- The FR-S/BRZ/86 family has been a popular enthusiast platform since its inception, offering a hard-to-beat combination of fun, affordability, and aftermarket potential.
- This 2015 FR-S was Cam Cocalis’s first car and served as his blank canvas for automotive fabrication, art, and brand building.
- Cam’s 86 uses almost zero factory parts in favor of his own tube chassis construction, LS3 swap, cantilever/pushrod suspension, and much more.
- His ambition gathered support from industry experts like Vibrant Performance, Radium Engineering, Mishimoto, Wilwood Disc Brakes, and countless others to help Cam realize his no-compromise vision.
- His SEMA debut at the ripe age of 21 earned him much-deserved recognition and one of the Top 12 Young Guns in the Battle of the Builders.
In 2022, Cam Cocalis’s Toyota FR-S project car caught my eye on Instagram. After seeing literally thousands of FR-S/BRZ/86 projects over the last 10 years, a fresh take on a common chassis was the last thing I expected. And I wasn’t alone; his executed vision was aggressive, fresh, and obviously custom. It was enough to move the needle in the entire industry. Then the bomb dropped: Cocalis started the project as a 17-year-old.
Similar to Chris Johnston’s RX7, the 2015 FR-S was Cam’s first car. Despite not knowing how to drive a stick yet, he bought the FR-S (with his own money) and got down to business.
ALL HUSTLE, NO LUCK
That four-year period after buying the FR-S was a busy one. He went from getting his license to accruing all the necessary skills to fashion a complete tube chassis car, fabricate a symmetrical 8-1 header and roll cage, and learn about suspension geometry all before he could legally drink.
Turning 21 was much less about buying his first shot at the bar. Instead, after more than 5,000 hours of hard work, he rolled his fully custom FR-S project car onto the coveted SEMA show floor. There, he received recognition from the entire industry and was selected as one of the Top 12 Young Guns in Battle of the Builders. It’s an amazing thing to witness wild ideas come to life — in large part because of Cocalis’s own intuition — but also with help from valuable partners like Vibrant Performance whose mission revolves around facilitating dream builds like his.
I made it point to bring the car out to our Cars+Coffee Builders Edition in SoCal two months after SEMA, so the public could finally get a chance to admire and appreciate his talents firsthand. After the event, we sat down and talked at length about the build and the impressive young man behind it.
INTERVIEW WITH CAM
We’ve all seen how crazy your FR-S is, but who is Cam Cocalis and how did he come to be? How did he go from being a kid who bought his first project car at 17, to the recognized and awarded SEMA builder he is today?
To answer this question, I have to go back to when I purchased my Scion FR-S at 17 years old. At this point, I had no knowledge of cars and no hands-on experience. I started with basic modifications and then a little over a year later, I was given the chance to attend SEMA for the first time. Although I was only there for a day, it completely opened my eyes to the depth of what was possible.
From this moment on, I started learning skills like fiberglass and ABS plastic fabrication. As soon as I moved off to college, I secured a shop space and began acquiring equipment (a lift and both a Mig and Tig welder) to make my ideas possible. Over the course of a year, I learned to weld and fabricate, and turned my FR-S into a full tube chassis, with an integrated cage, and cantilever/pushrod suspension. It essentially became a big-cam LS3 running inside a car that I had built and designed from scratch.
But I was also building something that was bigger than just a car. I documented the entire process over Instagram, created professional content, and developed a cohesive, marketable, brand image. I wrote full sponsorship proposals and was able to acquire 13 major industry sponsors. With the help of these companies, I had the opportunity to reveal the car in the Toyo Treadpass, the Holy Grail of SEMA booths.
As much as this already felt like winning a golden ticket, I also ended up in the top three in Battle of the Builders Young Guns. These opportunities, the media coverage, and the variety of interviews I did during the week of SEMA helped me to solidify my name and become the awarded builder I am today.
I think what everyone respects more than anything is that you did all the work yourself, not just bolt-ons or an engine swap, but the fabrication of the tube chassis, roll cage, headers, suspension, and body and paint. How did you teach yourself this? What was the most challenging thing to learn?
With doing everything on this car myself, and the wide variety of skills and knowledge that was required to make it happen, one of the biggest reasons I was successful is that I am fluent in the skill of learning new skills.
Even when I look back to the very beginning, when I was learning the most rudimentary skills, I used the same basic process in order to master them. I would do as much research as physically possible on how to do a skill, watch detailed videos of the skill being completed, figure out what tools and supplies it required, and then through trial and error I would practice until I could produce a product that resembled what a professional could produce. I tackled every new skill with this same structure, and with every skill I acquired, it became easier to acquire another.
This process generally went smoothly with very few hiccups. The only things I ended up redoing, were re-bending the A-pillar bar on the roll cage (since it has complex bends on multiple planes) and re-spraying the body of the car since the climate was too hot on the day I sprayed it, causing the paint to react.
The hardest skills for me to learn, were TIG welding, and automotive painting, because of the nuances in how minor changes cause major differences in outcomes. I would ask a few knowledgeable people over Instagram for insight on specific things, but overall it came down to me, sitting in my garage, practicing until the point I could master a skill.
I find it quite astonishing that you were able to take a Scion FR-S, a vehicle that has been modified a thousand times over, but makes it into a unique build that made media like me, who have been in the industry for 20+ years, extremely excited to check out your build. How did you come up with this vision? What were your inspirations? What were the key things you really wanted to do in order to make your build and your work stand out?
In regards to the overall design of the car, this was something completely original. I took some inspiration for certain parts of the tube structure and mechanical aspects since this was something that I had not yet built-up intuition with, but artistically and design-wise, I was pulling fresh ideas out of my head. I’ve always had a very industrial, monotone style and as I went through building the car and making specific design decisions, the vision for the car began to take shape.
I believe that because the car is so common in its stock form, this allowed me to showcase my fabrication and artistic vision better and allowed the viewer to see it as an art piece, rather than just a car. This was exactly what I was trying to accomplish, and I did this by either simplifying or eliminating certain components and allowing some aspects to stand out.
When the car was revealed at SEMA, it was the most rewarding experience of my life seeing tens of thousands of people appreciate the car in the exact way that I had intended.
After SEMA and bringing the car to our Cars+Coffee event, what’s next? Is it meant to be drifted or thrashed, or is it just simply your first art piece in a big portfolio for what will be a future in car building? Engineering? Fabrication?
At least for a while, this build will be purely a promotional tool and portfolio of the work I can produce. As for the future, I don’t know my exact path, but it will definitely consist of car building, fabrication, design, and eventually engineering and manufacturing parts on a large scale. I can also confidently say that this car will be one of many, in a collection of unique automotive art pieces.
I feel like when I was 21, I needed all the advice and direction I could get. But in this case, I feel you’re an inspiration to many of us in the car community, young and old. Could you share some words of wisdom on how people out there can reach their dreams and accomplish their goals?
I definitely have a couple of things on this one, but my biggest piece of advice is to develop as much skill and knowledge as you can. Constantly strive to keep learning and growing as a person and think about things from different perspectives. Sometimes the difference between something being a hobby, and a full-time career can just be how you choose to attack it. Take advantage of every opportunity and put yourself in situations that could result in new opportunities. To make something like this happen your work ethic and determination has to be ridiculously strong but it’s definitely doable. I kept these things in mind throughout my whole journey, and they are the reason I was able to find success so quickly in the automotive industry.
Cameron Cocalis | 2015 Scion FR-S
|Exterior:||Tube chassis, two-tone show paint, Pandem wide body kit, carbon fiber duck bill spoiler, Craft Square carbon fiber mirrors, Seibon carbon fiber roof, custom headlights, custom taillights|
|Interior:||Tilton pedal box, We are Likewise steering wheel, We are Likewise shift knob, Willans harnesses, Recaro bucket seats, Street Faction door cards|
|Engine/Drivetrain:||GM Performance LS3 525 engine, Grannas Racing Tremec Magnum F, Motion Raceworks throttle body, Motion Raceworks valley cover, Motion Raceworks cooling blocks, Motion Raceworks throttle cable, Motion Raceworks catch can, Motion Raceworks coolant crossover, Motion Raceworks alternator bracket, Motion Raceworks breathers, Aftermarket valve covers, Texas Speed intake manifold, Antigravity battery, S1 sequential shifter, MSD starter, MSD coil packs, Meziere water pump, ATI super damper, Sikky Manufacturing engine swap kit, IS300 welded rear differential, Vibrant Performance plumbing, Vibrant Performance stainless piping and fittings, Driveshaft Shop axles, Driveshaft Shop wheel bearings, Driveshaft Shop driveshaft, Downstar stainless hardware, Mishimoto radiator, Mishimoto cooling system, Holley alternator, Holley timing cover, Holley fuel injectors, rear mount radiator, Radium Engineering fuel system, Haltech ECU + wiring, wire tucked, reverse intake, custom exhaust|
|Brakes/Suspension:||AirLift air suspension, Rear cantilever air suspension, FDF Fab front angle kit, FDF Fab full rear arms, Wilwood 6-pot/4-pot big brake kit, Wilwood hydraulic handbrake, HEL Performance USA brake lines, HEL Performance USA air lines, solid aluminum bushings|
|Wheels/Tires:||Work Meister S1 3-piece wheels, Toyo R888R tires, We are Likewise titanum lug nuts|