MIAMI –– Walking around The Auto Firm, Alex Vega's shop in the heart of Kendall, is like strolling through a toy store for adults.
There are ultra-modern vehicles like a Polaris Slingshot and classics like a 1969 Oldsmobile and one of the Volkswagen vans so loved by hippies in the 1960s and '70s.
Each has something special: the touch of Miami car guru Vega, who has his own show on Discovery, "The Auto Firm with Alex Vega," and has a long client list that includes Marc Anthony, Luis Fonsi, Gente de Zona, Nicky Jam and a long list of sports stars.
A fan of TV shows like "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Knight Rider" since he was a child, Vega always dreamed of designing cars for the movies. Today, the 44-year-old, born in Miami of Cuban parents, can say that he has fulfilled his dreams by owning one of the leading businesses that specialize in customizing vehicles.
His first famous client was Alfonso Soriano, a Dominican who played for the New York Yankees. The success of that vehicle brought him a shower of other jobs.
"Just think, they are parking in the same lot, 40 or 50 athletes who can have the same car, but Soriano's car looked different," Vega said.
The Auto Firm has customized more than 400 vehicles since 2010 for sports and music stars looking for luxury, creativity and excellence. Among the customers are boxing champ Floyd Mayweather and three-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, whose car was upholstered in the colors of the Jamaican flag: green, black and yellow.
Vega created a brand, Avorza, a combination of his initials and the word forza for the power of his creations. Every vehicle he customizes bears the Avorza brand.
Fonsi owns an Avorza edition of the Polaris Slingshot.
Vega met the singer before the success of his hit song "Despacito," and Fonsi is one of the famous clients who have recorded videos for his YouTube channel.
His clients come to customize vehicles that are already expensive, and in many cases wind up friends of Vega, who is proud of having built a family business where his wife and two sons also work.
"Marc Anthony started out as a client. He wanted to build a limousine and today he's a friend, a brother, a part of the family," Vega said.
The story of the day Anthony was visiting the shop and got a call from actor Vin Diesel shows how the word on Vega's designs spread quickly among the famous.
"Marc told him, 'Come over to see what we're doing.' They love to come to find ideas," Vega said. Diesel arrived later that day with reggaeton musician Nicky Jam.
"Vin Diesel saw one of the vans I was making for Marc, and right there bought one of the personalized limousines we build," Vega said. Nicky Jam also ordered one of the limousines.
"It's a pleasure that someone I see in a movie or in a concert would look at me in the same way that I look at them when they are working and say, 'For me, this guy's an artist,'" Vega said.
Among the many extraordinary vehicles in the shop, there's one that always locks down any visitor's eyeballs.
Black and white, with blue details, ultramodern and with a styling that shows it can go really fast really quickly, it's not the Batmobile but it's still worthy of a superhero.
The Polaris Slingshot, which is a three-wheeled motorcycle, sells for $20,000 but will be worth $70,000 by the time Vega and his team finish customizing it.
It has special paint, handmade dashboard and upholstery, a TV set and a suspension that can lower it and turn it into the king of any garage.
The vehicle belongs to the Miami Police Department, which plans to use it as an attraction for the community to admire and at the same time learn more about the work of officers.
Vega donated the extra equipment and labor, valued at $47,000.
It's his way of giving back to the community for its support of his business, far more than what he was hoping for when he decided to open the shop.
"Owning a business is a dream for many people," Vega said. "But to fulfill my childhood dream, and to be able to own a place that has brought me a television program, that's a blessing."
Visit Miami Herald at www.miamiherald.com