Industry Insider: Mark Mason of Kong's 4x4 Short Cuts

| Toyota Tech | Toyota Section | |

Interview by: Steve Schaefer- 11/2002

Editor's Note: The following is the first of a new feature focusing on the talented people who run shops specializing in Toyota 4x4 components. 4x4Wire's Steve Schaefer recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mark Mason, owner of Kong's 4x4 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Kong's 4x4 on West Cheryl Drive in Phoenix.

4x4Wire- How did you get involved in four wheeling?

Mason- My grandparents left me $3000 so I bought a 4 wheel drive when I was 17. It was an 81 Toyota Pickup. I have been going crazy in the sport ever since. My family was always heavily involved in off-road vehicles during my childhood, we had trucks and motorcycles and would take them out often.

4x4Wire- How long has your shop been in business?

Mason- I started AZ Force 1993 as a side job while I was employed as a professional mechanic. I continued to work on the business as a side line interest until 2000. In 2000 the idea to form Kong's was born and AZ Force was abandoned.

4x4Wire- How many people work at your shop?

Mason- Four full time and four part time employees. Two fabricators and the rest turn wrenches, cover the counter and phones, or work on our website.

Mark Mason driving his tubed creation in Johnson Valley.
Working his was through The 6th Day in Arizona.
Photo by Chris Villarreal.

4x4Wire- So you do fabrication and mechanical work in addition to selling products?

Mason- Yes. We do installations and we can do fabrication. We are trying to stay away from making full-on tube buggies though. There are a few other shops in Phoenix that specialize in that sort of thing, and they are a labor of love. Right now Kong's is concentrating on products that appeal to a larger segment of the wheeling population.

4x4Wire- Do you carry other product lines in addition to your own Kong's brand of products?

Mason- Yes, our product line is expanding all the time. In addition to our own steering arms, rock sliders, and other products, we also carry brands like Dick Cepek, Warn, Master Pull, and Hi-Lift. Most of these products can be purchased from us on the internet at our new online store too.

The 4Runner... back when it looked like a 4Runner.

4x4Wire- Any new products/ideas you would like to share with us?

Mason- We have a ton of ideas we are tossing around. A few that come to mind are a solid axle coil over kit as well as producing a drivers side drop Toyota front solid axle housing, and a Tacoma SAS kit.

4x4Wire- Are you working on any new vehicles?

Mason- We are always working on something new, always.

4x4Wire- Tell us about your own ride.

Mason- I have an 87 SR5 4Runner that I bought with the intention of building. It has dual JP Eater cases, 5.29s with an ARB in the front and a spool in the rear, 37 inch Competition Baja Claws, and a LOT of tube. The rig was featured in the October issue of 4Wheel Drive & Sport Utility. The only significant change since that time is the addition of 14" travel Sway-A-Way coilovers on the front.
I rolled the 4Runner pretty hard in Johnson Valley last October. I ran it most of the winter like that, then cut off everything from the firewall back and replaced it with 1 1/2" mild steel tubing. I did the design and the fabricators at Kong's bent and welded the tube. We had it all ready for Easter in Moab.

The new coilovers on the front allow plenty of flex.
Photo by Chris Villarreal.

4x4Wire- How often do you get to wheel?

Mason- Not often enough. Once a month is doing pretty good these days.

4x4Wire- What is your favorite trail?

Mason- Twisted here in Arizona.

4x4Wire- What prompted you to make the transition from enthusiast to businessman?

Mason- Opportunity arose to have a financial backer I trusted.

4x4Wire- What sort of background do you have?

Mason- I worked as a mechanic for twelve years. I am a Ford certified master technician and an ASE master tech as well. I was also the shop foreman at a local Ford dealership before committing myself full time to Kong's.

4x4Wire- Who do you admire most and why?

The tube work on Mark's 4Runner is a work of art.
Photo by Chris Villarreal.
Getting out of the shop to run Asylum.
Photo by Chris Villarreal.

Mason- I admire anyone who enters the 4WD field and contributes to the industry. It's a tough business to be in.

4x4Wire- Where do you see the sport heading?

Mason- I see this industry experiencing massive growth in the next 5 years in all realms. As long as people support their local clubs and efforts to keep the trails open.

4x4Wire- How do you think rockcrawling competitions have affected four wheeling?

Mason- In a lot of ways they have put a great deal of positive light on the sport, but at the same time have also drawn negative attention as well. I would be interested in competing and think that with my setup I could be very competitive, but I just don't have the time and resources to devote to that right now. Kong's is just getting off the ground and business is going really well, so I hardly have time to get away from the shop.

Competition is great because it has brought a lot of coverage to the sport, but that can be a bad thing too. I definitely like the technology that has emerged as a result of competition, it eventually works its way down to the average wheeler.

On the negative side, some irresponsible events have given the "greenies" ammunition, such as the petroglyphs misshap that took place here in Arizona. Mistakes like that are hard to make up for.

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