This is Part 3 of 5 in my lowrider series:
To join a car club or win awards at car shows, every lowrider needs to adhere to strict standards. Standard #1: the car must be impeccably clean.
Jose Arevalo, born and raised in National City, explains the standards while giving me a tour of his car.
Arevalo is a member of the Switch Car Club, established in National City in 1980. “How switch came together was, six of us guys played baseball together down in Las Palmas here locally. As we turned fourteen or fifteen years old we started getting cars. The club right there, the Latin Lowriders, were older guys, so we kinda looked up to them. They are the kind of group of people who showed us standards. Things that you do. How to act. How to be correct. During the early mid-1980s, Switch flourished and grew to be from 6 guys to 36 guys. From the early 80s to the late 80s we were one of the top clubs in San Diego.”
In San Diego there are about 60 different clubs today. Arevalo is fifty-years-old and he has been a lowrider since the age of fourteen.
“Switch Car Club is on it’s own. We’re not connected to any committee or council, but we support them all. We do what we can, where we can. The toy drives. When we get asked by the community to come out and help with different events, we’ll do it. We’ll come out to parades, toy giveaways, dinner giveaways. We do it all.”
Most importantly, lowriders spend a lot of time working on their cars.
Arevalo is often a judge at competitions and explains that there’s a right way to display a lowrider. The rims and tires have to be authentic. They have to be always clean, always nice. The lowrider has to have hydraulic switches. All of the chrome has been polished and restored. The undercar has to be painted and powder coated.
Arevalo shows me a 1962 Chevrolet Impala. “It’s been frame off. Every bolt, every nut has been replaced, restored. Everything is correct. A lot of the stuff this gentleman has put in his car has been General Motors production parts. He cut no corners on this car.”
The car drives exactly the way it did in 1962. The colors, the upholstery, the carpet are all authentic. The license plate is also correct. The old California plates go with the car. It took the owner two years to get the car in that condition.
Arevalo explains, “I’m a full time low rider. I don’t smoke, drink, golf. This is what I do. I run a club and I have about 24 members, so it’s a job.”
Switch Car Club also enters many competitions and they won eight awards at their last show.
Most owners of lowriders don’t work every single aspect of their cars by themselves. They work little by little, sometimes buying the parts and doing the work on their own, but other times hiring specialists to do the work for them. The artwork, for example, requires a skilled hand.
Mr. Bizar is a good example of an artist in Spring Valley who, through word of mouth, has built a successful full-time career putting paint and images onto lowrider cars. Mr. Bizar grew up in Los Angeles and was a graffiti artist there. His friend suggested he move to Missouri where he started out creating art on t-shirts. He then spent several years painting murals and also bought an advertising company.
After ten years, Mr. Bizar found out his mother was dying of cancer. He returned to Southern California, this time to San Diego, to be with his mother until she died in 2009. Around that time, a friend asked him to do the artwork on a car. Other lowriders immediately recognized Mr. Bizar’s talent and through word of mouth he became a graphic artist for the lowrider community.
His cars feature in shows and competitions and win many awards. How does he do it? Mr. Bizar will talk to the owner for a few hours. He takes into account the type of car and then, most importantly, he names the car. At that point, Mr. Bizar has a good idea of what kind of images he’ll create. He airbrushes all his images free hand. The lines have to be very clean. One car may take three weeks or up to two months.
Every lowrider has to have a hydraulics system. Some of the cars even use surplus military aircraft parts to bring down the wheels.
Jose Romero from Klique car club explains the technology:
“The main thing for the hydraulics is the hydraulic pump. It’s all in the trunk. It’s built of all the batteries that are in the trunk. People like to run anywhere from four to eight batteries. Any hotter than that, any more power than that, and you start to burn the motors out.”
I ask if the hopper cars that bounce up to eighty inches high take a beating on their way down.
Jose says yes. “After a while, the car does get destroyed. The car doesn’t last forever. That’s why a lot of people like to use the G-body, which are the Cutlasses, the Monte Carlos, the Caprises. That type of car. And also they like to do the Cadillacs and the Lincolns. They are not that hard to swap out the frames, which is what gets bent. Before they do that, if they are going go that hard and make a hopper, they will take the frame off first and reinforce it. They’ll wrap more metal around that frame, so now they’re not only dealing with that frame, but the strength that they’ve put behind it is probably four times, five times now. So it is made to get brutalized… and still look good.”
Once the technology and the art come together to form high standards, the vintage vehicle becomes a work of art. As many of the car club members admit, lowriding also becomes a way of life. Saavedra might take several months to work on one car, but lowriders like Arevalo have worked to perfect one car for over twenty years.
Read The Whole Series