In recent years, we’ve seen the “scene” shift from one trend to another and the Honda community has been arguably the most changed chameleon of them all. Yet one crew, if you wish to call them that, has adapted to the ever-changing technological landscape while remaining true to the simple Honda aesthetic. ATS has gone from the brainchild of a few friends to an Internet icon, thanks largely to a slew of builds that are at the least highly-inspirational. They’ve been featured on the cover of nearly every import magazine including the one you’re reading right now.
Some might view ATS as a group of “elite Honda enthusiasts” but really they’re just a bunch of down-to-earth gearheads, no different from you or me. They like older Honda chassis and they like fitting them with parts from Japan and engines from the K-series family. They’re highly creative and have set many of the trends currently embraced by the Honda community. They build cars and they do it well, and on top of that, they do it right. A recent trip to the Bay Area was all the excuse I needed to drop in on some old friends, here’s how it went down.
Super Street: So, tell us about the humble beginnings of ATS.
Fred Chapman: Well ATS started in ’04. It was me, Ferd and our friend Vince who unfortunately passed away back in ’06. Then from there we started getting together with some of our friends like Chris, AJ, Ron…
Chris Sakai: And Ken.
FC: Those were the main ones at first. It all started by friends hanging around.
CS: Then it went to friends of friends. We’d have people that would know somebody that was down with what we were doing and we’d take a look and see if they fit well with the group. That’s something that we’ve always focused on is finding out who meshes well with the group, it’s kind of like a family thing.
FC: Of course, cars are the thing but it comes down to friends also. We do a lot of other stuff together that isn’t car-related.
SS: If you had to describe ATS, what would you call it? A crew? A club? Friends?
FC: It’s hard to say. It’s a mix of things. Of course, when we go out to events people look at it like “oh that’s a car club.”
SS: When you guys originally got together what did you envision ATS would be? Did you just think “hey lets come up with a name and make some stickers” or what?
FC: It’s funny because Ferd had this thing back in the ‘90s, just between him and his cousins. Then me and Ferd were talking about starting something and he was telling me back in the day he had this thing, it was nothing serious, but maybe we could build upon it.
SS: So just for clarification, what does ATS stand for, if you’re allowed to say?
FC: (Laughs) We can say. It stands for Always Talking Shit. It’s like how you saw everybody here today, just bullshit loud – that’s how it is. We’re always in the garage at somebody’s house working on something or hanging out.
CS: I think that’s where it all originated from, getting all the guys together working on cars and having fun and just hanging out.
FC: And everybody talks shit. (Laughing)
CS: But it’s nothing serious like we’re talking against anybody.
SS: Random tangent time, let’s talk about EK Squad. It seems like half of ATS is in EK Squad, how did that all come together?
CS: I started EK squad back in ’02-ish time frame, actually before I started hanging out with these guys. With EK squad I was just trying to bring together some of the elite hatch owners that were out there. Then it just so happened that a few years later when I hooked up with these guys that a lot of the friends that I knew and started EK Squad with became ATS members. But I don’t really push EK Squad as much these days.
FC: It’s actually kind of crazy because it was the four of you guys: Chris, Neema, Mark and Ryan.
CS: Originally, in the beginning, it was me, Ryan, Neema and Mark. We kept it a little bit separate but now we kind of mesh the two (ATS and EK Squad).
FC: We used to do the annual designated EK Squad meets, it wasn’t ATS/EK Squad, it was just EK Squad.
SS: So let’s talk about some of the ATS cars. Where do you guys get inspiration?
FC: For me when I first got into Hondas it was my buddy Vince. He bought a brand-spankin’-new ’91 Si hatchback. I hated Hondas back then, I was into VWs. I knew they were cool though; I just wanted to do something else. Then I started hanging around with these guys and eventually got a Honda. But for me it was all about FF-Squad. I was like “damn dude!” and those were the kind of cars I got hooked on. I mean if you weren’t influenced by FF-Squad, dude I don’t know. Those were the guys that caught my eye. Same thing with Ferd.
SS: Guilty, they got us too.
FC: You had to dude. The cars they had, the stuff they did, they were just badass.
SS: Definitely ahead of their time.
FC: Yes they were. Even if they still had the same cars today.
SS: The timeless look. For the most part, you guys seemed to have stayed away from the Hellaflush, roof rack, sticker mosaic style even though it’s heavily-associated with the Bay Area. Why is that?
FC: There are some of those cars that look cool, but functionality-wise it’s like “damn, I can’t go smash on that” you know?
CS: I think a lot of it is based on personal preferences and the reason we are all together is because we have similar interests. I do think some of the hellaflush cars look pretty dope, but we just aren’t into the roof racks and hanging shit off our tow hooks and stickering up our lips. That’s just not us.
FC: It’s sort of like back in the day, just a simple lowered car was cool. Maybe some clear corner lights and you were good to go, just make the motor fast. We still stay influenced by that timeless look.
CS: You always have to stay current with the things that you do, but we always try to throw our flavor on the builds.
SS: One thing I’ve always noticed with ATS cars is your play on colors and textures. I’ve always thought that was amazing, like the glossy black and hammertone black on Anh’s car.
CS: We evolve and move forward with the different builds that we do and influence each other. But we’re always pushing forward with the times.
FC: The stuff people are doing with the engine bays these days is crazy.
SS: Over the last few years it seems like the Bay Area is turning out more new cars than almost anywhere else. Why do you think there are so many dope cars coming out of NorCal?
FC: I don’t know man, just people getting influenced. I’m sure there are many hidden projects under works that we don’t even know about. It’s tough to say.
SS: Where do you see the Honda scene going in the near future?
FC: The way the cars are now, it’s getting to hot rod status where everything has to be custom fabbed. Some people can’t even do their own shit in the garage anymore.
SS: More than that, it’s getting harder and harder to find older Hondas now, like a stock EF/EG is next to impossible. People used to build cars, finish them and then sell them. Now people are keeping their cars and constantly refreshing them.
FC: Look at Chris, going on ten years now, and Ryan about the same.
CS: Same thing.
FC: Then one of our guys Allen, he’s had his CRX since ’95. It’s the same car now. Ray with the burgundy four-door has had his car since the ‘90s. Joel, we left his car the same since the ‘90s.
SS: What do you guys think of the newer cars? Do you ever plan on building a newer chassis?
FC: It’s hard to say, the EG/DC/EK, those are the cars we grew up around. I wouldn’t mind doing a newer car; I’m not super familiar with it. Most of the newer cars you’ll see it’s just slammed on wheels, it’s not torn down inside and out, caged with engine work and stuff like that.
CS: What I like is taking the car I’ve had for ten plus years and trying to take some of the new technology and incorporating it into my car. You’re taking the best of what Honda has provided but making it work with your car.
FC: Hot rods are like that too. My first SEMA back in the early 2000’s I went there and I didn’t even know what the hell SEMA was. My Pops was into Mopars and stuff and I was trippin’ when I saw a ’70 Dodge Charger with a Viper motor. I was like damn, I thought they wanted to stick to their roots, but nah dude. All these cars are about taking the old school body, freshen it up, and put some new technology on it.
SS: You go for the aesthetic first. It’s like taking a supermodel and packing in a scientist brain.
FC: (Laughs) That’s all that’s missing, just reflash the brain!
SS: When I first got into cars I thought these muscle car guys were crazy; they only like one kind of car and keep rebuilding it. Little did I know thirty years from now I’ll be one of those a**holes out there at some little Sunday car show ranting off like “I’ve owned this Civic for thirty years”.
FC: I wouldn’t be surprised seeing you, or us or people floating around on the boards ten or twenty years later. They might not have the same car but they’ll have something. I could take a ten-year break not building something then I’ll get the bug to build something.
SS: By then, the M-series motor will be out and some half-liter engine making 300hp.
CS: We’ll make it work though!
SS: It’s inescapable.