A staple of rap music videos and an iconic part of Los Angeles culture, lowriders are a thoroughly misunderstood sub-culture of car enthusiasm Down Under. Featuring eye-watering amounts of customisation, intricate detail you can spend hours discovering, a club culture which is the envy of many community groups, and so much more, lowriders are truly a marvel of their own right.
While 60s Impalas bouncing on hydraulic suspension are what most people think of when someone says “lowrider”, lowriding was actually born in the 1940s as a uniquely Hispanic pastime. Young men have always found ways to woo potential partners, and in the years immediately following World War II the young Latino men of East Los Angeles began to make their cars stand out in a way of attracting attention.
Soon, the suspension of these cars were lowered and flash paint jobs were laid-down, before chrome accessories found their ways onto these 1930s and ‘40s rides. Rolling low, slow and smooth, these cars are the first lowriders and are classified as “Bombs” or “Bombas”, differentiating them from the roof-chopped, slicked-off “customs” style of the time.
The drivers and passengers would dress up in over-sized suits, known as Zoot Suits, which were popular in Pachuco culture of the time. As the 1940s turned into the 1950s the lowriders started modifying newer cars, and separating themselves from the hot rod and custom car scenes.
Custom car builders were chopping tops, smoothing off all the factory chrome and trimwork to make their cars radically slick, channeling the body over the frame to make them tar-scrapingly low, and then painting them in bright colours. For lowriders they weren’t engaging in such radical metalwork but they did take inspiration with pearl and candy paints being used.
By the dawn of the 1960s lowriding was in danger of being curtailed through California Vehicle Code bylaw which made it illegal for part of a car to be lower than the lower rims of the vehicle’s wheels. To get around this Ron Aguirre adapted aircraft hydraulics to raise and lower his Corvette show car’s body.
Lowriding’s golden era was arguably in the 1970s, as the cruising scene on Whittier Boulevard was packed most nights, Low Rider Magazine was selling over 60,000 copies a month, and there were lowrider shows every weekend it seemed. The low entry price of used ‘60s Impalas and their glut of examples for sale meant the Chevy Impala soon became the go-to model to turn into a low-low.
Of all the Impalas built into lowriders since they rolled off the showroom floor, the most famous and culturally significant is the Gypsy Rose. After building two ’63 Impalas also called Gypsy Rose, in the late ’60s Jesse Valadez took a ’64 Impala sport coupe and turned it into an icon, a car so important the US Government added it to a list of culturally significant cars in American history.
It is arguably the posterchild for what a traditional lowrider is. Small-diameter chrome wheels, pinner white-wall tyres, crushed velvet interior, intricately engraved chrome, and a Walt Prey candy pink paint job featuring over 100 ornate roses, panel work, fades and more. Put simply, the Gypsy Rose elevated lowriders to a mobile art form.
While the origins of lowriding have their roots in street gang culture, lowrider clubs have long enjoyed a family atmosphere where working together to build better cars, raising money for important community needs, and providing a safe environment away from the temptations of drugs and gang life is all-important. Lowriders may be famously used in gangster rap videos and movies, but the core scene eschew that life.
Australia is a million miles away from the barrios of East LA, but there are still passionate lowrider fans Down Under who build amazing pieces of rolling treasure. If you want to check out Australia’s biggest gathering of authentic lowriders, head to The Entrance on the NSW Central Coast for Lowrider Sunday 27 August. For more details, check out Lowrider Sunday 2023.
Come to the event for the prizes! Join us at our booth for a chance to win these prizes. Winners will be drawn on the day at our booth.
$500 Airide Gift Card
$250 Mooneyes Gift Pack