Lowrider Lifestyle Part 4 – Where did it all Begin?
Story and photos by Mike Harrington
Editor’s Note: This is part four of our six-part Fuel Curve series on the Lowrider lifestyle in Southern California. Our authors capture the sights and sounds of Lowriding cars, culture, and the men and women who live the life. This is their story.
How did the lowrider lifestyle start, where did it start, and where did it flourish? Is there a “ground zero” – a spot on the map, where it all began? Did it begin in a corner of a General Motors plant in Detroit, or in a garage out in Española, New Mexico? Perhaps it began on the streets of San Jose, California (where it’s now forbidden to cruise the street for more than one pass within the hour), or on the world famous Whittier Boulevard which stabs through countless east L.A. neighborhoods. The definitive answer is, there is no answer, and there is no ground zero, even though some may beg to differ.
Wherever its origin, something different was happening within the growing custom car culture. Once the second great World War was over, men and women were eager to start their lives over. Some seemed to pick up where they left off, but many found a whole new lifestyle waiting for them once the last of the enlisted made it home. It seemed that everyone, black, brown, white, red and Asian were chomping at the bit for new vehicles. New opportunities were abundant; industry was churning out what would be some of the greatest designs since the first industrial age.
There were new jobs and opportunities for the young men, but not everyone had the cash to dish out for those new television contraptions or the fancy new cars. So that “greatest generation” as they’re known were basically some of the first recyclers; fixing up older rides, primarily GM cars like Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac cars, usually two-door models, while the hot rodders tended to lean more towards the blue-oval Fords, Hemi-powdered Chryslers, and even the bowties for those that had their Chevy ways. Names like Harry Westergard, George and Sam Barris, Larry Watson, Dean Jefferies, Valley Custom, just to name a few played a major role in influencing the custom car movement.
For those of the low and slow vein, it was all about style and statement; dropping that rearend, polishing up that ton of chrome, and dressing it up to the nines was and still is the order of the day. Many guys simply lowered their rides by cutting coils, using cement bags, bricks, or anything heavy to get that Chevy down to a respectable cruising low.
Cruising has been around since the early 1950s, given the fact that the country was going car crazy, it seemed as though drive-in movie theaters, restaurants, and car washes popped up over night. And in some cases they did. Car culture especially the lowrider lifestyle was here to stay. A whole new automotive-based social culture flourished around these public places where people would mingle til the wee hours of the morning. Lowriders have never been more popular.