Cruising Low and Slow: 10 Great Lowriders

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Custom Car Image Gallery
Custom Car Image Gallery

Custom Car Image Gallery Mexican dancers and musicians perform near a display of customized lowrider automobiles in Anaheim, Calif. See custom car pictures.

AP Photo/Reed Saxon

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.

George Luna's 1947 Chevrolet Sedan Delivery, christened "Midnight Illusions," took three years to customize for the lowrider show circuit.

AP Photo/Petersen Automotive Museum

10: 1939 Chevrolet

Chevrolets were the original car of choice for lowriders for a few reasons. First, in the 1930s and 1940s, Chevrolets were less expensive than many other cars (including Fords), which put them in reach for more of the Mexican immigrants who were launching the lowrider culture. Second, many lowriders preferred the looks of Chevys, and in 1939, according to many pachucos, Chevy had a winning design. The 1939 Chevy has a sweetly sloping rear end, clean, prominent grille and aggressive fender flares -- exactly what many lowriders were looking for. Lastly, Chevy suspensions were easy to modify, giving the cars the stance the lowriders were after.

Few of those original 1939 Chevy lowriders survive today, but a modern example of the style is Joel Garcia's 1939 Ford Master Deluxe, which was featured in Lowrider Magazine. Joel calls the car Precioso, which means precious, and it's not hard to see why. One feature that Joel added to the '39 Chevy that the original pachucos didn't have is air bags. No, not the kind of air bags designed for occupant safety -- these air bags are part of the suspension and are used to raise and lower the car at the touch of a button. This is one 1939 Chevy that's come a long way since pachucos lowered their cars by putting bags of sand in the back.

A 1941 Super Deluxe Ford convertible

AP Photo/Robert E. Klein

9: 1941 Ford

Okay, so we said the original lowriders tended to prefer Chevys over Fords, but there still were (and are) some great Ford lowriders out there. In addition to being more expensive than Chevrolets in the 1930s and 1940s, Fords were often overlooked for lowriding because of the shape of their bumpers. While Chevy bumpers were relatively flat, Ford bumpers had a bulge in the middle. When the car was lowered, the bulge would drag the ground. So if a pachuco wanted to lower a Ford, he usually had to switch out the bumpers -- something that was not only expensive but also required the extra legwork of finding just the right replacement bumpers.

In 1941, however, Ford bumpers didn't have a bulge in the middle. Plus, several other factors were combining to make Fords more affordable. In 1942, automotive production in the United States shut down to aid the war effort. After the war was over, American soldiers returned home with extra money in their pockets, and they wanted to spend it on new cars. That not only revved up the American automotive industry, it also flooded the used car market with 1941 models, bringing down prices.

A modern example of a 1941 lowrider is Joe Moran's 1941 Ford Custom. With pearlescent paint, an in-the-dirt stance and even the original hand crank (to be used when the car's battery was dead), it's easy to see the payoff for lowriders who ventured in to Ford territory.

A 1950 Mercury

AP Photo/Jeff Cooper

8: 1950 Mercury Eight

Of course, lowriders aren't confined to just Fords and Chevys, even when the style started becoming more mainstream. With ingenuity and a sense of style, any car can become a lowrider. And as time passed, lowriders started tricking out classic cars. In the 1970s and 1980s, classics from the '50s became a popular lowriding trend.

The 1950 Mercury Eight is known as a lowriding car mainly because well-known lowrider Steve Gonzales showed his around southern California. The 1950 Mercury Eight makes a smooth lowrider, thanks to wheel flares that extend from the car's front fenders all the way to the doors, creating a sleek and somewhat fast profile.

The Mercury Eight's grille isn't as prominent as some other 1940s and '50s lowriders', but it's fairly intricate, so when it's fully chromed and polished, it makes quite a statement. Inside, the Mercury Eight has a large and luxurious interior, which is perfect for lowriders looking to add custom fabrics to create lavish interiors for cruising.

Visitors to the Peterson Automobile Museum examine a 1964 Chevrolet Impala "Gypsy Rose" lowrider in Los Angeles, Calif.

AP Photos/Ric Francis

7: Chevrolet Impala

You simply can't talk about lowriders without mentioning the Chevy Impala. The Impala has been in production since 1958 (although there was about a 10-year break in the late '80s and early '90s). Because the Impala was a popular car in the '50s, '60s and '70s, there are still plenty available for customization, and the Impala (especially models from the 1960s) is seen by some as the quintessential lowrider.

In contrast to the curvaceous 1940s and '50s lowriders, the Impala is relatively angular and squared off. The Impala came as both a coupe and a convertible, allowing for more individuality among lowriders since there were more body styles to choose from. Plus, since lowriding is concentrated mainly in Southern California and the Southwestern United States, who wouldn't want a tight convertible to cruise in?

Typically, lowriders will leave Impala sheet metal alone, opting instead to show off the car's lines using bright colors and lots of metallic or pearlescent paint. More effort goes into the suspension. The Impala is a rugged car, so it's a good candidate for dancing -- that's where the suspension is fitted with air bags or a hydraulic system that allows the car to hop and jump off the ground.

A lowrider vehicle on exhibit at the Peterson Automobile Museum in Los Angeles, Calif.

AP Photo/Ric Francis

6: 1965 Buick Riviera

For lowriders who like the Impala's looks, but want something a little different, maybe a little more upscale, there's the Buick Riviera. The Riviera first gained notoriety for the fact that it was lighter than most Buicks, yet had the same amount of power. That made it an excellent performer -- though that's not exactly what most lowriders were after.

The Buick Riviera was marketed as a luxury car, and that made it appealing as a status symbol for lowriders cruising the strip. While the first generations of the Riviera were fairly conventional, Rivieras in the 1970s had a boat tail, which combined angled rear glass and a sloping bulge of sheet metal (that looks like the bottom of a boat) into a sleek and distinctive rear end.

The Riviera already had a pretty cushy interior, so all lowriders had to do was add some style through custom sound systems, fabrics and other stylistic touches.

A visitor to the Peterson Automobile Museum examines a lowrider 1953 Chevrolet ice cream truck named "El Chavez Ravine" in Los Angeles, Calif.

AP Photos/Ric Francis

5: 1950s Chevrolet Trucks

Of course, cars aren't the only type of vehicle lowriders modify -- lowrider trucks are popular too -- especially Chevy trucks from the 1950s.

A customized suspension on a truck isn't unheard of. But while most custom truck suspensions lift the truck up, lowriders, of course, want the truck body lower. This makes the truck pretty useless for what it was originally built for: rugged outdoor work. However, it provides a whole new area for customization. Since the truck won't be used for work anymore, the truck bed becomes available real estate.

Lowrider trucks typically have stylishly turned-out beds. Instead of rugged bedliners, many beds have polished wood and chrome floors or a bed full of subwoofers and other speakers. Lots of lowriders keep their trucks looking smooth by adding a tonneau cover over the bed, which gives the truck a finished look. Because 1950s trucks typically had small, work-oriented interiors, custom lowrider trucks can't really have interiors that are as plush as other lowriders. Still, truck owners often trick out their interior with vibrant fabrics and finishes. Outside, a coat of bright paint -- something that wouldn't quite fit in down on the farm -- is the preferred finish on most lowrider trucks.

The 1965 Lincoln Continental sedan is seen in this Sept. 2, 1964 photo.

AP Photo/Ford Motor Co.

4: Lincoln Continental

While lowrider 1950s trucks may be short on interior comforts, Lincoln Continental lowriders have luxury to spare.

If a lowrider really wants to show the world what he or she's got, the car of choice is the Lincoln Continental, especially models from the third and fourth generations of the car, which ran through the 1960s and 1970s.

The first thing that strikes you about the Lincoln Continental is its size. This is one gigantic car. At the front end of the Lincoln is a pugnacious upright grille, which most lowriders coat in gleaming chrome. Heading back from the grille is a stretched hood, then a huge passenger compartment with four doors (the back doors open to the rear), but no middle pillar. The rear deck is also extremely long -- long enough to make you think the Continental would be a great choice for mobsters.

Lowriders like the Continental because its huge size makes an immediate statement, and its interior is roomy and comfortable enough for extended cruises. When you get the Continental lowered, it looks even longer. The only adornment on the body tends to be the car's grille, which means that blingy rims stand out. Given the Continental's size, some lowriders chose to go with more subdued paint colors and add interest through pinstriping, while others go with the wild colors lowriders are known for, making sure their Continental creates an immediate impact on everyone who sees it.

The sun glints off the grill of a 1952 Buick on display at a car cruise in Butler, Pa. The lowrider owned by Jim and Pam Thompson of Saxonburg, Pa., has custom hydraulic suspension allowing it to be raised and lowered.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

3: 1984 Buick Regal

Lowriders don't just modify classic cars from the 1950s and '60s. More modern cars get the treatment too.

A popular lowrider model is the second-generation Buick Regal. That generation ran almost 10 years -- from 1978 to 1987. That gives customizers plenty of inexpensive cars to work on, plus a lot of available replacement parts.

While lowriders from the 40s and 50s are round, and lowriders from the 1960s tend to be angular, the Buick Regal is a coupe with a flat, squared off body. It doesn't have the sharp flourishes of the Impala or acres of chrome. Instead, the Regal is a blank canvas for showing off aftermarket parts like vibrant, eye-catching wheels. Since the car is so understated, the accessories can do the talking.

With the Regal, most lowriders add flashy custom rims, and some even go so far as to add a little bling to the engine, coating it in chrome or even gold plating parts of it. And while the Regal has a sleek profile because it's a coupe, there's still plenty of room inside, so lowriders typically add crushed velvet or velour seats and a powerful stereo, of course. Adding even more style to the Regal is a continental kit, which puts the spare tire on the car's rear end, just above the bumper. That spare tire usually gets the full custom treatment and ends up sitting like a jewel on the back of the car.

Nick Burrola sits the driver's seat of his 1970 Chevrolet Impala lowrider at a display of customized lowrider automobiles in Anaheim, Calif.

AP Photo/Reed Saxon

2: Chevrolet Monte Carlo

The Chevrolet Monte Carlo is another car from the 1970s and '80s that's popular with lowriders. It's related to the Buick Regal, but some lowriders prefer it, and a Monte Carlo can usually be found for less money than a Regal, too.

The Monte Carlo's interior also helps set it apart from the Regal. The fourth-generation Monte Carlo (which ran from 1981 to 1988), featured a smoothed-out body with more integrated bumpers. That made it easier for lowriders to make it look like the car was carved from a single piece of metal, a look that many prefer. Additionally, the Monte Carlo had the same empty-canvas look that the Buick Regal had, allowing lowriders to highlight their custom wheels.

Finally, the Monte Carlo's name conjures up images of glamour, intrigue and of course, gambling. Many lowriders used those images to develop the theme for their custom Monte Carlo lowrider, using pinstriping, custom fabric and wheels to bring the theme to life.

A 2007 Toyota Camry

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

1: 2007 Toyota Camry

Not all lowriders are classic American metal. And as lowriders became mainstream, they became popular in other countries as well, including Japan. So it makes perfect sense that Toyota, one of Japan's preeminent car makers, would want to celebrate 50 years in the United States with an anniversary edition Toyota Camry lowrider.

To get it done , Toyota had Lowrider Magazine completely customize the car, adding bright orange paint, a two-tone interior and, of course, a lowered suspension. Japanese and other import cars are slowly gaining ground in lowriding circles. While most Japanese cars are modified for performance, lowriding an import means adding lots of sound equipment and converting the interior from that of a basic commuting car to that of a luxury cruising machine. In addition to custom upholstery, Japanese lowriders also typically sport custom seats and dashes along with a couple of key features that can't be left out of any lowrider -- flashy wheels and an in-the-dirt stance.

For more information about lowriders and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Sources

  • DeLoach, Dick. "Baraja de Oro." Lowrider Magazine. (Nov. 5, 2009)http://www.lowridermagazine.com/features/0210lrm_84_buick_regal/index.html
  • Hoillc, Edgar. "Tight Grip: 1965 Buick Riviera." Lowrider Magazine. (Nov. 5, 2009) http://www.lowridermagazine.com/features/0809_lrmp_1965_buick_riviera_dallas_texas/index.html
  • Lowrider Magazine. "1939 Chevrolet Master Deluxe: Precioso." (Nov. 5, 2009) http://www.lowridermagazine.com/features/0703_lrmp_1939_chevrolet_master_deluxe/index.html
  • Lowrider Magazine. "1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo: Incognito." (Nov. 5, 2009) http://www.lowridermagazine.com/features/ 0705_lrmp_1987_chevy_monte_carlo_incognito/index.html
  • Lowrider Magazine. "Lowrider History Book." Lowrider Magazine. (Nov. 5, 2009) http://www.lowridermagazine.com/historybook/0000lrm_history1/index.html
  • Lowrider Magazine. "Pressure Cooker: 1966 Lincoln Continental." (Nov. 5, 2009) http://www.lowridermagazine.com/features/ 0706_lrmp_pressure_cooker_1966_lincoln_continental/index.html
  • Pedder, Dustin. "Big Red." Lowrider Magazine. (Nov. 5, 2009)http://www.lowridermagazine.com/features/0512lrm_1959_chevy_impala_convertible/index.html
  • Pedder, Dustin. "The Traveling Duke: Steve Gonzales 1950 Mercury Eight - Lowrider Image." Lowrider Magazine. (Nov. 5, 2009)http://www.lowridermagazine.com/features/0906_lrmp_1950_mercury_eight_steve_gonzales/index.html
  • Robinson, Reinaldo. "Oldie 54 II - 1954 Chevy 3100 Truck." Lowrider Magazine. (Nov. 5, 2009)http://www.lowridermagazine.com/features/0605_lrm_1954_chevy_pick_up/index.html
  • Vargas, Saul. "Camryder: 2007 Toyota Camry." Lowrider Magazine. (Nov. 5, 2009)http://www.lowridermagazine.com/features/0806_lrmp_2007_toyota_camry/index.html
  • Web Rides TV. "1941 Ford Custom." (Nov. 5, 2009)http://www.webridestv.com/videos/gnrs---1941-ford-custom-42335