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Mecha mack

Once mocked by the import scene's status quo, Mike and Team Prototype get the last laugh as the community takes notice of the posse's robot-inspired automotive style.

Feb 1, 2003 SHARE

Take a moment to recall your preadolescent years - remember the thrill that toys used to bring? Playing on your bed or in the yard with simple little plastic or die-cast metal baubles that typically ended up lost or destroyed, but somehow brought hours of escapist satisfaction? You could pretend to be Han Solo, Evel Knievel, heck, even Godzilla, as the hours flew by, and despite any nightmarish scenario you could dream up in your immature little noggin, the hero, you, would always come out on top. Didn't those days rule?

Of course, who needs toys when you're rolling in a ride that hauls ass, expresses individuality and gets looks around every corner? As enthusiasts, cars now occupy our thoughts the way those pint-sized trinkets used to. But how dope would it be if you could take both passions, old and new, and find a way to make a living from them?

Ask Mike Madriaga. The ambitious young entrepreneur from Chula Vista, Calif., turned his boyhood fancy into a money-making venture when he founded his own mail-order toy store, www.retrobhoy.com, which deals specifically in importing Japanese toy robots - think Transformers and Robotech. Where the two worlds collide is in his other business, Team Prototype Composites and Body.

Prototype is almost exactly what the name implies, a crew that designs and creates unique body parts for imports and domestics using their own cars as trial vehicles. They fashion pieces with an eye to originality and creative flair, and based on responses, they decide if a creation is worthy of mass production. Established by Madriaga and body man/business partner/friend Juan Mendoza, Prototype was launched, in Madriaga's words, "to make an impact on a [car] culture that has been largely desensitized by the glut of similar-looking body mods."

Before you try to sniff out the kook in this picture, you better respect the team's credentials. Madriaga is certified in building fiberglass and plastic composites, and although he's originally a VW head, he's been customizing imports for more than 10 years. Mendoza is PPG certified and has done head- and taillight conversions since the mid '90s. Before it became popular he was retrofitting parts and grafting them onto different cars, introducing this concept to a budding import scene in '96. The two met in 1999 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today Prototype operates out of a 3,000-sq. ft. facility in Chula Vista that houses shipping/receiving, administrative offices, a showroom, and an R&D department, as well as Madriaga's other business ventures. Mendoza designs from his Mexico-based operation, and a few times a week the two get together to brainstorm new product. Madriaga admits the body biz is pretty good right now, with Prototype briskly moving units via the Web site, eBay and magazine ads. "What was once a hobby is now a full-blown business," he fesses up.

The two worlds of toys and cars become further entangled when you learn Madriaga's design philosophy. He takes style cues straight from the mecha he hawks, saying he owes his wicked imagination to the objects. He applied this attitude to one of Prototype's latest creations, an '88 CRX. The daily driven show compact is the result of two years of labor by the team (which also includes Adrian Esparza) and nearly $30,000. Madriaga considers it, "a mix of Pokemon and Gundam robot influences."

Checking out the hatchback's exterior, you certainly get a sense that something wild is going on. The front fenders alone are conversation pieces, Madriaga pinching the flares from a Scirocco. "I did this in '99 and at first people laughed at me, saying it was ugly and it didn't flow [with the car's natural] lines. Now you can't open a [tuner] magazine without some type of swollen fenders covering tall and wide rims," he relates. "Sometimes it just pays to be different."

The craziness continues around the whip with the Feels '96 Civic front bumper, the Black Widow '96 Prelude rear bumper, the Invader side skirts, and the Team Prototype Mortal roof scoop and GEN 4 flares on the rear fenders, all retrofitted and molded to the modest CRX body. The forward headlights have been converted to JDM RSX Type-S lights, while the rears are now sporting a decidedly Mercedes Benz SLK look. The trio also shaved door handles, rain gutters, antenna, side vents on the front bumper, glass on the hatch, and the bottom of the doors where a trim used to be. Mendoza added the final unifying touch by spraying on the Mercedes Benz SLK yellow.

Giving this bad-ass its low profile is a set of KYB coil-overs, and smoothing out the ride is a quartet of KYB shocks. Chassis rigidity is handled by DC Sports gear, namely a front upper strut and rear upper and lower strut bars. Stopping power has been upgraded from stock to four-wheel discs transplanted from a '91 Integra, with all four further augmented by big AEM rotors, and fat 19x7.5-inch Konig Absolute Graphite wheels wrapped in Pirelli P700 rubber spin on all fours, mounted and balanced by Washington Tire in Los Angeles.

Within the CRX, Prototype and Kreative Auto Interiors of Rosemead busted out an equally impressive interior. The seats have been custom upholstered in yellow vinyl and carbon-fiber inserts, and bright yellow AGC carpet now adorns the floor. Kreative wrapped the dash in more vinyl and the Prototype boys added their own flavor with a bevy of Auto Meter gauges mounted to the new console and custom Autopower six-point rollcage, including a 5-inch tach, air/fuel mixture, oil temperature, oil pressure, voltage, cylinder head, coolant temp, and brake pressure gauges, an ammeter and a clock. Finally, the door panels were swapped for custom fiberglass versions fabbed up by Mendoza that are rigged with pushbutton door pops that eliminate using any sort of primitive handle.

To sate any ICE fiendin' Madriaga might have, Kenny Albertini from Soundelux in San Diego dialed in a killer A/V system. For starters, an Alpine receiver outfitted with a motorized 6.5-inch screen replaces factory dash offerings, with a Directed EQ mounted right underneath and a Mobile Authority monitor molded into the console beneath the signal processor. A second MA display is mounted to the headliner where the rearview mirror once hung, while a PlayStation 2 provides source material from the former glove compartment.

From the fabricated door panels, MB Quart 6.5-inch separates and Directed 3.5-inch coaxials fill the front stage. On the ground behind the seats Albertini set up a false floor for the two Directed amplifiers, one for the subs and the other for the rest of the speakers, and underneath the fake flooring he mounted an Alpine six-disc changer, Directed six-channel crossover, and Hi-Wave two-farad capacitor. A pair of 12-inch Onyx subs fire from a custom enclosure in the hatch, while a Sony digital camcorder mounted to the roll cage captures all the driving excitement, just like a Japanese touring car.

To complement the compact's aggressive looks with some power, Madriaga enlisted the help of Chula Vista performance shop Scorpion Auto Salon. The professionals there swapped the factory powerplant for a DOHC VTEC B16A motor equipped with SRP pistons, Eagle connecting rods, and a head that's been beefed up with Type-R cams operating on titanium Crower springs and retainers. A ported and polished cylinder head that underwent a three-angle valve job improves intake and exhaust flow velocity on the top end.

An AEM cold-air intake facilitates engine respiration, routed to an AC Autotechnic race intake manifold. A modified AEM fuel rail, altered to accommodate the intake and managed with the help of an AEM FPR, adds fuel to the mix, while adjustable AEM cam gears and pulleys help the motor keep time. Exhaust gases pass through a polished DC Sports 4-to-1 exhaust manifold, a custom 2.5-inch exhaust, and are directed out the custom dual mufflers, all the handiwork of Scorpion Auto.

For that extra boost, Madriaga has a 75-shot of Nitrous Express laughing gas at his disposal. The engine bay is additionally fortified with an MSD ignition and Optima Yellow Top battery, and beautified by an AC Autotechnic radiator cap and Mugen brake fluid reservoir cap.

Madriaga's yellow monster just barely broke on the show scene in late 2002, with appearances at Import Showoff, Hot Import Nights, and Autofest gigs throughout Southern California. As of printing it hasn't received any show nods yet, although that appears to matter little to its owner. He's pleased that the car came to fruition despite all the hating that it and his designs originally attracted. (He admits his stuff used to be "the butt of all import jokes.") And there were other obstacles as well.

"I gave one person $600 to buy me a motor and he skipped town," he remembers. "I gave another guy my dashboard to wrap and he stopped answering my calls." Seems every time Madriaga got ripped off, his desire to find reliable people in this industry intensified, until after three years of persevering he was able to realize his dream.

"This car represents all that is good in our industry and all the people that have come through."

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