Badass transformation

A carchitect makes daring changes for the sake of individuality.

Words Johanna D. Poblete.  Photography Kai Huang. Styling Joey Mead King. Makeup Marlon Casaldan. Hair by Kiko Pedaza.

Shot on location at Car Porn Racing, 7 Panorama St., Panorama Compound, Veterans Center, Taguig City. Special thanks to Cartier, Greenbelt 4, Ayala Center, Makati City.


Angie Mead King stands beside the “Black Manta,” a 2009 Chevrolet Corvette with a full Car Porn Racing carbon fiber body, an AirRex air suspension system with an AccuAir management system, a StopTech Big Brake Kit, an Edelbrock Supercharger upgrade, and 20-inch DPE wheels.

Angelina Mead King knows how to make an entrance. When the satin black Ford Mustang muscled its way inside the garage — powerful engine vibrating, black DPE Flowtech rims spinning, neon-blue eyes flashing with ferocity even as neon-orange squares set the tail afire — everyone watching took a collective step back and sighed in admiration. Even after the Car Porn Racing owner nonchalantly stepped out, striding in heeled pumps to where the High Life team stood, somewhat stupefied, it took a while for the Mustang (and our hearts) to settle down.

We were a little surprised to discover that the “murdered-out” Mustang, which fit our image of a racer/entrepreneur’s ride, actually belonged to Angie’s wife, Joey Mead King, a fellow sports car fanatic. “I honestly don’t like Fords. When they’re brand new, they’re amazing cars, but as they age, they’re very hard to maintain. My wife loves Mustangs so I ended up helping her buy this one and styling it for her,” said Angie, whose signature design cues include the satin black paint, mag wheels, and suspension.

“None of my cars do it for her, which is fine. To each their own. I like driving the car now because it looks badass.”

“Badass” would be a good descriptive for Angie and what she does, which is to strip down powerful, expensive-as-heck machines to their steel skeletons, and then build them up back again into better versions of themselves. Most of her cars — at least the ones she actually cares about (and she stopped counting after 10) — have been “touched” in some way. “The original doesn’t do it for me. I guess it’s the whole individuality of having something that’s uniquely yours? When you’re in a car meet or a car club, you know you stand out because [your machine’s] different from everyone else’s. That’s my motto till today: We build stuff that no one’s seen yet. We try not to copy people. We try to be as original as possible.”

ACCIDENTAL VOCATION

Angie has been fascinated with cars since childhood, partly due to the influence of the late Archimedes “Archie” King, also a sportsman and car collector. “My dad loved cars. He had a good collection when he was growing up. He built his own Dune Buggy. He also drove very fast,” she reminisced.

At 15, she bought her first car — a 1974 Super Beetle 1303s. “My dad helped me organize mechanics and tinsmiths to work on the car at home, so that when I got home from school, I could help out. We did the whole ‘California look’ on it, meaning we de-chromed it, put one-piece windows, steel hubcaps, then dropped it. Painted it a nice lavender color.”

Geeking out with mechanics made Angie want to drop out of school to work on cars full-time. However, her dad insisted she graduate first and then “take a break” the following year, when she apprenticed at a car shop called Redline Racing. “I had stumbled on that car shop because a few months prior, I had crashed my dad’s car [a Subaru Legacy station wagon]. It was a really bad accident — I hit three taxi cabs, ran into the wall — didn’t kill anyone though,” said Angie, who swore she wasn’t drunk, just driving too fast to return the car she’d snuck out of the house.

Archie, incensed by the misdemeanor, declared the wreck to be Angie’s graduation gift. “He goes, ‘Sell this junk. Buy a cheaper car.’ Me, being hard-headed, I was, like, ‘No, I’m going to fix it!’ It was a mom-mobile but I quickly became famous for it because back then, no one was fixing up wagons. I fixed mine up, lowered it, made it look really good,” said Angie.

BETTER INSANE, THAN TAME

Car Porn Racing came about because car shops weren’t used to the kind of modifications Angie wanted done, and either took too long or charged too much for the trouble. This was around the time Angie became a drifting aficionado, just as Japanese tuner Akira Nakai and his Rough-World drift crew made waves with the RAUH-Welt Begriff (RWB) brand, which combined Japanese and European tuning elements for the Porsche 911, 930, 964, and 993.

“The earlier parts of my car shop was just to maintain drift cars. We were just renting five slots from my friends — that grew to 10 slots, which grew to me taking over the whole warehouse. Most of my staff did not know anything. We went through a lot of experiments with my personal cars, made a lot mistakes, before we got to where we are now,” admitted Angie.

The amaranth violet RWB 1994 Carrera 2 993 dubbed “Victoria,” the world’s first Porsche RWB on air suspension, was both a marketing ploy — to showcase what Angie could do — and a tribute to Angie’s roots, the family motel chain Victoria Court, which she now manages. “Victoria was the first RWB in Manila and we learned so much from Nakai-san in terms of quality, fitment, and look. It still looks original, but it looks more badass. Right?”

Victoria catapulted Angie, who was already famed for her drifting skills, into the custom-build industry. Among her more extreme projects was a Hummer H1 outfitted with a battle ax and a nitrous kit, and bullet-proofed to withstand rounds fired from light handguns, at the client’s request. “We do have a few clients who come in with a set idea, like, ‘I want this, this, this, this.’ We don’t mind because they’re not ‘catalog people’ as we call it. What we don’t like are people who point at the picture and say ‘I want that, exactly.’ If you pick a catalog item, then it’s already done. It’s been seen. Let’s do something original,” said Angie.

Angie’s latest crazy concept is a 100% redesigned Chevrolet Corvette C6, playfully named the “Black Manta” in a nod to the new-generation Corvette Stingray. Open the one-piece hood, and it resembles a manta ray. The car was shown at the 2015 Manila Auto Salon, and the 2016 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) in Las Vegas, Nevada. If the carbon-fiber body and its black weaving reminds you of the Batmobile, that’s probably because comic book artist Jon Sibal helped design it.

“I just do what makes me happy. When I see something, I think of how I can make it look different, how I can make it look better. We always try to keep the hereditary in there. Even though we redesign the car, we’re still keeping certain cues that the dealer or the designer in the beginning left. We always respect the originality of the car. We just put a twist to it, where it’s our own flavor of how it could have been done.”

Angie Mead King gets in the driver’s seat of Joey Mead King’s 2014 Mustang GT.

RACING COMES FIRST

Some petrolheads place a premium on security, though Angie says bulletproofing makes her “dizzy.” For her part, she customizes to improve looks and speed. “Our name ‘Car Porn’ means that we make cars that are drool-worthy. And then ‘Racing’ means that they’re fast. So, functional fast cars. A lot of people build cars and then they just go to parking-lot meets. I take mine to the racetrack. I really use them,” she pointed out.

On the day of the High Life interview and shoot, Angie performed a drifting demo using a Mazda MX-5 Miata at the ManCon in Metrowalk. Earlier in February, she’d won first place in the stock novice category, and second place in the RWD class for the first leg of the 2017 Philippine Autocross. In 2016, she’d also joined a Formula 4 contest, sans training, and placed third in one heat. “There were 13 drivers on grid. It was such an interesting experience because most of my competitors were half my age or younger, which meant I had to work harder. And they were used to this scene; I just wanted to try it out. I got really lucky,” she said.

Angie only recently returned to racing, having been caught up building the business and the capabilities of her team. Apart from being the home of RAUH-Welt Begriff in Manila, Car Porn Racing is now the local distributor for AirRex Digital Air suspension. AccuAir air management, Universal Air Suspension, Varex Variable Exhaust, StopTech Big Brakes, DPE wheels, Fifteen52 wheels, Rotiform Wheels, Prior Design products, Arnott air bags, Hoonigan merchandise, among others. Angie’s always on the lookout for new imports, and is currently in talks with a European manufacturer of paint that can be peeled off in one hand-draw.

“I didn’t realize when I opened a car shop that I would learn how to become an importer. It’s a vital integration to the car shop because whatever parts you get, you know if you’re buying it at local market rate, then you’re not going to make a lot of money,” said Angie. “It’s also one reason I integrated with another car shop in America, where they’ve been around for 13 years, and we get dealer rate for a lot of the products. It’s cheaper than any website price.”

Angie is also considering setting up a carbon fiber company, preferably within a PEZA zone. Making such technologies accessible contributes to the growth of the entire industry, in her POV. “There’s a lot of local talent in terms of technical ability. They just lack funding. There’s that local guy who designed a supercar on his own, but because of his budget, his idea’s constrained. Rather than having the freedom of creativity to really do what he can, potentially, he’s limited by the ceiling of how much he can spend on [the idea].”

Angie feels lucky that the so-called “halo” projects of her autoshop — on top of the quick-turnover basic services, such as repainting, changing and balancing wheels, redoing the brakes, air-con service, and detailing — enables her to let her creativity flourish, but the demands on her time meant she had to give up racing for a while. “The whole motto of this year is to go back to the racing because that’s what I miss the most. That’s what I’m good at — although I’m good at other things,” she said, with a cheeky grin.

FROM DRIFT KING, TO SOCIAL MEDIA QUEEN

There’s a warmth to Angie that draws you in: Her face is open, and there’s a natural confidence in her bearing that comes not from arrogance but from being loved. The public saw this firsthand when her family, and especially wife Joey, rallied to support Angie’s coming out as a transgender woman by publicizing her till-then-secret Instagram account @hailtothe_queen_. Although family and friends have known since 2009, at the time, the public only knew Ian King, motel magnate and alpha-male drifter, with the Instagram handle @hailtothe_king.

The Kings and their cars: “Victoria,” a 1995 Porsche 911 with a Chevrolet LS3 525hp engine and RWB body kit; and a 2014 Mustang GT with P1 peelable satin black paint, an Eibach lowering suspension kit, and 20-inch DPE wheels.

“Facebook had a prompt, or Instagram had a prompt where ‘Your friend Ian King is now on Instagram as Angie Mead King.’ People sent me screenshots. Holy shit. I didn’t know what to do. I ended up cleaning the account, talking to my family, talking to Joey. Everyone was like, just do it already. When I first opened my Instagram account for Angie to the public it was more of that attitude na, ano, game na? And my wife’s like, fuck it, unlock. And then, from there, it just [went] from 300 followers to 600 all the way up to, now, 92,000.”

There’s a vulnerability to Angie when she talks about that period of uncertainty. The counterweight is Joey’s fierce protectiveness, even joining the shoot despite feeling unwell and taking charge immediately upon arrival. “She can be a mama bear,” Angie would later say, in an aside. “Joey could have chosen to just leave already… Almost every year until I came out, we were talking about it. We’d fight about it. I’m just happy that it turned out the better way, than the worse way. I couldn’t have done anything without her love and support. A lot of people behind the scenes stuff is really just Joey helping me out. I’m her longest student, basically.”

In fact, their story became viral in a positive way, as an inspiration to others. “We never thought that this would be the case. We always thought it would end up in reverse. When I first came out, my friends and family were at arms. They were ready to defend me and tell people off because a few days before that, there were chat groups circulating already about me. I was already fed up with hiding and the lies and stuff. I was like, let’s just do it already. Because I started hormones already so I might as well come out already and make life easier for myself,” said Angie.

The couple were apprehensive of ridicule, since they did a lot of charity work, and in business, followed a “very traditional Eastern Chinese discipline.” Angie even took care to personally message people she knew to prepare for the worst. The flurry of love and support, even from the most unexpected sources, came as a welcome surprise.

“People love brutal honesty. They love upfront courage, willingness to take a step forward, rather than them finding out through other people. And I think because of that, I still get a lot of respect because I owned it. I owned it. This is who I am. Fuck it.”

Car Porn Racing staff also took things in stride, she added. “In the early days, my staff were so confused. They told the other managers that ‘Ok lang, mabait naman si Sir Ian eh.’ In a way, I guess being nice and being genuine to people helps them get used to the fact that it’s okay to be a little different.” These days, the staff call Angie “Ma’am” without batting an eyelash. “99% of stories I’ve read involves losing your family, losing your friends, losing your work. I have experienced zero of that. I have actually gained more friends. People now want to work with me because I’m different.”

CHANGING FOR YOURSELF

Angie explained that it wasn’t a matter of “choosing” to be a woman. “I didn’t choose to be a woman. I was born thinking I was a woman and I was born with the wrong body… You hide it, you mask it. I buried my head in work. I grew up in an alpha-male environment with my dad and my brother, and it wasn’t something I was ready to talk about,” she explained. “At the end of the day, me being out and so public about it, it’s a good talking point for a lot of people who don’t even know what being transgender means.”

Angie Mead King named “Victoria,” her 1995 Porsche 911, after the King family’s motel chain Victoria Court. “Victoria” was the first RWB-tuned Porsche in Manila.

Asked whether she enjoys being a woman, Angie gave an unqualified “yes.” “I’m very happy. It’s a huge burden lifted from my thoughts — I don’t need to worry about how I want to express myself, how I want to dress. I get to live my life,” she said, sharing the humor of how some things are harder, like sitting for hours in the makeup chair getting ready for the shoot, while others are easy, like driving in four-inch heels. “I can’t race in them, but I can with [lower-heeled] sandals,” she said.

“Normally, the stereotype is that women can’t drive and funny enough, when I went drifting the other day, and one of my old friends said, ‘You still got it.’ And I’m like, ‘Why? Am I gonna lose it?’ Obviously, I can’t speak for other trans-women but on my side, all the dudes that I still deal with are still very respectful because they know I will outdrive them any day,” she said. “The driving style that I’ve chosen is very ‘showmanship extremeness.’ It’s the end of the line in terms of car control. It’s making the car dance to what I want rather than the car telling me what it wants to do.”

Maybe people accepted Angie’s transformation more easily because of her generosity of spirit. Most recently, she went out of her way to help a friend, Mick Santi, rebuild his business, after his workshop burned down. Angie, together with car mag Top Gear PH, and Jaguar/Ferrari distributor Marc Soong (also Angie’s partner in newly launched food joint Wok2Go), they raised money trading posh car rides for PHP1,000/ride, and soliciting donations. “We raised, I think PHP100,000-plus that day. In a day. Just from donations and we did test drives… Mick is fully back on his feet. His business is open and everyone kept their jobs.”

There’s also the fact that if you want your millions-worth car fixed and tricked up, you have very few places to go besides Car Porn Racing. “We take perfectly normal, functioning cars and then destroy them and rebuild them. Again, it’s a feeling of individuality and uniqueness where you know it’s not something you can buy because you built it. And there’s this whole statement on Instagram called #BuiltNotBought — the hashtag means that just because you have money, it doesn’t mean you can get this because you have to build it,” said Angie.

In a way, she says, custom-building is an apt metaphor for her transition from Ian to Angie. “I think the cars are the expression of myself, in terms of what I do, and, yes, I’m a work in progress. Years in the making, right? It’s been such a long journey for me but I’m finally here.”