Paul Walker and Previas guided the Purist Group's charitable mission

Photography by Niki Byrne and Shayan Bokaie

Aug 31, 2021

It’s no secret that cars and the automotive hobby are phenomenal drivers of culture, community, and bringing people together over a shared passion. In parallel, many of these activities are centered around or benefit charitable endeavors, which serves as a noble reminder that participating in the car passion means you’re among the lucky ones. For enthusiast Sean Lee, founder of the Purist Group, paying it forward is not only at the core of his automotive experience, but also his general human spirit.

Purist Group is a collective of enthusiasts drawn from different automotive subcultures focused on supporting impoverished communities. But unlike other charitable events or groups, they don't take financial donations—they take toys. Lots and lots of toys. Growing up in Taiwan in a tough household, Sean found escape in building RC cars which not only kickstarted his passion for cars, but focused his mission with Purist Group on getting children from underserved communities what they need from school supplies to toys. Now a pillar in the automotive universe, brands like Honda, Nissan, Michelin and NASCAR look to Sean as an ambassador and community builder when launching new cars or initiatives.

Collector Profile: Sean LeeCollector Profile: Sean Lee

Sean found friendship and camaraderie in this mission with another enthusiast and community champion in the late Paul Walker and his foundation, Reach Out Worldwide, which was dedicated to supporting first responders in disaster areas. Bonding over both cars and charity, they joined forces to rally the automotive community at various events, including Sean’s toy drives which now yield tens of thousands of toy and school supply donations.

Collector Profile: Sean LeeCollector Profile: Sean Lee

Photographed by Niki Byrne in Los Angeles, CA

Tragically, at one of Sean’s toy drives Paul was involved in the accident which took his life. “After Paul's death happened before my eyes I got completely knocked down to the ground. I had to re-learn how to get myself back up. It's very hard to process something like that,” Sean recalls.

He continues, “I learned that in this world, you never know when your time is going to be taken away from you. From there on, I did everything I could do. Homeless shelters. Animal shelters. I’m out delivering nearly every day. My ultimate goal was to be able to help as many people in my life as possible and use my time on Earth to do some good.”. In addition to keeping the momentum on Purist Group’s activities, Sean adamantly keeps Paul’s memory and legacy going, working closely with Paul’s brother, Cody Walker.

Collector Profile: Sean LeeCollector Profile: Sean Lee

Photographed by Niki Byrne in Los Angeles, CA

The lineup

Car passion is at the core of Sean's purpose, and it shows as soon as you walk into his garage. His collection ranges from rare, low-mileage JDM classics, to modified sports cars, to personal mementos that symbolize his journey in life. “I don't really think of my cars as a collection. I only buy cars that I enjoy driving and spending time with. I treat every one of my cars like my good friend. The criteria is they have to be able to, first of all, handle how I drive and how I use them. Every car I have is pretty much built to the way I like it, or how I like to drive it. They're not there just to be for display only. Of course there are one or two cars that are kind of special, like my 1,200 mile RX-7. But I’ve even been driving that—right now it's at almost 1,900 miles,” Sean explains.

“I enjoy all different forms of cars but not because of their value. I'm always curious, like, "Okay, people say this GT3RS is really good. Let’s see what's so good about it?" I’ll buy one and drive the shit out of it and say, "Oh, I understand now." I'll continue to learn and progress. When you put suspension on it, the car acts differently. When you put a sway bar on it, it acts differently. When you put any modification into the engine power, it acts differently. Different tire compounds, different tire packages, different tire sizes, different wheel sizes. It's a process. Every car is a learning curve. That's what’s fascinating to me. That's why I like to modify cars.

While it’s tough to overlook his Acura NSX, Porsche GT3 RS, Sean’s R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R is particularly special. A rare sight in the US and poster-car for many millennials, it earns every double-take it yields in traffic. But even amidst this lineup, a huge source of pride and joy, Sean’s passion for cars is immeasurably underscored when he speaks of his Toyota Previa.

“So I ran away from home when I was 17 and worked all different types of jobs, McDonalds, construction, delivery, And during this time I slept in a Toyota Previa van,” he explains. After working through the ranks of a transportation company and earning success, a dear friend of Sean’s whom he shared the van with, gifted him a Previa as a token of harder times. While the Previa represents great sentimental value for Sean, he also speaks highly of its enthusiast appeal.

“The cool thing about Previa is that it has a flat four and the later versions like mine are supercharged with about 150, 160-ish horsepower and the engine is actually right in the middle. The center of gravity is very low. It's a very good driving car for a minivan. Other people love this van. Believe it or not, the rear seats actually completely fold down to become a bed. Because it's a mid-engine layout, if you compare the wheelbase to the later model Sienna that replaced the Previa, it's actually got a lot more room. It pushed the driver forward toward the windshield, though that created some safety concerns, but it’s the last van made in Japan.”

Unknowingly to Sean, our photographer Niki Byrne, is also a massive Previa enthusiast who daily drives one with over 300,000 miles. Even in the presence of such heavy metal, the conversation that created the most joy was over mutual admiration of a minivan, and that summarizes Sean’s impact with Purist Group and passion for cars beautifully.

More about Sean Lee

You can follow Sean on his personal Instagram (@seanlee768) for a behind-the-scenes look at his automotive adventures. Purist Group is also active on Instagram and Facebook.

Meet our contributors

Niki Byrne is a filmmaker, photographer, and helicopter pilot who doesn't start an adventure without her Leica. Her inclination to capture moments rather than static cars brings a much-needed fresh look to automotive content.

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