Tell us more about yourself!
I am Bruce Levin, an architect and a product designer from San Francisco, California USA. I am the founder and designer of UNIBrace. A little bit more about me from the car enthusiast’s point of view, I have owned many Volkswagen vehicles; two MK II Golf GTI, a 19th Anniversary Volkswagen USA MK IV Golf GTI 337 previously. My latest drive is a MK IV Golf R32. You could say that I am a serious Volkswagen enthusiast since the day I got my first car. I am also part of the R32 Club back in SoCal, USA.
As an architect, I had always thought to myself, “Could this be improved?” Combine this with my passion for automobiles; I had plenty of questions going on at the back of my head, if I could improve the handling characteristics of the Golf, the car that I had been driving all along.
It is always good to know another car enthusiast. Tell us how UNIbrace was started.
UNIbrace is something that was sparked from my passion with automobiles. As mentioned earlier, my curiousity and interest got the better of me, so I went about researching for ways and possibilities to improve the Golf’s handling. While suspension is a critical factor in handling, something else essential can be done to the chassis to help alleviate the stresses that the chassis faces.
To me, I wanted to come up with something concrete, not just a gut feel. I wanted to create something that could be felt on the first drive after installation. I therefore used my architectural expert knowledge into building a chassis brace for the Golf.
What were the initial ideas or plans for UNIbrace MK I?
I wanted it to be light, yet strong enough to resist the constant g-forces generated during all forms of driving. It had to be convenient for daily usage; something that did not require a half or full roll cage for a track day, or the driver having to face the complaints from passengers about how stiff the car is! *Laughs* It had such a quirky design that was not common in the strut and sway bar market, where the brace is a wider shape of intersecting metal instead of a singular bar. I even had a workshop owner telling me that it would not work at all.
It does look different indeed. What happened after that?
What happened after that became a game-changer. The first drive with that same owner, that expression on his face after the UNIbrace was fitted on, was priceless. It gave the car a relatively neutral cornering feel, curbed the typical under-steer that the Golf faced, as well as a feeling that the car was a complete chassis, turning in-sync with the driver’s inputs. It no longer had that feeling of detachment, like the rear of the car could not keep up with the front of the car.
Personally, I did not think that I had created something of significant impact, until what happened afterwards. It was just the chain reaction, a huge flow of events from that very point. Enquiries, questions, emails, private messages and all, soon started to pour in. The UNIbrace made such an impact on the VW Vortex R32 community that the initial 12 pieces I had made were all taken! This was the start of a new beginning.
Sweet. How did you get your business take off afterwards?
Most of the enquiries as mentioned earlier, came from many online channels. These included emails, personal messages from forums, from UNIbrace’s website, as well as Facebook! Much of the transactions were done online. Not done ten years ago though, when the internet was still in the stages of infancy. Five years back however, the internet became such a thriving marketplace… that trend saw millions of transactions taking place. Even for brick & mortar business, much emphasis is still placed on the online sector. This was where it all took off…
Beside the main body of interest in America, I had many interested folks asking about UNIbrace for their Volkswagens from all over the world, namely Asia, Russia and even South Africa! All these helped spread the UNIbrace brand far and wide. With so much worldwide interest, I will be looking to start updating the website with various other languages, such as Japanese, Chinese, Russian and even Spanish.
With so much popularity, how is the production done now, since things are always busy?
Apart from the constant R&D for developing new parts for cars, CNC (Computerised Numeric Control) machining is used to create the series of underbody braces that you see available today. Aluminum is light-weight and does not corrode, especially since it will be exposed to the harsh environment. It is also subjected to water-jet cutting and is CNC bent for best accuracy and fitment. Nothing disappoints, since every underbody frame and brace is a single piece of aluminum from the start to finish and there is no welding involved, so the risk of breakage from a poor welding spot is zero.
The UNIbrace parts are then finished in two colours; namely black and red. These are powder-coated for the longest lasting effect and finishing. Naturally, I would be able to accept request for other colours, though I would require a minimum quantity to be fulfilled first.
Let’s talk about the visit to Singapore, with Mirage Garage…
I am glad to be here, with Mirage Garage as the appointed local UNIbrace distributor. I have heard much about the vast community of Volkswagen and Audi enthusiasts and owners here! I am really looked forward to meeting more of these guys! Talking about that, I am also considering producing annual limited edition UNIbrace parts for lucky Mirage Garage customers that are not available to the other parts of the world. Uniquely Singapore, in a way!
Before we end, we would like some word of advice from you, to our dear Rev Magazine readers who own Volkswagens and Audis with the aftermarket intention…
The best way to “feel” the car, to progressively upgrade it from the stock parts. For example, those who have fitted the UNIbrace on their set of wheels, have felt a significant improvement in stability and handling, therefore allowing them to better understand what else needs to be added to improve the car’s handling to their personal liking. Even for those already on aftermarket suspension systems, they have felt the difference and have relied less on the heavy damper settings that were originally configured without UNIbrace.