1964 Chevrolet Impala named "Gypsy Rose," owned by Jesse Valadez, on display in the Petersen Automotive Museum.[1] It is considered to be one of the most iconic lowriders ever built.[2]

A lowrider or low rider is a customized car with a lowered body that emerged among Mexican American youth in the 1940s.[3] Lowrider also refers to the driver of the car and their participation in lowrider car clubs, which remain a part of Chicano culture and have since expanded internationally.[3][4] These customized vehicles are also artworks, generally being painted with intricate, colorful designs, unique aesthetic features, and rolling on wire-spoke wheels with whitewall tires.[3][5]

Lowrider rims are generally smaller than the original wheels.[6] They are often fitted with hydraulic systems that allow height adjustable suspension, allowing the car to be lowered or raised by switch. From 1958 to 2023, the California Vehicle Code made lowriding illegal, which was ultimately criticized as unnecessary and discriminatory toward Chicano and broader Latin American culture.[7][8]

Origin and purpose

The lowrider car serves no practical purpose beyond that of a standard car. Lowrider car culture began in Los Angeles, California, in the mid-to-late 1940s and during the post-war prosperity of the 1950s. Initially, some Mexican-American youths lowered blocks, cut spring coils, z'ed the frames[clarification needed] and dropped spindles. The aim of the lowriders is to cruise as slowly as possible, "Low and Slow" being their motto.

Legal issues

Lowrider culture and society public conference in San Jose, California (2019). The city was among the first to repeal its ban on lowriding in 2022.[9]

Section 24008 of the California Vehicle Code went into effect on January 1, 1958, prohibiting cars modified to shift the vehicle body lower than the bottoms of its wheel rims. In 1959, mechanic Ron Aguirre bypassed the law by installing hydraulics that could quickly toggle the height of a General Motors X-frame chassis.[10]

Lowriding became widely popular in the 1980s and 1990s, and bans were enacted in many California cities.[11] It regained popularity a little in 2009, then significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.[12] In the 2020s, activists argued that the practice was harmless and banning it was simply the result of prejudice against Mexican-Americans.[5] San Jose and Sacramento repealed their bans in 2022 that had been enacted in 1986 and 1988, respectively.[9][11] In 2022, the California State Assembly unanimously passed a resolution urging all remaining cities with bans (including National City, which banned it in 1992) to repeal them.[13] In 2023, California rescinded state restrictions on the height of vehicle bodies and superseded local regulations against cruising.[8]

In 2020, police in Albuquerque, New Mexico introduced a lowrider police car in a reversal of the city's anti-lowriding policies.[14]

Adding height adjustable suspension

Main article: Height adjustable suspension

In 1959, a customizer named Ron Aguirre developed a way of bypassing the law with the use of hydraulic Pesco pumps and valves that allowed him to change ride height at the flick of a switch.[15] Ron Aguirre developed this modification with help from his father, after conceiving of the idea. Aguirre's motivation was to stop being targeted with traffic tickets, as he had been by local police in his city of Rialto, California after the statewide ban was enacted.[7]

Role of the Chevrolet Impala

1958 saw the emergence of the Chevrolet Impala, which featured an X-shaped frame that was perfectly suited for lowering and modification with hydraulics.[15] The standard perimeter-type frame was abandoned, replaced by a unit with rails laid out in the form of an elongated "X." Chevrolet claimed that the new frame offered increased torsional rigidity and allowed for a lower placement of the passenger compartment. This was a transitional step between conventional perimeter frame construction and the later fully unitized body/chassis, the body structure was strengthened in the rocker panels and firewall. This frame was not as effective in protecting the interior structure in a side impact crash, as a conventional perimeter frame.[16]

Lowrider culture

Two men lowriding in the Fiestas Patrias Parade, South Park, Seattle (2015)
Two women lowriding in the Fiestas Patrias Parade, South Park, Seattle (2015)

Lowrider cars had their origins in the 1940s, when Mexican American veterans began customizing vehicles to run "low and slow", a contrast to the hot rod that was customized for speed. During the Chicano Movement in the 1970s, lowriders formed car clubs that began to help their community by using these cars for fundraising.[17] Lowrider cars are typically elaborately painted and decorated, often using graphic art of significance to Chicano culture.[17][5]

Southern California

At first, lowriders were only seen in places such as Los Angeles, especially in the 1970s on Whittier Boulevard when lowriding came to its peak. Whittier was a wide commercial street that cut through the barrio of the city in Los Angeles, California. Throughout the 1970s that culture spread throughout the Central Valley and San Jose areas of California, helped by release of the R&B song “Low Rider” by War, and creation of low riding clubs such as Carnales Unidos in 1975,[18] and further expanded with the publishing of Low Rider magazine by San Jose State students in 1977.[19] At its peak in 1988, Low Rider magazine had monthly sales of over 60,000 copies. Lowriders were featured in the 1979 film Boulevard Nights, which some blamed for associating lowrider culture with street gangs.[5] A mural in Chicano Park celebrates the lowrider culture.[20]

New Mexico

In the US state of New Mexico, lowriders play a central role in New Mexican culture, particularly of the Hispanos of New Mexico.[21]

In Albuquerque, cruising on Central Avenue (U.S. Route 66) has become a tradition, particularly on Sundays. The city and Albuquerque Police Department (APD) used to take a firm stance against this practice,[22] but in recent years have reversed this stance, with APD introducing a lowrider police car[23] and the city creating a 'Cruising Task Force' to "promote responsible cruising" in the city.[24]

The cities of Española and neighboring Chimayó have become hotspots for lowriders in the northern part of the state. Española is billed as the "lowrider capital of the world".[4][25]

Japan

Lowriding culture has also spread to Japan.[26][27]

Junichi Shimodaira continues to import and sell these cars through his business, Paradise Road.[28] The spread of lowrider culture and the fame of Paradise Road even attracted the attention of Ed Roth, who is famous for creating custom cars such as hot rods and a prominent figure in Kustom Kulture.[29] Since the introduction of lowriders in Japan and the rise of lowriders in Japan in 2001, it is estimated that there are still 200 car clubs that are related to the lowrider scene that are still active to this day.[30]

In popular culture

The 1975 song "Low Rider" by the band War, highlighting the culture, reached #7 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.[31]

In the 1990s, low riders became strongly associated with West Coast Hip hop and G-Funk culture. Mack 10, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Game, Warren G, South Central Cartel, Eazy-E, Above the Law and John Cena (In a music video of "Right Now") among others featured low riders prominently in their music videos.[32]

See also

References

  1. ^ "Gypsy Rose, the Most Famous Lowrider of Them All, Goes to Washington D.C." MotorTrend. June 13, 2017. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
  2. ^ "Lowrider fans pay their final respects to owner of Gypsy Rose in East LA". ABC7 Los Angeles. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa (2009). Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford University Press. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-19-531440-3.
  4. ^ a b Tatum, Charles M. (September 5, 2017). Chicano Popular Culture, Second Edition: Que Hable El Pueblo. University of Arizona Press. p. 230. ISBN 978-0-8165-3652-8.
  5. ^ a b c d California ends cruising ban that targeted Chicano low-rider culture. PBS NewsHour. October 20, 2022. Retrieved January 19, 2024.
  6. ^ Stavans, I.; Augenbraum, H. (2005). Encyclopedia Latina: history, culture, and society in the United States. Grolier Academic Reference. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-7172-5818-5. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  7. ^ a b "Ron Aguirre's 1956 Chevrolet Corvette - The X-Sonic - Kustomrama". kustomrama.com. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  8. ^ a b Hernandez, Jose (October 17, 2023). "Once Harassed by Police, Lowriders Can Cruise Across California Under a New Law". NPR. Retrieved October 22, 2023.
  9. ^ a b "Cruising in National City could make a legal comeback in 2023". San Diego Union-Tribune. January 1, 2023. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  10. ^ TUNDRA_News. "What Happened To Hydraulics? Nothing. It's Still Here". theTUNDRA. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  11. ^ a b Clift, Theresa (June 6, 2022). "Sacramento Repeals Ban on Lowriding, Rescinding 1988 Law Now Viewed as Discriminatory". The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved October 22, 2023.
  12. ^ Hernandez, Daniel; Schaben, Allen J.; Chun, Myung J. (May 14, 2021). "The lowrider is back: The glorious return of cruising to the streets of L.A." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 16, 2023.
  13. ^ "State Assembly encourages California cities to repeal cruising bans". KFMB-TV. June 28, 2022. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  14. ^ "APD's Lowrider Makes Debut at Drive-thru Car Show". City of Albuquerque. Retrieved November 10, 2023.
  15. ^ a b "Going "Low and Slow" in East Los Angeles". The Golden State Company. Retrieved August 24, 2020.
  16. ^ Niedermeyer, Paul (January 19, 2012). "Automotive History: An X-Ray Look At GM's X Frame (1957 – 1970)". Curb Side Classic. Retrieved February 28, 2015.
  17. ^ a b Blanck, Nili (May 5, 2021). "The Vibrant History of Lowrider Car Culture in L.A." Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved November 26, 2023.
  18. ^ "Carnales Unidos Car Club – Lowrider Magazine". MotorTrend.com. August 6, 2010. Retrieved February 15, 2022.
  19. ^ "The life and death of Lowrider: How the Chicano car magazine shaped California". Los Angeles Times. December 14, 2019. Retrieved February 15, 2022.
  20. ^ "Here's the story behind Chicano Park's new mural". FOX 5 San Diego. June 26, 2022. Retrieved November 26, 2023.
  21. ^ "New Mexico History Museum". www.nmhistorymuseum.org. Retrieved November 10, 2023.
  22. ^ "Lowrider enthusiasts: Police targeting Sunday cruises down Central". KRQE NEWS. July 4, 2017. Retrieved November 10, 2023.
  23. ^ "APD's Lowrider Makes Debut at Drive-thru Car Show". City of Albuquerque. Retrieved November 10, 2023.
  24. ^ "City of Albuquerque Cruising Task Force" (PDF). Retrieved November 10, 2023.
  25. ^ "Lowrider Culture". myText CNM. Retrieved November 10, 2023.
  26. ^ Frost, Bob. "History of Lowriders". Historyaccess.com. Archived from the original on August 18, 2020. Retrieved April 25, 2018.
  27. ^ "LOWRIDER HISTORY". Convictedartist.com. Retrieved February 15, 2022.
  28. ^ Lirones, Brett (February 28, 2019). "Here's Why You'll Find American-Styled Lowriders Roaming Around the Streets of Japan". Hagerty. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  29. ^ Mendoza, Beto (November 27, 2014). "Paradise Road - Shop Stop & Talk". Lowrider. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  30. ^ Donoghue, JJ. "The Elaborate Customized Cars of Japan's 'Lowriding' Subculture". CNN. CNN. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  31. ^ "War Chart History (Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved May 2, 2022.
  32. ^ Strait, Kevin. "Lowriders and Hip Hop Culture". Smithsonian. Retrieved August 30, 2021.

Further reading