If you haven’t heard, Singapore Airlines is still one of the slickest and highest ranked flight experiences money can buy. Sure, they’ve had their tribulations in recent days, but then again, they aren’t the only ones who’ve seen the ups and downs of international trade.
Garage R was first founded during the ‘90s by Lester Wong, and thanks to the assistance of some of the brightest tech minds in the biz and a couple of business savvy siblings, he was able to craft an empire for himself. After bringing on a few friends, a series of operation expansions occurred along with the refocusing of a few objectives. Lester and his team were ready to conduct big business.
At the time, the Japanese tuning scene was heavily influencing aftermarket buyer interest, so if you name the parts manufacturer, chances are it was on Garage R’s roster. Japan’s automakers were seeing tremendous support from other Asian nations, and with European and American auto sales in the shitter, the time was right for the mighty RX-7, twin turbo Supras, R32 Skylines, and the odd, but utterly brilliant, Mitsubishi GTO, to roar.
Although other offerings like the MR2, Silvia, Civic, Miata, and Evo were quickly catching on in popularity, things were a tad tough for the Garage R gang. Unbeknownst to most of the Western hemisphere, Singapore is expensive as all hell for automotive nuts. Compared to markets like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, cars are considerably more expensive to own and operate due to stringent government import taxes and red tape, a burden that made the early days such a gamble.
Nevertheless, even after the Japanese bubble imploded, the Singapore market was able to recover and Garage R went on to see astounding levels of growth, as popularity with local tuners and track fanatics spread. Their big break came in the late ‘90s when Lester landed distribution rights to HKS, J's Racing, Okuyama, and numerous other brands under a registered Garage R umbrella. The tuning phenomenon may have already started, but in true forced-induction fashion, things were just beginning to spool-up for the brand.
But it wasn’t all grid girls, champagne toasts and track time for this dedicated crew of performance peeps. The not-so-glamorous B2C business model had to be implemented, which meant securing showroom retail SKU placements and the organization of routine automotive installation services. Still, moves like these keep noodles on the table, and by advocating “balanced tuning” as its core mantra, Garage R was not just able to build a massive following, it was able to retain it.
By this point it was the mid 2000s and the shop was putting more power to the pavement than ever before thanks to new technologies and by mastering the combination of various parts with different platforms. It was around this time that Wong introduced 20 bespoke Mitsubishi Evo 9 RS models to the market, using HKS exclusive performance components, Bride seats, and Garage R’s very own line of Protune parts. Safely and legally churning forth more than a hundred horsepower over factory specs, this limited run was an immense undertaking, and an attention-grabbing firestorm.
Philosophize all you like about the ins and outs of achieving total balance when tuning, but these cars were pretty close to the perfect setup for the average Evo nerd at the time. Equipped with an HKS F CON ECU, legally approved HI Power Exhaust system, Hipermax suspension setup and the option to have the chassis spot welded, these twenty Evos were a stepping stone for Garage R in a big way.
Doggedly catering to what Lester Wong refers to as “die hard track warriors,” the Garage R brand grew by leaps and bounds once more, this time with customers sweeping-up at Malaysia's famed Sepang F1 circuit, as well as during time attack events. Then, with drag racing coming into fashion, the need for a modified Mitsubishi Evo 6 with over 1,000 horsepower was put on order, because you know, bragging rights, setting records, and all that noise matters to some. And set records they did, with an 8.86 time and a top speed of almost 250km/h, setting the bar for the Garage R brand and goddamn everybody else.
Unofficial yet equally un-debatable is the fact that this was the fastest stock chassis Evo 6 at that time with minimal structural reinforcement. Most of the cars hitting 8s during that period were sporting semi- tubed bodies, a move that allowed them increased caster adjustment for quicker off-the-line times.
Continuing down the Garage R race track are all of the numerous endurance series wins. Wong also tells us of having Super GT driver/HKS drift sensation Nob Taniguchi onboard as a key driver, a move that scored them a podium finish nearly every time over the course of six events.
Cementing their reputation further was the Civic Type R, with the venerable EK9 receiving the majority of the Garage R love. Naturally, this move created connections with manufacturers outside of HKS, a brand that to this day designs dynamically sound components, but for the most part doesn’t focus on the Honda badge.
This meant fellows like none other than Mr Umemoto of J's Racing fame were able to establish distribution rights on Singapore properly. Ken Okuyama, vehicle designer and chief metal head over at Carbing also plays a pivotal role in this story, especially when you factor in the amount of aid and advice he has offered over the years. Lester Wong is quick to acknowledge this fact because if it weren’t for Okuyama’s support both on and off the track, Garage R more than likely wouldn’t be where it is today.
Skip several steps forward in the Garage R fuel-fed fairytale and you come to 2008, a year that the company went from selling HKS parts to being an R&D powerhouse for the brand. It was a move that allowed the shop to become the only HKS Technical Factory outside of Japan, giving the team the chance to test and redesign products over at its previous locale. Power plays like these meant all of Garage R's senior mechanics had complete training at HKS' facilities in Fujinomiya, with stays in Japan typically running well over three months under rigorous circumstances.
Flip forward one more page and you’ll find the shop as it sits today, pristinely polished, with a showroom like no other and all 22,100 square-feet of storage space sitting neatly organized nearby. You name the dream workshop combo and you bet this place packs it, with every imaginable build under the sun making its way inside those massive bay doors. From tools and tech, to a dozen mechanics and employees on hand any given day of the week, Garage R has the Singapore scene on standby.
A more diverse wonderland for natives is hard to imagine, heritage notwithstanding. Every time Lester Wong begins to recall all of the risks and rewards he’s taken over the past three decades, he thinks of how he began and where his business is standing today. You can’t make up high-flying success stories like these, guys, you have to build them one bolt at a time.