The Real Deal

An In-Depth Chat With Custom Fabricator and Mechanic, Renata Carmen


We are honored to sit "In the Garage" with Renata Carmen and knock out some serious gearhead talk.  This girl has amazing skills in fabrication, restoration and performance work.  She's has training from UTI, has been a pit crew member on several race teams, is accredited with a laundry list of certifications -- and cleans up very nicely.


Buckle in for our interview with Renata.


Name: Renata Carmen

Age: 30

Location: SoCal Native, Currently in Southwest Vermont

Instagram: @renata_carmen



How did you first get into cars?

I am the oldest of three girls, and my dad is a gearhead. He would work on the family cars, and needed someone to hold the flashlight. I would watch him, entranced, and asked lots of questions. So the seed was planted early in childhood. As I grew up, I continued to be fascinated by knowing how things work and learning to do things myself – the kind of kid who would take the radio apart to see how it was put together. I was a tomboy and most of my friends were guys. Some of them started getting into cars in high school, which rekindled my interest.


When it was time to become an adult and find a vocation, I wound up going to Universal Technical Institute instead of a four year college. I couldn't picture doing anything else for the rest of my life that would continually interest and fulfill me. The corporate and university ladders just didn't appeal to me.


Tell us a little about your training. What was that like?

I happened to start at UTI in Rancho Cucamonga in 2006 – the first year the D1 was hosted in the US, and it was taking place right up the street from the school, at Irwindale Speedway. UTI opened all kinds of doors for me into the worlds of racing and restoration, and I had a crazy good time while I was there. It was an amazing experience, and I fell in love with not just cars and motor sports, but the culture, people, and communities that form around them. I was hooked, and have been ever since. Little did I suspect I would work on that track as part of a pit crew less than two years later! Funny how life works sometimes.



What was your first car?

My first special project car was a Crimson Red, 1991 Toyota MR2. I got into MR2's kind of by accident – I needed a car, and one happened to be for sale around the block from my house. I didn't know that much about these models at the time, I just knew I liked driving it. The '91 MR2 was in fairly good condition, but needed some suspension/brake work, and a head gasket replaced.


 I did all the work myself, including fabricating a custom EGR block off kit for it. Because I was pretty green, I was on the forums a lot, asking questions and attending meets. As a result, I would up becoming an MR2 and Pre-OBDII Japanese Car Specialist, and completely immersed in the classic Japanese car community. I made some awesome friends in the SoCal MR2 scene, and worked on over a dozen MR2's during that time. Having small hands and arms comes in quite handy while wrenching on those midship transaxles!


What’s your current car?

I sold my last MR2 in 2013. Moving from the city to the country made me realize I needed a 4x4 vehicle. I will have another MR2 again, but am very pleased with my two current projects – a White 1988 4Runner SR5, and Black, 1982 Celica Supra P-Type. Both are manual transmissions of course,and with excellent condition interiors.


The body on the truck is in good shape, but needs a little love. The Supra may have the best preserved body and interior I've ever seen on this year! Like all old  cars, they both need work, but I take great pleasure in the process of restoration.



What modifications (Or Restorations) are done to your car?

Both vehicles are stock. Okay, the 4Runner has NGK Blue spark plug wires. I'm in the process of dropping the fuel tank on the Supra for restoration, but haven't gotten to do much else to her, as I just got her this summer, and have been focusing on prepping the 4Runner for the rapidly approaching New England winter.

 The 4Runner has had just some basic maintenance done so far:

 - Replaced the shocks

 - Replaced the distributor, spark plugs and wires

 - Replaced the alternator

 - Overhauled the power steering system

 - Replaced the brake master cylinder

 - Replaced front rotors and pads

 - Repacked front bearings

 - Replaced front, lower ball joints

 - I'm sure I'm forgetting a couple little things . . .


What type of driving are you into?

I appreciate all forms of driving, but my favorite styles are: Car Control – Drifting, Gymkhana; and Dirt/Off-road Racing – Rally, Sprint Cars, Baja. I have very little professional driving experience under my belt. I plan to learn though, it looks like so much fun! My friend, Tiffany Susan, is a stunt and pro racing driver, so taking lessons from her in the near future is on my bucket list.


Tell us a little about your mechanical experience in the industry

I'm heavily influenced by my Pit Crew experience, and training in a Hot Rod shop that specialized in Frame-off Restorations of Classic American cars. We did Resto Mods there too. It was a small shop, and we all did everything. There were no “brake specialists” or anything like that. Oh sure, we all had our strengths and weaknesses, but the concept of fixing an entire car from the ground up seems totally normal to me after my years of shop and racing experience.


The obsession with detail, the creativity and problem solving, the old school fabrication and restoration techniques, the sheer will and determination that goes into completing a project as in depth as a frame-off, or as high stress as fixing a last minute issue on a race car – that all stuck with me, resonates with me to the core.


How does your professional experience play into your personal projects?

I am applying these techniques and philosophies to Classic Japanese Cars. I believe that Japanese cars are classics in their own right. But, because of the “throwaway” mentality applied to Japanese cars by most Americans, aside from cars like the obviously rare and covetous 2000GT, finding a stock, good condition Pre-OBDII Japanese car  is rather difficult. Nobody ever thought something like an 80's Corolla would be cool or valuable. This rules my philosophy as a mechanic and restorer. I am a bit obsessed with rescuing as many Classic Japanese Cars as I can, and either restoring them to stock, sometimes with mild mods, or modifying and racing the hell out of them if they are too beat up for a restoration.



What are your future plans, modifications, or events in you plan to do?

Plans for the 4Runner, “Brianne”:

− Suspension overhaul, considering a small lift

− Protective under spray

− Steering overhaul

− Brake line overhaul

− Replace the quarter panels and other rust body parts

− Replace the driver's side door, or repair and rehang

− Replace the few missing exterior and interior trim pieces

− Overhaul or replace the engine

− Overhaul coolant system

− Overhaul grounds and other wiring

− Overhaul exhaust system

− Replace the belt driven, plastic fan with an electric metal one

− Repair the sound system

− Replace the stock Sealed Beam headlights with a better quality and more modern bulb system

− Source or fabricate the stock spare tire carrier

− Once all body work is repaired, repaint and re-decal


Plans for the Celica Supra, “Kaizen”:

− Overhaul fuel system, including restoring the leaky fuel tank

− Overhaul/replace engine, considering either boring/stroking the engine stock one, and/or a turbo upgrade, or doing a 7M swap

− Overhaul brake system

− Overhaul suspension

− Repair any rust patches on body

− Repair sound system

− Touch up paint as necessary, again keeping the stock color


That's a huge project list. . . we're guessing it doesn't stop there?

I do plan on having cars that I customize and go mad scientist, “rat-rod” style on. In fact, for me, building a rat rod would be one of the ultimate projects, as it would allow me to utilize all my skills in one setting. The only things holding me back are having enough work space and equipment. Which I'm working on. If I have my way, I'll be like Jay Leno someday, and have a full and varied car collection. I'd make it into a museum so the public could appreciate them, too.


Besides restoring my Toyotas and dreaming big, I am also a freelance Journalist and Photographer. I have a "How-To" Series coming in the November issue of Auto Restorer Magazine, along with a couple other things in the works. As a journalist/writer/photographer, I plan to go anywhere something that interests me is happening. I have so many projects going on that I'm very excited and passionate about right now, both in and outside of the car world!


Any other last thoughts you can share with us?

No matter what I do, my ultimate aim is to inspire others to pursue their own dreams and overcome whatever challenges they may be facing.


Oh. . and check the website out to keep up on my many misadventures, and various forms of creative expression!



Experience/Education/Certs -

- Certificate of Automotive Technology: Universal Technical Institute

- ALLDATA C.A.I.S Cert (earned while attending UTI)

- Hands on training at College of the Canyons in Welding and Fabrication Technology, 2007 - 2010

- Cert of Completion of the California Rally Series Performance Rally School

- Pit Crew member with an emphasis on Tire Specialty and Suspension Tuning for multiple Rally, - - Time Attack, Drifting/Car Control, and Circle Track events

- Worked with HotRod Speed Works from 2007 to 2010

- Freelance Mechanic and Fabricator with a focus on Pre-OBDII Toyota, since 2007

- Freelance Journalist and Photographer, since 2001





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