For the car community, collecting nostalgia is king. Petrol heads can probably wax lyrical about what car they saw as a child to make them fall head over heels in love with cars, and thus scour the earth for magazine ads, posters and die cast model toys to satisfy their need to collect. Enter Leen Customs.
Meet Hansel Echeverria, founder of favored car community brand Leen Customs. What Hansel and Leen do so well is cater to the car lovers in all of us and give us a platform to really collect and cherish, in the form of limited edition, hand-numbered pins. Hansel has been a graphic designer for over 10 years and used his passion for automotive to spawn one of the hottest accessory brands for car enthusiasts in the world. Much like Pintrill and custom pin drops from your favorite streetwear brands, Leen Customs designs high quality enamel pins via drops and while the designs vary, the brand focuses heavily on coveted cars and automobiles mainly.
Hansel’s journey began at Designercon, where he was just a blooming artist thirsty to satisfy his need to design, sketch, draw and ultimately create. He noticed a void of accessories like pins specifically for the car community, and thus Leen Customs was born. His first pin was based off of a 2005 Subaru WRC car, followed by a very rare and coveted “Supleen” Ferrari F40 pin that not only sold out at the time of drop by resells for $300-500 USD today. This valuation isn’t a fluke either: a quick eBay search will pull results for Leen Customs pins valued well over their retail price of ~$15 USD. And with the automotive world paying rightful attention – Leen has created exclusive designs with your favorite car community brands like Hoonigan and OEMs like Toyo Tires – it’s only up from here for Hansel and his team.
As for Hansel and his passion, perhaps his personal car would explain a bit more on his love for cars – meet his 1973 Nissan Skyline C10 “Hakosuka.” A Japanese short form for “Box” and “Sky,” the Hakosuka is a precursor to the much beloved Skyline GT-R R3X generations. Hansel has worked extensively on his Hako to create his image of perfection, from the Bride seats and custom Love20Bee wheels to the just-right stance and Millennium Jade-inspired exterior.
All show, no go? Not even close. Open the hood and marvel at the Hako’s engine swap with an SR20DET – the 2.0L turbocharged power plant from the Nissan Silvia series of cars. SR engines are highly coveted in the tuner world for their durability and versatility in tuning alongside the big-brother RB26DETT engine from the later Nissan GT-Rs, the rivaling 2JZ-GTE engine from the Toyota Supra and others.
Check out our latest edition of DRIVERS and in case you missed it, our last feature was on Randy Nonnenberg, founder of Bring a Trailer and a very special Datsun 240Z also from 1973.
Tell us about your car.
This is a 1973 [Nissan] Skyline C10 Hakosuka with an SR20DET swap.
When did you acquire it?
I was fortunate enough to check out this car while in Japan in 2020 right before COVID kicked in, I linked up with my dudes at Oishii Imports while visiting and figured I might as well have them handle the import.
What made you choose this car specifically?
There really wasn’t a hunt for this, it just came at the right time. We wanted to build a project car and we looked at different chassis and as a fan of the Hako, when this base model popped up we knew we had to get it. I knew I wanted to cut it up, swap an engine in it and daily drive it.
What is the main purpose of this car for you?
Ha! To get around that’s for sure, whether it’s hitting up a local cars and coffee or picking up my son from school. It was built to be driven which was inspired by my good friend Tony. I plan to pass it off to Orion, my son once he is old enough to drive.
“[Leen Customs] just brings back that nostalgia of your favorite car growing up… It represents you at the end of the day.”
Any details? Modifications? Changes?
Oh man! Yes! After we got it imported we realized how much work would be needed, from body restoration, suspension to new interior OEM goodies. We equipped a full front end swap, coils, brake kit, etc from Techno Tuning. Then searched the internet for a used SR20 and luckily the dudes at JDM California had one in stock. Since we went with a Millennium Jade-inspired paint job I wanted to do as much chrome delete as possible so I reached out to Carbon Signal in Dubai to get most of the carbon exterior parts.
I think the wheels were the toughest choice, I went through three different sets before I chose some custom wheels from Love20Bee. We tried to keep the interior as clean as possible and went with the Bride Histrix seats to match our ISR Shifter.
Our next phase is upgrading all the engine parts, from intake manifold, top mount turbo, fuel rails etc. Since we did get a used imported engine we never really knew the condition of it and as of now it has been holding on strong so we are excited to get that rolling.
Any interesting stories you’d like to share about this car?
So technically this became a SEMA car after we got invited by Stan over at Toyo Tires to be part of the Treadpass for 2021. Since we already had plans to build something different and it was going to go through some restorations we figured we had enough time without feeling the “SEMA rush”; WRONG! It sat at a bodyshop for way longer than we expected and by the time we had all the parts ready to go we only had less than 45 days to put it all together.
Our dude @tonybuiltit was a major help on this project, literally late nights, early morning and figuring out problems as they came. When we originally got the car it was a 3-speed manual, three-on-a-tree. So we had to still create a center console, retrofit the SR20 engine and trans plus make sure it was running. Luckily he already had done some work prior to going into the body shop, but I would say those last days of swapping an engine in 30 days and custom fabricating parts to make it fit just right was the toughest, one of the most underrated builders in the game. Luckily it all paid off and we got the car finished the night before it rolled in for SEMA. Yes, we drove it back from Vegas to LA after the show and we definitely celebrated hard while out there.
The car community loves your Leen Customs pins. Why do you think they gravitate towards them so much?
I personally think as car enthusiasts and collectors it just brings back that nostalgia of your favorite car growing up. It represents you at the end of the day. One thing I love to see is when collectors gravitate towards getting every JDM pin or Euro pin, even more collecting all the Ferraris or something like that.
There’s an increasing amount of collaborations between auto and fashion. What excites you about the merging of these two worlds? How else do you see the worlds of style and automotive converging?
There’s definitely been a growth and I think more even now. You have dope brands like Kith showing off classic bimmers and skateboarding brands doing graphic designs with iconic JDM cars.
Just like cars, fashion is a huge part of each individual and what they represent. I love art and I love seeing more artist, brands and individuals merging both cultures together.
“Just like cars, fashion is a huge part of each individual and what they represent.”
What are cars to you: aspirational achievements, functional tools, stress-relievers, etc?
I believe they make bonds. I have met some amazing people through the automotive industry and even more, partner and work with companies I would never have thought of. Like many I see cars as part of an art form, from attention to detail to color combinations. They have definitely inspired and paved my way in living life now more than ever.
What have you owned before?
Nothing crazy, I would say this is definitely our first car build. Before this I had an Acura RSX, [Volkswagen] Golf Mk3 and my trusty Fozzy [Subaru Forester]. They were all stock for the most part besides your typical bolt on upgrades. I was broke man (laughs) so I couldn’t really afford to build or buy anything crazy. Shit I even had to sell my RSX to pay off my college semester one year.
What’s in your three-car dream garage?
Ooof! That is tough, things change every year, I remember always wanting a [Porsche] 911 Turbo S 3.6, so I am a bit closer to that since we just picked up a 964 C4. I definitely enjoy all types of vehicles, but now if I can choose 3 it would be the 911 Turbo, [McLaren] 720S, and an original [Subaru] 22B.
What is the future of the automotive industry, and car culture in general?
I feel very fortunate to say that I am still new to the game; although I was into cars in the younger days I can say I have been heavily involved since the brand kicked off in 2017. I am hoping the future is not ALL electric, while I do enjoy some concept EV cars, there is nothing like the burning fumes when you’re kicking into fifth gear. What I do love is the motorsport events, from grassroots to mainstream, we have been very fortunate to travel all around the states and other parts of the world to witness this exact thing. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon as long as we keep inspiring.