Small Cars, Big Spirit:</br> A Visit To GarageStar
The Local Spot

Today we live in a consumer world where it’s easy to feel like there’s no longer room for the little guy. Why go visit that little neighborhood shop when you can order whatever you want from a big website for a cheaper price and have it delivered right to your door? It’s a reality that’s spread into every area of consumer life, including our beloved automotive hobby.


While I think we all enjoy the benefits of a constantly connected world and the ability to have anything we need sent to us with a few clicks or finger swipes, it’s not hard to feel like something is missing.


I know many of the older guys fondly look back on the days when the local speed shop was the place to talk cars and see the latest parts. It seems kind of old fashioned by today’s standards.


But the truth is that while technology has greatly changed the way we acquire parts and exchange advice, today’s highly specialized communication tools have allowed an entirely new enthusiast market to spring up. Rather than big operations trying to take over everything, we’ve seen smaller, niche shops step up and embrace individual corners of the aftermarket with great success.


One of these shops is GarageStar, located in Sacramento, California. I’d run into the shop’s founder, Kenjo Raif, at a few events here in California, and last month when I was in town for Autorama, I made time to stop by and check out his small, but very interesting operation.


GarageStar has been around since 2005, and in the decade since, the brand has become quite well known among owners of the Mazda Miata – the car which the shop specializes in.


There’s no shortage of Miata aftermarket companies in the US, but rather than trying to do their own take on some of the most common upgrades for the model, GarageStar has made a name for itself by producing smaller, more specialized parts for the Miata market.


Essentially, Kenjo’s shop focuses on unique products which can be produced with the small scale operation he runs.


So while you won’t see GarageStar manufacturing coilovers or exhaust systems, you will find them making  little parts like Miata fender braces, hard top mounts, pulley kits, radiator cooling panels and their most popular product – license plate brackets.


These things might not like sound like much, but the Miata community is so big that there’s a sizable market for boutique parts like these. In fact, GarageStar not only sells its own products, it has vendors across the United States and as far afield as Germany and Australia.

The Love Of Roadster

With business growing Kenjo relocated GarageStar to larger facility in Sacramento, and while it’s not yet a full-fledged shop that does work on customer cars, several modified Miatas can be found in the garage at any given time.


Some of the cars belong to the shop itself, while others are owned by Kenjo’s local buddies who use the shop as a place to work on cars during their off time. This stripped-out and caged-up NA is used primarily for competition in the Roadster Cup.


While the younger generation of Miata owners have taken some heat from the old guard for focusing too much on aesthetics over performance, that’s not the case here.


Kenjo and his buddies like track days just as much as stylish street cars, and the cool things is that the brand’s parts have appeal that extends to both the function and form camps.


Sitting in one corner of this shop was this recently acquired NB – a rare base model car that just happened to be equipped with the highly desirable Torsen LSD.


It was nice enough to pass for a brand new car, and as you can see it’s already been fitted with a couple upgrades like a set of 14-inch Enkei RPF1s and a pair of GarageStar’s rocker stripe decals.


In another corner of the shop was this NA in the midst of a tear-down. What could be going on here?


It still retains its factory Miata motor for now, but it will soon be replaced with a Nissan SR20DET setup. SR Miata? I might have to come back for another look once this thing’s done.

Room For Expansion?

One of the more recent additions to the GarageStar fleet is this NC MX-5 Club model, which Kenjo picked up as a development car and daily commuter.


And in his world ‘daily commuter’ also means weekend track car, as this thing can be found running in most of the West Coast Roadster Cup events – as I saw first-hand last weekend at Buttonwillow.


When I stopped by the shop it was late on a Satuday afternoon, and at first glance it seemed like there was a car meet going on outside. Turns out it wasn’t a meet, just a relaxed hang-out session with some of the shop’s friends and local NorCal customers. It’s something that happens quite regularly I’m told.


While GarageStar is know primarily for Miatas, don’t think Kenjo and company’s tastes are limited to Mazda’s little roadster. Also present at this little gathering was this stunning FD3S.


With a set of rare Mazdaspeed wheels, correct aero parts and of course that yellow paint, the RX-7 felt like it was lifted straight out of the pages of the Initial D manga. Very cool.


Aside from Mazdas, Kenjo also has a soft spot for the AE86. In fact, he recently purchased back a Corolla GT-S that he used to own in the early 2000s.


Will GarageStar start making 86 parts now? Based on Kenjo’s excitement for the old Toyotas, I wouldn’t discount that possibility. A few of his friends also drive AE86s, including the BEAMS 3S-GE swapped car seen here.


I’ve always loved Miatas and I have no doubt that I’ll own another one at some point, but regardless of my personal tastes I think there’s something very inspiring about what Kenjo has achieved with GarageStar.


The whole thing actually feels less like a business and more like a social club for Miata owners who like hitting the track on weekends and spending their evenings hanging out, wrenching, and talking cars.


The days of the one-stop local speed shop might be behind us, but if those spots will be replaced by grassroots, passion-driven operations like GarageStar, I think we can be very excited about the future of our hobby.

Mike Garrett
Instagram: speedhunters_mike



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I have to visit this place soon looks like a awesome hangout spot!!!


Could someone please tell me what wheels are on that Miata in the very first picture?
Great post by the way - I'll have to check this place out next time I take a trip to California

turbo BEAMS ae86

Hey, love those custom gauge cluster

Nice beams AE86 to...  :P


Kenjo has got to be one of the most down to earth, shop owners I know. He's always strived to take care of his customers and provide quality stuff!


Yes! Very pleased to see Garagestar on here, great company and great guy, I run quite a few of his parts :)


Great company. Can't wait to purchase some parts for my NB!


It's great to see GarageStar on Speedhunters! Great feature!


If it wasn't for the help of Gabe from Techno Toy Tuning, Garage Star would not be where it's at. I don't think Kenjo will expand to making AE86 parts because he would be stepping on T3's toes.


Those are BBS RMs.


I've been following Garage Star's progress as of the past couple years and more than a few of his products are blatant ripoffs.  The frame rails, tophats, fender braces, etc.  All copies of other companies such as Flyin Miata & Boss Frog.

Is this really $60 for 2 washers and 2 bolts?

Not to mention this $140 "center console delete" which is literally just a piece of carpet.

I actually know a few racers from Northern California who used to be "sponsored" by Garage Star and every single one has backed out.


GarageStar is very popular in the Miata community. I see they parts on lots of vehicles. But I have done issues with what I have seen.
They need to stay grassroots is correct. If they get bigger:
People will realize most of their products are knock off from items from Japan. fender brace for exmple. Look up Nagisa auto. Sure looks formiliar.
So staying small is a great stratagy to say under the radar as a knock off company.
Hell.. Rota started as a knock off company and they are now people thing volks are knock offs of rota's. So what's says this company can't do the same.
Oh and usually discounted parts from this company or "give away items" have some defects. Way for bringing a great product.
Just my 2 cents.


@bobo cool go make your own parts for less lol good luck


blockingoutthehaters I can get carpet at the junkyard, or almost anywhere. For far less than that.


If you think that their stuff is expensive, then look up pretty much any jdm miata company (Nakamae is a good example), their stuff is insanely priced and thats not even with shipping included.
Realistically there's only so many parts you can make for model specific cars, so eventually stuff is going to look similar to other companies. Garagestar puts their own spin on them while ensuring that it's a quality products. I know everyone there and they are super cool guys who also have alot of talent on the track. Sucks i was never able to visit their new shop. Great read.


Option13 blockingoutthehaters You do realise that you can say the same about the materials for basically any car part right? 
I have made my own carpet centre console, and it was a lot cheaper than $140, but it also involved searching for the right carpet, driving a couple of towns over to purchase the carpet, making a few mockups in paper to get the design and size right, cutting it out, driving back to the carpet place to drop it off to get the edges trimmed, driving back again to pick it up. Sewing in the velcro tabs by hand.

Some people are willing to do that, some are willing to pay extra for the convenience of having the part delivered to their door and ready to fit.


@bobo HAHA $60 for allen bolts and washers = straight rape! The Carpet I can kinda understand but maybe for lets say $100. Anyways remember the USA is a free market enterprise so we as the buyers have the choice to say nay or yay.


Yep that is expensive, overly so. At the same time, some of their parts look downright inexpensive to me. Every reseller/manufacturer goes through is. Try making, outsourcing, etc your own stuff. It's not easy by any means, though everyone seems to think it is.


Did you ever think that perhaps Nagisa makes the fender braces for GS? And perhaps other parts too? Outsourcing is common in the auto industry - because no one, not a single company, makes every part they put into a car. They can't because no one is equipped to do so. Otherwise, a WRX would be a $75000 car.
Who takes people seriously who consider volks knockoffs of rota? Catering to the lowest common denominator is useless in business.
What most fail to understand is many of these companies in Japan that are so revered here are small,garage oriented places. People envision them all to be HKS, or look like you're going into an Amazon warehouse. They are the same as the shop your buddy owns that can swap a. Used part in for you from a parts car while you wait and sip a beer, where the dealer would make you drop the car off and pick up the next day arranging your owntransportation in the meantime. These small shops also happen to offer a few parts as well - some their own, some outsourced, some a version of an existing part for the same car by a different maker, and some their own version of a different part for a different car. There is room for all of it


I will drive my Miata from NC to sacramento to visit one day


I need to make the drive from Los Angeles to there just to check the place out man it looks like a cool group of guys work there and love their car just as much as i do


RonWalker That's for sure.


Is it called garagestar because of the 7 star leaf team from Initial D which ran an NA?


I usually buy these products for your vehicle at GarageStar

Quentin Jones

Read a few negative comments here so I'm chipping in.  I am in Australia and have ordered Mx-5 goodies from GarageStar. Great quality and service! Also Kenjo supports the Mx-5 community which makes this business a preferred supplier for me. I am planning on ordering from GarageStar again in the future.


the car was very good 
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