Quietly tucked inside a compound in Bagumbayan, Quezon City is an automotive tuning shop that’s had legendary status since its inception in the mid-90s.
Sharing a large property and lot with a Starbucks, the new Autoplus Sports Center is a far cry from the massive facade of its old self. Until the fire of 2019 which brought down the old building, what used to be known as Autoplus Sportzentrium was every car nut’s window shopping haunt along EDSA since the year 2000.
Whereas the old building had a massive glass exterior to display all of the shop’s mouth-watering wares and tuner cars in front of EDSA’s speeding cars, the new location has more of an unassuming vibe. It’s as if the home of thousand-horsepower cars has mellowed down. Or has it?
Autoplus, as it’s more commonly known, has quietly built a reputation as a respected institution in the field of automotive tuning. With a history spanning close to three decades, this shop, under the guidance of its founder Carlos Gono, has consistently delivered high-quality service, earning the trust and admiration of car enthusiasts across the country.
Autoplus is more than just a tuning shop; it is a testament to the power of expertise, integrity, and a genuine love for the craft. I sat down with the man one morning to hear the story of how a humble passion for cars evolved into a respected legacy in the automotive tuning business.
Gono’s love for cars started early in his high school days when he and his cousins were involved in car tuning, a popular pastime back then (as it is now). He fondly reminisces about his time hanging around Greenhills in the early 80s when the place was a mere parking lot, a far cry from its current state. Watching Saturday night races in Wildlife (what is now more commonly known as East Avenue), Gono took it all in; the cars, the racing, and the experience.
This early exposure to the automotive world laid the foundation for his future endeavors.
Autoplus started around 1994 as a single-door garage somewhere along Luna Mencias Street in Mandaluyong. Gono, having realized that the car scene had gone stale and was more interested in audio setups, started missing the older days of car tuning.
Together with some friends, he started bringing in tuning parts from Japan; items like 5 Zigen stainless exhausts, Racing Sparco wheels, Spoon, Mugen and other tuning parts for the then emerging Honda scene. As the business grew, he moved to EDSA with a bigger shop and brought in a brand name from Japan that all car enthusiasts know today: Rays Engineering.
As his earlier (and younger) customers grew up, so did their tastes in cars. From Honda Civics, customers started bringing in Lancer Evos and Subaru Imprezas to tune and hop-up. The cycle continued on, with customers bringing in newer, more powerful cars, to where Autoplus is now; a haven for high horsepower supercars.
Gono’s journey in the automotive tuning industry has not been without challenges though. From dealing with the complexity of new cars that heavily rely on diagnostics and having the proper tools for scanning and identifying problems, to handling high-end supercars like McLarens, Ferraris and Lamborghinis, Gono has faced them all.
Despite these challenges, his passion for cars never waned. In fact, it only grew stronger, pushing him to explore and push boundaries in the field of tuning. Aside from learning new service techniques and accessing service manuals, Gono built up professional relations with overseas partner-shops that provide him with the parts and technical know-how to help out his customers.
His approach to business is one of fairness and decency. He consistently educates his customers, sharing personal experiences and providing advice. He believes in honesty and not deceiving customers, even if it means losing their business. He trains his employees and service technicians so that they may find better jobs outside the country. His commitment to maintaining his reputation is crucial, something he believes he can pass on to his children. This approach has led to various opportunities, such as networking with influential individuals, and has allowed Autoplus to be recognized and respected by the community at large.
Real car guys easily perceive their kind, and Gono is no different. He enjoys the company of those who delve into performance cars not for the fame or recognition, but for the pure love of technical performance. Gono’s legitimacy comes in the form of a Ford GT. Not just any Ford GT mind you, but the fastest one in the country. His supercharged 2005 GT packs 980 horsepower and has done the mile traveling at 360 kilometers per hour. But just for kicks, he also has the fastest boosted JB64 Suzuki Jimny, and a tuned Toyota GR Yaris.
Despite the success of Autoplus, Gono remains grounded. He is proud that his name is not tarnished and that he is known as a normal, genuine person in his industry and community. He is also proud of the fact that Autoplus was born out of a personal interest or hobby rather than a significant revenue stream. His primary source of income is from other legitimate businesses, with the primary one being in agriculture, specifically pig farming.
Autoplus faced a significant challenge after the fire razed the EDSA shop. However, Gono used this setback as an opportunity to improve his new shop, re-planning the service area, offices, showroom and storage areas. As a car lover, he wanted a shop that was up to his own standards. He figured that if you had a multi-million peso car, you wouldn’t want to leave it with just anyone. You wanted it to be cared for by someone who is invested in the care and conditioning of cars because they get it.
Business goes on but the other thing he realized was that he wanted to improve the service capability of the shop. He invested in making it comfortable and easy for his service crew by improving shop ventilation and by providing state of the art tools and machinery, such as the lifters and wheel alignment machine. He believes that the comfort and ease of his crew translate to better service for his customers.
Gono’s love for cars extends beyond high-performance vehicles. He finds joy in driving different cars, regardless of their level of extravagance. He also mentions he enjoys the Civic Type R and expressed genuine excitement about driving it. The same goes for his boosted Jimny, which he likes driving because it just gives him joy. While Gono is not into electric vehicles, he is into hybrids like the Nissan Kicks e-Power because he finds it clever. His openness to different types of cars and his ability to appreciate the unique features of each one is a testament to his love for cars.
Gono’s journey in the automotive industry illustrates his love for cars, his fair and decent approach to business, and his dedication to customer education and satisfaction. His ability to maintain his reputation and adapt to challenges has given Autoplus staying power through the decades. His story is proof that passion, combined with honesty and hardwork, can lead to success.