There’s no denying the influence of the “Fast & Furious” movie franchise on American car culture. The action films sparked interest in both street racing and vehicle customizations.
Steve Molans was one of those who took notice, as a high school kid in Jeannette back in the early 2000s.
Now 37 and living in Greensburg, Molans said he and a buddy founded a car club that they dubbed Skeptik Racing, though it was mostly dedicated to modifying their vehicles.
“We weren’t race car drivers,” he said, although “off the record,” club members might have been involved in a little clandestine racing.
“We all loved modifying our Hondas back in the day, so we’d meet up and play around with our cars,” he said.
Molans is still playing around with cars, but now he’s getting paid for his custom audio and lighting installations, as the owner of Skeptik Innovations at 1301 Harrison Ave. in Jeannette.
He said people sometimes were skeptical of the things he and his buddies did to their cars, like installing home heating vent covers in their bumpers to reduce drag.
“People were like, ‘House vents? OK, that’s kind of smart.’ And today, they actually do that in racing, cut holes in the back bumpers to eliminate drag,” he said.
They decided to own the skepticism. They used an extra “k” in their spelling as an homage to famed custom car builder George Barris, whose Barris Kustom Industries created the iconic vehicles used in television’s “Batman” and “The Munsters” series.
“The ‘k’ in Skeptik comes from him,” Molans said. “People said he was so legit, he actually customized the word ‘custom.’”
Molans first gained national attention in the vehicle modification community with a 2019 video of the infinity mirror tail lights with color- changing and movement effects that he built for his 1991 Nissan Skyline GTS-4, complete with wireless key fob crafted from a Nintendo game controller.
Within three days, the video had more than 1 million views, prompting Molans to fulfill a literal dream of applying his skills in his own business.
After graduating from Jeannette High School in 2003, Molans worked as an installer for a local car audio shop, along with doing side projects, creating his own artwork and playing piano in local bands. He also completed an electronics course at Westmoreland County Community College.
In 2014, he enrolled in a biomedical engineering course at Penn State New Kensington, and after graduation worked in that field for five years.
“Fast forward five years, I’m a biomedical engineer, I had a great job and the girl of my dreams,” he said. “And I had a dream where I’m on my death bed, asking do you have any regrets, and my regret was that I never started my own business.”
The bulk of Skeptik Innovations’ business is installing custom lighting, audio systems and remote starters.
Molans’ work has been written up in industry publications and showcased at the SEMA Show, a prestigious automotive specialty products trade event held annually in Las Vegas.
Among other smaller projects, Molans is installing lighting, sound and other electronics in a bronze 1986 Buick Regal. The build includes multicolored LED lighting in the engine compartment, the undercarriage and the trunk, which also houses the audio components.
The owner of the Regal, who owns a Penn Hills transmission business, gave him only one stipulation for the build: he wanted room left in the trunk for golf clubs.
Calling it “the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” Molans said, “This car is going to sound like you’re at a concert.”
His customers are all ages, and their vehicles range from classic to contemporary.
“I put sub-woofers in the car of a woman who was 70 years old. It was a Honda CRV,” he said. “She loved the feeling of the bass. She said, ‘I want to hear my music and I want to feel my music.’”
Even with advertising only through online reviews, social media and word of mouth, Molans is booked for around six months.
“I have such a long list that I have to turn people away,” he said. “I’m not just an installer, I’m a fabricator, I’m an artist, a social media person. I’m a one-man show.
“I have dealer accounts where I do remote starts for brand-new cars off the lot,” he added. “I’m doing so much, and the custom stuff takes up so much time, that I still can’t guarantee (six months).”
Skeptik Innovations is a one-man shop, but Molans said he is looking to hire an installer. And even though the work is plentiful, it isn’t easy being an after-market installer.
“I try to go out of my way to be as kind as possible to the person I’m dealing with, because I count on them to give me that Google review or talk to their friends about me,” he said. “I always say, you need to hold your installer to a higher standard, because if you go and get a remote start, and it doesn’t work, it will deter you from ever getting one installed again. You’ll say, I’ll just get one (from the) factory.
“If you have a good experience, it helps the after-market industry, which is struggling right now because new cars come with sound systems, navigation, remote starters, heated seats. We really have to step our game up to do a higher quality install.”
Molans said it was only natural for him to locate Skeptik Innovations in Jeannette.
He has a loyalty to his hometown, where his grandparents, Joseph and Millie Cafasso, ran a printing business for about 60 years. He also is invested in the town’s current revitalization projects and volunteers with the Jeannette Arts Council and Historical Society.
“I love this town and do what I can to help out,” he said.
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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