Even in America's car-loving culture, lowriders stand out as unique. Elaborate paint jobs, super-plush interiors, small chrome or gold-plated wheels, thumping sound systems, hydraulic suspensions and, of course, their low-slung profiles set them apart from all other vehicles on the road. While many car designs opt for speed and handling, lowriders strive for the ultimate in style and comfort.
Lowriders first appeared in the 1930s in the Chicano (Mexican-American) neighborhoods of East Los Angeles and other barrios throughout the American southwest. At first, sometimes only the rear of the car (usually a Chevrolet) was lowered by carrying sandbags or other weights in the trunk. At other times, the entire car was lowered by reducing the length of the suspension's coil springs. Over the decades, however, lowering the vehicle has evolved into a high art form that often employs hydraulics to raise or lower the entire car, to raise just one or two wheels off the ground, or to even make the entire car "dance".
The owners of the early lowriders often wore over-sized "zoot suits", rakish fedoras (sometimes with a feather), key chains dangling to the knee, and highly polished shoes. It must have been quite a sight to visit a Chicano neighborhood on a Saturday night in the 1930s or 40s and see young men dressed in zoot suits cruising slowly along in their lowriders!
Today, lowriders are still very much a part of the Chicano culture and have branched out to other Latino and urban cultures. While lowriders can still be seen on the streets, the very best examples are found in special car shows, like the one that took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico in August 2001. The car show not only featured some of the finest lowriders in the country, but drew some spectators who braved the August heat to show off their zoot suits, feathered fedoras and other styles from the early days of lowriders.
The lowriders featured in the Albuquerque show displayed some spectacular paint jobs and interior upholstery that one would rarely associate with an automobile. It is hard to imagine the loving care – not to mention the money – that goes into these vehicles. Many of the cars at the show were opened to display their elaborate hydraulic systems or their high-decibel sound systems. And, in addition to the cars, there were even some lowrider bicycles at the show.