Fabrication is a term often thrown around quite recklessly within the world of Honda customization, and has mistakenly been plastered upon everything from haphazardly hacking the tip off of an exhaust system, to stacking washers in order to prop a hood in the rear. But those in the know are well aware of what true fabrication entails, and how difficult it is to reach an elite level. Steeped in the very foundation of motorsports performance and customization, fabrication is as much an art form as it is a precision skill. The small number of respected fabricators in the world possess a keen eye for creating the impossible, spotting inherent weaknesses, and creating clever work-arounds. They're the first ones we turn to when something doesn't fit right or isn't available for the chassis we're building, and lately, their handiwork has shown up more and more in a number of cutting edge builds on track, online, and in print.
ASC is a name that I'd become familiar with many years ago when fabricator and welding extraordinaire Gabe Agana fabricated an outstanding set of seat brackets for my old CRX. A little later, the name popped up again as their signature ultra-thick shock tower bar sat in the engine bay of Paul Walker's personal Skyline at AEBS. Now, almost ten years later, ASC is bigger and stronger than ever, in of all places, Lakeside, CA. Now if you're wondering why a group of master fabricators are building amazing custom goods for every walk of automotive life in a town dominated by ranches and almost fifty years of annual volunteer rodeos, read along and you'll understand that ASC thrives on blurring the cultural lines.
Rodrez: Can you tell me a little about how ASC got started, and how you three ended up working together?
Dana: ASC basically started when I began working for a company called Alumi-Craft where Gabe Agana worked handling fabrication and welding of suspension parts. At the time, Gabe was building a show truck and asked me to help him weld-up some hood latch mounts. Within a few months of working together every day and a passion for fabricating, we decided to open our own little after hour's hobby shop because we were tired of working in other people's garages on side jobs. After a year of owning the shop, I left my position at Alumi-Craft and started working full time at ASC. Two years later, Gabe joined full time. Then a year later, when AEBS shut down, Bill Brown joined the crew.
Rodrez: I know Gabe started out primarily with building some insane high-power sand rails, but what about you and Bill?
Dana: I started as a pipe fitter/welder and hotrod builder until I took a ride in a '91 Civic Si with a longtime friend, Ko of KOZ Auto sports. He was finishing the car for a friend who had passed away, and asked me to help him with the intercooler piping. That was my first true experience with how a small displacement engine could make really good power. I was instantly hooked.
As for Bill, he worked for numerous high-end import shops, first with Mitsubishis, then working with AEBS. He traveled the U.S. with Ben Ma, RJ Simrock, and the record setting AEBS drag Focus. He worked as the head engine builder and fabricator until he joined our crew.
Rodrez: How do people know about ASC? Are they walking in off the street, or is it more word of mouth advertising?
Dana: We've never advertised. We've always just let our work speak for itself, and with numerous vehicles in magazines, car shows, and large events like SEMA, they've brought us the majority of exposure. Also, the fact that we've always been a really diverse shop that caters to all forms of motor sports, which brings in a lot of long-term clients.
Rodrez: Do you see any of ASC's products going into mass production in the future?
Dana: We've always considered doing a line of parts, but with our style of building, it always seemed like we were better off doing one-off custom pieces for our customers. Recently we have produced some parts for another local company named Circuit Hero; owned by a good client named Gil Salazar. It's definitely something that's on our minds, but at this point, other than Circuit Hero goods, we're concentrating on doing one-off custom pieces for customers.
Rodrez: What do you think about the quality of the custom parts you've seen in some of the Hondas at events like the Eibach Meet?
Dana: I'm not one who likes to judge other custom builders' parts; there are far too many haters and there needs to be more people supporting each other. I do believe that helps promote creativity and advancement in fabrication and design. The things that I do like at events such as the Eibach Meet are the cleanliness of vehicles and how the subtle changes to the cars set them apart. No crazy body kits are used anymore, and the cleanliness of the engine bays with the clever wire tucks from companies like Rywire are pretty amazing. There are some trends that have come around that make me scratch my head, but to each his own. From being involved in all forms or motor sports, everything goes in cycles, and it was only a matter of time before Hondas would take cues from the likes of Volkswagens, old Hot Rods, etc.
Rodrez: What about this scenario; average guy walks into the shop and wants a custom catch can and intake made for his K-powered Civic. How long before he's ready to pick it up?
Dana: On average, something pretty simple like that could be finished within a day or two. But I can tell you, most of the time our builds have started with one small request, and before you know it we end up with the car for a month because of how many additions the customer wants to add. A good example is Gil Salazar's ITR. He started with just an intake, and it quickly turned into a number of custom ASC parts that we built for him.
Rodrez: With Bill Brown's engine-building skills and all of the fab work you guys are capable of, ASC is becoming almost a 'one-stop performance shop,' which is something this region has never really had. Was that the goal from the very beginning, or did things just sort of fall into place?
Dana: Most everything has fallen into place. We don't really try and force anything even though this is our job. We still try to keep the same atmosphere as when it was just a hobby shop for a bunch of motorsport enthusiasts. One key thing I feel that seperates us from others is the hours that we keep. While most shops close at 5:00 or 6:00, we're open until sometimes 10:00pm. Our customers don't have to take off work to check on a project or discuss changes, or rush their lunch break, they just stop in after work. The world doesn't end when the sun goes down; for some it just begins.
Rodrez: Discussing changes and options with your customers is a top priority, as well as safety, correct?
Dana: Absolutely. We like to be able to spend a little time with our customers and discuss things in person so that you both know you are on the same page. Plus it's easier to show examples of other projects or samples of work that we have so the customer gets the vision of what we as the fabricators get when they give their input on what they're looking for. Sometimes they let us just do our thing, and more often than not, even on our dime, we might add a little something extra to make the build that much better. With things like custom suspension work, safety is a major concern. That's the first thing on our minds when we take on a project, rather than just making a quick buck. We've been doing this for ten years and we don't plan on going anywhere, so building up to a high standard is crucial.
Rodrez: Honda fans seem to take inspiration from every type of automotive culture. Walking into your garage, there's a couple of cutting edge Hondas, a 2JZ swapped Lexus, a 700hp old school hot rod, not to mention the classic wagon up on the rack getting a completely custom rear suspension setup. All of this in the middle of what the census bureau would label as a "cowboy town." Is the blending of cultures something that helps ASC?
Dana: The blending of cultures definitely opens your eyes to more than just one style or trend. I think that you can take a little piece from each style and combine them all for a real piece of art. All of the ASC crew has been involved in just about every form of motorsports and other aspects of fabrication from heavy equipment fab to pipe fitting and welding. Our backgrounds in more than just imports have played a key role in what ASC has evolved into, and we feel that's one of the best features of the shop and its direction. Each of us having worked at different shops in the past has helped us reach a level that you can't learn in school. We're tried and true, trial and error grads who have seen a lot, but we're never close-minded, and always open for that next big challenge.