SR20store and What happened?
It was suppose to be an awesome story to write about.
Project Leopard Revival with the original builder, SR20store…
For some reason, being loyal, respectful, tactful, non confrontation, professional and making payments on time still wasn’t good enough to finish Project Leopard. There are a couple big issues to address:
- Didn’t finish up the RB25DET
- Wouldn’t bring my car to swap it in
- Role Reversal
How it started off
When I got Project Leopard, I didn’t know what to do with the car as at the time, I lived in an apartment with no garage. My plan was to bring it up from Tehachapi to the Bay Area and pay monthly parking at a storage unit. I would also take my time on building the RB25 because it was in pieces.
I was connected to Robbie (Marco/SR20store’s son) and talked to his dad (Marco) about the project and said it was okay. I then talked to Marco and he said he was down to do it over again. There was one stipulation: NO CHEAP PARTS.
Seeing how rough the car overall, I made the decision to redo the whole car. That is when I decided to change the interior from brown to black and decided that the car will need to be painted, so it was perfect for the zenki front!
Beginning of 2020
Going into 2020, Marco and I had an agreement that what ever he needed, all he had to do was run it by me. If I agreed (which I ALWAYS DID), I would send the money right away. So he would come up with “packages” of parts. This was perfect as he ordered everything he needed. Additionally, I was ordering a bunch of stuff for the car in general and any accessories I wanted.
Marco got the 1st batch of parts ordered up. He then followed up with the engine and head going into the machine shop. That means the block was gonna get checked and if it clears (which it did), the bottom end will be put together, a
I also got back from Japan (February 2020), which was trying to secure the hood for Project Leopard.
There were a lot of convertibles hitting the junkyards in the bay area, so I had to get some parts to save, some parts for friends, some parts for my convertible, but I also ended up getting so many parts for Project Leopard.
I returned to LA in Feb/March of 2020. There Roger V and I stripped the interior of Project Leopard. I wasn’t a fan of the tan/brown interior already, but when a lot of the interior was trashed, it was only a plus to change out the interior. Within a week, a silver coupe popped up in the Oakland junkyard near me. I decided to check it out randomly when I was out with family and when I saw it had all grey interior.. I got everything!!!
Not long after that, everything went crazy!
PANDEMIC AND 2020
When things started to, Covid19 became super serious and closed down a lot. The March/April time was weird everywhere, but small businesses that had limited staff still worked. Marco slowed down everything, so my engine did as well. During this time, I did a lot of small stuff for Project Leopard such as cleaning the parts I just got for it.
May 2020, it was a big week. The hood cut that I a couple months back had arrived. It was also the weekend that I would have my SoCal brothers (Hung, Roger, and Edrik) work on the car with me and the next day Greg was taking the car to AZ to get painted.
- Day 1 – B3 Tuning to work on my digital gauge cluster (which took a year to get done BTW)
- Day 2 – SR20Store – This is when Sakura Garage took Project Leopard away (and it was WAY longer that expected)
While we were there, I had an interior guy stop by. We had been talking for a couple months since I gutted the interior.
This is when all the pieces went in different directions
- RB25det – SR20store
- Interior re upholstery – Marcos
- Digital cluster – B3 Tuning
- Body/paint – Sakura Garage (in AZ)
June 2020 – finally some movement on the engine.
July 2020 – interior done.
When things started to slow down.
September 2020 – Besides the interior… everyone kept giving me small updates.
- RB25 had some parts on
- No updated since the body work on PL at Sakura Garage
- B3 Tuning ghosted me.
With everyone being so slow, I was planning on going to AZ for a week and LA for a week to get the projects in full gear… then the WORST THING HAPPENED.
October 1st, 2020 I get a call everyone hates. My mom crying hysterically and said my dad had drowned fishing, which is almost impossible for me to comprehend. I stayed in WA for 3 weeks, taking care of my dad’s affairs and his burial.
At this time, I told everyone, take it easy as I won’t be coming to their places for a bit. 2020 Holidays were also the worst because, I would be spending them in WA without my father for the first time.
Pandemic was still strong and in full gear. I got sick during the holidays with COVID19 and worse, got my family sick too. So no travel at that point.
February 2021 – Stopped by the SR20store and my engine hasn’t been touched in months. That was the direct quote from Marco to Roger V who asked him why things haven’t changed. At this time, Hung said to grab everything and bring it to his place (in hindsight, I wish I did).
March 2021 – I went to Arizona to work on my car. Guess what, nothing was touched since July 2020. I got the engine bay prepped.
May 2021 – Went to Arizona to get the car moving. The biggest hurdle in my eyes was the hood. Which I was happy to see get done.
June 2021 – Trip to LA. I stopped by the SR20store and attempted to work on my rb25det. Come to find out that I didn’t have many of nuts and bolts for a few things. I kept asking Marco to do an inventory so I can order stuff right away and he wouldn’t be waiting around.
August 2021 – Around this time I kept asking Sakura Garage for my car to be painted. I got the assurance of its getting done, but I had to give a deadline. Marco wanted the car to drop the motor in.
October 2021 – I would be up in WA for my father’s death anniversary and working on my convertible. Marco was asking for an update on the car kept telling me “engine will only take 2-3 days to drop in”.
For 2 weekends straight, Sakura Garage kept saying they will bring the car to Hung’s place. One weekend was they didn’t have the trailer registered. Second weekend was Xterra was overheating (but didn’t tell anyone).
I thought it would be complete, but I was duped again. So many parts were missing and the hood wasn’t on the car. Paint job was rushed and clear coat drips everywhere. But it was back in LA.
I called up Marco and then he said he couldn’t take my car because of 2 big projects. I asked how long and he said 2-3 months. I was frustrated, but Hung said the car can stay at his place as long as we get parts for it (suspension).
December of 2021 – I moved into my house and started to try and get Project Leopard together. Marco kept asking me about some fittings and said he is going on vacation, doesn’t know when my car come back to the SR20store.
Again, like the nuts and bolts, a lot of small stuff needed to be ordered, but I didn’t know what until Marco would tell me. An example was the water inlet pipe… I couldn’t find one, but Boost Doc had their upgrade and I am glad I went with that. Marco installed it and that was it.
I decided to go to LA and get some stuff done. Hung had replaced most of the suspension pieces. Found out that my inner tie rods were too short. Edrik and Hung also swapped out my coil overs. I was planning on stopping by the SR20store, but Marco said his family has covid19, so he is closed.
Hung said he was moving at the end of March and to ask the SR20store what is the status on taking the car. Again Marco said 2-3 months.
Hung was moving and he couldn’t get my car to move. Ozzy had offered to tow my car to Sid’s house, which he did. I flew down on a whim, but I also had a lot of stuff to bring back up (when Sakura Garage brought the car back, i thought it was gonna be complete and I was going to put the car together.
I came back down to LA and decided to see how far my engine was. It was finally looking like an engine. During our texts, I noticed Marco not using the LS V8 alternator bracket, so when I stopped by the SR20store, I installed the newer bracket and alternator. I just wanted to feel the engine was having progress.
This is when I straight up asked if Marco still wanted to work on my car. This is how our conversation went:
“Marco, Do you still want to work on my motor? If not, just tell me and I’ll get this out of here. If you don’t want to keep working on it, I’m fine with that. Just tell me what you want me to do. Reference me to anyone.”“Roger, I promise you, I will help you. I just don’t want to stress over cars.”“Marco, I have never given you a hard time or pressured you. I’m not trying to give you grief or stress.”“I know, you are good. I just don’t want your car sitting here for months.” – Marco“Anytime you ask for something, I don’t mind paying for it, but some of the stuff that I can’t get, I only know about alternatives (such as – AN fittings). But I am a nobody in the car scene. I don’t have resources like you.” – Me“Give me 2 weeks, I am waiting for the Syko Engine mounts. They are 3-4 weeks out. I will go to Guatemala for 3 weeks.” – Marco
The last text said he was going to be gone for 3 weeks. I contacted him after he arrived back and I asked one last time:
“Marco, my cousin can’t hold my car anymore. Can you please take my car”. Marco, “No”.
That “No” was my breaking point. I wanted my engine done and my car there to swap it in. At that point, I started to ask around for other tuners. I was recommended a few and messaged a few, but Jason from Rival Autoworks said he would help me and I can determine how much involvement I wanted from him. My biggest thing is checking the engine and getting all the necessary fittings. Marco as been asking me about fittings and I’m not an engine builder with resources. My resources are online searches.
Finally, I decided I can’t be patient anymore. 2.5 years of waiting and this slow progress and constant delay of my car, while other cars/projects come and go out the shop.
While I love and respect my builder, never gave him a hard time and always paid when asked for money, It was time to move forward. I don’t and didn’t want this car to take a few years to complete, especially when I have the budget for it and anything I need I am willing to to buy right away.
Project Leopard is my priority and I constantly think about it. So you have to understand at some level, I felt I was being disrespect. I value people’s effort and time… and I expect the same in return. That was the last straw. I decided to contact anyone that would listen and give them the situation. I talked to a few shops and while the text messages seem positive, only one person was solid enough to talk over the phone and be real about it.
Saturday morning: I contacted Hung, Roger V and Ozzy. We all went to the SR20store and I went to my builder and respectfully told him I need to get my car going and I have no option but to get everything. He started to bring out everything. Roger V, Hung and myself pushed the engine to my van and pretty much slid it in. Then we started to load up the rest of the parts.
It was the end of a chapter. The last 2.5 yrs I’ve been plagued with constantly wondering when my car was going to be done.
Going back to the issues mentioned in the beginning. Let’s address them.
RB25det wasn’t complete
I don’t understand why I couldn’t get my engine done. I felt he would work on it sporadically. I kept getting parts and they just piled up at his shop. I would later find that some of my parts, he either kept or lost.
Often times, there would be hang ups on things. He’d ask me to get discontinued fittings, but again, I don’t have resources nor am I an engine builder. When I couldn’t secure OEM parts, I was told alternatives and Marco would say, “let me look into it” and nothing would come from it. This went on for 8 months.
Jason found a few errors in the RB25det that maybe a normal person like me wouldn’t catch. Cams had no assembly lube. The Cam cap baffles were in wrong locations as well. This would interfer with the valve covers because they would hit the valve cover baffles and it wouldn’t seat correctly. I believe Marco probably told a worker to put the engine together rather than him.
Initially, Marco said he will order all the parts he needs and I said okay. Let me know (so I don’t double purchase or I might be able to get it cheaper). That was his job as the builder was to get all the stuff and I would be the one to pay.
WHEN IT CAME TO PAYING, I PAID RIGHT AWAY AND BECAUSE I DIDN’T WANT EXCUSES FOR A DELAY.
I still can’t understand why my engine couldn’t get completed. Again, I felt I was getting strung along with “I need this bolt” or “I need this fitting”. I asked for an inventory and anything I needed to get so he doesn’t have to wait. He had a lot of parts and obviously TIME. He kept saying, “engine only takes 2-3 days to complete” and well, I had 2.5 years.
Bringing my car back to the SR20store
I really think this was my breaking point. Besides the false assurances of “give me xxx months/days”, the “No” followed by “I don’t know when” was super annoying.
When my car was in AZ and it was taking more than 6 months, I feel this is where he lost interest and everything was put on the back burner. While he didn’t need my car to complete the engine, I just felt that he stopped focusing on my engine because the car wasn’t there… out of sight, out of mind.
When the car did get back to LA, it felt like he had moved on from my project. What I don’t get was in May 2022, I asked him directly if he still wanted to continue the build and if he DIDN’T, that was okay, recommend me to someone so I can complete it.
My car sat at Hung’s house and then my cousin’s house for an about a year. Just waiting to get the okay.
While COVID19 was an issue initially, everyone slowed down and I get it. But I NEVER had an issue with most of my parts. Only 1 part from Australia (alternator bracket) was stuck for a few months. But everything I needed was there. And my upgrades happened because Marco was slacking on finishing the engine.
As you can see on my time line, I went to LA multiple times and even Arizona twice. So during the 2021-2022 years, it wasn’t an issue.
Commitment and Priority
What I think people don’t understand, including the partners in this project, was that this was my priority. This car and engine was their low priority and honestly, after the commitments we made, I felt that they disregarded their end of the bargain. This is evident by their willingness to take my money, but not finish up their end of the work. When people asked for money, I paid for it within a day. I didn’t want any delays and I NEVER told anyone to stop the project because I didn’t have money.
When we started the project, Marco would tell me “here is my list of items I am going to order”. I told him I trust him since he is an engine builder. He also had resources and auto parts accounts discounts.
At some point, he would ask me to get stuff. At first it was fine, but then it became like everything little thing. I went a long with it because if I didn’t it would look like I didn’t want to spend money. I also did it because I wanted NO delays in the engine build.
My original narrative was to revive Project Leopard with the original builder and his partners (Phase2 Motortrend and Syko Performance). I also wanted to build Project Leopard with JDM parts and OG companies/parts to be not only era correct, but to be a tribute to them. The other half was putting my perspective on Project Leopard was to revive THE M30 and take it a step further. I was suppose to have a lot of m30 owners help me on many of the stuff for this car, that included paint.
I thought if I did everything proper, like pay quickly, be transparent, get parts, be respectful, communicate but not annoy people, and handle things in a professional manner, I could get things done properly and in a timely manner. The disappointment that I feel and I just can’t explain.
I always kept it professional. He asked for payment, I paid right away, no excuses or delays. I never complained or annoying in my communication with him. I always had respect for him (and what he has accomplished in the car scene), so I gave him that space. He told me that he wanted to retire in a couple years and when I asked him if he wanted to complete the car, he said yes. I don’t know why I was put on the back burner. When he took on the big projects, I patiently waited for those 2 cars to get done. Even when he had those cars done, he still wouldn’t take my car and finish the engine. I just had to move on. I didn’t want him to keep stringing me along, retire and leave me hanging.
Conclusion: Do I hate Marco/SR20STORE. I don’t hate him. I just wish he would have put more effort into my project. I felt a huge part of it was the car took too long in Arizona and I should have given a strict deadline. I felt Marco wasn’t motivated on my engine and just decided to take his time and give it low priority. Why he kept stringing me a long with false hope? I don’t know and I don’t want to ask. His actions showed me he wasn’t putting effort to get my engine done and NO effort to bring my car back to his shop. I still don’t get why he gave me false hope when I asked him directly about finishing the project. I was patient and good for 2.5 years and I felt that was ample time to finish up the engine.