Pinhead Fabrication Sheds Some Light On United Pacific Industries

A few weeks ago Street Muscle Magazine had the opportunity to help out our Rod Authority brethren for a story on United Pacific Industries (UPI). Our assignment took us on a trip to Pinhead Fabrication in Signal Hill, California, to get an inside look at some products they are using from UPI as well as what they have going on at the shop.

We spoke with owners, Jake Encinas and Eric Ledesma, about some of their ongoing projects, and found out there are many things that would interest our readers as well. We were also lucky enough to meet a few of their happy customers and check out their bitchin’ rides — we gotta say, we were very impressed. But first, a little background on Pinhead for those not familiar.

Jake and Eric are two young guys (30 and 29) in an industry long dominated by the older generation, but like many of those before them, they had a passion for cars at a young age (Jake was even on the hit TV show Overhaulin’ with Chip Foose, on 3 separate occasions as a high-schooler). The two first met as students at Wyotech in Sacramento, California – learning the basics of automotive mechanics, high-performance engines, and chassis fabrication. While there, they became fast friends and dreamt of one day owning their own shop.

United Pacific Industries manufactures grilles. This one is much like the Dan Finke grilles that Pinhead Fabrication is known for handcrafting.

After graduation, both found success in the industry and began making a name for themselves. Eric decided to leave his home in Tucson for SoCal to pursue his dream of having a career in the hot rod industry. Jake and his family helped him land a job at Custom Rod Garage and California Street Rods, where he gained a vast amount of knowledge from leading professionals Mark Oja and Chuck Lambardo Jr. Meanwhile, Jake was learning the art of grille fabrication under the tutelage of David Schuck at Dan Fink Metalworks. Over the years, grilles made by Dan Fink have adorned the nose of countless award-winning show cars across the nation.

In 2010, Jake learned the grille side of the business was up for sale, so he knew there was a golden opportunity. With the support of his father, Kirk, the two made the purchase and opened Dan Fink Grilles carrying on the tradition of custom grille making. In November 2011, with the grille company settled in, Jake saw the opportunity for their Wyotech dreams to be realized, so he approached Eric with the idea. The doors to Pinhead Fabrication were flung open later that month, and the two have been making magic out of metal ever since.

Just a few of the showcase products from UPI that Jake and Eric let us check out when we stopped by.

So, that brings us back to our visit. Born out of the trucking industry, UPI also supplies Pinhead Fab (and countless others) with all sorts of lighting, body components, accessories, and hardware for both hot rods and muscle cars. They even manufacture entire ’32 Ford Coupe bodies (you can pre-order the truck body as well)! Though, we were there to shoot one of UPI’s more popular products – a new ‘32 Ford grille – on a car they were building, we found a lot more we liked in the shop to share with our readers.

“UPI is a great company to work with – we try to use their products as much as we can on everything we do,” Jake says. “Like on this car we’re currently building, we’ve got their ’32 Ford grille on there. We actually manufacture Dan Fink Grilles, which are well known in the industry – so, we can see they’ve done a great job on theirs. They’ve really broken into the hot rod market with their lighting and hard parts, and they’re doing a fantastic job of being innovative and producing new products for hot rodders.”

The sequential, LED taillights install just like stock '69 Camaro taillights.

Other products they showed us were headlights and taillights. Specifically, bullet and ’32 Ford style tail-lights that would look at home on almost any hot rod, or even a chopper. The 32 Ford taillights feature a stamped steel housing and real “stop” glass. See it all lit up in the pictures below.

This ’32 Ford stop lamp isn’t some hokey piece, made of plastic. That is real stamped steel and glass.


Jake and Eric were kind enough to mock-up and throw power to the stop lamp for us. It definitely adds a little extra flair over a plain Jane tallight.

As we continued our tour around the shop, we were excited to see the innovative muscle car products from UPI Jake happened to be installing that day. Among them were some very trick, sequential ’69 Camaro taillights. For those of you who don’t know what sequential taillights are, you can see them in action in the photos below. Much like early Ford Thunderbird, and Mercury Cougar taillights that light-up one after the other from the inside out when the turn signal is activated – almost pointing the way. Well, now your Camaro taillights can do the same thing. What makes them unique is they never actually came on a ’69 Camaro.

The sequential pattern of the UPI '69 Camaro taillight is oh' so satisfying!

We were lucky enough to be at the shop on a day when a few Pinhead Fabrication customers were visiting. We caught up with Cameron Welther and his gorgeous aquamarine AMX. We were excited to get an inside look at the car because it’s not your average run-of-the-mill ’69 AMX. It has some unique features and equipment you don’t normally find on this type of car.

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill ’69 AMX. The boys at Pinhead Fab transformed this derelict pony car into a sweet set of wheels. Cameron and his father regularly run the car on the racetrack.

Cameron was kind enough to give us a bit of a run down on his ride, “Basically, when I was 15, me and my father were looking for a project car to build and we found this AMX rotting away in some guy’s front yard – we pulled it out, and after three years of Jake and his crew holding it hostage, we have what you see here today.” He said, jokingly. Well, you can’t rush perfection – as they say.

The AMX sports a 390 packing a hotter cam and some aluminum heads. It also sits atop custom 3-piece CCW wheels, Toyo R888 tires, and a Wilwood 4-piston brake setup tucked behind them. The interior was also treated to custom touches with Pinhead Fab replacing the original Bakelite dash and gauges with an aluminum dash and SpeedHut instruments. Recaro seats hold Cameron and his old man in place while they’re on the track, and a half-cage takes up the back seat just in case things go awry.

You can view the entire interview we did with Cameron here.

Custom sequential taillights take the AMX to another level! Sequential LED taillights aren't an off-the-shelf item for this car, so Jake opened up the stock taillights and retrofit them with LED light bars from UPI. Just one more thing that makes this AMX unique.

Cameron’s AMX featured a slew of UPI products that were installed at Pinhead Fab. Starting at the rear of the car, Jake custom made some sequential taillights for the AMX. As many of you know, the AMX didn’t come with sequential units, much less LED taillights. Even UPI doesn’t make an off-the-shelf option for the AMX, so Jake hand crafted them for this specific car. He had to open up the stock taillight housings and install the UPI LED light bars pictured above. 

Up front, the AMX features UPI headlights, and running-lights tucked behind the grille. The headlights really make Cameron’s AMX stand out with their individually sectioned LED bulbs – it gives it a futuristic look. Interestingly enough, Pinhead Fab sourced the lights from UPI’s semi truck catalog.

With a combination of intricate details and a striking appearance, Cameron's AMX is a stand out in the muscle car crowd. It would have been too easy to simply return the AMX to it's factory appearance – for a young guy like Cameron, this car is perfect. It not only fits his personality, but it makes you rethink what you thought you knew about the AMX.

Another car that caught our eye was Mike Cuthbertson’s 68 Camaro, and like most things that come out of the Pinhead Fabrication shop, this was no ordinary F-body.

When Mike’s car first arrived at Pinhead Fab, it was a fully painted, stock-bodied, first-gen Camaro. “We were going to just do the mini-tubs, subframe connectors, and a cage, but, I wanted something that was different and unique,” Mike tells us. “So, we decided to widebody the car.” Because of the extensive modifications that affect the profile of the car, including a widened body, huge rubber, carbon fiber hood, fenders, and deck lid, Mike has nicknamed his Camaro, “Phat ’68.”

This 7-inch LED headlight from United Pacific Industries is a vast improvement over the halogen headlights that Mike previously had in his Camaro! Not just in the looks department, but in performance as well.

Jake had no problem swapping out the tired, old headlights for the new units from UPI. To do one side took a total of 5 minutes – if that. He began by removing the headlight trim with a Philips head screwdriver which allowed him to pop out the old headlight from it's bucket. He then disconnected the factory pigtail connector, plugged it into the new one, aligned it, and replaced the trim. Just like that – a 10-minute job totally transformed the look of Mike's Camaro.

The Phat ’68 has been fit atop a Speedtech Extreme subframe for superior handling, allowing it to accommodate the 335/30R18 tires at all 4 corners. Suffice to say, Mike likes to go around a turn or two. In fact, Mike just recently competed in an Ultimate Street Car Association(USCA) event at Autoclub Speedway, where he placed 6th overall. In order to fit those monster wheels and tires that helped get him there, the guys at Pinhead Fab widened the rear fenders by 2.5 inches using stock rear quarter skins. The carbon fiber front fenders are 1.5 inches wider than stock – custom made by JCG customs.

Mike’s Camaro was originally built to be featured by TMI at SEMA 2016 for its custom interior. He admitted to us that he is somewhat of a “boring color guy,” but a buddy of his convinced him to go against the grain with the color of his interior, adopting a vintage Volkswagen color called Brick Red. Couple that with the striking, Gloss Intense Blue vinyl wrap, and the Phat ’68 is old-school muscle wrapped in new-school style. No pun intended.

In this shot, you can really see how the LED headlight (left) brought some new life to the front end of the ’68. The old halogen bulbs (right) were aftermarket, and for their time were probably pretty slick, but the other modifications to Mike’s car warranted something fresh. The LED units were perfect.

Luckily for us, Mike wasn’t just there to hang out – he was having some new headlights installed. His old halogen-style headlights really detracted from the look of his car. With all of the body modifications and exaggerated silhouette, Mike’s Camaro deserved something from a more modern era – the LED headlights from UPI were just the trick.

The wide body, carbon hood and splitter, dramatic stance, custom interior, and extremely wide tires all begged for newer style headlights. The oxidized halogen bulbs (right) were outdated, seemed out of place, and just didn’t work as well.

With those huge chunks of rubber at all four corners, and a license plate that reads ‘Trak it,’ it’s no secret that Mike does his fair share of track time. Make no mistake about it though, this is still a street car, and adequate lighting is a concern. Hence the new headlights and trick LED taillights to match. Dig on the rear bumper-delete, quarter panel exit exhaust, and custom taillight bezels.

The Phat ’68 isn’t all looks, though. Under the hood is a mildly modified LS2 making about 500hp. The LS is fed by a Rick’s Tanks unit with dual pickups which allows Mike to take hard corners under low-fuel conditions. As for the suspension, the ’68 rides on Ridetech triple-adjustable coilovers, and it stops with the aid of a complete Wilwood brake system.

The reasoning behind the headlight swap wasn't simply cosmetic. The LED bulbs offer a brighter and more focused beam. Notice how the light shown on the left side is blown out and hazy, while the light on the right is more linear and clear. For nighttime driving, the LED headlights offer more visibility for the driver and other people on the road.

Mike tells us the widened profile of his Camaro inspired its nickname, and Instagram handle, “Phat68.” As in, Phat ass ’68. (His words, not ours.)

If you’d like to know more about the Phat ’68, you can watch the full interview with Mike here.

We had a great time at Pinhead Fabrication, and we can’t thank Jake and Eric enough for showing us what’s going on in their world. For two young guys making a big splash in the custom car biz, they’re extremely down-to-earth. We can’t wait to see what comes out of Pinhead Fab next – we’re sure it will be lit up by some United Pacific Industries products.

For your own inside look at what’s going on at both companies, here are links to the websites: Pinhead Fab and UPI.

About the author

Vinny Costa

Fast cars, motorcycles, and loud music are what get Vinny’s blood pumping. Catch him behind the wheel of his ’68 Firebird. Chances are, Black Sabbath will be playing in the background.
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