Lowriders have been a thing almost as long as there have been cars. That slammed Chrysler 300C on 22” Forte wheels got its start decades ago in the counter-culture youth scene of southern California. This is a quick look at where lowriders have scraped their way through history.
Like most car culture scenes, lowriding arguably started in Los Angeles. The used car market was thriving by the 1920s, with cheap Ford Model As and Ts everywhere, and modifying a car for speed and style was already well on its way. Around the time hot rods were hitting Bonneville for the first time, the first lowriders started appearing in photographs. Granted, one theory is these were well used daily drivers with worn out suspensions, but the look was there, and was soon on purpose.
The culture took off after World War II. In the 1940s, the sons of Mexican immigrants were old enough to purchase and modify cars, and the east-LA lowrider scene was born. The goal of this scene was to be seen, and a long, low and sleek look developed. The easiest and cheapest way to achieve that was with several sand bags in the trunk. This was quickly followed with a more permanent solution; cut springs, smaller diameter wheels, and lower profile tires. A popular choice was the 5.20” tire (whitewall, of course) on a 12 wheel, covered by a baby moon hubcap. Mexican-Americans made them uniquely their own, with dazzling colors and tributes to their families and histories.
Now, 1950s America, being what it was, the establishment decided anything unusual or different should be outlawed. Laws were passed prohibiting any part of the vehicle to sit below the lowest part of the wheel rim. Rather than spelling the end of lowriding, a young and brilliant custom car creator Ron Aguirre came up with a solution. Aguirre had created beautiful customs like the 1957 X Sonic Corvette, and in order to drive it, and other lowriders, without attracting police attention, he created the first hydraulic suspension. Pneumatic pumps, valves, and air bags were hidden in the frame, allowing the lowrider to scrape when desired, but rise to factory height when passing a police station. This effect was quickly powered up, creating today’s hopping and dancing lowrider sub-genres.
The culture adapted and changed according to the cars, and the customizer’s desires. Still primarily a SoCal Latino scene, lowriding expanded in the ‘70s due to wild customs. Vans sporting massive air-brushed murals, Impalas hopping near vertical, and velvet interiors in everything, made the rest of the country take notice. Other demographics flocked to it, and soon lowriders were flaunted in their east coast gangsta rap videos, and suburban kids in the Pacific Northwest lowering their ‘80s mini trucks. “Donks” (correctly called hi-risers) took off and created their own thriving sub-genre.
Today, the lowrider culture is wide open. Shows are accepting of old school Impalas and brand new slammed diesel pickups. The interior could be ‘70s retro shag carpet, nerdy plaid, or cutting edge carbon fiber and touch screen entertainment systems. The wild paint is still popular, as are hydraulics and smaller wheels and tires. Coker tires and Dayton wheels are still around, but they have been joined by Suretrac and Milestar, among others. 5.20s are harder to find, but 155mm is close enough, and there are tons of modern manufactures making chrome, gold, and billet wheels as small as 12 inches, so now may be the best time to get started on your own lowrider.