Wyoming resident Anbrocio Ledesma remembers as a young boy going down to the local party store and getting the latest copy of “Lowrider” magazine.
“I would flip through the pages, looking at the cars and think to myself, ‘One day, I am going to have one of those cars,’” he said.
Not an uncommon dream for a young Mexician-American boy from a family of six living in the Grand Rapids area. In fact, the time that Ledesma was growing up, the popularity of lowriders — a car that sits low to the ground and often has hydraulics to raise and lower the car — in the late 1970s and early 1980s, lowriders had become part of the mainstream car culture thanks in part to “Lowrider” magazine.
“It’s a dream to have one of these, to have a lowrider,” said Holland resident Pablo Lopez, who is considered the founder of the West Michigan lowrider movement. Lopez owns a 1963 Impala SS that has taken him about 30 years to get “where I can say it is done.”
Lowriders came out of post World War II with the Mexican-American Barrios of East Los Angeles credited with creating this unique take on an automobile. It was the mid-1940s, Detroit had moved back into production of cars with a lot of used cars available on the market. Returning Mexican-American veterans applied their mechanic skills to build lowriders, filling the trunks with sandbags and cutting the spring coils to make the cars go as low to the ground as possible. “They are low and slow,” Lopez said.
There was backlash to the new style and in 1958 California lawmakers passed a vehicle code making it illegal to drive a car with any part lower than the bottom of the wheel’s rims. That combined with the fact that lowriders would scrap the ground lead to customizer Ron Aquirre to develop new hydraulic techniques to lower and raise a car with a flip of a switch. Salvage yards became popular as young lowrider enthusiasts looked for hydraulic pumps from lift gates and aircrafts.
“In order for it to be a lowrider, it has to have hydraulics,” Lopez said. “At least according to me.”
Lopez’s car, built in the L.A style, is what one would expect a Lowrider to be. It features wire rims, 13-inch wheels, with a 327 V8 engine. Custom paint by his son Manny Lopez tells the story of Lopez’s heritage and life including the loss of his daughter Rosa Linda Lopez at age 37 to cancer. Even the inside is customized from the poke-dotted red suede seats to a 1940s microphone as the gearshift. The car also includes a record player that plays 45s, brass skulls on the door locks, and fringe on the mirrors.
Ledesma never gave up on his goal of owning a lowrider and while in the process of searching for a 1964 Chevy Impala — ideal for lowering because of its x-frame — he was given the opportunity to purchase a 1951 Chevrolet Deluxe. Called a Bombita, It took Ledesma “a good 10 years” to get the car to where it is now. It is a light metallic purple, paint done by Ted Aguliar, with silver accents and white interior. It has a 327 engine out of 1967 Corvette.
To create a smoother ride, Ledesma did take out his hydraulics for air bags. “That and when the line breaks with air bags, it’s just air coming out,” Ledesma said. “With hydraulics, when the line breaks, you have a mess to clean up.”
Both Ledesma and Lopez said that while there are still lowriders around, the interest has waned.
“It is a real expensive hobby to get into,” Lopez said, adding it is the reason why it can take several years for a person to get a car completely transformed. “Many of those I worked with have gotten married, gone off to college, started families and they just can’t financially keep it up.”
Even for Lopez, he didn’t get involved in the hobby until after his children were grown.
“I saw these antennas at a show in Lansing,” Lopez said pointing to an antenna from a 1956 Oldsmobile. “They were $90 at the time. I had enough money to either get the antennas or a hotel room for the night. I bought the antennas, drove all the way home and then came back to the show the next day.”
Lowriders are also associated with bad behavior which Lopez said those who own them are not interested in working with “bad kids.” “I’m not interested in helping bad kids,” said Lopez whose family owned Familia Lopez Slow & Low. “This isn’t about that. It’s about tradition, It’s about family. It’s about talking to people and having them sit in the car and connecting with each other.”
Make sure to check out the “DreamWheels” show which will be broadcasting live Saturday, Aug. 27 from 6 – 7:30 p.m. at Pal’s Diner, 6503 28th St. SE, and Rogers Plaza, 972 28th St. SW. The show will air Saturday, Sept. 3, at 7 p.m. on WKTV Channel 25.