There's nobody on this planet--not Leonardo DiCaprio, not Michael Owens, not Tiger Woods--who has made me hate my life more than RJ de Vera. He's done all there is to do in the industry.
He knows everyone there is to know--all at the age of 22. What's more, he drives an NSX that I'd give up at least one useful finger for. The fact that he's my friend makes it that much worse. Every time I talk to him or go out to dinner or just hang out with him and all the ultra-super-famous people he knows, in the back of my mind I'm always thinking, God, I hate my life. And now I have to interview him for Super Street? Excuse me while I look for a bottle of hemlock.
Super Street: In the be-ginning...
RJ de Vera: I started when I was around 14. It's the same story--I had somebody to take me to street races, so I used to go to those and admire all the cars and everything. Then I just started looking at magazines, and I remember wanting a Civic.
But you never got a Civic.No. When I was 15, I was really into audio. All my paychecks used to go to stereo equipment. It got to the point when my friends would come over to my house and say, "Why do you have all this audio equipment when you have no car?"
That is a little weird.
Oh yeah, I went through two different systems before I even got a car. I bought four Nakamichi 10s and amps and everything, and I never used them. I sold them and bought other stuff before I even bought a car.
So your first car was...
My mother's car. She had an Isuzu Impulse that kept breaking down, and she got tired of it. So one day--it's about 6 months 'till my 16th birthday--we go looking for a car and end up at an Acura dealership and test-drive a '92 blue automatic [Integra] LS. We were at the dealership until 12:30 at night 'cause she was trying to wheel and deal--she was totally into it--and so we ended up picking it up.
How did the club get started?Well, I crashed the blue car, and I was dying to get a VTEC GS-R because I saw that one commercial where the NSX turns into an Integra, and it says, "VTEC inspired." So, I'm like, "I've got to get this!" I finally got the white Integra that everyone knows me for. Then my friend got an Integra, too, and some other friends at school had cars, and we wanted to all become part of a crew. I bought the car in July and in August was the first Battle [of the Imports], so we were like "Dude, if we're going to go to Battle, we got to have a crew." And someone came up with the name Speedline. But I used to have a friend who made stickers, and he was like, "Idiot, there's already a Speedline." So me and my co-founder went to Waldenbooks and busted out a Japanese dictionary. We just looked through it on the English side under High Speed, and it said Kosoku. We thought that sounded pretty cool. So we cut stickers that day--right before Battle in August of '94, when I started Endless.
That was your out-of-home/mail order-retail deal. How did that start?I had a lot of friends on the West Side [of Los Angeles] who would always say, "Dude, I wish I could buy parts on the West Side." So me being me, I didn't think it was that hard getting a business license. I asked a friend, "Do you have to be 18 or anything?" He didn't think so. So I went to the state board of equalization, and they told me that there's no age limit. I got a sales tax I.D. and went to another office to get my business license. And I started going to shops saying, "Hey, I'm in the West Side, I'm kind of starting out working out of my home, doing mail order for local people." And a lot of people looked at me like, "Huh? How old are you?"
So when business picked up, how much were you packing in?It was enough to make me think I could buy more stuff. Better than a good summer job.
And then came the article in Auto Week. Now that was pretty big. I know you've said that that was the turning point in your career. How did that come about? Why did Mark Vaughn [the writer] single you out?
I guess it had a lot to do with Dan [Paramore]. I used to do all the retail for [DPR] when he moved from San Pedro to Torrance. Mark had met Dan, and he wanted to do this thing on the import scene, so Dan asked if I could put something together, invite some crews, go hang out somewhere. All my friends used to go to Beef Bowl, and there was a big one in Torrance, so Dan invited a couple of the crews' cars that he had worked on, and I invited my crew and some of my friends. And it turned into a really big deal because all of a sudden there were like 50 cars. Mark Vaughn wound up interviewing everyone. He started asking me all these questions, and you know me, I started going off. [Makes strange machine gun sound with tongue, apparently to signify rapid talking.] I didn't even know the article was about me. The day it came out my friend was like, "Dude, did you see the article? Man, it starts with your name!" I was like, "No way!" So I ran down to the magazine stand and bought five copies. I was so stoked.
How exactly did that article help you?I think it just gave credibility to my name.
Did you consciously know you could use that clout or did you just roll with it?I think it took a while for it to hit me. When I was young, I was a big advocate for the industry. I always felt that no one paid attention to us. So I would speak, whether or not people would listen. After that I would still speak, but now more people were listening. That was weird. And it just got more reinforced when the Los Angeles Times article came out.
That was really big.That was more of Ken Miyoshi's deal because one of his guys had met someone from the L.A. Times who wanted to do something on the import scene. And so he brought the photographer to my house. And from there, The Times spent Battle with us and Import Showoff, as well.
You were the first person who entered the inaugural Import Showoff.The first time I got the flyer, I thought, "Am I reading this right? A car show for imports?" I filled out my [entry form] right when I got home, and I didn't get a reply for like three or four months. Then out of the blue, some guy calls me up and asks, "Hey, uh, are you RJ? I'm the guy from Import Showoff, Ken Miyoshi. So you still want to enter?" I'm like, "Hell yeah, dude! Is this going to happen or not?"
Did you think you were the only one to enter?Nah, I knew that there were other cars out there. I knew, if people found out, that there would be other cars. I didn't know who. 'Cause there were a lot of guys into flossing their s--. They'd drive by parties slow, back and forth, both windows down.
But not you, right?Nah. [Laughs.] I was one of the main ones. I made sure I got [to the parties] late. My friends were all promoters so I could get in for free and cut the lines. We'd always go late when the line was so long. It was fun. But so Ken said he wanted to shoot my car for the program, and I'm like, "No s--? Cool." So I met him at Norms [Diner]. I didn't know what he looked like or anything. Me and him talk about this all the time because back then we were just two kids. No one gave a s-- about us. No one cared about us. No one paid attention to us. And now, everyone is trying to jump on the bandwagon. Now, everyone is trying to juice you for your knowledge. Those were the most exciting days.
There was that innocence. And now that's gone. No one seems to be out there just for the fun of it. Everyone is just trying to make a buck.
It's gotten so big so fast, that's why. And everyone wants respect, which is cool, but people want to get it so fast, like tomorrow.
We talk about this all the time. Tell the good folks at home what you call it.
Be the Man Syndrome. There's nothing wrong with it. But sometimes you've just got to pay your dues.
Why did you close down Endless?I was at UCLA majoring in engineering. At the end of my first year, I was making pretty good money, and thought I was a bad-ass. I thought I didn't need to go [to class]. I dropped down to one class and never went to it. It ended up that attendance was a really big thing and so was homework, and I never did either, so my teacher ended up failing me. And since I was only taking one class, I wound up with a flat zero for the quarter. All of a sudden, I was subject to dismissal. And my mom was like, "Oh no, oh no." So that kind of changed my life a lot. It was kind of like a reality check. Right about that time, I decided that I needed to do something else. That's when I did Carfever.com and the Carfever calendar. It did really well for a while, but then I got so busy that I couldn't update it, so it kind of fell off. The calendar was fun. It was the first thing I had ever done with publishing. My friends wanted to do it because they wanted to meet girls. I didn't complain. My friend, Anthony, helped me out a lot as did Rodney Wills from TMR, though this was way before TMR. My business became production. And Super Street had already come out, so I used to talk to Matt [Pearson] all the time and bug the s-- out of him in his office and give him heat about all the red and yellow cars on the cover.
That's how most of our readers not on the West Coast know you the best. It's gotten to the point where every time I go to an event, people come up to me and say, "Do you work for Super Street?" I say, "Yeah." And they ask, "Are you RJ de Vera?" Then I slap them.
I invited Matt to one of my club meetings. And he's like, "Hell yeah, I'll come." So, he came down to my friend's garage right before Import Showoff. And he couldn't believe that none of our cars had ever been featured in any of the magazines. I just told him that people didn't really care about show Hondas. Turbo did stuff on race Hondas and that was it. And SCC didn't give a s--. So, he decided to shoot Mark [Fata]'s car for the cover, and he was like, If you guys have any suggestions, let me know. Super Street's offices were so close to my house, that I would just go and look through Matt's s--.
How did that translate into a job?Everyone always asks me about that, too. I was just kind of Matt's guy from the street who gave him all the info. I kind of filled him in, you know: Who's this guy? Who's that guy? I was part of it, so I knew everybody. Then I got a chance to go to Tokyo Auto Salon the first year that Super Street was out. And [the magazine] didn't have a budget for it, so Matt asked, "Can you take some film with you?" I was like, "Yeah sure, I don't know if [my pictures] will be any good." He was like, "It's OK, it's OK." So I took this little pocket Leica that [my friend] Anthony had and shot the whole show with it. And I came back thinking that the photos were going to be weak, but some stuff came out, so Matt decided to use them. And he was like, "Hey, you want to write a story to go along with it?" I never thought of myself as a writer, but I said, "Sure, I'll give it a shot." And I wrote it, and it was decent, I think. Matt liked it and was like, "You want to write another one?" After a couple of months, I was writing stories. For me, the photography really sparked an interest. I was always trying to do design stuff.
You do a lot of consulting now.Yeah, I guess consulting is the best word. People used to always call me and ask me stuff. I dipped into everything. How do I promote my event? How should I set it up? Can you help me manage it?
When did you say to yourself, Hey I can make some cashish doing this?Actually, it was Matt who used to say, "You know you can make money doing that? Why don't you start a consulting agency?" I just used to blab. I didn't think people would pay me for my thoughts.
Then you got sucked into American Honda. That must've stunk.[Laughs.] This thing came up, and a friend of mine over there told me that they were doing a sticker and kind of looking for a new design. I was like, "Wow! I can redesign the logo. That could be mine." [The process] took months and months and months, and in the end, it looked like this normal Honda logo with a line under it. But it was a really good experience.
With a company like Honda, were you afraid to fail?My attitude mainly is "I'm young, I've got nothing to lose." I was kind of scared of what they would say, but I kind of understood their program and knew that every time a design came back rejected, it's just their philosophy, not me.
Team Kosoku has been dissolved, but the name is carried on through your products. What is your capacity with this company?Kosoku was around for quite a bit, then after a while a lot of the members grew up and got into other things. I had always said that one day we'd make products and put our name on it. And one guy [Donny Kie] took it seriously. He wanted to make wheels and a few other things, and I told him, "Go ahead." That's why we founded a new crew, [Artnmotion]. My involvement in [Kosoku] is that I consult when I can and help with product involvement when I can. I do a lot of the ads--which I shoot and design--because that's what I want to get into when I'm done with college.
Right now, you have so much going on. Do you have a certain place you go to just chill out and quiet everything down?This year has been the biggest year. I've learned a lot of things, I've done a lot of things, I've realized a lot of things. At UCLA, there's a parking lot. It's seven floors but you can see all of L.A. Sometimes I'll just sit on one of the podiums and kind of just--I don't know if it's meditating--but just feel the air and the atmosphere and just let my mind kind of flow. Let random thoughts kind of fall in. With my friends, too, it's sometimes hard. Sometimes, they're like, "Dude, where have you been, you've been dead or what?" Kind of just like you. Because we travel so much, and our social lives hurt sometimes.
Even with my closest friends, I'll see them maybe once a month.Yeah. But like I said, I'm a dreamer so I'm always striving. Even now, I have new dreams. There's so many things that I want to do, but there's only one me. And it's only now that I've learned that you can only do so much. I'm finally learning how to throw stuff off my plate. I know you've heard me say this before: I'm a cliff-jumper. Always jumping off a cliff whether or not I've got a parachute on. I learned my lesson through experience. I love experience. I mean sometimes I'll jump off a cliff and friggin' hit the pavement and eat it. And sometimes I'll soar really high. I'm a big risk-taker. It's an up and down life, but I've learned to be mellow.