Octavio “Topo” Villafana has turned his unique skill of transforming modern day pony cars into full-blown, wide-stanced, all-metal widebody muscle rides, which has become a highly sought after modification by many. It has spread throughout the country as a status symbol or necessity to have in owning a Mustang, Charger, Challenger and Camaro. Topo’s masterful widebody creations have also inspired other builders/shops to emulate his work and create their own version of the wide-hipped phenomenon.
Now, the widebody virtuoso is back on the scene and is once again setting trends— this time with old school Impalas. No stranger to the lowriding scene, Topo is working on “low-rods,” in which he completely restores early-’60s Impala models complete with some modern additions, allowing him to touch upon his fabricating roots when he used to build nothing but lowriders.
“We call them low-rods since we’re putting bigger wheels on them instead of the usual smaller wire wheels, but still keeping them low to the ground with airbags and all,” he explains. “We’re not riding them high like Donks and making the wheel arches wider to make it seem as if these bigger wheels naturally go with the car. We’re also setting them up with a staggered fitment.”
Having already gone under a complete facelift before, Topo totally restored the cover’s ’61 Impala that belongs to his good friend Sunny, which will be passed down to his 6-year-old son, Seth, once he becomes of age. “The car was actually started two years ago,” Topo explains. “We got it back from the guy, and Sunny had an even better vision for it. That’s when we decided to redo everything.”
Taking another eight months to complete, Topo did a total frame restoration, added some 20-inch Forgiato Vizzo wheels in the front and placed some 22-inch ones out back. He also redid the Impala’s airbag suspension and re-worked the interior. Everything was also re-chromed, and Danny from Dream Workz installed a new Rockford Fosgate sound system complete with an Alpine head unit. “It still has the paint job from the previous job, but we pretty much wanted to revamp everything on it ourselves,” he explains.
Now that Topo has yet another customizing skill set under his belt that will be just as popular as his widebody work, it was time for him to move from his one-car garage out of Paramount to a bigger shop to accommodate his constantly slammed schedule. He has actually teamed up with the ’61 Impala’s owner, Sunny, and started TS Designs out of Gardena, CA. Last time we stopped in on Topo, he mentioned that a shop wasn’t in the cards, but when you’re in high demand as Topo is, you obviously need to reevaluate your priorities.
“As far as it goes, I want it to be a shop where we’re not known just for one thing or for a certain type of car. I could have easily named it ‘Topo’s Widebody’ or something like that since that’s what I’ve been doing for a while, but I want it to go beyond that. I wanted “Designs,” so we can mess with whatever cars come in. At TS Designs, we work on low-rods, lowriders, new cars and anything that our customers want, so we don’t really specialize in one particular thing. We customize it all."
The TS Designs facility holds anywhere from 25-30 cars at a time, has nine employees and is currently gaining notoriety by word of mouth and their presence at all the local car shows and even through event coverage that surfaces on the Web. He’s also establishing TS Designs as a complete shop that’ll basically put their touch on any ride you bring them. “I want to keep it as clean as possible,” he says. “We have a lot of expensive cars here and want to have a nice shop, so when people come here, they’re impressed by what they see because a shop tells a lot about a person’s work. If you have a dirty shop, it just shows the type of work you’ll put out there. Our shop is clean, we have TVs everywhere, leather sofas, and want everybody to feel welcomed while they’re here at the shop.”
With people just wanting to say they have a ride done by Topo, the fabricator is still grounded and humble and a bit oblivious to his enormous fame. When asked how he’d rate himself as a builder, he humbly answered: “You know, I’m happy with what I do. As far as rating myself, wouldn’t know how to do it, wouldn’t say I’m good or the best, but that’s a question that has to be left to the people. I just do what I love to do and think it shows in the end product of all my work.”
With 18 to 20 rides deep in the shop at any given time and a growing waiting list, it shows that the people have spoken, and the consensus is that Topo is indeed one phenomenal builder whose future is looking to become legendary.
Photos: Jae Bueno | www.jaebueno.com