Story: Michael Crenshaw
Photography: Clifford Sutrisno
With 48 hours to go until the next show, the father and son duo of Jose and Joe Camacho, along with the rest of the crew, are painstakingly stitching, repairing, reupholstering and laying down fresh carpet for yet another award-winning custom car.
This scenario plays out more often than not in the fast-paced world of California Upholstery, where, on a daily basis, cars are literally getting torn apart from the inside out and made into something truly bespoke for the customer. “[The customer gives] this time frame and just ‘get it done,’” says Joe Camacho, co-owner of California Upholstery. “Interior is always the last. You do everything before you do the interior.”
Not that this is anything new to the Camachos.
Jose has been fabricating textiles for three-quarters of his life, which, at the spritely age of 68, is 50-plus years. So meeting deadlines, staying up for hours and making work a priority above everything else are just occupational hazards. His son Joe has taken over the family business and has intently focused on custom work in the suburb of Los Angeles known as Bell Gardens, where since 1983 they have been attending to the needs of fanatical gear heads. He and his father now run their brand-new shop, which opened last August with a slight upgrade: 10,000 square feet compared with a paltry 800 run out of a one-car garage. To say business has grown would be a severe understatement. Sewing machines such as Adler and Consul—unknown to most—along with skilled craftsmen convert gorgeous pieces of fabric and hides of the finest quality into pieces of functional art.
“We used to park cars in the backyard,” remembers Joe. “There are a lot of interior shops in L.A.; there are over 1,000 just in the L.A. basin. The only reason you stay in business is if you tell a customer you’re gonna do it, and you get it done in a reasonable amount of time.”
With this mind-set, California Upholstery has been able to stay atop the upholstery hierarchy with top builds for not only willingly paying commoners but celebrities, too. Shaq, Tim Duncan, Jay Leno and even Game (see pg. 52) are only some of the elite few who have had their rides custom tailored. A good reputation is a must. “I always tell my guys, if someone put it together, you can take it apart,” Joe proudly states. “Because if a human built it, you should be able to do it back.”
Even though cars are becoming more costly, complicated and tedious to disassemble, it’s all part of the learning curve according to Joe. If a shop fails to adapt and keep up, that’s where California Upholstery will come in and wipe the slate clean, almost imperceptibly, too. “You sort of get the little butterflies before you dive into it, but you just go for it; the worst thing that can happen is you’re gonna lose whatever you would make in profit—but you’re gonna learn,” Joe emphatically puts it. “The next time it comes around, you’re ready for it.”
It’s with this attitude and perseverance that 50-plus years of artisan experience has led to a craft that puts importance on the minute details, which can be felt and touched in a way that explains everything without the need to ever say a word.
Owners: Jose and Joe Camacho
Address: 7637 Emil Ave, Bell Gardens, CA 90201
Phone Number: 562-927-9334
Time In Business: 30+ years
Shop Specialties: Interior reupholstering
Standout Vehicles: Shaq’s widebody Ford Mustang, Jay Leno’s gold Dodge Challenger
Average Turnaround Time: One week