Imaginative, Eccentric, Genuine, Unique, Distinctive, MasterBig Or Small, Mando's Masterpieces Can Handle It All.Born in Tijuana, Mexico, Armando "Mando" Flores immigrated to the San Fernando Valley in the early '70s with his family to take a chance in the great state of California. "Lowriding was hot," Mando says. "When I'd get out of San Fernando High School I'd see all those lowriders on the streets. I was 15 years old then and every time I saw them hopping or those candy paintjobs, I was inspired." By this time Mando was already building models and had even been building them back in Mexico. "I was 10 years old when I built my first model. When I came over here and saw the lowriders I was like, 'whoa.' I got so many ideas and visions while I was at school that I started building models to compete, but there were a lot of guys way ahead of me," Mando says. "During those early years I would spend every possible moment building model cars, and as soon as one was finished I would beg my dad to take me to the store to get another one. Many people think of model cars as toys, but that's a huge misconception. If you try to play with a model car you're going to find yourself with a hundred pieces broken up all over the place."
Even though Mando didn't win anything in his early years, mostly due to the fact that his competition was light-years ahead, it never deterred him. He learned what it took to become someone who would get into the heart of the competition. Soon after that, he married his girlfriend and started a family. "I kind of stopped building the models for a while, but then around 1989 I started making my own wheels and parts," he says. Mando's first serious lowrider model was a '64 Impala called "24K Topless." Back then the materials and technology weren't as good as they are now, but Mando did the best that he could to accomplish even more detail, especially in the painting and artwork found on his projects. "The '64 was a collection of many different car kits, like 10 of them just for the chrome parts," Mando says. He was unhappy with the tires and wheels that were made for lowrider models, so he decided to make his own brass, aluminum, and plastic parts that were used to create other realistic details.
Mando is now able to machine his own engines and wheels by using a Dremel tool to go along with the handywork that he does. "In order to make a detailed model you have to create it, you can't just go out and buy it," Mando adds. Building realistic model cars is a true art form that takes both patience and dedication. As for inspiration, he catches it from the cars, the lowrider lifestyle, and books like Lowrider magazine. "I'm a self-taught painter. All of my models are painted with House of Kolor automotive paint," he says. But getting tips from some of the well-known custom painters in the lowriding community can't hurt either. People like Walt Prey, Bill Carter, Danny "D," and the great Mario from the Candy Factory helped him out a lot. "Anything I see, and it doesn't have to be a lowrider, it could be a hot-rod, a low-rod, any custom car, if I see something and can 'feel' it, things start popping." As for a regular job, Mando is a quality-control manager for a local aerospace company. "I deal with a lot of machining and stuff, so that makes it easier for me," Mando says. "I'm able to read a blueprint of any kind; you have to have some kind of imagination when looking at a blueprint, like you can almost 'see' the part done in your mind. If I see a car or visualize a paintjob, I can see it come to life." His coworkers have actually seen Mando's other work and jokingly tell him that he has too much time on his hands but Mando says, "Whenever I have time because I'm always looking for that time. Even if it's just five minutes, that's the five minutes I'm gonna use." Mando prefers the evening time and is known for his all-nighters when working on a heavy project.
From time to time Mando will sketch out ideas and then those ideas will steer him onto the right path. Paintings, like ones you see in galleries, are Mando's other passion. "Masterpiece Model Car Club started back almost 14 years ago, right after an article that ran in Lowrider Bicycle magazine," he says. "I created it because sometimes you want to own a car but can't, so why not build a model of it instead that way you can still 'own' it."
With more that 150 trophies under his belt, we asked him if he still remembers his first win. "I won it at a shopping mall in Panorama City. It was a small trophy, but to me it was the baddest trophy, and I still have it. I built a Porsche 911 for that one."
Another highlight for Mando is being a member of Lifestyle Car Club, which has literally changed his life. "Being part of the club has been great," he says. "I was in the club earlier than the three years I've actually been in it because I learned from every member in the club long before that."Part of Mando's pre-visualization sometimes involves seeing the custom paintjob on almost any type of car. He says that has to work or he may have to repaint the model, which he has had to do from time to time. Rather than give up, he chooses to keep going until he thinks it's just right.
Mando doesn't have a preference in model car companies because it's the plastic that matters, which he just needs to be able to manipulate. As for where he gets the hard-to-find models, he says eBay and occasionally at the store. Mando's eyes really light up when he finds a certain car model or part that he'll be using. These finds can cost a couple hundred dollars for a vintage bone-stock, in-the-box model car that will still need to be customized to the tenth degree. He recalled one time getting a model car kit of a '66 and paying $300 for it because he had to have it since that's what it took to build that particular car. "EBay is the greatest, I can find a lot of stuff there," Mando says. One of the first things Mando does to a car once he gets it in his hands is to get into the body modifications. "I start opening the doors, the hood, and trunk and do whatever I have to do to the plastic to make it work for me," he says.
Mando, and many other lowrider model builders sometimes get heat when competing with the other custom car modelers, especially the hot-rod crowd, but many of you already know that most lowrider-style cars will out-point the custom hot-rod-styled cars on the large and small scales. To make a point, Mando built a pickup truck to show that he could own them in their perspective field. "When you have more than 500 parts, many of them photo-etched aluminum for the engine and undercarriage, it just proves to them that they can't do lowriders. I think I proved that point," Mando says jokingly. That may have piped them down for a bit but he still gets a lot of grumbling from the hot-rodders.
As for his latest creation, his "Egyptian Lover," the '65 Chevy Impala, will be a combination of plastic and metal parts. This wild ride is something Mando plans to take to the Nationals in Salt Lake City for the 2009 season, but the car will need to be approved and categorized in order to compete. Even though the committee for the event has many rules, we know that if anyone can get into the Nationals it's this guy!