by Bruce Boyers
West Coast Customs has made a worldwide name for themselves for producing the ultimate in customized and, at times, outrageous rides. Several television series, including Pimp My Ride and Street Customs, have highlighted the incredible artistry performed by this shop, and their reputation has even attracted the attention of legendary auto builder Carroll Shelby with whom they are now co-branding an exclusive line of his Mustang GTs.
Their clientele includes such luminaries as basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal. How does West Coast Customs deliver the consistent “perfect” quality that has come to be expected of their customizations? The answer is in their crew of artisansand their suppliers.
“When clients come to us, they’re looking for that piece that you can’t just go out and buy,” says West Coast Customs’ CEO Ryan Friedlinghaus. “They expect the best and some of them expect stuff that is probably impossible. But we pull it off.”
Such “impossible stuff” includes the Mercedes S550 convertible that Mercedes themselves won’t be releasing until 2010. But Shaq O’Neal wanted it now. He brought the hard-top to West Coast Customs, and they chopped off the top and delivered a fully working convertible. Other clients have asked the shop to turn the S550 4-door into a 2-door, which required shortening the car and lengthening the doors. But in both cases when you see the final product, you’d never know it didn’t roll off the factory floor.
Another example is the creation of another vehicle that doesn’t exist: the 2-door Range Rover. WCC takes the standard 4-door model, drops the top a bit, lowers the roof, rigs the windshield back, and turns it into a 2-door. The vehicle has been an incredible hit in the industry.
How does West Coast Customs deliver the consistent quality that keeps them on top and keeps customers returning?
“The utmost quality is expected by our clients,” says Wes Jahneke, department head for electrical and West Coast Customs veteran. “We’re world-renownedthis is West Coast Customs, nobody does what we do, and when people come here they expect the utmost in quality which we deliver.”
“I think maintaining that quality is really about having the right team,” Friedlinghaus adds. “What’s so unique about my shop is we have everything under one roof, so it’s really easy for us to micromanage these jobs when they come through. The teams that I have set up are pretty special. Every department head is an artist on his own. They’re specialty guys.”
Because West Coast Customs installs a high number of aftermarket components such as high-end audio and video, HID lights, alarm systems, air horns and many more, they must also pay careful attention to suppliers of those components. “We only deal with companies and we will only back and advertise for companies that we know we’re not going to have issues with, that are well-renowned in the industry,” says Jahneke. “Just as much as we want our installation to show quality and integrity, we have to back that up with the products that we use as well. It’s very important to us that we use products that we not only believe in, but that we’ve used and know they work and that our customers can believe in also.”
One example of such a product that has not only held up to West Coast Customs’ quality, but that has also made their work easier is the Switch-Smart automotive relay from Northeast Electronic Design Center. This unique product replaces the multiple transistors, resistors and other elements that the shop had to previously use to wire up components. “We work with a lot of newer vehicles or we have to integrate with factory stereos and the like,” Jahneke says. “Before we started using the Switch-Smart, there were products out there like low-voltage triggers that would do the job of activating a relay, but you still had to use a standard 5-pin automotive relay. What this product did for us is put that and then some all in one little nice little unit that’s durable and weather-proof. Now you no longer have to wire up 2 components or 3 components or anything like that. You’ve actually got everything all built into one nice neat little package. I would say using the Switch Smart saves anywhere from an hour, depending on the application, to sometimes 3 hours on a job.”
Restoring and customizing classics is also a staple of West Coast Customs’ business, a famous example being a 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle body mounted on the chassis and motor of a 2007 Corvette VO6. While retaining the original look, it’s considerably faster and handles far better than the original. In a case such as thisor with any of West Coast Customs’ projects, for that matterthe hiding of wiring and relays is very important. “The other thing that I really like about the Switch-Smart is that you can add a lot more stealth to your installation than you could with a standard 5-pin relay where you had to have terminals and things like that and tape it all up,” says Jahneke. “It’s just not as clean as it is with the sealed unit that’s got the wires coming out. You can just solder everything up and move on. It takes the place of 2, sometimes 3 components.”
With suppliers such as this and others, West Coast Customs keeps on doing what they do best: the impossible. “If people say it can’t be done, we definitely show them how it can be done,” says Friedlinghaus. “We do figure it out, no matter what and that’s how come we build such unique cars. That’s why we’re not scared to cut a roof off a $200,000 Mercedes or whatever just because, we can do it! And we’ll figure it out as we go. But every time it turns out the best. I think that’s what makes us really unique.”