The art of lowriding, born Eastside gets supercharged

At one end of the parking lot, Anthony Johnson was using a remote control to bounce an apple-green 1963 Chevrolet Impala, its nose eight feet in the air.

At the other, Greg Dixon was lofting a silver 2001 Lincoln Town Car sideways, raising the driver’s side front wheel off the ground as he screeched around a corner.

The cars wore emblems, and the drivers hoodies or T-shirts, marking them as members of the Ultimate Riders Car Club, an Inland Empire-based group of lowriders holding their monthly meeting at Riverside’s Fairmount Park.

On the outside, the vintage cars seemed identical to lowriders that cruised Whittier Boulevard in the 1960s and Van Nuys Boulevard during the 1970s, when rolling examples of Southern California’s homegrown road art met for weekly exhibitions.

But under the hoods of the pinstriped, chromed-out cruisers was something unusual. These lowriders all sported massive motors, late-model Detroit-built V-8s capable of two to three times the horsepower of the engines originally installed in the vintage cars.

What used to be a world of “low, slow and show” has turned into “low, show and go.”

For decades, the Los Angeles cruising scene was all about the look. Custom builders chopped the bodies on their classic American cars, then altered the suspension to bring them as close as possible to the pavement. They decorated the vehicles with outrageous paint, pinstripes and chrome, and paraded them slowly down boulevards and in front of car show judges.

The showy automobiles were a point of ethnic pride and cultural heritage, and the lowrider car clubs offered a sense of community. Kids who grew up watching fathers, uncles and cousins cruising dreamed of owning their own “shorts” one day.

The cruising scene helped spawn the “brown-eyed soul” music born in East Los Angeles in the 1960s. Later, the lowrider cars, including some of the ones on display recently at Fairmount Park, became fixtures in movies and pop and rap music videos, such as “Straight Outta Compton,” Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” and the Game’s “My Life,” featuring Lil Wayne.

They took top prizes at car shows, winning points for most creative paint job, most complex pinstriping or most extravagant chrome.

Then, having reached a pinnacle of artfulness, lowrider builders like Ultimate Riders co-founder Vernon Maxwell started pumping up the power, bringing bigger engines and more ingenuity to an area that had been mostly ignored.

Maxwell and other builders started adding $25,000 motors to cars whose owners already had spent $40,000 to $60,000 restoring and customizing their vintage ’60s cruisers.

“We used to be low and slow, but under the hood, we weren’t doing that much,” said Lowrider Magazine editor Joe Ray. “Then we started investing in performance.”

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