spoke with one of the owners, Vuk. He said that AMS has had confrontations with Z enthusiasts for a number of years. He explained that internet forum from which they originate is owned by some of AMS’ direct competitors. Vuk went on further to say that AMS is well established and has been around for many years. Like many other part manufacturers, their parts are similar to others’ parts because there is only so many ways to make something. He pointed out that the annual SEMA show is full of companies which all produce similar parts.
In the end Vuk said that AMS is offering a less expensive alternative to purchase performance parts. This would be especially true for people buying used, now twenty year old cars, who are not willing to pay a premium price for Japanese or American manufactured parts. He acknowledged that in the end, it’s all just business.
There is not much that the Z enthusiasts can do about the actions of which they accuse AMS of. The enthusiast group has recently created an online petition. The petition is said to represent the voices of Z enthusiasts who want AMS banned from sponsoring events such as ZCON, which is the annual gathering of Z enthusiasts. The event is organized by ZCCA (Z Car Club Association), and the signed Z enthusiasts would ultimately prefer that the ZCCA did not allow AMS to sponsor any of their events.
I contacted the ZCCA and ZCON organizers, and they both called me back reasonably quick. Both parties said that they were vaguely aware of the accusations against AMS, and the community-born petition, but at present time had no further comment. Since my phone call probably caught both by surprise, both said that they will follow up with me, yet neither group did.
Both ZCCA and ZCON are in a difficult position. They have to choose between siding with sponsors facing a tarnished reputation, and a group of enthusiasts who are the basis for their existence. In the end, the ZCCA and its chapters need sponsorship to organize events such as the ZCON, and for better or worse, AMS has been a sponsor for years. For the sake of comparison it should be noted that the biggest sponsors of ZCON are Yokohama, BOSE, and Nissan North America itself.
My sources representing the Z enthusiast’s perspective say there are plenty of other companies willing to sponsor ZCON, however they refuse to be associated with the likes of AMS and have therefore not offered to provide their sponsorship.
The relationship between enthusiasts, their community, and the companies that support them is an interesting one. As enthusiasts, we put lots of faith into the manufacturers of the parts we wrench on to our machines. As automotive community members, we enjoy the company (in person and online) of others who share the same passions that run deep in our souls. We expect the same level of passion and respect from the manufacturers we support. In the end, as is a common theme in life, it’s all, for better or worse, just business.
UPDATE: Comments have been disabled since people don’t want to play nice. – JG
Disclaimer: No one associated with Hooniverse currently owns a Z car (why, I don’t know) and no one has any ties with any of the mentioned parties. Frankly we have never heard of AMS, ZCON, or ZCCA before. Sorry. I wrote this story because it was worth telling and because it happens often, across many mediums, cars, models, and communities. I attempted to represent all sides fairly and equally.