When the makers of The Fast and the Furious were looking to find a real street racer to work as a consultant, they came across West L.A. native R.J. De Vera. He was a young automotive journalist, car-club member and owner of a tuned import racer of his own.
He was working at the Petersen Automotive Museum, helping it tap into the new tuner youthquake, and his boss recommended him to the film’s makers. But when he first met with producers at the dawn of the millennium, he was wary.
“You going straight to video?” he says he asked. “No, we’re pretty serious,” De Vera recalls a producer saying.
The suits couldn’t have chosen a better consultant. De Vera was living inside the West Coast–born import-tuner culture that the multibillion-dollar film series was trying to portray. He and his brother helped run a West L.A. car club. His family was so entrenched in the scene that his mother drove a bright yellow Honda Odyssey minivan that had been slammed to the ground. “Got Rice?” read its proud Asian-American graphics.
De Vera ended up with a small part, as Danny Yamato, in the original title.
The import-tuner scene, already healthy, exploded after the movie’s 2001 release. De Vera got youth-culture consulting gigs — Pepsi, Valvoline — left and right. He landed at MTV, where he worked as a host and judge for tuner competition show Trick It Out. He built show cars on the side. And he helped Hot Import Nights, where the car show meets the club world, spread the import-tuner ethos across America.
By the end of the ’00s, however, the bottom had started to fall out of the import-tuner craze. “The millennials,” he says with a shrug, “have a different mindset.”
Luckily he found some deep pockets in 3M-owned Meguiar’s, an Irvine-based car-products company known for its waxes and vehicle wraps.
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“I jumped on the corporate side of the world and started as business development manager,” De Vera, now 39, says. “I moved up the corporate ladder, directed public relations, did event marketing, training and even customer care.”
De Vera might spend much of his time behind a Meguiar’s headquarters desk these days, but he still lives the life. You can spot him fairly regularly at regional weekend showoff events usually called “cars and coffee.” He rolls up in his own masterpiece, a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG with gullwing doors, lowered suspension and aftermarket wheels. Over the years he’s owned a Mercedes-Benz CLS, a BMW 7-series, a Maserati, a Porsche Cayman and the tuner’s ultimate supercar (at least before the Nissan GT-R came around), an Acura NSX.
“I’ve definitely spent more on cars than I should have,” De Vera says. “But it’s been a lot of fun.”