Maestro and the Bandit

By Timothy Denman

11/01/17

It is not hard to find a meticulous, hardworking detailer. The industry is full of them. But a skilled detailer that receives true joy from the trade? That is a little rarer. 

Michael Pena polishing a limited edition Bandit Trans Am

Michael Pena has been washing and detailing cars since he was a junior in high school. What started out as a part-time job in the early 80s has blossomed into a life-long obsession with getting cars clean. The Houston based mobile detailer not only has a thriving business cleaning sedans, vans, and SUVs he also has a contract detailing some of the most exciting and sought after cars on the market today.

When General Motors shuttered the Pontiac brand back in 2010, the iconic Trans Am ceased production. Many feared that one of America’s most popular muscle cars would fade into extinction. Thankfully, a year later brothers Tod and Scott Warmack secured the exclusive rights to the Trans Am brand and started building outrageous vehicles based off of one of the most memorable movie cars of all time the Smokey and the Bandit Trans Am.

Trans Am Worldwide has been transforming Chevy Camaros into Trans Ams for over seven years, and the company can’t make the limited edition, hand-built cars fast enough. While collectors fight over each and every one of these high-performance, nostalgic vehicles that come on the market, Pena is able to get his hands on them all.

 

 

Pena’s rig sports Sonax branding.

Pena is the exclusive detailer for Trans Am Worldwide. After the evil geniuses totally dissect a Camaro and resurrect it as a modern-day super car, the man they call Maestro is turned loose on the vehicle. He cleans, polishes, and coats the car before the keys are finally turned over to the anxious buyer.

“This is an amazing opportunity I was blessed to get,” Pena says of his gig detailing for Trans Am Worldwide. “I am traveling all over to detail these cars and it is just an incredible ride. The emotional response that this car gets is insane. I have never been involved in this kind of phenomena.”

The phenomenon that is the rebirth of the iconic Trans Am in modern skin is undeniable. Not only are collectors drawn to the cars, but the public as well, a fact that is increasing Pena’s exposure beyond the tight-knit detailing community.

Putting the final touches on a customer’s ride at the
New York International Auto Show.

Trans Am Worldwide displayed one of its creations at the SEMA show last month. The automobile specialty products trade event draws tens of thousands of attendees every year and is the place to see some of the most cutting-edge automotive products on the market today.

In advance of the SEMA show, Discovery Channel filmed the transport of one of Worldwide’s vehicles from Florida to Vegas for the event. In addition to footage of the Florida facility and the vehicle out on the road, the program captures Pena in action once the car arrived in Vegas for SEMA 2017, October 31 through November 3. Pena and his team had less than 24 hours to get the vehicle ready for the show floor and Discovery Channel captured the entire detailing process.

As if the exposure on the Discovery Channel wasn’t enough, Pena also detailed the world’s tallest Toyota 4Runner for SEMA 2017. The outrageous vehicle, which stands a full five and a half feet off the ground, is emblazoned with Maestro by Handwax.net (Pena’s website) on its windshield helping draw further attention to Pena and his Houston-based Mobile Auto Detail.

The iconic Trans Am brand is alive and well.

“I have varied experiences that come together in one package,” Pena says when asked what sets him and his business apart from the competition. “I have worked in a car wash so I have seen all the mistakes that they do. I have dealt with car dealerships and seen the corners they cut. I have worked in a body shop. There is a lot that sets us apart. But if I had to narrow it down to one word I would say diversity.”

Pena’s diverse set of skills was not acquired overnight: they were earned over a 30-year obsession with automobiles and getting them clean. Since those early days working at a full-serve wash after school Pena has always been involved in detailing. At first it was a side gig, detailing vehicles for friends and family while Pena worked a variety of other jobs.

“Through the years I worked at different jobs but I never got the sense that I belonged,” says Pena. “I kept getting pulled into detailing. It was almost as if the industry chose me.”

Performing a training demo at Autogeek Detail Fest.

Once Maestro made the decision to detail full time, he jumped in with both feet. He opened a fixed location in 1998 and immediately began to build a loyal following in and around Houston. Unfortunately, just a few short years later the collapse of Enron set shockwaves through the Houston economy, devastating much of the market.

The struggling local economy was a disruptor for many small businesses including Mobile Auto Detail. Pena’s clientele began to shrink, as many could no longer justify detailing services as they struggled to make ends meet. Rather than turn his back on his lifelong obsession Pena decided to pivot. He closed the doors on his fixed location and focused on mobile detailing exclusively, a decision that has propelled Pena to where he is today.

Pena is a master trainer for Sonax chemicals.

“I had a long-time client and when I told him that I was closing the shop he said ‘your shop was so far away for me anyway,’” Pena says about the shift from fixed to mobile detailing. “He told me to just come to his house. He has like 10 cars and gives me steady work and he has recommended me to a lot of his neighbors and friends. Word of mouth has been key for me from the very beginning.”

When you are good at what you do and take pride in your work people take notice and are happy to promote you within their social network. Pena doesn’t do much marketing, even to this day, but rather depends on superior results and a willingness to do anything it takes to make the customer happy, helping keep his daily planner filled with appointments.“I had a long-time client and when I told him that I was closing the shop he said ‘your shop was so far away for me anyway,’” Pena says about the shift from fixed to mobile detailing. “He told me to just come to his house. He has like 10 cars and gives me steady work and he has recommended me to a lot of his neighbors and friends. Word of mouth has been key for me from the very beginning.”

“I always wanted to do what works for me,” Pena says. “For me it has always been about taking care of each client the way I wanted to be taken care of. Of course there were mistakes along the way, but it has always been my push to do the best job possible for the client. I am sure that 99.5 percent of people in Houston don’t know me. But the .5 percent  that have heard of me take very good care of me. In turn, we give them white glove treatment and take care of their vehicles.” 

Every Trans Am Worldwide customer receives
a numbered goody bag of detailing products
courtesy of Pena.

Whether he is vacuuming out the backseat of a family cruiser or putting a next-gen coating on a limited-edition collector car, Pena gives 100 percent effort. It is that effort and willingness to go the extra mile for his clients that has sustained Pena through the years and helped him build a name for himself in the booming detail industry.

 

 



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