We all have hobbies whether its cars, photography, watches, or other activities. However, most likely none of these hobbies allow us to make a living doing what we truly love. Now take Neil Tjin, a former resident of Florida, who moved to California to further pursue his automotive endeavors. Back in Florida Neil modified his personal cars at such an extreme level that international recognition put his car on magazines throughout the world. This also got him noticed by brands such as Ford, Honda, and Scion who now commission him to build project cars.
Since your work and life revolves around cars, where did this all start?
I used to live in Miami, for 18 years to be exact. Back in 1996 my wife Mei, brother Gene and I started messing around with cars. My first car was an Eagle Vision. I was the first guy in my high-school with 17″ wheels (when 17’s were huge). After the Vision, I moved on to my first import – an Acura Legend that I also put aftermarket wheels on.
A few months later I got an Acura 3.2 TL, which along with a pair of Bomex Accords (one owned by my wife and one by my brother), were the cars that really set things in motion for us. My Acura 3.2 TL, was the first “complete” car we ever designed and built. This was in the late 90’s, so things were quite a bit different than they are now. It had a custom Dupont paint job, custom Ground Control coilovers (we had to fly to San Francisco to have them made), custom interior, a custom roll cage, custom exhaust, custom brakes, and the first set of VeilSide Andrew Racing Mesh wheels in the US.
My Acura was one of the first cars out of Florida to be featured in Super Street Magazine, and in less then a year we were able to get more than a dozen features, which was a huge deal at the time. My wife’s Accord also made the cover of Honda Tuning, and things continued to snowball from there.
With all this recognition taking place, where has it taken your career?
In 1996, my brother Gene and I started our own wholesale company in Miami, FL called Star Performance. We were the official distributor for companies like Ground Control and Team Dynamics. After Star Performance I ran a couple retail automotive stores in Miami, and in 2001 I went to work for Toucan Industries. I started in their sales department and over time moved into marketing and building their display cars for Toucan and Circuit City. While working at Toucan, my wife, brother and good friend Emilio, worked for NIRA and NDRA, as their technical support team. This job allowed us to travel the country to various races, and opened a lot of doors for us while we were still living in South Florida. In July of 2003 I became the Executive Editor of HCI and B/Scene magazines. Now I own Tjin Edition, which builds and designs cars for OEM vehicle manufacturers, endorses products for some of the most amazing brands in the industry, and (of course) we have the Tjin Edition RoadShow, a national tour that goes to more than 30 automotive events each year.
I have been very fortunate and am truly blessed to be in the position that I am currently in, and all of the above mentioned jobs and companies I have worked for have helped me and my company get to where we are today.
It sounds like you went from a business owner at one point to an employee/consultant. Why the transition?
After my dad moved back to South America in the late 90’s, my brother and I closed Star Performance. At the time we were both highly sought after to run two local automotive shops in Miami. After that we went to work at Toucan Industries, and from there on I became the Executive Editor of HCI and B/Scene magazines. As I got older and moved up in the business world, I quickly realized that I wanted to start my own company again and be my own boss. I like to have control of what I am doing, and even though I have the most amazing team at Tjin Edition, I still try to over see the day to day operations as much as possible.
What is the Tjin Edition Roadshow?
In 2003 my wife Mei and I decided that it was time to sell our house in Fort Lauderdale and to make the move to Southern California… and lets just say it was the best decision of our lives.
After moving to SoCal in July of 2003, we met with the marketing department at Scion, and they asked us if we wanted to design and build them a Scion tC. The car would be used at shows across the Country, on Scion billboards, in Scion print and online ads, and was offered the opportunity to do a radio commercial for Scion (which I gladly accepted).
After the tC was done and touring for Scion, I was contacted by Turtle Wax, and they asked us to pitch them on a tour, which would later become known as the Turtle Wax “Get Waxed” Tour, and a sweepstakes vehicle, which ended up becoming my totally rebuilt Nissan 240SX. The Tjin Edition / Turtle Wax Nissan 240SX was featured in more than 33 magazines worldwide over 3 years, which really brought credibility to myself and our company.
We did the Turtle Wax “Get Waxed” Tour in 2004 and 2005, and from there it evolved into the Tjin Edition RoadShow.
Tjin Edition is ran by myself and my wife, and our RoadShow is a team effort ran by numerous guys including my brother Gene, Adam Carpenter from Unique Fabrication (the shop that is responsible for all our Tjin Edition builds), and of course Ben Freels our driver, and booth coordinator. Ben drives our Freightliner and 51 ft trailer around the country to all our events and he is in charge of our show staff which sets up and tears down our booths, sets up our display cars and partners products, is responsible for talking with as many possible consumers about our partners products, and for visiting new dealer shops in the cities that we visit.
Since collaborating with Scion and Turtle Wax, what other brands/manufacturers have you been involved with?
For things to go from more of a hobby into a profession, it took close to a decade for us to really establish ourselves with our builds, going to shows around the country, and being a magazine editor for almost 8 years. Once our credibility and our track record became more apparent, many doors started to open for us with OEM vehicle manufacturers like Honda, Chevrolet, Pontiac and Ford. Over the last 6 years, we have completed over twenty OEM builds for SEMA and the RoadShow.
In 2006 we were contacted by Honda and General Motors, and were fortunate enough to be chosen by both OEM brands to build vehicles for the 2006 SEMA Show. At the event, we had a Honda Fit in the Honda booth, a Pontiac Solstice and Volvo S40 in the Status booth, a Right Hand Drive Integra in the Skunk 2 booth, and my Nissan R34 Skyline Sedan in the Turtle Wax booth.
Going forward, myself and our team formed partnerships with several aftermarket product manufacturers, and became brand ambassadors for each of these products and brands, as it became our job to promote and represent our partners on the road with the RoadShow, and through our project vehicle builds.
It has truly been a pleasure and honor working with GM, Honda, Ford, and our partners such as Universal Technical Institute, Vortech Engineering, Paxton Automotive, Lysholm Technologies, Royal Purple, Webasto Sunroofs, MagnaFlow Exhaust, iForged and Forgestar Wheels, Baer Brakes, Falken Tires, Braille Batteries, Escort Radar, GlowShift Gauges, and Gurnade Design Firm.
Many people will wonder how you got in the door with Scion. What did you do?
When I moved here in 2003 I scheduled a meeting with the Scion marketing director. We had designed and built plenty of cars before in Miami, but never a car for a OEM manufacture. She asked me to present them with a my concept for the Scion tC. We pitched them our idea for a new Scion tC, and a few weeks later I got the call that they wanted me to build them a wide body Scion tC. I had just moved to Cali so I still didn’t really have any connections here, so I sent the tC back to Miami to be built with my team at E&V Motorsports. As a side bonus, the Tjin Edition tC was used in all the Scion advertising in 2004, including more then 500 billboards across the US, and they also asked me to do a Scion radio commercial, which was an awesome experience.
Do you still currently consult with brands in addition to operating the Tjin Edition Roadshow?
I own Tjin Edition and the Tjin Edition RoadShow. Those are my babies, those are my passion. They are my tools to continue growing in this industry and help our partners take their companies and products to the next level.
After the 2011 SEMA Show, I became the Automotive Marketing Director position for the Air Power Group, which includes the Vortech, Paxton, and Lysholm Supercharger brands, and I absolutely love it. I have been working with Vortech since 2005, when I had a supercharged Infiniti G35 coupe. Since then, we have owned and built multiple supercharged vehicles, including a Vortech supercharged Pontiac G8 GT, a pair of Chevy Camaro SS’s, a Lysholm supercharged Camaro SS, a Vortech supercharged Ford Mustang GT and a Paxton supercharged Mustang GT. Plus Vortech, Paxton and Lysholm have been part of the Tjin Edition RoadShow for the last three years, so taking the position was a no-brainer for me, as I live the products and I love nothing more than marketing great products.
Between designing and building cars for our OEM partners, the Tjin Edition RoadShow, and being a marketing director, I am busy 24-7, 365 days a year and I wouldn’t want it any other way (I am sure my wife has a different opinion though).
Most entrepreneurs can’t do it without a supporting entourage. Who can you give credit to?
Gene Tjin is my younger brother, and we have been working together since day 1. Gene is 18 months younger than me, but he isn’t just my brother, he is my closest and best friend. We have always designed cars together, and after my wife and I moved to SoCal in July of 2003, Gene followed later that year. Gene has built his fair share of high profile vehicles including a Honda Accord, Scion xB, Infiniti G35 and G37, Volvo S40 and V50, and OEM projects for Honda and GM including a 2009 Honda Fit and 2011 Chevy Camaro.
My wife, Mei Tjin, has been along this automotive journey with me since 1995 when we met. She was my high school sweetheart and she saw my passion for cars from the first day we met. Mei’s first car was a fully decked out Honda Accord with a H22a Prelude motor, Advan wheels, big brakes, custom paint job, full interior and Bomex body kit. Here car was on the cover of Honda Tuning back in 2003. Since then we have started a family and now she drives the Ford Explorer that we built for Ford Motor Company for last years SEMA show.
Nothing that I do would be possible without the support and backing of my wife, she believes in me and that gives me the confidence to think outside the box and push the envelope!
What would you say is the best decision you’ve made in regards of your career?
There are two things that instantly come to mind. The first thing is moving from Miami to SoCal and second is working for myself. I have always been driven to succeed, and working for myself allows me the freedom to push the envelope and to think outside the box. I am a true believer that life experiences make you a better owner and business man. I have worked retail, sales, marketing and for such a huge variety of bosses since I was 16, that now I know what I want and how to make sure the job gets done. I believe that you have to be a boss that people want to work with and associate with, but also have to understand when to put your foot down and make sure that things get done in a professional and proper manner.
How much of your success do you think is contributed to being at the right place at the right time?
I am a stronger believer that everything happens for a reason, and I also believe that you have to put yourself out there and take risks for things to happen. Things didn’t just happen for us, we invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today, and we continue to do that year in and year out. I worked 24-7 to grow my company, and to figure out how to continue bettering our RoadShow and our relationship with our partners. On the other hand, being out there and staying connected with as many people as possible, does allow things to happen for you when you least expect them to. Being in California definitely opened a lot of doors for us back in 2003, and it was our job to take advantage of those opportunities that happened during that time frame.
How are you able to manage so many different projects while on the road?
Very little sleep, work 24-7, determination, and most importantly a great supporting cast. I am very driven and passionate, but I understand there is only so much one person can do. Without the support of my wife, brother and the team that we have established over the last 7 years there is no way that I would be able to handle so many different projects at once. Having a team like we do, and being able to trust our team on the road like Ben and our staff is huge. Being able to have a shop like Unique Fabrication and LR Autobody here in Socal is an incredible bonus, as I know I can always count on them to get our cars done in a timely fashion, and more importantly done correct. Being able to rely on guys like Josh from Gurnade Design Firm really makes my job easier and fun at the same time. This isn’t a one man show, this a collective effort from a bunch of driven and passionate individuals, and even though I over see everything, I have enough trust in my team to make things happen.
What is the typical weekly schedule for you like?
I am all over the place. As I mentioned I really don’t have a “schedule”, I don’t work 9 to 5, I don’t work Monday to Friday, I am always working. During the show season, I spend a good majority of my time coordinating with Ben and the team to make sure we have everything ready for the RoadShow events. During the summer and leading up to SEMA things really get crazy, and I am trying to manage and oversee all our SEMA builds, and right now I put in a ton of time helping Air Power Group (Vortech, Paxton and Lysholm superchargers) with their marketing direction and new ad campaigns for 2012. So basically my typical week / day is spent thinking about how to better the brands that we work with and how to get them the most bang for their buck. I live and breath this automotive industry that has been so great to my family, and we are truly blessed to be doing what we love.
For a young guy, what are you most proud of to date?
I have been very blessed with so many great things, but if I had to choose one or two thing, I would have to say the GM and Ford Design awards that we have won for our designs. Oh, and also getting the SEMA Person of the Year in 2003, that was pretty wild!
What’s the single best piece of advice you can give aspiring entrepreneurs?
Work hard, always over deliver, don’t be afraid to think outside the box, don’t be afraid to push the envelope, and lastly remember that it is humanly impossible to please everyone… so always believe in what you do and in the end everything will work out!
We see other car builders go more extreme but yours are cleaner. What’s your design philosophy?
We are all about simple is better, function and form. Back in 2003 I built a over the top “show car” a Nissan 240sx that won Best of Show at HIN’s and got all the glory, that car got over 33 magazine features and covers world wide. That was then and this is now, we have grown with the times and we have always been more about performance compared to bling. In 2005, I built a Nissan Skyline R34 Sedan with over 800hp and from there things really changed for us. Since we moved to Cali we have really broadened our approach to building cars, and we payed close attention to the street rod and hot rod scenes. Some people think our builds are too simple, but if you pay close attention to our builds you will see all the attention to details that go into our builds. Most of the OEM manufacturers are pretty good at letting us run with our creative designs, but every once in a while they will give their feedback. Usually it is about color, as sometimes you have to show them your vision and it takes some convincing to have them step outside the box.
We often see car builders on TV shows barely missing tight deadlines. Is this true for you?
Yeah, SEMA builds have a very tight deadline. Last year we had less then six weeks to completely transform a stock Chevy Sonic into a complete track / show car. The car wasn’t even out yet, so every single part had to be fabricated from scratch, and it went down to the wire. I am proud to say that our builds have never missed a deadline, and we always try to over deliver for our OEM partners and our clients.
What is your favorite build to date and why?
Since 1996, we have built and designed close to a hundred cars, and about a third or so were personal builds. I can’t just choose one particular build, as I really enjoyed by Vortech Supercharged Pontiac G8 and Camaro SS and my Ford Explorer. I get the most out of my Explorer, as it is the first SUV we have ever designed and built, and I drive it everyday.
It is great and perfect for my two little ones. The Explorer was built in conjunction with Ford Motor Company, it debuted in their booth at SEMA last year, and won one of their Design Awards, which is always a huge honor.
What do you personally currently drive and own?
My garage and drive way always change, as we rotate between our RoadShow cars and the cars I keep in SoCal. Currently I have my 757hp Vortech Supercharged Chevy Camaro SS, my 2012 Honda Civic Si Sedan, my Audio A4 Avant, and my 2012 Ford Explorer.
And finally, what is one car you look forward to buildings in 2012?
As I mentioned before I have a great partnership with Ford, GM and Honda. I am really looking forward to the opportunity to design the 2013 Ford Taurus SHO, Cadillac CTS-V Wagon, and the new Honda Accord.
To find out more information on Neil Tjin and the Tjin Edition Roadshow visit: