A visit to the Akrapovic Headquarters, Slovenia

Sweet music is a happy by-product of Akrapovic’s quest to extract every ounce of performance through beautifully engineered exhaust systems
Every single Akrapovic exhaust is individually checked and calibrated.
Every single Akrapovic exhaust is individually checked and calibrated.Akrapovic

For most of us, yours truly included, exhaust systems are all about enhancing the aural appreciation of our cars and bikes. Back when I got my driving licence and was handed down my mum’s Zen, the first thing I did was slap on a free-flow exhaust. I don’t think it made too much difference to the performance, but it sounded like it had 50bhp more, and that was all that mattered.

Twenty-five years later, nothing has changed. Boys will remain boys! When I bought my Harley-Davidson Pan America, the first thing I did was order an exhaust system, this time from a manufacturer that I — and most experts — believe makes the best exhaust systems in the world: Akrapovic. The titanium Slip-On Line exhaust cuts weight by half a kilo, boosts power by 1.7bhp and more usefully boosts torque by 5.6Nm. Most of all it enhances the Pan-Am’s V-twin exhaust note while still matching homologated values – and it comes with EC-type approval certifying your aftermarket exhaust is legal for both emissions and decibels. If you don’t care about that you can add the stainless steel link pipe that unleashes the full aural fury of the V-twin, liberating an additional 3.6bhp and 6.8Nm (and also dropping weight by 1.9kg).

The Slip On takes 30 minutes to, erm, slip on, needs no fiddling with the ECU, and the best part is it looks gorgeous. Ditching the Pan Am’s horrid black pipe for this beautiful titanium piece, accentuated by the carbonfibre end cap and heat shield, is worth the price alone.

Of course Rs`1.2 lakh for an exhaust is an indulgence, which you only truly appreciate when you see how Akrapovic builds their exhaust systems. Last month I got an opportunity to tour both of Akrapovic’s facilities in Slovenia and what stood out for me was that everything – I mean every single thing – is done in house.

It starts with titanium, chosen because of its high resistance to oxidation at high temperatures and the highest strength to-weight ratio of any metal. Carbonfibre is lighter, but race teams still prefer titanium because it is only 5 per cent heavier but has better crash resistance and can also be repaired quicker. MotoGP teams use 0.65mm thick tubes because there’s a big emphasis on weight reduction, the street bike exhausts are usually 0.9mm thick, while off-road racing bikes use a special 1.2mm thick titanium tube to cope with the rigours of the discipline.

Akrapovic uses not just any titanium, but a special alloy manufactured exclusively for them by Japanese and American suppliers. These are stronger, 40 per cent lighter than stainless steel, and don’t deform even after prolonged exposures to temperatures ranging from 250 to 800 degrees Celsius. Delivered in sheets or rolls of different thickness, this is then laser cut or rolled into pipes of different sizes. Doing the tube-forming in-house means Akrapovic is not dependent on external suppliers for this critical component and there are no limitations in pipe diameter size availability. They are also amongst the largest buyers of titanium globally, bought in bulk to hedge against wild price fluctuations, and warehoused at a secret facility.

The next step is shaping the pipes, which is done on tube bending machines and hydroforming, the latter is used to bulge the tubes from the inside out using pressurised oil and water emulsion. This retains the constant tube diameter around the bend and creates a smooth, conical shape that is critical for exhaust gas speeds. The individual pieces – some exhaust systems have over 200 parts – are then TIG welded by craftsmen to create works of art that, on motorcycles in particular, enhance the overall visual appeal.

Lovro Glavas, who looks after motorcycle exhaust system sales for multiple regions, including India, tells me that every Akrapovic exhaust – every single exhaust system made! – is individually checked and calibrated, with all the information then stored on the database.

This is to ensure a zero-defect record while a happy by-product of this extreme attention to quality is that if anything gets damaged in a crash, only replacement parts need to be ordered and they will fit exactly.

Akrapovic has its own titanium foundry where the titanium pieces shaved, cut and discarded in the manufacturing process are recycled and blended with new titanium of the same quality to be then used in various other fields of applications, including surgical implants. There is a full-fledged ceramic foundry. And all the carbonfibre work is also done in-house using a set of autoclaves.

The R&D centre is at the core of Akrapovic’s facilities, including the all-important acoustic engineering labs using advanced acoustic modelling software and equipment to fine-tune the sound of each exhaust to the character of the car or bike. David Brecelj, Lovro’s counterpart who handles car exhaust system sales for India, walks me through the dyno rooms where the new exhaust system for the 4-cylinder-hybrid C 63 AMG is being developed. Akrapovic’s first car exhaust was made in 2007 for the 997 GT3, and the first OEM project was partnering with Porsche for the 997 GT2. Since then they have worked with all major performance car brands and their motorsport extensions, winning everything from the Dakar and Le Mans to the Nurburgring 24 hours and multiple sports car races. Their association with Formula 1 started with BAR Honda and continues to this day, though now confidentiality clauses prevent them from disclosing who they work with.

Motorsport is in fact where Akrapovic originated with founder Igor Akrapovic learning the trade on his own race bikes starting in the late ’70s and then building exhausts under the Skorpion brand name in his motorcycle tuning shop. The big break came in 1997, winning their first World Superbike race with the factory Kawasaki team and within two years, all the Japanese factories had Igor’s exhausts. The growing fame attracted Ford Motor Company’s lawyers, who insisted on a name change to avoid confusion with their Scorpio sedan (also the reason why the Mahindra Scorpio was exported to Europe as the Mahindra Goa). That’s when the brand adopted Igor’s surname and they went on to win their first WSBK championship with Colin Edwards and the factory Honda team in 2000.

Over the years, Akrapovic-shod race bikes have won over 170 world championships, and today all the top-flight race bikes including Ducati, KTM, Gas Gas, and Yamaha in MotoGP, run Akrapovic exhausts – which are built and developed at the factory in Slovenia. Having the race and production-bike facilities all under one roof ensures the learnings from racing, transfer directly to road cars and bikes.

Which begs the question. With hundreds of millions invested in R&D, why can’t Ducati or Porsche make their own high-performance exhaust systems? Lovro points to the vast facilities, dyno rooms, research facilities, foundries, motorsport programs, noting that everything that the over 700 employees do is focussed on exhaust systems and exhaust systems alone. It’s why even on highly engineered cars like the GT3 RS the Akrapovic titanium system can liberate an additional 14bhp, 38Nm and drop weight by 3.5kg. Akrapovic also sources cars and bikes from around the world to develop exhausts – case in point, the BMW G310 R which their Indian distributor, Performance Racing, sent to Slovenia for R&D. All of this doesn’t come cheap. The 310 R exhaust system, which also fits on the TVS Apache RR 310, costs Rs`83,000 while on the car side a system for a performance sedan like the BMW M340i costs Rs`3.4 lakh. G63 AMG exhaust systems, with the gorgeous carbon-trimmed side exiting exhaust tips, are popular in India and cost Rs`8.3 lakh while the limited-edition system for the 911 GT3 RS costs Rs`30 lakh and Racetech, the Indian distributor for Akrapovic car exhaust systems, have got 1 of 50 individually serial-numbered pieces. A collectible for a collectible car, because boys will remain boys.

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