10 Questions for Jim McFarland
By Douglas McColloch
Photo Courtesy: Jim McFarland
June 1967: Hot Rod editor Jim McFarland (center, surrounded by a few dozen junior-high students) stands beside a brand-new '67 Chevy Camaro. It was the first-ever Camaro shipped to the state of California, and Hot Rod snagged it for a project build. With the aid of 16 aftermarket companies, the Camaro was said to be the first of its kind to run 11-sec. quarters.
Longtime followers of the automotive aftermarket need no introduction to Jim McFarland. Formerly an editor at Hot Rod who attended the first-ever SEMA Show, he became renowned for his work at Edelbrock as vice president of R&D through the ‘70s and ‘80s. Later, he worked in marketing and engineering positions at companies including Flowmaster, Hedman and Hypertech. He is the author of more than 400 technical articles, including SAE papers and publications for the motorsports, TV and outdoor markets. He was SEMA’s Person of the Year for 1985, and he was inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame in 2001.
We spent a few minutes with McFarland to see what he’s been up to in recent days and to get his thoughts on the specialty-equipment industry. What follows has been edited for clarity and length.
SEMA News: What’s one of your most recent projects, and what inspired you to do it?
Jim McFarland: Years ago, I chaired the SEMA Emissions Committee, and I came to the conclusion along the way that the organization needed its own emissions lab. I said it would bring a lot of credibility to the industry, and it would facilitate the kind of activities that the industry needed. I spent years and years trying to get it done, but eventually I managed to get across the point that SEMA needed its own testing facility.
SN: What do you drive nowadays and why?
JM: A late-model SUV. The utility vehicle is becoming the most predominant vehicle coming out of Detroit and it will become the next ’55 Chevy over time in terms of its effect on the industry.
SN: What gets you excited about the performance aftermarket these days?
JM: The possibility of electric vehicles. They are obviously coming, and that will create a great deal of opportunity as a viable area of growth for the industry.
SN: What industry trend has most surprised you over the years?
JM: I was around when SEMA first started. Back then, there was a fair amount of resistance to letting the OEMs come in for fear of losing control, so the way the organization allowed the OEs to eventually join surprised me based on the way they were thinking in the beginning.
SN: What’s one rule you refused to break throughout your caree?
JM: I think because I originally came from the magazine side of the industry, I always thought the most important thing was to be honest and not misrepresent things, especially not in print.
SN: Talk about a project that was a failure but which taught you a valuable lesson later on.
JM: Vic Edelbrock was president of SEMA in the early ’70s. During that time, I thought it would be a good idea to have an open house and let the industry see what the organization was doing about emissions. At the same time, I thought it would be good to invite representatives from the California Air Resources Board [CARB] to come down as well. Once it was known that we were inviting CARB to our open house, it scared off the industry, so we ended up having an open house for CARB. The lesson I learned from this is that you have to be careful in how you frame your events so that you don’t run off the people you’re most trying to attract.
SN: What’s the most unusual work assignment you’ve ever been given?
JM: When Vic was president of SEMA, he created three committees that hadn’t existed before. One was dedicated to safety, one was for noise, and the third was for emissions. He tapped me to run the emissions committee, and it was completely foreign ground to me. We had objectives but no roadmap to go by, so it was strictly seat-of-the-pants.
SN: You can take a road trip with anyone to anywhere. Who would you choose, and where would you go?
JM: [Legendary GM engineer and “Father of The Corvette”] Zora Arkus-Duntov. I admired him growing up and used a lot of his camshafts when I built engines during my college years. Later I got a chance to meet him, and we became very good friends and did a lot of things together. So if I had a chance to go anywhere, I’d take a road trip with him to the Corvette Museum, because it’s packed with stuff he was personally involved with.
SN: What’s on your personal bucket list?
JM: At my age, although it may seem idealistic, it would be to do whatever I can to help SEMA grow its membership. A lot can be derived from the association, and the benefits it can offer the membership is something that we all should support.
SN: Describe a perfect day in the life of Jim McFarland.
JM: Because of all the time I spent doing industry-related things such as SEMA activities, serving on the SEMA Board and traveling for business, I think a perfect thing for me would be to spend time with my wife. She put up with all this stuff, so I spend as much time with her as I can now.