Shifting Gears

West Coast Customs

Corona, CA, 951-284-0680,
Established: 1993Video may have killed the radio star, but reality TV has downright annihilated the reputation and cred of more than a rising luminary or two. That could have been the story of West Coast Customs, but the California-based powerhouse of builds, which first became a household name from Pimp My Ride, has worked to reposition itself as a no-nonsense center of automotive customization. With a more grown-up series entitled Street Customs currently airing on TLC, owner Ryan Friedlinghaus and his innovative staff have become the best friends of car collectors too impatient for manufacturer waiting lists. “That’s really where I see the future of my business going,” he speculates. “We’ve redesigned Mercedes models from sedans into coupes, we’re working on a line of two-door Dodge Chargers, and Shaq has us building a convertible S-Class Benz, which will be the first of its kind anywhere.” A recent client from the Middle East, unable to convince Land Rover to sell its Range Stormer concept vehicle, commissioned WCC to build him his own. With a Range Rover Sport as an organ donor, Friedlinghaus and his crew not only replicated the concept but tailored the vehicle to its owner’s exact specifications. Friedlinghaus has also set his sights on going global. “We’re the only custom shop to have opened up branches all across the world,” he says. “Right now we’re in Malaysia, Japan, Dubai, and Russia. And we’re filming the buildup of our latest shop in Germany for the show.” The expansion is not about adaptation. “We’re not going overseas to create a [German] West Coast Customs. We’re bringing the American West Coast Customs experience to them,” he explains. “Besides, I think that’s what they want. And we’re determined to give our supporters exactly what they want.” Just don’t ask him to put a fish tank in your station wagon.

Kandy Kustomz

Corpus Christi, TX, 361-658-2001,
Established: 1992
Dayton Wheels and hydraulic systems do not a lowrider make. As any lowrider fanatic will tell you, the true test is in your paint—the wetter, the better. Repping the Lone Star State for nearly 15 years, Kandy Kustomz specializes in frame-off restorations and, of course, candy paint. Owner Fabian Villarreal first got a taste of the business while working at his father Reynaldo’s body shop. “I’ve been into lowriders since I was 12,” says Villarreal, who is known in the scene simply as the Candyman. “As I got older, I realized I had this God-given talent and figured I’d use it to help make others happy.” With his father and cousin Randy Rodriguez working alongside him, Villarreal and his modest Corpus Christi shop draw clientele from everywhere. “Our customers come from all over,” remarks Villarreal. “We even get cars trailered in from California, which is a pretty big compliment, considering that’s where the heart of the culture is.” Those unfamiliar with Kandy Kustomz’s intricate paint process might be put off by the four- to six-week turnaround time, but patience pays. “It’s far from your typical paint job with a base and clear coat,” explains Villarreal. “You have to think of it as painting the car ten or more times.” Villarreal’s creations have graced the covers of magazines and earned their owners trophies. In fact, the Candyman is so highly regarded for his one-of-a-kind works that most customers trust his creativity more than their own imaginations. “Most people know the primary color they want,” he explains. “But when it comes to all the other stuff, like murals and themes, they just say, ‘Hey man, do your thing.’” With little to stifle the shop’s creative vibes, Villarreal and his team welcome anyone fixing for a taste of candy. “We even have an ’06 Bentley GT sitting here waiting,” he exclaims. “I can’t say I get it, but hey, it’s going to help send my daughter to college.”

Platinum Motorsport

Los Angeles, CA, 323-935-9222,
Established: 1998There’s an unfortunate stigma attached to owning a luxury exotic. Even if you know every spec and capability of your top-shelf toy, most performance junkies don’t take you seriously. Los Angeles-based Platinum Motorsport opened its doors for just that reason—to customize luxury rides as a way of differentiating the car connoisseurs from the trust-fund kids. After spending their youth working in their father’s repair shop, brothers George and Jack Keshishyan designed their own automotive aspirations. “When other kids were out on the playground, these two were learning and feeding their passion for cars,” remembers Sam Telikyan, Platinum’s director of marketing and a childhood friend of the siblings. Living in the shadows of Hollywood, it seemed only natural that the brothers’ venture would involve high-end luxury vehicles. Platinum Motorsport’s posh showroom, packed with only the finest in Italian and German wares, feels like a high-end wheel shop, but their vehicles are much more than stock beauties with new rims. “George and Jack coined a term for what they do here,” explains Telikyan. “They like to call themselves automotive re-stylers.” When a customer is tired of his Lamborghini Gallardo looking like every other one cruising Beverly Hills, the brothers feel out the owner and determine how to put him in the right. “Maybe this guy is the type that likes big flashy brakes, maybe not. Perhaps he likes chrome lips or more aggressive styling,” says Telikyan. “They sit down and get to know you- then say, ‘This is how we think we should build your car, but the ultimate call is yours.’” If it sounds superficial, remember that on a six-figure whip, even the slightest alteration, if not executed properly, can stammer performance. To insure this doesn’t happen, Platinum employs well-trained automotive techs who are certified to take apart Bentleys, Benzes, and the like and put them back together—better than before, of course..”

Syndicate Automotive Concepts

San Diego, CA, 858-505-4600,
Established: 2004
Old school rides have lines and designs that look good rolling through any decade. But finding your own vintage ride can be a challenge. Making it road-worthy? Next to impossible. For those who have found a classic cruiser, yet lack restoration skills, there’s Syndicate Automotive Concepts. Although billed as a customizer capable of anything, this San Diego shop specializes in rebuilding classic rides and lowering them to the pavement. “That’s what we’re probably known best for,” remarks founder Cliff Leeper. “We’ll take your car, put it right down to the ground, and still make it drivable.” Leeper, a veteran car builder of more than 20 years, opened Syndicate’s doors in 2004 with the goal of creating a custom operation capable of anything. Although anyone is welcome to hit Syndicate’s floor and get low, it’s no surprise why the shop’s specialty is reviving old-school beauties. “It’s what I’ve always done, so it only makes sense that it’s what we’d become known for,” he explains. “Plus, with our airbag installs, it goes much smoother on an older car. You have a solid chassis and real steel to work with.” Even with his jaw-dropping suspension installs, Leeper finds that most of his old-fashioned clientele like to keep things on the traditional side. That doesn’t mean he’s opposed to changing up styles. Syndicate has turned out everything from a modern-day Scion to a ’74 Bricklin. Grateful for the reputation he’s earned, Leeper is quick to distribute Syndicate’s success among the shop’s 15-person staff. “Everybody here is a specialist in their own right,” he says. “This place wouldn’t be such an ongoing hit without them.”.”

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