“I have always had a true appreciation and much respect for the truly ‘one-off’ builds. Being able to show your passion, style, confidence, and pride in something that you can call your very own is truly an accomplishment,” says Dina Sakai, owner of this custom Ferrari Red S2000. “When others recognize and like what they see—it’s a feeling that no one can take away.”
It would be very easy for us to steer this story in a more typical fashion where we tell you about how a female built this Honda and how special that aspect is. We could then toss out some oft-used clichés about girls and cars, leaving you with a lack of an understanding behind why this S2000 looks this way and why Dina chose this particular direction—but we won’t. Her passion and love of cars exceeds any generic gender stereotypes. By the end of this, you’ll have a better grasp of why this AP1 is special to us and see just how “one-off” it really is.
“My love for cars started back in my younger years at my grandfather’s auto body shop in San Francisco,” Sakai reminisces. “The scent of epoxy and Bondo always stuck with me. My hands and nails were constantly filled with who knows what. My face often had grease on it, and I just had cuts as well as bruises all over—my tomboy phase really got the best of me. I wanted to show that I could not only be one of the guys, but could hang on my own. When I got home I had to remember to be a lady and have manners while honing my craft in the kitchen. Cars have always been a hobby of mine, but I was, and still remain, very traditional.”
Dina’s dedication to cars certainly paid off, as she’d become well known for her car, a VIP-themed ’91 Lexus LS400. Her project became her identity, her baby, and what she considers her “first love.” She would often switch up the look of her Lexus by swapping wheels and aero. Sakai (Iwamura at that time) became so recognized that she was asked and graciously took the role as a guest judge for Hot Import Nights during its heyday. Life and her career as a commercial banker began to take precedence as she grew up, and after 15 years, she decided reluctantly to sell the car and move on.
Moving on often means taking a break, then finding your way back to the world of automotive customization. Dina credits her relationship and eventual marriage to her husband, Chris Sakai, as her motivation to return to her hobby: “Chris was my inspiration for this build. Like me, he was very passionate about his Honda, and I really admired his ambition and desire. He made me want to start another build. After we both joined the ATS Garage family, I knew my next project would be a Honda.” Chris, if you aren’t familiar, is better known as the founder of EK Squad and owner of the ’97 Civic that graced the cover of our 2010 Winter Issue. ATS Garage is, of course, one of the premier Honda car clubs in Northern California, so it was inevitable that Dina would find herself behind the wheel of a Honda. The first step was finding one up to par with her standards.
In 2007, after months of searching, Dina and Chris stumbled upon a red S2000 owned by one Trever Luteman, or as he’s known on the forums, “silentdancer.” Located in Southern California, the car had been upgraded with quality parts, but Dina had reservations about the color. Chris was a fan of the color and convincing enough for them to purchase a pair of one-way tickets to SoCal.
The holidays served as a catalyst for both Chris and Dina’s Honda builds. They say that money doesn’t buy happiness, but you would think otherwise if you had a gift exchange like the Sakai’s. “Christmas time was literally taken to the next level,” Dina remembers. “Chris and I would just buy car parts for one another as gifts. I bought for his Civic, and he bought for my S2K—it was unreal. Both of our cars went through a number of transformations until I made the choice one day to totally change the look of my car. I had my eyes on a complete J’s Racing Type S aero kit, so I put aside a chunk of money and thought of the kit as an investment. This time around, Chris was iffy on the idea, but I had my mind set on it.”
Once the J’s Version 1 aero came in, Sakai delivered it to Sunny Wong from 515 Auto Body and trusted him with the creative process. Sunny added his own custom touch to the kit by molding the bumper extensions to the J’s Racing front bumper. The aggressive look of the aero led to Dina’s decision to run equally as aggressive wheels. She managed to find a used set of staggered 18-inch Volk CE28s that would never fit a stock bodied S2K, so Sunny was asked to massage the chassis to clear the large rollers. The result is a completely custom, hand-shaped rear quarter panel that flows seamlessly with the stock body lines of the AP1. Although the original red wasn’t the color of choice for Dina, the sultry hue eventually grew on her and the entire body was resprayed in a similar Ferrari Red.
J’s Racing armor might indicate this S2000’s intentions of being a race car, but you won’t find any extensive power-adders under the carbon hood. Her reasoning behind that is due to the fact that this S2000 is daily driven and remaining relatively street legal was the goal. Its daily duties are also a key reason why Dina opted to go with an AirREX air suspension system. Japanese-made J’s aero isn’t exactly cheap or easy to come by, so the air ride offers height adjustability at the touch of a button. An AccuAir E-Level unit also assists the suspension with electronically preset ride heights.
“I’m happy with where my build is at, and I feel that it is truly one of a kind. I look back on these past five years, and there has just been so much support from everyone. I am honored to have such good friends and family. Chris has been there to help me the entire time—I guess being married to the founder of EK Squad has its perks.” Dina says lightheartedly. “Fred Chapman and the rest of the ATS family have always been there to lend a hand whenever I’ve needed anything, and for that, I’m grateful. This is a hobby that I’ve always loved, and the support of the people around me makes this build that much more meaningful.”