Column: Car Culture Is About Everything Automotive, Not Just What You Like

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Aug 2, 2021 | Lowrider, Car Culture | Posted in Columns | From the Feb. 2017 issue | Never miss an article

Want to go see a museum exhibit about lowriders?”

And with that, my wife and I were off to the Longmont Museum & Cultural Center for an exhibit called, appropriately enough, “Lowriders: Cars & Culture.” By the way, she was the one posing the question.

Longmont can be found about 45 minutes north of downtown Denver, and we were in the Mile High City the week before Thanksgiving for family stuff. In addition to enjoying that big meal on Thursday, we’d gathered to celebrate milestone birthdays for both my sister- and brother-in-law. Yes, there was cake. 

I had to do my part in wrapping up an issue, so in between making a magazine and singing “Happy Birthday,” my wife and I managed a few quick getaways. We didn’t have enough time for a day in the mountains, but I could justify a “long lunch” or two away from the computer for a bit. 

We first planned to spend that free time taking in an exhibit downtown showcasing the costumes from “Star Wars,” but the night before we saw that it was sold out. Sorry, R2, maybe next time. 

Then my wife spotted the announcement for the lowrider exhibit. That would be just as cool, right? According to the website that promotes the show, Longmont is home to 200-plus lowriders and this is one of the first exhibitions dedicated to that scene. Call our interest piqued. 

We set the coordinates into our navicomputer and made the drive, facing little traffic; perhaps everyone else was home preparing for Thanksgiving. We arrived to find a largely empty parking lot. Admission for the lowrider exhibit was $8 per person. Fine, we’re here, I thought, so let’s check it out. The Smithsonian museums are free, but I figured this was supporting a good cause. How often do you find a museum exhibit dedicated to cars, especially ones that are a bit out of the usual?

Inside we found about half a dozen cars on display. Okay, so it wasn’t the Air and Space Museum, but what it lacked in size it made up for in heart.

First, the cars were immaculate–clean, perfectly detailed, quintessential lowriders, including a candy apple red ’64 Impala convertible, an intricately detailed ’79 Monte Carlo and a ’48 Suburban which I learned, in lowrider culture, is known as a bomb. Plus, they had lowrider bikes, lowrider pedal cars and lowrider toys. (Plug: You can find photos and videos on my Instagram.)

As we took it all in, we realized that this was more than just a few cars parked in a room. This was a doctoral thesis on the culture. Displays took visitors behind the fancy paintwork, explaining the how and the why of things like hydraulics, bespoke interior work and aftermarket wheels. How did the forefathers of the scene weave these features into their creations? 

The bodywork display chronicled the work needed to transform the entire side of a Lincoln Towncar from a wreck to a show car, showcasing the tools of the trade: hammer and dolly, metal flake paint and sandpaper–lots of sandpaper. Yes, the implements that so many of us have in our shops have, at least in this case, been categorized as an artist’s tools. Congratulate yourself on being the next Picasso. 

Ever see a five-spoke Supreme mag wheel displayed in a museum, complete with written history? We did, and to be honest, it was pretty cool to see something so iconic gets its due. The right wheels can do more than just support a tire. They can also make a statement. 

But the exhibit went beyond chrome and hydraulics. It also showcased the music, dress and family that tie the scene together. The room featured zoot suits, Pendleton plaid work shirts, and stories about resurrecting a wreck into a family heirloom. 

The take-home message: This was more than cars, it was culture.

Don’t think that our little motorsports world is any different? Next time you’re at an autocross or track event, count the number of Blipshift and GRM T-shirts–and watch how people get nostalgic discussing Panasport wheels, Kamei spoilers and SuperTrapp mufflers. We might not be lowriders, but in the end we’re all branches of the same tree. 

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View comments on the GRM forums
Vigo (Forum Supporter)
Vigo (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
10/26/20 11:03 a.m.

As a tradesman/mechanic/technician/whatever you want to call it (i sometimes feel entitled to craftsman) that has worked with his hands for all my working years, I'm definitely at a point where i appreciate effort and technique more than pure glitz or whether something has value on the social ladder. In that sense I've moved from initially being a little weirded out by lowriders to appreciating the work that creates them. 

I'm still pretty critical of a person having a consuming desire to express and be seen, and have made some associations in my mind between let's say the birthplace of lowrider culture and that desire to be de-anonymized. My attitude was formed by different forces, but if at the end of the day I am just pretty sure i can do whatever i want and dont feel the need to prove it, and someone else uhhh... builds a lowrider, then one of us has something a lot cooler and more social to talk about then their general sense of not needing to prove anything or stand out. I do kinda wanna build a lowrider anyway. I just don't know if i'd take it anywhere.. cheeky

Snowdoggie HalfDork
10/26/20 11:20 a.m.

They spend a lot of time and money on those paint jobs. 

Opti Dork
10/26/20 7:24 p.m.

I don't critize (seriously) taste, I will critize E36 M3ty craftsmanship.


The low rider scene was never my cup of tea, but after seeing a bunch of nice ones it hard to deny the amount of work and artistry that goes into them. It really made me look at them differently after that

Duke MegaDork
10/27/20 9:00 a.m.

"GOLD LEAF AND PINSTRIPES" on the leading edge of the door is not parallel with the rest of the lettering.

These things bother me.


ZOO (Forum Supporter)
ZOO (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
10/27/20 9:18 a.m.

I've been to Cuba many times, and it is enlightening to experience the car culture in such an environment.  There is passion and craftmanship, within the limitations of the economy and supply chains.  Next time I visit I plan to bring a little bag of "car treats" to share.

When possible I do my best to speak with the owners of the different cars.  Gear heads are gear heads.  I had the good fortune to drive a 1952 Ford convertible with an Isuzu diesel and five speed conversion.  It was a terrific "shared" car guy moment.

solfly Dork
10/27/20 9:42 a.m.

This forum/magazine has made me interested in all kinds of stuff I never cared about.

chandler UltimaDork
10/27/20 10:53 a.m.

Quite often someone will say a car is ugly or they wouldnt drive "that" and I always say I would rock that. I just love cars. I appreciate everything people do to theirs even if it's not something I would do.

350z247 New Reader
10/27/20 12:47 p.m.

If it makes a car worse to drive, less comfortable or unsafe, I have no patience for it. $20K paint job, sure, I'm happy to see it even if I would never do it myself, but there are so many I will never have respect for: Camber Gang, Carolina Squat Trucks, Bro-Dozzers, 24+ inch rims, Bosozoku, ect...

LopRacer Dork
10/27/20 7:18 p.m.

I like  to see how other scenes in the car hobby do what they do, we can all learn something from eachother. Low riders really do have some amazing fabrication.

madmrak351 New Reader
8/1/21 2:47 p.m.

Both of my sons got into the air bagged mini truck scene in their teenage years. I fully supported them in this area as they learned to  repair their own vehicles, fabricate and have a better understanding of engineering. They both are still die hard gear heads nearly 20 years later. Time helping them was well spent.

frenchyd UltimaDork
8/1/21 4:18 p.m.

In reply to madmrak351 :

You are lucky indeed to have boys.  I had girls and I'm sorry I just can't get excited about dance classes  or dresses, make up and the rest of my girls interest . I know they tried to be interested in mine. But they just weren't.  I was there for all their monumental moments. Special performances etc. cheered them on, encouraged them,  and paid for everything.  
But I wish I'd had just one son to share with. 

frenchyd UltimaDork
8/1/21 4:22 p.m.
chandler said:

Quite often someone will say a car is ugly or they wouldnt drive "that" and I always say I would rock that. I just love cars. I appreciate everything people do to theirs even if it's not something I would do.

Well said.  Who doesn't appreciate the work, the skill, the effort to stand out even if it is something I don't particularly want.  

SVreX (Forum Supporter)
SVreX (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
8/1/21 4:22 p.m.

I speak Spanish, and my wife is Cuban. I work with hundreds of Hispanics. Lowriders are a real pleasure to them. 

I was pretty critical for a long time.  Then I started showing up in my 1960 El Camino, and they would totally geek out. "Ooo... ju  neeed to puut hidrawleeks on dat car, Amigo!"  Probably not, but I love their appreciation. 

Eventually I realized that Lowriders are the closest thing we have to modern day Hot Rods. Similar or higher levels of fabrication, passion, skill. No bolt-on performance parts.  And in the Hot Rod days there were plenty of stodgy old coots who would say "Those damned kids are just berkeleying up the handling, making them uncomfortable and destroying decent cars!"  Sound familiar??

I don't particularly want to make my car hop, but I fully intend to tap into their skills when it's time to reinforce the frame of my car. NO ONE knows how to reinforce an X frame better than a Lowrider. 

And there are no better paint jobs on the planet!

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