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What if you could work on all your favorite cars with your favorite people and make a business out of it? Neil Tjin from Tjin Edition did just that with the Tjin Edition Roadshow.
It wasn’t always the empire it is today, but it’s always been a passion project; a collaboration of partners focused on consumer interaction.
To get the full story, we have to back up a little.
Neil’s been designing and tinkering with cars since he was in high school. In fact, he was the first kid at his high school to modify his car with 17-inch TSW wheels and a new sound system — a project he’d saved for two years to complete.
When Neil graduated from high school in 1996, he built an 3.2 Acura TL, which got the attention of Super Street Magazine and Craig Lieberman (of Fast and the Furious fame).
Neil, his wife Mei, and his brother, Gene, started a club called All-Star, which built cool cars and traveled up and down the East Coast.
“Partners started taking notice of the five or six Asian kids building cars,” Neil says.
Between 1996 and 2003, they built between 30 and 40 high-profile cars.
Neil bounced around a little, first starting his own company with his brother — Star Performance — then working as the marketing director of Toucan Industries, an aftermarket products company.
In 2003, HCI (Hot, Compact, Import) recruited Neil as its editor. Based out of Oxnard, California, he moved to the other coast to run the magazine.
“This is when all the doors opened for me,” Neil says. His career snowballed from the exposure (and some hard work, of course).
A partnership with Turtle Wax morphed into The Tjin Edition Roadshow — Neil’s current venture. He’s been going strong for more than 12 years.
Today, Neil’s look is marked with thick-framed Clark Kent glasses. He’s often accompanied by his wife of 17 years — yes, they met in high school — and his two kids, Colin (9) and Kylie (7).
The car thing is a family affair.
In 2010 Neil and his team built a Chevy Camaro. It beat out 1,500 other General Motor vehicles to claim “Best in Show” for GM at SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association, an annual car show in Las Vegas).
The build prompted a phone call from Mark Harston and Terry Emig at Universal Technical Institute, which brought Neil out to the Los Angeles Auto Show.
“I pitched an off-the-wall idea,” Neil laughs. He asked if he could build a sweepstakes car for UTI, something they hadn’t really done before.
If you can get a car, you can do it, they told him. It was a pipedream, it seemed. But, when you spend your career building solid partnerships and have a reputation of generosity and excellent work, the idea of acquiring an almost-free car isn’t so far-fetched.
He obtained a Ford Fiesta via a partnership with Ford, and it became Neil’s first build for UTI. In 2011, UTI and Neil became partners on Tjin Edition Roadshow, and the car travelled to more than 30 events throughout the year for the purpose of showing UTI students what is possible. Now, UTI and Tjin are on their seventh build together.
In 2015, Terry Emig brought Shell Pennzoil into the fold, and the trio (Shell Pennzoil, Tjin Edition and UTI) built a 2015 Mustang GT.
“We never use the word ‘sponsor.’ We have always used the term ‘partner,’” Neil says. “For us, it’s more about the relationship and long-term growth of the partnership.” He adds that the point is to work together to accomplish a common goal with both parties’ best interests at heart. The Roadshow has about 40 various partnerships.
Neil says this venture was always about more than just the business. Terry, Mark and Neil were family. “We didn’t just talk cars. We talked about family and the future and God.” Neil says they both kept up with his family and kids.
Neil gets nostalgic as he talks about some of his favorite builds over the years. Here are some of them:
In 1997, his team built a Nissan 240sx with the first BOMEX body kit from Japan, Advan Model 5 wheels, Advan tires, a carbon fiber room and SR20DET motor. As one of the top show cars in 2003, it was transformed into a show vehicle for the Turtle Wax “Get Waxed” tour, then given away at SEMA 2005.
In the late 1990s, he built a Nissan Skyline R34 sedan, the only legal Skyline sedan in the States. The car featured an RB26DET motor, URAS wide body kit, a custom roll cage by Unique Fabrication and One Lug wheels.
Then there was the green Camaro that won Best in Show at SEMA. It had a fully built motor, 757hp thanks to a Vortech supercharger, customer 24-inch iForged wheels, Baer Brakes, and Air Lift suspension. It also had a custom paint job by Axalta.
In 2013, the team built an F-150 for Ford for the SEMA show. It was lowered with an Air Lift suspension (Neil says the team at Unique Fabrication put in over 300 hours on just the suspension). The exterior was converted with all Ford Raptor parts, Rotiform 24-inch wheels, Baer Brakes and a custom interior by Katzkin. This build put Tjin Edition on the map in the truck community because it was the first truck designed by the Tjin Edition crew.
Last year, Neil and his team built a Ford Focus RS for UTI and Shell Pennzoil. It was the last car Neil and his team got to do with Terry, who passed away in May 2018. Terry’s legacy, passion for cars, and devotion to UTI live on.
Keino Sasaki owns Keino Cycles custom motorcycles in New York. He's also a graduate of Motorcycle Mechanics Institute. Read about his journey.
Greg Miller began his career at BMW after graduating from Universal Technical Institute Houston. He never expected his passion for cars would take him to the nation’s largest Ferrari showcase competition.
What is car culture? Some think it's an unspoken society. And it doesn't matter if you love four wheels, two wheels, monster wheels or anything in between. Sound familiar? Then this is for you.
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