Flippin’ Whips

Erick Vasquez wipes down the engine of his Nissan GTR R35s in Chatsworth, Calif., on April 3, 2024. Photo by Ashley Shellmire

On a recent SuperCar Sunday at Pierce College, five of Erik Vasquez’ cars grabbed spectators’ attention, including his two rare, discontinued Nissan GTR R35s.

But that’s just part of his six-car collection, which Vasquez has built over several years. 

Originally from Tecalitlán, a small pueblo close to Guadalajara in Mexico, he started liking cars when he met his stepdad, who is a mechanic.

“He had a Fox body Mustang, and I thought it was the fastest thing in the world,” Vasquez said. “He liked to step on it and drive fast. To me, as a 6 -year -old child, this was awesome. I just developed a passion for it.”

Vasquez left Mexico and developed a love for race car video games, including “Gran Turismo,” “Need For Speed” and “Midnight Club.” He went to Monroe High School in North Hills but didn’t finish.

“I started working with my stepdad, assisting him and doing basic things like brake pad changes or rotor swaps or pretty much any service that he needed help with,” he said. “I thought I saw a future in it, especially because I had already started flipping cars.”

The first car Vasquez flipped was a CRX for about $800.

“I turned around and sold it for like $2,000-something — and I didn’t do much. I just cleaned it up, changed the brakes, made sure everything was running well. And that’s it.”

He performed his biggest car flip, a BMW 7 Series, when he was 21 years old.

“I did a lot of work on that car. I got that car for like $10,000 and I flipped it for $30,000-something,” Vasquez said.

At the same time, Vasquez started working part-time as a paralegal, assisting an attorney with drafting paperwork and collecting records. 

“I liked the customization scene and being able to make your own build,” he said. “I think that’s what keeps me in it, the fun and the thrill of building your own car and making it fast and taking it out to events.” 

 His favorite flip was the Chaser that he modified for his first build. 

“Honestly, I think it was the power that the car had,” he said. “And seeing your car, after you lower it, after you change the wheels, after you paint, polish… It was really important for me to show it to everyone.” 

But soon after that first success, he lost the Chaser in an accident when he was 16, which resulted in cracked ribs, a concussion and being hospitalized. 

 The crash didn’t stop him from loving cars and building them.

Vasquez continued to flip cars and earn money. He saved and bought a house, and in 2015, he used the leftover money to make his first major auto purchase, an Audi R8, which cost about $105,000.

“I remember seeing it and thinking ‘That’s a bad-ass car. I hope I can have it someday,’” he said.

Randy Breskin, a car collector expert for more than 30 years, said it takes knowledge and money to fund it. 

“I think to be successful you have to know what you’re buying and do your homework,” he said. “You’ve got to have the eye for it, or you’ve got to have a love and passion for it.”

While Vasquez loves all his cars, the jewels of his collection are two Nissan GTR R35s.

“They’re not common, and a lot of people didn’t even really know much about GTRs,” he said. “But  the movie ‘Gran Turismo’ made it so everybody knows all of a sudden what they are now. I saw the R35 competing with the Lamborghini, Ferrari, all those cars. I saw Nissan as an underdog. I always knew I wanted one someday, and now I’ve got my dream cars.” 

Ronnie Diaz is the co-founder of RD Engineering at Lambert of Oxnard, and he is a GTR R35 modification expert. Most of his customers, he said, are looking for more power. 

“It could be as simple as replacing minor things on the car as far as aspiration and letting the car breathe a bit better from the factory and installing an intake system or an exhaust system,” Diaz said. “We’ll also rebuild the engine and transmission to handle a higher horsepower, put in like larger turbos, more fuel and double or triple the factory horsepower.”

Diaz worked with Vasquez so that his two GTR R35s met his expectations.

“It was really worth putting all the time with the GTR R35 and putting a lot of money into building this project,” Vasquez said.

From beginning as a novice mechanic to becoming an accomplished collector, Vasquez said he remembers a quote that helped push him when things were challenging.

“Look at a successful person, someone that you admire. Learn what they do and then make it your own way,” he said.