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Meeting the need for speed

Victoria's Zensport helps create cars with added oomph

For as long as men and women have been climbing into cars, there have been men and women wanting to go fast.

Chris McCrimmon knows that feeling only too well.

A rally driver in his early 20s, McCrimmon moulded that need for speed into a business that both added oomph to the ordinary car and pepped up the performance automobile.

And in three and a half years the 28-year-old's business, Zensport, has never been better -- having more than tripled in size and now bursting at the seams at its Crease Avenue location in Saanich.

"It's been kind of crazy," said McCrimmon during a quick tour of his shop, noting they are now seeing anywhere between 70 and 80 cars each month looking for upgrades, from the slightest adjustments to major overhauls and rebuilds. The firm could reach $500,000 in sales this year, he predicts.

"I always knew there was a market for this, I wanted to provide a better service than what was available for Victoria," he said, noting for years the alternative for performance after-market work was to travel to the Lower Mainland.

Now Zensport is bombarded with clients wanting everything from $200 tune-ups to $30,000 "projects" and the shop will see cars ranging from the economical Toyota Yaris to the anything-but Porsche 911.

The company provides electronic tuning, engine and suspension upgrades, prototyping and custom fabrication, to say nothing of the 30 per cent of the business focusing on parts, racewear and accessories.

For some clients it's about speed, performance and getting everything possible from their cars, while for others it's just about knowing that power is sitting there below their feet.

"Our market is typically the 18-65 year-old male that wants to make the car fast. For some guys they just want to know it's there, some race their cars and for others it's a bit of a contest," he said, noting it is not an all-male club, as just under five per cent of their clientele is female.

A lot of the work is on race cars or in transforming vehicles into race cars.

"We can take a stock '93 Honda, one of the most boring cars you could find, and all of a sudden it's a good-looking car done the way you want with performance on par with something that might cost you $100,000," he said.

But McCrimmon bristles at the suggestion this kind of work leads to street racing, a phenomenon that in recent years has grabbed headlines for the carnage left in its wake.

"Generally our clients are not the problem on the road, we steer most of our guys to the racetrack," he said, adding when they first opened in 2005 they started sponsoring events at Western Speedway and brought a lot of the young guys out to the track. "Those are young guys who now no longer go out and drive like idiots."

McCrimmon himself still drives fast -- his passion for speed and cars was handed down from his father and grandfather -- though he said it's always on a track and not the road, and he expects to be driving a stock car later this year.

"I love it, and I get to [work] with it all day long," he said, noting he got his start tinkering on cars in his father's garage.

But his career, born of a need to find a few extra horsepower from his car's engine and one that now seems to be hitting its stride, was nearly cut short less than a year into it.

"The first year was all right, it could have been better," he said, noting the work was sometimes slow. No one could ever have prepared him for just how tough it would be and how many hours he was going to have to commit to the job, McCrimmon said.

"I found myself wondering if I even wanted to do this anymore," he said, noting the first day he came back to work in 2006 changed his mind and turned the business around. "Jan. 3, 2006, I came in and there was a lineup of people and it just snowballed from there."

Word of mouth, and probably a few automotive stocking stuffers conspired to pump up the business and eventually forced Zensport to relocate to its present larger location on Crease Avenue.

Now the staff of five is worked steadily and there always seems to be cars lining the driveway to the shop.

"I think we're at a pretty good level of business now, we're getting to the point where we can pick and choose the jobs we want to do," said McCrimmon, noting they are taking on larger projects and higher-end work.

aduffy@tc.canwest.com