The Lowrider scene, a subculture that emanated from the Mexican- American Barrios of Los Angles, California in the 1940 and 50s has seen its visual styles and culture transverse the Pacific to find a growing popularity on our shores and in amongst our automotive community. From the vibrant custom Kandy paint schemes and air brush illustrations to the ground hugging aesthetics of classic rides covering the chrome bumper era of the automotive industry thanks to extensive suspension modifications rolling on predominantly 13 inch wire wheels, these kings of cool are a visual art form in themselves, capturing the attention and imagination of both the young and old automotive enthusiast.
With the lowrider’s motto of “low n slow”, early modifications to achieve this goal involved putting sand bags or cement in your boot and engine bay hence it was only fitting that “slow” would precede the achievement of “low.” It was during the late fifties that the static weight was replaced with more user friendly air plane hydraulics allowing the vehicle to be raised and lowered as desired. Progression and advancement in hydraulics and chassis modifications has brought us to where we are today, seeing the Latin inspired custom rides travelling on three wheels or playfully bouncing themselves high off the ground under the control of the operator!
Australia’s introduction to the lowrider scene can be accredited to the hip hop culture of the 80s and 90s via music video clips screened on our tvs on a late Saturday night or blurry Sunday morning. Artists such as N.W.A, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog just to name a few portrayed Chevy Impalas sporting traditional 13 inch wires and custom flake paint, cruising the strip with his homies while capturing the eye of the fairer sex as she strolled along street! It was enough to convince today’s Aussie lowrider enthusiast that that was the scene for him! Over the past ten to fifteen years there has seen an insurgence of lowrider vehicles into Australia thanks to the low Aussie dollar allowing imports to arrive at a reasonable price while other fans of the custom scene preferred to build their own here in Australia and simply import the required parts. Social media has also played a big part in the overall enthusiasm towards the Southern American based vocation.
While there’s no written law as to what passes as a lowrider and what doesn’t, the unwritten and time established guide lines are basically any car pre naughties, 13 or 14 inch rims, preferably wires, adjustable suspension; bags or hydraulics, custom and kandy flake paint schemes with air brushing a bonus yet the rules are flexible enough to embrace new styles and technology keeping the scene fresh, animated and topical.
The three lowriders and their custom rides we feature in this article are representative of today’s lowrider found amongst our car community. Jack, Michael and Dave, while all are part of the same automotive lifestyle, are as unique as each other for their reasons for joining the scene and the cars they bring to it.
Jack, a spray painter in the family business during the week and custom pin striper and air brush artist on the side, runs with the curvy stylings of a 1957 Chev when cruising low n slow around the streets of Melbourne. Currently sporting a 383 Chev, T350 and 9 inch, The originally blue with white roof family heirloom was purchased by his father for his mother’s first car for the meagre sum of just $150! With its blue flame 6 cylinder and damaged left front, it was brought home and fixed up which included an engine swap to a beefier V8, the first of four V8s throughout its life before Jack acquired it. “It was my mums first car when she was
17. The old man restored it about 10 years ago which was about the third time it went back to bare metal and he painted it Tiger Micra Gold. Then it was on the road for about five years and when I got my L’s I started driving it, then when I got my P’s, I drove it while I restored a C20 pickup which i then sold and kept driving the 57 and basically just did it up from there.” All but the interior has been done inhouse by Jack himself.
Jack used the last colour as the basis for the current paint scheme including the roof which took a mind blowing 60 hours to complete and that doesn’t include design time! “I painted a bar fridge as a trial run first then I did the dash as another trial run before I did the roof. I made sure I got it right so I didn’t stuff up before I put all the hours into it and it all goes wrong!” says Jack. “There’s three base colours, silver, blue and charcol, then there’s a coat of fine flake, then there’s five coats covering the whole car of a custom candy mix of green that I put together.”
Currently a member of the 5C club, Jack’s love of the scene extends from his love of automotive based art. “I’ve always loved my art and always been into cars and the artwork on them. I always wanted to build a low rider which is why I built the Chev but it was mainly the art side of the scene. The guys are a lot younger in this scene. Everyone sticks together, happy to help out and put you onto their contacts.”
While long term future plans are to work in the States, striping and air brushing lowriders, Jack’s currently building a 1989 Harley Davidson Softail lowrider. “I’m going to go nuts with the paint job! Instead of rechroming the chrome work, I’m going to flake it all! I’ll extend the handle bars and flake them too! I love doing stuff outside the square!”
Michael’s machine is a 1964 Chevy Impala SS coupe which was purchased locally 2 years ago as a stock cruiser. “I’d always wanted a 64 Impala. A few years ago I sold my Charger to buy one but ended up buying a house so it got put on the back burner. Then after a while I thought stuff it, I’m going out and buying one! I checked out quite a few locally and overseas and then this one popped up. It wasn’t ideal for what I wanted but I thought, bugger it and had a crack at it.” Explains Michael.
While it had been restored back in the USA around 12 years ago, mechanically it required a full restoration, giving Michael the opportunity to convert it into the lowrider he had wanted since he first laid eyes on the lowrider scene. “Years ago I used to build a lot of low rider bikes and I remember one day sitting in a shop called Loco Low Riders in Brunswick St and they had a low rider car video going and I can still remember seeing a black 64 Impala 3 wheeling on the video and I thought “one day I’m going to get myself one of them” and ever since then I’ve always liked the scene” reminisces Michael.
Creating the proper stance to effectively create one of these Mexican bred machines isn’t as simple as chopping the suspension and bolting on a set of small rims, there are a lot of mechanical modifications to be sorted out such as shortening the diff in order to fit the negative offset rims as well as air tanks and extra batteries to feed the hydraulic suspension system. All this requires proper attention and execution if one plans on having low maintenance and hassle free cruising. Michael fitted up the hydraulic suspension on his ride with help from fellow Loyalty 4 Life club members. All the trailing arms have been extended and finished in chrome giving the Chevy greater ability to raise and lower than just standard suspension arms. “I’m fairly fussy so I want everything to be right, mechanically and safety wise. So I went the extra step and I ended up with a better finish and a more reliable ride. I put more time into the welding and fabrication (of the six batteries in the boot) and the end product is a lot nicer.” There are three batteries running down each side of Michael’s boot with two hydraulic pumps anchored in the middle. Future plans for the fawn coloured Chev? “With the 13s, the car’s in the high revs on the highway so I’ll swap the T350 out for a 700 and different set of diff gears and then just drive it. I’m pretty happy with where it’s at right now. Start looking at a new project, maybe something from the forties. Rather than shiny and chromed up, I want it rusty and red neck style. Keep it fairly stock with a lot of patina and wear.”
Like Jack, Michael also finds the Australian lowrider community to be a tight knit, family orientated community. “Obviously, it’s a small community in Melbourne but there’s always someone willing to help out if you need it. All great people with similar likes and interests. The scene is growing fast though!”
Like Michael, Dave, the owner of the candy blue 1990 Caprice Classic is also a member of the Loyalty 4 Life lowrider car club. The club, finding its roots in Sydney around six to eight years ago, has expanded its chapters to include all of the east coast of Australia as well as New Zealand. To be eligible to join the club, one must own a suitable lowrider while also being passionate about this vocation and the community that surrounds it. It’s about quality over quantity and potential club members must prove their devotion to the scene first before given full member status. With 12- 15 members in the Melbourne chapter, social media and monthly meetings help them stay in touch with each other. There are a number of lowrider clubs throughout Melbourne seeing a mutual camaraderie amongst all members of the various groups.
Dave’s Chevy was imported and converted to RHD new before being sold from a local dealer in Melbourne. Dave acquired it from a mate who had already installed the hydraulics before pulling it apart for a rebuild and respray. While being a much later model than Michael’s and Jack’s custom rides, it still retains many of the lowrider aspects that tie it all in together. Sporting the traditional wire wheels, Dave and his dad, owner of Race Paint in Melbourne spent close on four weeks in and out of the booth in order to complete the intricate paint scheme you see here. There are 14 to 15 different coats of paint and clear covering the Caprice’s body creating an eye catching finish that can’t be missed.
Future plans for the Caprice Classic include extensive detailing of the paint including gold leaf, air brushing the door jambs and engine bay, a retrim, reinforcing the frame and upgrading the hydraulic system to get the beast lifting and hopping higher! There will also be extensive chrome work completed on the undercarriage! “We’ll do it over winter. We’ll do a lot of air brushing under the bonnet, chrome and go that extra so I can lift it up and every aspect of it will be something interesting.”
It’s passion like this that clubs look for when accepting new members. “I’ve always had a passion for the scene. I’ve been around cars all my life, I’ve been building cars with my dad since I could walk. I’ve always had a passion for low riders and the chicano style art. My uncle John has always had Chevy Impalas, low riders and muscle cars so I guess that’s where it grew from. Then the car came up at the right time and it’s what I always wanted so I bought it.” says Dave.
The Latino based scene is best summed up as an amalgamation of traditional style and modern ideas coming together through new paint technology, fibre glassing, hydraulic improvements as well as audio and visual components all combined in an American classic car. “It’s basically a cross breeding of hot rodding culture and classic cars culture and their wild side. Classic style of car with a new twist on it. We like it because it’s different and it’s not as popular as other scenes. It’s more of a brotherhood. Every car is unique and it’s a real eye catching scene.” I think Dave speaks for all lowriders and we appreciate the art form in all its in-your-face glory!
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