Surely, at some point, we have all drawn some inspiration for our builds from Lowriders. This could have resulted in your ride having candy paintjobs, pinstriping, or an extremely low ride height, if you were more daring you could’ve even opted for custom airbrushing or even curb feelers (yes, we’ve seen you with them, don’t deny it). The attention to detail that Lowrider owners show to their vehicles and the apparent culture that revolves around this specific community is something that has been and continues to be replicated throughout the car scene. But what is it about Lowriders that make them so special?
When asked about the origins of the Lowrider you will get many different stories, and although they all seem to be similar, it is always difficult to pinpoint an exact origin location. During an interview with Bronze Nation TV, Richard Ochoa of Lowrider Magazine, discusses this exact conundrum. He states that people will tell you many different places of origin, the most common ones being Texas, Arizona, California and at times even Florida. Along with him many historians, Ochoa connects the Lowrider with the rise of the Pachuco movement. The Pachuco movement just so happens to have a direct connection with the city of El Paso, otherwise known as “Chuco” (Solis, 2017). It all started in the post-World War 2 era. During this time Mexican Americans were returning home from the war and wanted to start a new life, to fit in with society they decided dress “fancier” while keeping their identity. Their choice of garment was the zoot suit and they decided their vehicles should match their new fashion. Furthermore, many Chicanos decided to use this opportunity to stand against an Anglo dominated societal structure.
The Rise of the Lowrider
As the country grew and people purchased more vehicles in efforts to adapt to the post-war urban landscape. From coast-to-coast a Hot Rod madness was taking place, with the souped-up engines and raised suspensions in vehicles which were usually Fords. Chicanos decided to stand from the crowd and head in a different direction. As Chevrolet produced a surplus of cars that were not only readily available, but also economically accessible, a match was made in heaven. Chicanos decided to use Chevys to go in the opposite direction of the hot rod and opted for the low and slow option which is the icon of Lowriding.
At the beginning, lowriders would achieve their iconic look by cutting the rear springs or by weighing down the cars with sandbags. However, as many of us know from our early days, cut springs are not always the best way to do this and soon they would be faced with an obstacle. In 1958, California Vehicle Code 24008 made it illegal to have any part of the car to be lower than its wheels (Fauni). Shortly after, the world was granted the gift of hydraulic suspension. It is difficult to trace who the first individual to do hydraulic suspension was, but everything points to Ron Aguirre. In 1959, Aguirre installed Pesco hydraulics from a B-52 in his 57 Corvette, this allowed him to be street legal at the flip of a switch. From that day forward the technology and popularity of hydraulic suspension grew enormously and has gifted us with jaw dropping hoppers, show cars and cruisers.
On the outside lowriders are known for their intricate paint and artwork. During the 50s there was a big push against American car design and Chicanos decided to showcase “Mexican American religious imagery, candy colored vibrancy, and handcrafted representations of Nahua and Maya symbolism.” (Solis, 2017) By displaying their Mexican Heritage proudly, it allowed Mexican Americans to send a clear message to a larger society. A message that reinforced their ever growing presence in the American societal structure. By using style and aesthetics they expanded this idea that began during the Zoot Suit Riots in the 40s, when they protested the systemic inequality that they were experiencing.
Lowriders appear to be made up of one of the most close-knit communities in the car aficionado sub-cultures. The gatherings in public parks are a weekly occurrence, that is enjoyed by the whole family. The late-nights in the garage with friends and the obvious camaraderie among its members is something many other automotive enthusiast groups wish they had. However, this isn’t everything that the community encompasses, the Lowrider community is known for their services to the communities. Steve Velasquez, curator of Cultural and Community Life at Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History explains the origin of this shift in mentality. During the Chicano Movement in the 1970s there was a shift in the Chicano culture that leaked into Lowriders to operate in a more political function. Lowriders began to offer community services, such as fundraising to benefit people of their descent, such as raising donations for the United Farm Workers.
Through a conversation we held with Hector Gonzalez, member of the Lincoln Park Conservation Committee, and active member of the local Lowrider scene, it was brought to our attention that locally, Lowriders have been ongoing activist in the preservation of Chicano Communities and entities. Mr. Gonzalez informed us about the city’s efforts to demolish the building located in Lincoln Park, the Lowrider community formed a human chain surrounding the building. For 9 days people took turns impeding the city’s tractors from coming close to the building and knocking it down. It was then, that the city announced the cancellation of the demolition. More recently and ongoing, the Lowrider community has also been protesting the restructuring of the downtown area, more specifically the Duranguito area that is being considered to be replaced by a multipurpose performing arts center. In other parts of the country such as California, there were Lowriders organizing and delivering food and supplies to people in central California during the Covid-19 Pandemic. (Blanck, 2021)
It is safe to say that Lowriders have never been as popular as they are now. The style has spread globally with Lowriders popping out in places like Brazil, Japan and even parts of Europe. Richard Ortiz gives initial credit for this spread, as a result of U.S. military bases and the Lowrider Magazine being sent in care packages to the soldiers. However, the use of social media and the internet has recently sped up the process.
Even though, finding a traditional lowrider platform is becoming more and more difficult it is certain that the Lowrider movement is far from over. As these vehicles are reaching status of family heirlooms, they are being passed down intergenerationally throughout the years. The survival of this movement is certain, and who knows, it is possible that the Lowrider way and style will spread to different/newer platforms.
Effects on the Import Scene
At the time the import car scene appears to be quite volatile, with consistent changes in what is trending and the occasional enthusiasts behaving in ways that are questionable. However, our scene is young, in comparison to others, and in the constant chase for clout it appears to make it difficult to fully adopt a style. But, who knows, maybe that’s what will characterize the import scene, its fluidity and adaptation to change. Regardless of what the case may be, it is important to acknowledge the styling many of us have adopted from Lowriders. The candy and flakes in our paints can probably be said to have been adopted form the lowrider movement. Some of our tendencies for polishing parts that otherwise wouldn’t be polished, simply for the look. The use of gold and pinstriping in our cars that adds that extra touch of uniqueness. The custom interiors that are made in efforts to match the exterior of our rides. It has even become common for cars to implement the ever so popular serape pattern that is popular among the Lowriders due to its Mexican Heritage. As it may seem, the import scene appears to be a melting pot of styles that we carefully combine to make ourselves unique.
Let us know what you think about Lowriders and how they have or haven’t inspired your builds below.
All Photographs were taken by Renzo Henderson- IG- @ftlcrp
Blanck Nili. (2021) Inside L.A.s’ Lowrider Car Clubs. Smithsonian Magazine
Bronze Nation TV-Lowrider History 101
Fauni, Jacui. A Brief History of Lowriders
Solis, Gabriel. (2017) The Revolutionary History of Lowriders. Vice.com