Fred Enke photography of Walt Prey painted '70s lowriders

Unfortunately the instigation for this column is another obituary.

I showed this photo in my Instagram a few weeks ago, commenting that this was the late Jesse Valadez’ first Gypsy Rose, a ’63 Impala, not his more well-known ’64 version that was seen every week in the opening credits of the “Chico and the Man” TV show. I also said that I would show more photos and give more information in one of these columns. Well, I was at least half right, hopefully more.

Jesse Valadez is usually credited as the founder of the Imperials car club in Los Angeles.  And the Imperials C.C. was considered one of the biggest and best clubs leading a new lowrider era into the ’70s that saw ’63-’64 Impalas replacing ’49-’54 (and older) Chevys, along with chrome wire wheels and tiny pinwall tires, button-tuft velour in place of T.J. tuck-n-roll, and full hydraulic suspension for lowering at the flick of a switch.  Several such clubs were forming from San Jose to San Diego, and the new arena for competition between clubs was the indoor car show. It was intense competition, with clubs setting up huge, lavish multi-car displays, and with car builders adding more chrome, more upholstery, and more intricate candy/pearl/flake/laced/muraled paint jobs to win more points and more trophies.

Jesse Valadez' '63 Impala Gypsy Rose painted by Walt PreyJesse’s ’63 Gypsy Rose, with its candy red over white pearl Walt Prey paint job, to which Prey added 40 hand-painted roses, plus his usual stylized striping and lettering, was an immediate points-earner and trophy-taker. Many reports state that this car “was wrecked,” and therefore replaced by the even more intricate ’64. The truth is that this prize-winner created enough envy in this highly charged show arena that one or more members of a rival club actually vandalized it to the point that it was considered unsavable. That’s all I’ll say.

But it begat the–of course–even better ’64 Impala Gypsy Rose, also painted by the under-appreciated late Walt Prey, who this time lavished it with some 140 individually hand-painted roses, among other paint and striping tricks. Jesse Valadez' '64 Impala Gypsy Rose painted by Walt PreyThis car very fortunately still exists, in perfect original condition as you can see. In fact, it has recently been declared “The World’s Most Famous Lowrider,” and placed in the National Historic Vehicle Register by the Historic Vehicle Association, which operates in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Library of Congress. In addition to that, it was feted along with the Bob McGee ’32 roadster and the Bob Hirohata ’51 Mercury, each spending a week inside a lighted glass case in 2017 on the Mall, in front of the capitol, in Washington D.C.

This was obviously a very significant honor, and recognition, for the rod and custom world. In my opinion they did their homework and got the selections right, especially to the inclusion of a lowrider in the trio.

Back to my opening remarks. I’m running this column now because I was sadly surprised to read the obituary last week for Jesse Valadez II, known to friends as Little Jesse. He was just 45 and succumbed to cancer. His father passed in 2011 at 64. Of course it was Jesse Sr. who not only conceived both Gypsy Roses, but also, with Little Jesse, maintained and preserved this survivor. The one bit of good news in the obit is that this Gypsy Rose is now in the Petersen Museum, where it will continue to be maintained, preserved, and appreciated.

Where I’m going to slack off is in the area of  “more information.” I did enough of that in my last column. For starters, along with the registry and Mall presentation, the HVA also did an intensive documentary video on each of the cars. To see and hear much more about this car and lowriding culture, check out the HVA documentary.

That’s the recent news. But this column was really supposed to be about this small stash of arresting photos I have had for decades in my collection, taken at these old monastery-looking ruins, complete with hooded monks and fog machines. Fred Enke photography of Walt Prey painted '70s lowridersAnd early ’70s lowriders, most painted by Walt Prey, and possibly members of the Imperials. The trouble is, I don’t know for sure. All I know is that the photos were taken by Fred Enke, a freelancer who originally specialized in custom choppers. I also knew that these were the outtakes (or “leftovers”) from an article that ran in Hot Rod or Car Craft magazine in the early ’70s, a time at these magazines of creative photography and creative articles on topics like lowriders and choppers by editors like Terry Cook. The trouble is, I didn’t know which magazine or exactly when, and the photos had no I.D. on them at all (being medium to large format transparencies, some of which have suffered some color-shift over the years, as you can see above). When I got these images sometime in the ’80s, Enke had died leaving no heirs or contacts. Since this wasn’t Petersen film, the librarian was going to toss it. I suggested she give it to me instead, to save. There are 34 images in all, and I’ve had them at least that many years. This is the first time I’ve shown these photographs.

One reason I haven’t used them until now is that I don’t know the car owners’ names, tech details, and the sort of info that should accompany them. But screw it. As Trevor Noah would say, “We ain’t got time for all that.” What’s more important is showing the photos. They’re cool (whether or not you like lowriders), and by now they’re historical.

However, by doing a bit of internet scrounging, I was able to locate and briefly identify Gary Smith's '67 El Caminothis mildly customized ’67 El Camino. It was Gary Smith’s, with “Dazed and Confused” lettered in the rear window, I’m assuming by Walt Prey, who I further assume did the whole paint job (note striping on top of tailgate). It also runs deep-dish Astro Supreme wheels, which predated Tru-Spoke wires as the lowrider wheel of choice in this era. And it even has those briefly popular TV antennae curved over the roof. Better yet, this info source stated it was seen in an article titled “Los Lowriders” in the March ’72 issue of Car Craft. So there you go, info mongers. Look it up. My collection of Car Crafts ends in ’67. And I’m too retired and lazy (this time) to do the research. Meanwhile…

Sundowner '58 Chevy sedan deliveryI seem to remember this ’58 Chevy sedan delivery being called “Sundowner,” and am quite sure this is more of Walt Prey’s talent, including the airbrushed mural. Remember the large part murals played in the van craze? Well, lowriders picked it up in the ’70s and ’80s (and even somewhat today). Prey also plied this talent on the new fiberglass flopper Funny Cars and similarly adorned drag machines. '59 bubbletop pink pearl Impala

'59 bubbletop pink pearl ImpalaI can’t say I particularly like the customizing on this ’59 bubbletop pink pearl Impala, but there’s plenty of it. Note the small chrome chain steering wheel amidst the sea of red crushed velvet inside. I don’t even know what the red shaggy fur in the trunk is, nor the narrow-striped tires. One unusual characteristic of these particular cars are the very deep-dished chrome wheels. Plus, in our day of deflated air bags on everything, it’s hard to understand how radical this car looked in ’72, with its hydros dropped until the sidepipes nearly rested on the ground. These were the days when show cars were still cruised on the streets and driven to shows. Only hydraulics made this stance possible.

'39 Chevy 4-doorThis deep black ’39 Chevy 4-door looks like it could be an early Joe Epstein ride. Other than the chrome wires and thinwalls, this could have been seen as a throwback at the time. But little did they know then that it actually presaged the later trend–which holds strong today–to ’30s and ’40s “Bombs” with their handles, hood ornaments, bumper guards, multi-accessories, and a vintage Chevy six with loud, rapping twice pipes. Dig the early wall art, as well.

'56 Pontiac Safari wagonI really should know something about this yellow, flame-striped, chopped-top ’56 Pontiac Safari wagon, because it was a staple at SoCal rod and custom events for many years. I never learned who owned it, or chopped it, and I never understood (or appreciated) the black vinyl roof–remember those?

I love the monks and the fog and the appropriate location. But the concrete edifice itself could lead to numerous stories from my younger, incipient hot rod days. Maybe for a future column. We knew it as the old Virginia Dare winery, and it sat prominently alongside either US 60 or 66, near the corner of Etiwanda. I forget exactly. But it was out in an area known as the vineyards, south of Cucamonga and around Guasti, which reportedly held more than 15,000 acres of nothing but grapevines, with long, straight, flat 2-lane paved roads criss-crossing it. The perfect place to hold drag races on a Friday or Saturday night in the ’50s or ’60s. Which we all did. Plus, it was on my route from my hometown of Corona to Fontana Drag City, which I traversed regularly through the ’60s, either to race or to watch.

In fact I was a bit saddened when I did some research on the old winery, and discovered it has been turned into–of all things–a new shopping center. And the Virginia Dare Winery brand has been copped by the Francis Coppola family. And all the vineyards are gone, with new houses, new industry, and new towns in their place. Well, I still have some of the history–and the stories–in my head and in my photo archive. We’ll tell more tales later.