In Los Angeles' automotive community, Paul Walker wasn't just an actor. He was a car guy.
The inaugural "Fast and Furious" film starring the Glendale native shined a huge spotlight on a new trend within L.A.'s storied car culture: tuning, in which gearheads make Japanese imports flashier and faster. Although some car purists were critical of the mistakes the film made, they warmed to Walker -- especially when they learned he acquired a Nissan Skyline GT-R, the car his character drove.
“Paul Walker came to love the culture through the film,” said Carter Jung, a former editor of Import Tuner and a technical consultant on the fifth "Fast and Furious" movie. “He wasn’t from the scene -- he grew to love the GT-Rs. He was thrust into this whole subculture that was booming, and he embraced it.”
Walker was known among local car enthusiasts as a down-to-earth fan, a man eager to talk to owners about what they were driving. He showed up at races and events, and he partnered with his financial advisor, Roger Rodas, to start Always Evolving, which customized and sold high-performance cars.
Walker and Rodas were at a charity event at their Valencia shop Saturday when they decided to take a Porsche Carrera GT for a spin. Minutes later, the car slammed into a couple of trees and a light pole on Hercules Street, bursting into flames.
Walker, 40, and Rodas, 38, were killed. Investigators said the car was speeding above the posted 45-mph limit, but said it was unclear exactly how fast it was traveling.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Capt. Mike Parker said that as of Monday, there was no indication that Walker and Rodas were involved in a time trial or race at the time of the crash. Investigators found no evidence of any massive fluid leakage from the vehicle prior to the crash, as has been rumored on social media sites.
Steve McCord, general manager of Galpin Auto Sports in Van Nuys, called Rodas a "very accomplished driver" who was "very calm and very collected." McCord said the pair's death had hit the automotive community hard.
"Everyone is saying it's unbelieveable," he said.
McCord said he met with Walker a few times over the years. The actor's passion for cars was evident “right away,” he said.
“When you’re in this business, you can tell who’s real and who’s not,” McCord said. “You could tell that he was very genuine. He was a car guy.”
For younger car enthusiasts, Walker was an inspiration. Joel Perez, 23, said he become hooked on cars after he saw the first "Fast and Furious" at age 11. When he was 18, he said, he bought a Mitsubishi Evo 9 because Walker's character drove it in the second film.
“I said, ‘I’m going to get that car one day,’ ” he said. “Everybody said, ‘You’re not going to get that car, it’s expensive to get and maintain.’ But because of Paul Walker, I said, ‘Man, I’m going to get that car.’ ”
Edward Loh, editor of Motor Trend Magazine, put Walker on a short list of actors -- also including Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and James Dean -- known for their love of cars.
“Hollywood and cars -- that’s not a new thing. But you see a lot of people come in and out, and say, ‘I love cars, I love driving,’ and you find the actor doesn’t know how to drive manual or just has the slightest understanding of what a car does.”
Walker wasn't that actor, Loh said.
“Paul Walker had no business loving the cars as much as he did,” Loh said. “In some ways, it didn’t make sense. He’s a Hollywood actor -- he could be driving Bentleys and Rolls Royces. Instead he’s about this GT-R. These were vehicles that he really was passionate about.… This guy stayed true.”