Finding Nemo's Garage: Just Keep Tuning
Custom builds can come together pretty quickly these days. From a few short weeks to a matter of days, the ease of accessibility to parts from all over the world is what helps expedite the process. But no matter what type of hand the Internet plays in it, enthusiasts are still committed to their local shops to find the latest parts; the face-to-face interaction beats "buying now" on a computer screen.
During the '90s, enthusiasts didn’t have these same options you and I have now. Take Southern California for example: you had to drive to random parts of LA county to get what you needed. In the decade or so after that, more shops started to pop-up in other places but for the most part, you got the goods from these industry regulars because of their reputation. Smaller shops would come and go but the growth of the Internet made it incredibly difficult to survive in an industry where people could simply shop online. The tuning shops that have stood the test of time survived because of a loyal consumer base, one that's willing to wait for quality American or hard-to-find Japanese products to come into stock.
Today, survival is based mainly on being able to supply the rarest parts at the best prices, seller know-how and location, location, location. If you have a shop that can do all these things and are able to service a new region where there aren’t any competing businesses, customers will come.
If you’re a car enthusiast from the Inland Empire, meet your newest neighbor: Nemo’s Garage.
For those not in the know, the IE is a stretch of area that represents Riverside County and parts of San Bernardino. It exists more on the eastern edge of Southern California, away from the beach cities – hence the “Inland” namesake. While it isn’t the most glamorous area of SoCal, it is populated with as many automotive hobbyists as most other areas of the Golden State.
Nemo’s Garage started out as a fun little project for Geronimo “Angel” Torres. He built himself a pretty spectacular 1993 Honda Civic show car-turned-race car that's highly-regarded in the Honda community. His hatchback is special because of how well-executed it was as a whole. Under the hood is a fully-built 2006 K20A engine that features a beefy Merc Racing supercharger.
Outside, the custom Liquid Copper Metallic-painted chassis features only the finest aero components from Japan. But the most unique aspect is the cockpit, which showcases a retrofitted Acura RSX dashboard that's been carefully reshaped to flow with the factory door panels of the Civic.
He brought this project out to most of California's most popular events and and eventually ended up at the top of the game by winning multiple awards. The accolades piled high, but he soon found himself wanting more out of his show car – it was time to see if the car could perform as well as it looked.
Between working full-time and taking care of his family, Angel's free time was occupied by going to car shows and learning the ropes as a track driver. Though his hatchback is his main prize, his other car, an EM1 Civic Si coupe, was initially made to be a track beater. He met a solid group of dedicated time attack guys who were willing to teach him the ropes of the circuit; so as his confidence as a driver grew, he became more comfortable with the idea of converting his show car into a race-only vehicle.
Those same track guys went over his supercharged Civic in detail, fixed the little things to make it more equipped for track duty and turned the award-winner into the race car it is today. His EM1, on the other hand, went under the knife for an entire ground-up makeover. What was once a beater recently became Angel’s latest and greatest masterpiece.
When we say “ground-up,” we mean that in a very literal sense. The Civic coupe was torn apart piece-by-piece, bolt-by-bolt, and every removable part that could be replaced with a brand new OEM factory component, was. Instead of going the supercharged route like his previous build, Angel jumped ship and decided on a turbocharged K-series engine instead. Surrounding the custom-fabricated turbo and intake manifold is an engine compartment that's been shaved completely smooth.
The firewall section where a brake booster and brake master cylinder would go has been cleared of everything, with all functioning brake parts moved under the cowl of the coupe, and at a glance, you’d scratch your head wondering how the car can even brake at all with the firewall being completely bare. More metal work can be found towards the rear quarter panel where the gas filler lid has been welded shut and smoothed-out for a subtle but sleek motif. To fill the gasoline, Angel must now go into his trunk where a custom filler neck has been placed behind a trap-door.
Unlike his hatchback, the exterior houses much fewer aero additions. A less-than-common Japanese J*Blood front bumper with carbon fiber lower lip and the bulky factory side mirrors have been supplanted with sleek Magical Racing carbon mirrors. The rest of the body is still very much like an original EM1 Civic SI coupe except the entire body has been entirely re-sprayed in a BMW hue which, ironically enough, resembles the original Electron Blue Pearl finish but a few shades darker.
Torres’ hatchback had the nifty RSX dash, but his coupe would not see such a time-consuming operation. “Less is more” is the approach in this regard, and the EM1 dashboard remains, albeit with some creative alterations. An iPad mounts tightly into the dashboard while every original interior panel has been re-wrapped in gray Alcantara leather.
A far departure from his hatchback build is the aggressive ride height. Exceed Japan Short Stroke Dampers bring this coupe incredibly close to the ground with just four black-chromed Volk Racing CE28 wheels holding it up. Behind the chromed spokes of the front RAYS wheels is an Endless big brake kit from Japan.
Both seen and heard is the wild custom straight-piped exhaust fabricated by Battlecraft.
The completion of the EM1 coincided with the launch of Nemo’s Garage, a tuning parts shop that Torres decided to open to test his knowledge of the industry. Over the last two years, he acquired quite a bit of knowledge of the car hobbyist community and made some friends who would provide the experience necessary to help his business grow. After noticing a lack of parts shops in the Inland Empire, he decided to create this space to stock high-quality goods from both the U.S. and Japan.
Managing the day-to-day operations of Nemo’s Garage is Joseph LaFlare, a close friend whom Angel first met while competing at car shows. LaFlare brings his own knowledge of the industry to customers and, judging by his DC5 RSX build, he also has a great eye for building cars himself. Together, they’ve quickly grown from a shop that only services the Inland Empire to being a name that is now recognized by other Honda enthusiasts nationwide.
View the complete Nemo's Garage photo shoot in the gallery below, and take a trip down memory lane to some our favorite things about Honda in the '90s.