A little Lowrider History

I for one, would love to own one, maybe one day. Thing is, building a lowrider doesnt just happen….you have to want it and desire it. Pursue the dream with a vigor. Like my brother did. He ultimately sacrificied his beloved 1964 2-door (yes it matters) Impala for some money to go to Jewelry School in Paris Texas.

I spent quite a few nights following him in his 64 on the way to setup at a carshow or go to the shop Marcustoms, where he kept it and worked on it when it wasn’t at our parent’s or brother’s house. I wanted to share a few excerpts about lowrider history. Also to demystify it as a lifelstyle and not just a customized vehicle. In the same way that hotrodders have their own style and culture, so do lowriders. The problem is in today’s media, more often than not, when you see a villainous latino or african american antagonist in a film, they are usually driving up in what closely resembles a lowrider. This sort of publicity gets a lot of the normal lowrider guys, (the ones who work their arses off for their families, pay all their bills, love their kids and wife and just happen to have a heightened sense of comradery with fellow lowriders who help each other out on working on their vehicles), end up getting mean stares or looks of fear. I know some “gangsters” happen to own lowriders, however to assume that anyone who owns a lowrider and lives the true lowrider lifestyle is a “gangster” would be like assuming all import tuners are asian, all guys in trucks with cowboy hats are rednecks and anyone in a minivan must be a soccer mom.

In my time with my brother, I became and remain friends with many lowriders. Some even told me I was one too, although I didnt have a lowrider vehicle, they said I had the same passion for the lifestyle. I also love my brother so that helped, and my father always ridiculed him for it, so I felt it necessary to be in his corner. Thats what brothers do.

After a while I became a part of the Houston Lowrider Council. I designed the logo, sat on the decision making board, ran the website, took pictures at most of the carshows, etc. I was on the board for a few years and ultimately stepped down when I just didn’t have the time to dedicate to the group that it merited. They are still running strong, I am happy to say, and will be having their 5th anniversary picnic at MacGregor Park in April of this year.

The following information comes from Lowrider Magazine’s website and are very small excerpts from the history of lowriding. Hopefully it piques your interest into wanting to read up more on the subject.

“Throughout many Mexican-American neighborhoods, called barrios, from East Los Angeles to El Paso, Texas, cruisers have been dropping Chevrolets to a sidewalk-scraping stance since the late 1930s. It was part of the “zoot suit” fashion, a trend popular among teenagers from every culture. Mexican-American zooters, cool from slicked back hair to highly polished shoes, called themselves pachucos. They cruised beautifully restored, older Chevys, decked out in their oversized zoot suits for a night on the town. Often just the back of the Chevy was temporarily lowered, using sandbags hidden in the trunk beneath strategically placed planks of wood, or permanently dropped all around, the springs shortened by cutting the top few coils or heated until they collapsed to a proper cruising height. They cruised through the streets, honoring a custom that may have been practiced since the heyday of the Aztlan Empire.

After World War II, America’s economy was booming. Southern California’ the ’30s its comparatively strong economy during the Great Depression had attracted immigrants from the dust bowls of the Central United States and Northern Mexico–was ready to roll. Prior to the war, most “customizers” were interested in speed, not looks, making inexpensive modifications under the hood while removing heavy, “useless” extras like the fenders and roof. Early custom and lowriding (although the word would not come into use until the 1960s) enthusiasts, however, in particular the pachucos, were more interested in looks, class and style.

It was all on a Depression-era budget, but the seeds were being sown for modern custom trends. After World War II, the hard-driving economy fueled a new generation of automotive enthusiasts, these early styles began branching out, racers, now called hot rods, joined by lakesters, street rods, roadsters, customs, cruisers and finally, lowriders, each new style owing a debt to the cars that came before it.

By the late 1950s and early ’60s, what we would now consider lowriders were finally hitting Whittier Boulevard in great numbers. Such fine rides wouldn’t appear overnight, however. California car culture and Mexican-American cultura would both develop and grow, each enriching the larger American culture with every passing decade.

Lowrider style has changed a great deal over the past 50 years–although you still have to take extra care of a car sporting a nice set of rims–but, as Cesar Chavez pointed out, Chicano cruisers have always customized their cars very differently from the speedier sets. “Lowriders do happen to alter a car in a way that makes it almost the precise opposite of a style long favored by Anglo car customizers,” noted Calvin Trillin in the New Yorker. “The California rake, which has a jacked up rear instead of a lowered one, outlandishly wide tires instead of tires that seem much too small for the car, and a souped up motor instead of one that has been filely ignored.” The “East L.A. rake” was part of a new style that was developing.

These cars not only looked clean, but they were also a way of showing defiance against the mainstream culture. The young pachucos cruising these beauties on Whittier Boulevard, the main strip in East Los Angeles, or on Boulevards throughout the Southwest, had also developed their own style of clothing and hair, which was stirring things up a bit. The zoot suit craze had been spreading across the country throughout the late ’30s, popularized by movie stars like Clark Gable. Blacks in Harlem, New York, popularized the look, an enormously oversized jacket over baggy pants with pegged legs. Young Mexican-Americans called them drapes, and often dropped the fancy fedora altogether. There was some concern on the part of the mainstream about the refusal of these young people to assimilate.”

“If lowriding has a single defining feature, it would have to be those high-hopping hydraulics that move your ride front, back, side to side, and up on three wheels. This is not to say that every true lowrider has to have them; in fact, only 10-percent of Lowrider Magazine readers actually own those precious pumps and dumps. But what dreamer doesn’t pore over those gold-plated setups on display at the shows or captured on film, wishing that one day his or her own low will rise to the occasion? In many ways, lowriding was born when Ron Aguirre’s ’57 Corvette, “X-Sonic,” lifted itself into the Long Beach Arena, when the gasps of the crowd committed the concept of automotive hydraulics to history.”

All photos by Alberto Aguirre Jr aka AverageJoeDriver

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