Cruising Low and Slow: 10 Great Lowriders
When most people think about customizing a car, they think about improving the car's performance. Cars with extra-large engines stuffed under the hood, trucks with a lifted suspension to better crawl over rocks and massive superchargers are common at most car shows. But there's a special brand of customization that doesn't have anything to do with making the car go faster. When it comes to this type of customization, it's all about making it bajito y suavecito (low and slow).
Lowriders are a type of car customization where the goal of the customization is not increased performance. Instead, lowriders try to make their cars as sleek, stylish and sexy as possible, usually by dramatically lowering the car's suspension, adding body work like fender skirts, lowering the roof line and applying a flashy coat of paint. Inside, lowriders are all about comfort, with plush seats and banging sound systems.
Lowrider style evolved out of Chicano culture in California in the 1930s. At the time, immigrants began to buy and customize older cars -- usually Chevrolets. Seeking to differentiate themselves from the dominant hot-rod culture of the era, early lowriders (who called themselves pachucos), didn't customize their cars for nights at the drag strip. Instead, they wanted cars that would look good and be comfortable as they cruised the streets, hoping to meet girls.
From that urge to impress girls has grown an enduring custom car style that's even influenced some production cars. To learn more about lowrider style, check out these 10 great lowriders.
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Exploring urban indigenous culture with lowrider bikes
“Anishnaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag: Native Kids Ride Bikes,” on display at the LookOut! Gallery in Snyder Hall, displays seven lowrider bikes that were assembled by Lansing-area Native American students.
Dylan Miner, assistant professor in the Residential College of Arts and Humanities, organized and curated the exhibit.
After receiving an Artist Leadership Program fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian last year, he spent two weeks in residency in Washington, D.C., exploring indigenous culture and means of sustainable travel. After returning to East Lansing, Miner created the Youth Public Art Project in which he worked with RCAH students and Lansing-area Native youth to create a series of lowrider bikes.
Miner wanted to integrate urban, often hip hop, experiences with the traditional teachings of the elders. As a result, the bikes are based in sacred Anishnaabeg teachings, and each one represents one of the seven sacred teachings of the grandfathers.
“Each of the bikes becomes a visual manifestation of those ideas,” Miner said.
The exhibit also consists of several other elements. Seven different colors of pennants hang from the ceiling; each color displays one of the teachings of the grandfather. Photographs from Miner’s workshops, illustrations of the bikes and a documentary detailing Miner’s work on the project are also on display in the gallery.
“Anishnaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag: Native Kids Ride Bikes,” will be in the LookOut! Gallery until Sept. 28. There will also be a reception held the final day at noon in the gallery.
At 66 years running, the Grand National Roadster Show is big on tradition. The chance to experience hot rod and custom car history first-hand is a big draw for the thousands that come through the gates of the Fairplex every year. But for as much as the GNRS is about the old days, it’s also about new trends and the exchange of ideas between different builders and enthusiasts.
It’s a place where you’ll find mega-buck, billet-laden show rods sitting a few steps away from rust-covered jalopies. You’ll also find freshly-debuted, modern builds parked beside historical customs appearing just as they did when originally built some 60 or 70 years ago. It’s one of the things I love about the event.
Over the past several years, there seems to have been an increasing convergence between the world of lowriders and that of traditional custom cars. Historically, the lowrider scene has always been its own thing, with unique demographics and separate traits – something I don’t think will be changing anytime soon. But I can’t help but notice that the lines seem to be blurring in certain areas. The divide isn’t what it once was.
The Grand National Roadster Show regularly includes a display for lowriders from some of Southern California’s biggest car clubs. It’s one of the few places where you’ll see these cars outside the realm of lowrider-only gatherings.
Aside from the presence of the full-on lowriders at the GNRS, there was also a nice sprinkling of cars that straddle the border between 1960s-style custom and straight lowrider.
In later years the genres would go down separate paths, but for a period in the mid ’60s, Southern California was home to a number of cars which combines elements of both. Today, it’s sometimes referred to as ‘Bellflower style’, so named after the city where many of these cars could be found cruising. Whatever you want to call them, they represent an important era in both custom car and lowrider history.
It’s hard to find a better example of this style than Howard Gribble’s ’64 Impala SS. The car known as Bloody Mary was built by Starlite Rod & Custom, and is actually perfect replica of a machine built by Allen Dukes in the late ’60s.
From the paint and wheels to the interior treatment, Howard’s Impala is a stunning tribute to custom car history, and one that could easily fit in at both a traditional custom car show, or a lowrider event.
You can also see that he went with a period-look for his show display as well, with cotton stuffed in the wheel wells as you would often see at indoor exhibitions in the ’60s and ’70s.
Richie Valles of Unique Twist Auto Body in Burbank is another builder who’s known to skirt the boundaries between lowrider and custom. His MoTown ’63 Impala is another build that combines elements of both schools of style.
On one hand it’s got typical lowrider touches like hydraulics and wire wheels, but it also has some unusual features like a custom cross ram induction system.
It has the attention to detail you find on high-level lowrider show cars, but everything’s been approached in a more restrained way. The paint job is a bit more understated, as is the interior – and the build seemed to be getting a lot of attention at the GNRS.
Northern California’s John D’Agostino is a builder known for turning out stunning ’40s and ’50s customs, but he’s gone in a slightly different direction with his latest project. The ’68 Buick Riviera known as Pantheon is one more example of lowrider and traditional custom styles being mixed on a 1960s platform. The custom work on this long and low Buick is subtle, but oh so effective.Low Lifestyle
Now were at the Lifestyle Car Club display, located in the hall which celebrates Southern California’s car clubs. Lifestyle is likely the world’s most well known lowrider club, and you can read more about it in this guest blog from the late, great, Jae Bueno.
The cars that belong to Lifestyle aren’t the usual lowriders you see rolling down the street. These things are nothing less than fully-fledged works of art – and they are absolutely stunning to look at.
The paintjobs alone are something which cannot be described with words or even photographs. It boggles the mind to even think about the time that’s been invested in coating this bodywork.
I also love the way lowrider builders embrace platforms you wouldn’t typically see at hot rod and custom car shows. A ’79 Lincoln Mark V is car that most collectors or hot rodders wouldn’t look twice at, but when given the full lowrider treatment the huge two-door becomes a masterpiece.
The same can be said for a model like the ’79 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. Late ’70s and early ’80s Cadillacs haven’t yet reached the point of being desirable collector cars, and I’m not quite sure they’ll ever command the premium of their older counterparts.
But when you see a car like Bobby Flores’ Cotton Cadi, the Coupe DeVille takes on a personality all its own. ‘Classic’ is just one of many words you could choose to describe it.
On the other hand a ’63 Impala SS Convertible is a car that’s highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts of all types. Especially if it happens to be equipped with a 409 and a 4-speed stick.
But the owner of this car, dubbed Summer Madness, didn’t let the Chevy’s rarity stop him from turning it into a stunning lowrider creation – and that actually makes the whole thing cooler.
Especially when you peek under the hood and see that the 409ci motor has been fitted with an extremely rare Algon fuel injection system from the ’60s.
I’m not sure what Chevy purists will think, but to me this car perfectly taps into the anti-establishment aura that’s always hung around the lowrider scene.Mass Appeal
Now we move from a Summer Madness to Blind Madness – this ’65 Impala SS owned by Jesse Saldana of Thee Stylistics Car Club.
This is one of those builds so immaculately detailed that you just have to stop and stare. In fact, you could just sit there forever taking in all of the little touches.
Like many high-end lowrider show cars, the Impala was displayed without wheels and had mirrors beneath so you could see the detailed under carriage and touches like the etched brake rotors.
Even the underside of the gas tank was covered in murals that surely would have taken hours upon hours to complete. Even if you wouldn’t consider doing this sort of thing to your own car, it’s impossible not to be inspired by the sheer amount of raw car-building talent on display.
And as I made my way around the lowrider displays at the GNRS, I couldn’t help but notice that many of the people admiring these cars certainly didn’t fit the profile you might have of the typical lowrider fan.
Sure, lowriding in the US has always been known as a primarily Hispanic movement, but I saw a lot of gray-haired white guys with hot rod t-shirts stopping to check out these cars and being very impressed with what they saw. I’ve also got no doubt that the lowrider owners enjoyed checking out the beautiful hot rods that were on hand.
We at Speedhunters love the idea of breaking down boundaries and thinking outside the box – and that’s why we think the lowriders are a very welcome addition to the Grand National Roadster Show. Regardless of background or individual taste, the ability to appreciate and enjoy craftsmanship, style and history is something that all car lovers should share.
More Show & Festival coverage on SpeedhuntersCutting Room Floor
Display ideas lowrider
Full-On Displays at the 2018 Albuquerque Super Show
Lowrider Judges Award 10 Points for Car Show Displays
The quality and standard of cars built in New Mexico continues to grow annually. At the recent Albuquerque Super Show there were plenty of award-winning show vehicles on display. What caught Lowrider photographer Corey Ringo's attention were the creative displays that surrounded most of the vehicles at the event. Here are a few of the eye-catching, creative ideas that complemented some of the car and truck displays.
The best part about building your ride is to have appreciation for it by complementing it with a beautiful display. Show sign creativity, stanchions, and plush carpeting go a long way, but car-building enthusiasts plan out displays long before their show rides are even finished.
Turntables and jackstands are great to give a full visual on a car, but nothing complements a display like a theme that goes with the vehicle's era, nickname, or when you take your garage artifacts and bring them along to the show. Some exhibitor car displays almost turn into man caves that make you wonder where they found the time to build them.
Have a look and see for yourself that with a long car build journey there is also some hardworking thought and time dedicated to having a car looking its car show best! Give them their 10 points due, judges!
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No one can deny that the cars we see cruising the boulevards, lowered to the ground, painted in the most amazing colors and designs. These cars are special. The lowrider is creativity escalated to a level that makes you wonder and smile with glee. The question is "How did this happen? Where did these ideas come from? Why the automobile?"
To put it simply, the lowrider automobile is an artistic message that says "We are expressing our unique culture." Originating primarily in Southern California (mostly Los Angeles), Texas and Arizona, the lowrider represents the unique take on what could be described as a Mexican cultural custom called the paseo. This is a tradition where the youth in villages circle around the village plaza, women walking in one direction and men the other – often checking each other out and flirting. In some cases, the local caballeros (cowboys), would deck out themselves and their horses and join in the fun. Lowriding has taken this to modern times, cruising the boulevards of East Los Angeles to El Paso, Texas.
The San Diego Automotive Museum is pleased to present this exhibit for your enjoyment. The mission of the museum is to present the cultural impact the automobile has on our collective culture, and lowriders are a classic and poignant example of that. In addition to being an important part of the community, the cars are also works of art and styling.
David Aguilar, a local lowrider, is the featured exhibitor. Mr. Aguilar has been building lowriders for dozens of years and has transformed them into spectacular works of art. Coming from a long history of cars and customizing, he is well-known for his work. His work was displayed at the museum’s previous lowrider exhibit in 2006.
This exhibit also features lowrider memorabilia and some smaller items (pedal cars and a tricycle). Car club jackets, plaques, and specialty boards are included. Each vehicle is unique in its styling, design, and execution. In addition, a special display of interactive art has been installed in the Explore area - huge fun for kids of all ages. Adults too!
Immerse yourself in the amazing art and lifestyle of the lowrider. Enjoy the ride!
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By Anthony J. Nocella II, Ph.D. — How does one start building a lowrider bicycle? First and foremost, do not rush out and buy a lowrider bicycle that has been manufactured in a mass-produced fashion. Get to know the lowrider culture and its historical and socio-political place in Chicanx/Latinx/Cholx society.
The lowrider culture started in the 1960s during the Civil Rights, United Farm Workers, and Brown Power movements, inspired by earlier resistance movements by people of Mexican descent against structural racism and assimilationism. It is clear, direct, and easy to argue that the lowrider culture has always been and is grounded in activism and social justice.
Lowrider culture started with cars, clothing, stroll, swag, and religious and family values. Lowrider culture is about la familia, and the interweaving of religion and family. It is here that the culture promotes youth advocacy, art, dance, music, food, peace, unity, justice, and festivals.
Lowrider culture is also therapy, and can be a healthy alternative breaking the cycle of violence, gangs, drugs, and prison.
Lowrider bicycle design emerged in California from the “King of the Kustomizers” George Barris, the legendary car designer, who created The Munster’s Munster Koach and built the Batmobile for the original 1960s TV series.
In the 1960s, Barris brought his car art to the bicycle world by customizing Schwinn Sting-Rays, but never strived to be part of the lowrider culture. Later, the Stelber Cycle Corp in New York partnered with Barris to create bicycles under the brand name Iverson, which were not lowrider bicycles, but did have a bit more style than the classic Schwinn Sting-Ray.
Ultimately, Manny Silva, owner of Manny’s Bike Shop in Compton, California, would become the key person that introduced Barris’s style by to the barrio and lowrider .
My first lowrider bicycle was handed down to me by my Uncle Ron in Philadelphia, via my big sister Kim. It was an original Iverson 1968 Charger, that I later turned into a lowrider bicycle.
The key in designing a lowrider bicycle to take an original bicycle from the 1960s or early 1970s that has a “wheelie bike” or chopper design similar to the Schwinn String-Ray, and slow it down with smooth flowing bright glittering clean paint with white-wall tires, chrome and/or gold parts, mirrors, velvet banana saddle, and as much flare as possible.
Most lowriders are shiny and have candy paint on them. Many also have pinstripes and names of those that have died as a remembrance art piece, similar to tattooing the name on one’s arm. They are typically also named and have a theme, be it Star Wars, Raiders, Hellraiser, Candy Canes, Tupac, fire, music notes, Nike, Jordan, or Dominos.
Steps to Building a Lowrider
First, go check out lowrider shows in person and check out pictures of lowriders on the internet for ideas and inspiration. Originality is important, but it’s okay to get ideas for design elements from other bikes.
Second, find an old Schwinn Sting-Ray, take as many pictures of it as you can, and then strip it down.
Third, contact a local lowrider club to ask where to get your bike painted and if you want the tank and/or chain stay area filled in with Bondo. Be aware that depending on the extent of the paint and body work, this might cost upwards of $1000.00. Make sure when you get it painted you have your theme in mind for the bicycle.
Fourth, buy or build other design elements, such as new wheels (100-spoke 20-inch wheels?), a twisted long spring fork, reflectors, chrome chain, velvet saddle, twisted sissy bar, twisted pedals, chrome metal grips, crank, twisted chainring, bottom bracket, headset, white wall tires, and tubes.
Then, once you have all the parts, build the bike! If you are having trouble assembling your bicycle take it to a local bicycle shop, preferably one which appreciates all types of bicycles including lowriders.
The best place to get lowrider parts online is Street Lowrider (streetlowriders.com), but be aware that the price for lowrider parts can add up fairly quickly as well.
Finally, build a chromed mirrored velvet display stand for the bike, as it is an art piece. Now put on your Dickies, Converse sneakers, and black t-shirt and go to a lowrider show to show off your bicycle. For those who want to join a club, it is like getting married, the love and right fit have to be there, but once you have you are now part of la familia.
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Anthony J. Nocella II, Ph.D. is a full-time professor at Salt Lake Community College, author of numerous books, trail runner, triathlete, competitive cyclist, and in his free time works at Hangar 15 Bicycles Millcreek.