Vintage lowrider

I was supposed to muse today on the death of print. Well, given an impeachment, debates, and a magazine massacre all in the last couple of weeks, I don’t feel like it. We’ll take that up next year. But this is the Christmas season–a time of birth, hope, happiness, merriment, giving, and color. Brightly lit colors from ribbons and wrappings, to green trees with glowing lights, to candy canes.

And given the very positive response to my one lowrider photo in my Instagram posts this week, with several requests for more, I decided that my binder full of candy colored vintage lowriders would be a much more tasty and appropriate topic for this column just a few days before Christmas, and a perfect complement to the colorful customs I showed last time.

Lowrider with paint detail

I’ll keep the words to a minimum here, and concentrate on colorful photos. But when I say vintage lowriders, I’m not necessarily talking about old cars, I’m talking about fairly old photos. Most of the pictures here were taken in 1980, both at a lowrider “happening” (outdoor show) held at a stadium in El Monte, and at a weekly lowrider gathering spot in  Whittier Narrows regional park. A few other photos are from around 1990, when I did some articles on “bombs” and how to install hydraulic suspensions in Rod & Custom magazine. So much for talk. Let’s see the show. I’ll try to keep my comments brief.

Lowrider with paint detailYou’ll already notice a preponderance of candy red, as well as metalflake, which is perfect for the season. But lowrider painters from this era on have been amazingly talented, creative, and tireless, and in my opinion have received far less credit than they deserve. This was also the era when ’63-’64 Impalas became the prime lowrider vehicles of choice.

LowriderAnd here’s a splash of green–candy green–perfect for the season. Single shades, or two-tones, of pearls, candies, ‘flakes, metallics, or even earth tones were fine as long as they were perfectly smooth and highly polished. And of course Tru-Spoke wires, usually with 5.20×14 pinwall tires, were uniform.

Lowrider with velour trunk upholstery

Lowrider in profile with paint detail

Lowrider with reverse opening trunk

Not just the painters were adventuresome and fearless, so were bodymen who made reverse-opening hoods, trunks, and doors, custom-cut T-Tops, and similar visual tricks, often powered by hydraulics.


Steve Stanford would call this an “Aerial Display,” but there’s more to it than that. The early Chevy sports ripple lakes pipes, Buick portholes for aerials, multi-flake top, and even shaved handles and molded rear fenders. Don’t forget lowriders grew from traditional customs. As for murals in doorjambs–expect paint and chrome detailing anywhere and everywhere.

Lowrider profile

Chevy '48 four door lowriderOf course older Chevys will always be part of the mix. Fleetlines are favorites, but 4-doors are fine, too. I told the owner of the candy red ’48 I had one just like it, but mine wasn’t a lowrider. He said, “Does it have a six?”  “Yes.”  “Does it have twice pipes?”  “Yes.” “Is it lowered?” I said, “Yes, but more in front than in back.” He paused, then asked “Does it have Tru-Spokes?” (which it did for many years). Then he got a big smile and said, “Hey, it’s a lowrider, man!” I still relish that.

Lowrider with paint detailLowriding began, and has largely remained, a part of Chicano culture. But that started changing, to a minor degree, in the late-’60s and ’70s.

Caprice lowriderBig is good. And this Caprice is about as big, and as candy red, as a Bow Tie ever got.

Chrome chain lowrider steering wheel and velour interiorBut big didn’t apply to steering wheels. Just the opposite. I’d collect these little chrome chain ‘wheels, and hang them in my garage, if I could find any, but thankfully they’ve disappeared. I’d say the same for tufted velour interiors, even on swivel bucket seats, as in this ’62 Impala.

Lowrider with paint detail

Torpedo back Riviera lowriderAnd don’t think lowriders are relegated just to California and the Southwest. I found this extremely tasty Riviera at a KKOA event in Iowa or Ohio–I forget. Son Bill likes the first series, but my favorite Rivs are these torpedo-backs. And I especially like the panel paint that recalls the side chrome of earlier Buicks. I’d drive this car anywhere, any day.

454 El Camino lowriderNotice the multi-candy top and the fact this big-bumper ‘Camino is a 454, to boot.

Chevy Fleetline or lowrider helmetChevy called these shorter-roofed 4-doors Fleetlines, and they came with the same fender chrome as the fastbacks. Lowriders call them “Helmets,” and of course they are preferred over the 7-window Fleetmasters (like mine was).

Lowrider with flamesThat’s some very nice paintwork, and a heck of a lot of it.


Lowrider with model

This photo isn’t colorful, but I’ve always like it because it’s fun. It’s happy. Yes.

Lowrider with airbrush muralAirbrush murals were, of course, a big part of the ugly van craze, and they morphed into the lowrider scene about the same time, and have continued to some degree today. This one, from 1980, isn’t particularly good–in fact, I’m not even sure what it depicts–but at least it’s not sexist or religious, which many others were.

Lowrider bicycleHow about lowrider bicycles? Yes, the young teenagers really got into this. In fact, this one is pretty mild for a show version. I’ve seen many with more extreme frame modifying and molding, candy and ‘flake paint, chrome, boom-box stereos, upholstery, you name it. Plus they had slightly milder versions to ride daily on the streets. Not to mention 1/25 scale lowrider model building which was very popular then, and continues today.

Dukes Car Club and Oscar Ruelas' '39 sedanThe Dukes car club, founded by the Ruelas Brothers in So. Central L.A. way back in 1962, was the first “Oldies” lowrider club, limited to pre-’55 cars and pickups. It slowly expanded, with several chapters throughout the Southwest. But it wasn’t until the later ’80s that a new trend toward “vintage” style lowriders became popular. Christened “Bombs,” these early-models featured single or two-tone colors, taupe mohair upholstery, chromed vintage sixes with rapping dual pipes, wire or early artillery wheels, lots of rare vintage accessories, and of course hydraulic suspension to get them super-low. This lineup of Dukes’ bombs, taken in So. Central in 1990, is led by Oscar Ruelas’ candy burgundy and red ‘flake ’39 sedan, pancaked on its dropped, fully chromed suspension.

Joe Epstein's muffler shop with lowridersAnd this was supposed to be the lead photo for a story I did on lowrider bombs in the Aug. ’92 issue of R&C, but they didn’t allow the color. One of the first hallmarks of bombs, besides bumper guards and accessory lights, was sunvisors, as you can see. This was Joe Epstein’s muffler shop on east Whittier Boulevard in Montebello, where he not only installed pipes, but built most of the cars seen here. Unfortunately this shop burned to the ground a few years later.

Joe Epstein's '39 Chevy sedan delivery lowriderHowever, this was Joe’s flawless ’39 Chevy sedan delivery, sittin’ low on 100-spoke wires at one of the last Paso Robles meets—however long ago that was. Fortunately Joe’s got a new shop where he is still hanging pipe and building some of the most meticulous early lowriders around, which we now see at Santa Maria every year.

So for those of you who wanted to see more lowriders from my personal vintage photo collection, I hope this is plenty. And for everybody, I hope this extra splash of color, chrome, and candies brightens your holiday spirit just a tad more. Merry Christmas to all…and good night!