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Meet David Fernandez of DVF Custom Designs in Van Nuys

Today we’d like to introduce you to David Fernandez.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My father was a mechanic who owned and ran his own business; to our luxury it was in our backyard. His dream was to be a Pilot. Needless to say, his dream for me was to be a Pilot. We were living in Melbourne, Australia at the time. I remember him coming inside the house after a 12 hour shift exhausted, smelling like grease and sweat, begging me, “Son, please don’t be a mechanic. Be a Pilot.”… He would show his hands laced with cuts and sores; grease still stuck under his nails even after vigorously washing them with thinner and soap.

My father taught me a wealth of knowledge, and at a young age too. I started working with him at the tender age of 7. My mom has a picture of me sitting inside the engine bay of a Ford f150 pickup truck when I was 4. I was introduced to mechanical work through weekly cleaning: I remember wiping down his hoist and scrubbing the concrete floors of his garage with kerosene until the grease chunks disappeared. Dad saw my zest and before I knew it, I was digging holes under the house to make way for a new A/C duct that would cool us during those hot summer nights. Dad paid me well for a kid; when I was 10-12 years old, I was making $10 an hour. I remember getting mad because I wanted more, and out of spite, finding another job, I’ll show you, dad! Only to realize I would be making 50 cents on the dollar elsewhere. Of course, I came back to him with my tail between my legs and he graciously accepted me. My favorite part of working with my father was his patience; he would show me something once and if I didn’t catch on, he would be right there to help and try again. Soon enough, I was taking on tasks working alongside him without the need for guidance. Go independence.

By the time I was 12, I was already teaching my sisters how to drive a stick shift. I was also building ramps for my BMX/skateboards, making homemade go-karts and listening to Nirvana, Pearl jam and NOFX. I didn’t want to be a pilot or a mechanic, I was into sports! I remember hearing one of my friends tell me that he started to play ice-hockey at the rink down the street from me — “Wow! There’s ice rinks in Australia??” So, of course I wanted to play, and of course I was immediately hooked. I loved hockey so much that after a couple of years of playing, I wanted to return to Canada (my birthplace) and learn more. I begged my parents to let me forego school in Australia and continue education at a hockey academy. After a few months of pleading, I got my way!

At this point, I was 16 and ready to take on the world. My father was awesome; he loved the movie Smokey and the Bandit as much as I did, and so agreed to buy a 1981 Pontiac Trans Am as the “family car” (we all knew this was my car). I was driving EVERYWHERE. This baby cost me a lot of money, so many speeding tickets, but I was in love with her. After four years, one rebuilt motor and many phone calls to Dad for his help and guidance, I lost interest in her. I mean, I loved her, but I wanted a truck!

I bought my first truck when I was 20. I was working as a valet and all I could afford at the time was a 1994 Silverado z71 4×4. I drove the crap out of that thing and got my first taste of off-roading. Of course, I got stuck somewhere, and of course I broke something. And with trials and many errors, I was in the budding stages of learning how to fix trucks. By 22, hockey didn’t work out, the valet job was fun but going nowhere significant, so I decided to take a stab at the acting world. I wasn’t bad, I was able to get a couple of paying gigs and save up enough money to buy my new found love: an Early Bronco. And so the real love affair begins.

If I remember correctly, Broncos at the time were worth $5-10K, at most. I paid $5K for my first Bronco, I ended up flying out of Vancouver to Calgary with a friend to pick her up, sight unseen. Within the first 2 hours of driving her home, I managed to blow the lower radiator hose by being an idiot and overtaking a car. We crawled to the nearest mechanic 6 miles away. I was lucky that I didn’t overheat the engine. Since we were in the middle of nowhere and nothing was open on a Sunday, somebody pointed us to the nearest mechanic which of course was at the man’s home. Like a pro he was able to jerry-rig the hose and stop the leak by putting a pipe inside of the hose and clamping both sides of the tube – I know I’m a nerd, but that was a genius move. I watched him salvage my (new to me) girl and thought, that looks fun. After a long drive through the Rockies and snow and almost crashing a couple of times, we finally made it home where I was able to fully fix her problems then. But what an adventure and I was hooked.

Around that time, Vancouver made me feel like I was stuck in a small town. I needed to get out and so began the next chapter of my life: Los Angeles. Ok, I didn’t have a plan, all I knew is that I had a thousand dollars to my name and a sweet Bronco, and at that time, it was all I needed. I packed up my stuff, jumped into my Bronco and headed South down the 1 Hwy to Los Angeles. Mind you, this is before navigation and GPS apps on phones, nah, we had to print out a Yahoo map and scotch tape it to the windshield. About 5 hours into the trip, my radiator gives out and springs a small pinhole leak — Not AGAIN!! I was stopping every 3-4 hours because of it. I was able to use the gallon coolant jugs I bought for the first incident; I kept it in my truck as a “just in case” scenario. And so began a journey of constant stops and started every 2 hours, waiting for the truck to cool, opening the radiator cap, refilling it and then heading out again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Needless to say, Vancouver to Los Angeles took me two days from start to finish.

Los Angeles welcomed me with open arms. I met my wife Jenn and I finally had the beach again, I could surf in the summer and head up to the mountains to snowboard in the winter. Yeah, life was good.

My Bronco kept breaking down and like a loyal lover, I kept fixing her. Through the years, I kept thinking there’s got to be a better way. It wasn’t until later, I started doing the research on engine swapping. This would require me to source a motor from a new Mustang and convert everything to electronic fuel injection (EFI). I didn’t have space, nor a garage like my dad, so I begged my local mechanic to help me, and when things got hairy, he agreed to do so. Sadly, he was not versed in the engine-swap-game. So, after some trial and error and many disagreements, I decided to pull my Bronco out of his shop and seek help from a specialty shop, insert ASC Bronco.

This is where life off-roaded, if you will, and everything changed. I was at a wedding of some good friends in Santa Barbara with Jenn when I got the call: my mom was in hysterics telling me to come back to Australia, “Your dad isn’t doing well and isn’t going to make it…” We jumped on the next flight and hoped for the best. Within 2 hours of landing and arriving at the hospital, the weight of the circumstances hit hard. A few nights before, my father went into a coma due to a brain aneurysm. The doctors said that to operate would mean a high risk of brain damage, and “If he survives, your father will never be the same again.” This truth seared into my mind and heart. And it didn’t matter; two hours later he was gone. Sixty years old and at the prime of his age, and he was gone. There was nothing we could do…

I returned to Los Angeles with a 360 perspective shift on life, purpose and legacy. My father’s death became my personal rebirth: I realized I needed to make conscious choices to find happiness in work and life. No one was going to simply give it to me. I wanted control, and acting work provided next-to-none, so I let it go.

ASC Bronco was just about done with the engine swap, so they called me to pick it up. Honestly, I didn’t think their work was great. Loved having my Bronco back but within two weeks of driving, I was still having problems. The owner’s son, David, and I got along really well. We started talking shop on modern drivetrain, and the next thing I knew, I began doing research on coyote swaps, finding the right people to do the job, and a whole lot more. David knew my history with my Dad and was willing to work out a deal for me to wrench on my bronco and figure out these modern day swaps.

I would help out on their projects and fix my Bronco at the same time. As most builds go, it starts off with small fixes that turn into crazy builds — and I loved every minute of it. I had found my passion, and it still brings me a chuckle that I am walking in my father’s shoes. Thanks to ASC Bronco, I was able to learn on the job. I was able to dive into the work and truly spread my wings. David and I talked about potentially becoming co-collaborators of the shop when his dad retired that I would buy into the business and take ownership along with him. As it has shown me countless times, life doesn’t go as planned. They decided to go the “investor” route, squeezing me out of consideration. A heartbroken and hard pill to swallow, and making me shift gears all over again. But this time for good.

In hindsight, everything worked out so eloquently. I returned to my personal rebirth and new motto: taking control of my own life. I have always had the spark, ASC Bronco burrowed the seed, and now a wide-open road laid ahead of me. That’s when I started my own company, DVF CUSTOM DESIGNS, specializing in modern and vintage custom restorations.

Thank you dad. I raise a glass to you and the long and winding road towards rebirths, passion and legacy.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Was it a smooth road? Not exactly, the journey has definitely had me jumping through hoops. Yes. I knew that starting a new business was going to be hard. But, you don’t really understand it until you’re neck deep in it. Most people work a second job while trying to start a new business. I was one of them, I come from a restaurant background. I was juggling home life, working in the am trying to finish projects before I had to managing a staff of 106 at night… I told my wife when this started word for word… “Babe, I’m sorry.. But you’re not gonna see me for 2yrs”. I’m lucky to have her, I’m sure we would have been divorced if she had been any other woman.

DVF Custom Designs – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Dvf Custom Designs was originally created out of the love and pure enjoyment of Vintage 4×4’s. What originally was just spending the weekend with friends fixing up an old Bronco, Jeep or Scout, quickly became hobby and then an obsession and a way of life.

We come from a background of customer service, we understand that every customer’s vision is unique and as passionate as we are. We take that vision and make it a reality, to start we offer a 3d rendering to our customers to help map out the build, a lot of decisions are made and finalized this way. So when it comes down to build, we don’t have any lapse in time… The customer is always updated along the way and are always part of the build process.

What sets Dvf Custom Designs apart from the other competition is we strive to be the best and most innovated. We are consistently on the hunt for the right products to design and develop and are forever changing and improving to make your personal build that much better. We are proud to be known as one of the most reliable and innovated and customer service orientated.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Since I am a small business, I get to interact a lot with my customers one on one. I am right there to answer the phone and respond to messages on a drop of a hat. A client’s build could take up to 1.5yrs and in that time, I am constantly talking to them through the process. We go through all the ups and downs together, we stick it out until the job is done and done right… It’s only then when it’s time to deliver this vehicle that I am most proud of. I get to see the joy in their faces when they first step into and drive their new vintage 4×4. Recently I was leading a pack of vintage 4×4’s on a cruise that I personally hand-built, I looked into the rearview mirror and saw them all behind me following me to our destination. It was in that moment, a warmth came over me, “holy crap, I did all of that?” I’ve never felt so happy and proud before.

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.dvfcustoms.com
  • Phone: 3108441877
  • Email: info@dvfcustoms.com
  • Instagram: @dvfcustomdesigns
  • Facebook: dvfcustomdesigns
  • Twitter: dvfcustomdesigns


Image Credit:

David Fernandez

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