Many know of his work, but few know the man behind the widebody phenomenon. More of a behind-the-scenes-guy, Topo (a nickname given to him when he was a boy that means gopher in Spanish), is taking center stage with his latest widebody Camaro.
Dressed as if he’d been hard at work, the first thing out of Topo’s mouth was an apology for being late the day of the interview at the one-car garage he rents behind a barber shop in Paramount, CA. He immediately goes on to explain that he had just finished dropping off the Camaro at the paint shop so to meet our deadline. “I was working on the car all weekend,” he says, ushering us into his garage where another Camaro was already parked. “Man, I felt the pressure on this one. I’ve had a lot of deadlines, but they were all personal. If I didn’t have it ready on time, I didn’t let anyone down. But with this job, I didn’t want to let DUB down. I pushed to get it done on time.” What normally takes anywhere from two to three weeks, depending on the car, Topo had to get the Camaro ready in half that time.
At first glance, his workspace looks like a regular garage with tools spread around, tires in the corner and a workbench in the back, but this is more than a garage to Topo; it’s where the widebody master creates his metal works of art. The Camaro sitting in the driveway belongs to Forgiato Wheels, and Topo was getting ready to dissect its rear to give it his widebody touch, which is what he’s become known for after he first fabricated his own Charger. Last year, he really got people’s attention with his widebody Challengers and this year, he’s going hard with the widebody Camaros.
“I worked on four Camaros for this year’s SEMA,” he says. “I’m looking forward to seeing what type of response they get from people. I think the one that’s on the cover (that will be in the DUB LIVE! area) will get the most attention. There’ll probably be lots of Camaros with interior work, paint jobs, rims, but mine will have a totally different look to it.”
Topo first thought of conquering the Camaro when a shop owner from Riverside approached him as soon as they came out earlier this year. Busy working on a Challenger, Topo turned him down, but readily changed his mind when he stopped by a Chevy dealership to scope out the car. When he finally got it in his garage, he knew he was up for a challenge. “Every car is different and I thought I could do what I did to the Challenger to the Camaro,” he says. “But the way the body lines are on the Camaro made it difficult to do. The thing about the Camaro is that you can’t put wide wheels with a big lip because of the Brembo brakes. I kept looking at the car, wondering how I was gonna cut it. I cut the quarter panels thinking it was gonna be the same deal as the Challenger, but when I cut them and went to put it back on, it was like night and day. It had me scratching my head a few times, but I figured it out.” Learning from past mistakes, Topo won’t be putting out any online videos on the Camaro build for copycats to steal either.
With a few more Camaros lined up, Topo already has his sights on his next project: a 2010 Mustang. While approaching each car with a different widebody look, one thing that all of his creations have in common is the way he wants them all to look as if they were naturally styled that way. “I build everything to look like it just drove off the dealer’s lot,” he says. “I’m all about being different, but having a clean look to it. I’m not about stick-on body kits, either.” Besides a Mustang, Topo also sees some luxury and exotic vehicles down the line “I’m not scared to cut or do anything, no matter the type of car. If someone brings it, I’ll do it. The thing with exotics is that they are made with carbon fiber instead of metal, but I’m not scared to try it.”
Topo’s unique skills are praised by many, yet he doesn’t believe so. “I know the whole widebody thing has been done before, but I’m pushing it more, where each one of my cars is different.” Despite not having a Website, any business cards or a big-name shop to back him up, Topo is quickly becoming a sought after customizer. He credits his success to knowing and being around the right people. “It’s all word of mouth pretty much in terms of clients,” he says, also crediting his presence on forums for new business, which he has plenty being booked solid for the next three months.
“I know that this isn’t that big, but the rent isn’t that much and it’s more of a low-key spot,” he explains. “Right now, a lot of people are losing their businesses and it’s hard out there. I learned that the bigger shop you have the more you’re gonna store. You can only work on so many cars at a time, so that’s why I figured just to go ahead and take what I can work on and not what I’m gonna store.” Once a car goes out, he immediately has another one ready to come in. When he was doing his Challengers last year, a lot of people criticized Topo for working at home. Although he shuns the haters, he’d like to set the record straight.