Style For Days: <br />Lowriding At The GNRS
The Rise Of The Lowrider

At 66 years running, the Grand National Roadster Show is big on tradition. The chance to experience hot rod and custom car history first-hand is a big draw for the thousands that come through the gates of the Fairplex every year. But for as much as the GNRS is about the old days, it’s also about new trends and the exchange of ideas between different builders and enthusiasts.


It’s a place where you’ll find mega-buck, billet-laden show rods sitting a few steps away from rust-covered jalopies. You’ll also find freshly-debuted, modern builds parked beside historical customs appearing just as they did when originally built some 60 or 70 years ago. It’s one of the things I love about the event.


Over the past several years, there seems to have been an increasing convergence between the world of lowriders and that of traditional custom cars. Historically, the lowrider scene has always been its own thing, with unique demographics and separate traits – something I don’t think will be changing anytime soon. But I can’t help but notice that the lines seem to be blurring in certain areas. The divide isn’t what it once was.


The Grand National Roadster Show regularly includes a display for lowriders from some of Southern California’s biggest car clubs. It’s one of the few places where you’ll see these cars outside the realm of lowrider-only gatherings.


Aside from the presence of the full-on lowriders at the GNRS, there was also a nice sprinkling of cars that straddle the border between 1960s-style custom and straight lowrider.


In later years the genres would go down separate paths, but for a period in the mid ’60s, Southern California was home to a number of cars which combines elements of both. Today, it’s sometimes referred to as ‘Bellflower style’, so named after the city where many of these cars could be found cruising. Whatever you want to call them, they represent an important era in both custom car and lowrider history.


It’s hard to find a better example of this style than Howard Gribble’s ’64 Impala SS. The car known as Bloody Mary was built by Starlite Rod & Custom, and is actually perfect replica of a machine built by Allen Dukes in the late ’60s.


From the paint and wheels to the interior treatment, Howard’s Impala is a stunning tribute to custom car history, and one that could easily fit in at both a traditional custom car show, or a lowrider event.


You can also see that he went with a period-look for his show display as well, with cotton stuffed in the wheel wells as you would often see at indoor exhibitions in the ’60s and ’70s.


Richie Valles of Unique Twist Auto Body in Burbank is another builder who’s known to skirt the boundaries between lowrider and custom. His MoTown ’63 Impala is another build that combines elements of both schools of style.


On one hand it’s got typical lowrider touches like hydraulics and wire wheels, but it also has some unusual features like a custom cross ram induction system.


It has the attention to detail you find on high-level lowrider show cars, but everything’s been approached in a more restrained way. The paint job is a bit more understated, as is the interior – and the build seemed to be getting a lot of attention at the GNRS.


Northern California’s John D’Agostino is a builder known for turning out stunning ’40s and ’50s customs, but he’s gone in a slightly different direction with his latest project. The ’68 Buick Riviera known as Pantheon is one more example of lowrider and traditional custom styles being mixed on a 1960s platform. The custom work on this long and low Buick is subtle, but oh so effective.

Low Lifestyle

Now were at the Lifestyle Car Club display, located in the hall which celebrates Southern California’s car clubs. Lifestyle is likely the world’s most well known lowrider club, and you can read more about it in this guest blog from the late, great, Jae Bueno.


The cars that belong to Lifestyle aren’t the usual lowriders you see rolling down the street. These things are nothing less than fully-fledged works of art – and they are absolutely stunning to look at.


The paintjobs alone are something which cannot be described with words or even photographs. It boggles the mind to even think about the time that’s been invested in coating this bodywork.


I also love the way lowrider builders embrace platforms you wouldn’t typically see at hot rod and custom car shows. A ’79 Lincoln Mark V is car that most collectors or hot rodders wouldn’t look twice at, but when given the full lowrider treatment the huge two-door becomes a masterpiece.


The same can be said for a model like the ’79 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. Late ’70s and early ’80s Cadillacs haven’t yet reached the point of being desirable collector cars, and I’m not quite sure they’ll ever command the premium of their older counterparts.


But when you see a car like Bobby Flores’ Cotton Cadi, the Coupe DeVille takes on a personality all its own. ‘Classic’ is just one of many words you could choose to describe it.


On the other hand a ’63 Impala SS Convertible is a car that’s highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts of all types. Especially if it happens to be equipped with a 409 and a 4-speed stick.


But the owner of this car, dubbed Summer Madness, didn’t let the Chevy’s rarity stop him from turning it into a stunning lowrider creation – and that actually makes the whole thing cooler.


Especially when you peek under the hood and see that the 409ci motor has been fitted with an extremely rare Algon fuel injection system from the ’60s.


I’m not sure what Chevy purists will think, but to me this car perfectly taps into the anti-establishment aura that’s always hung around the lowrider scene.

Mass Appeal

Now we move from a Summer Madness to Blind Madness – this ’65 Impala SS owned by Jesse Saldana of Thee Stylistics Car Club.


This is one of those builds so immaculately detailed that you just have to stop and stare. In fact, you could just sit there forever taking in all of the little touches.


Like many high-end lowrider show cars, the Impala was displayed without wheels and had mirrors beneath so you could see the detailed under carriage and touches like the etched brake rotors.


Even the underside of the gas tank was covered in murals that surely would have taken hours upon hours to complete. Even if you wouldn’t consider doing this sort of thing to your own car, it’s impossible not to be inspired by the sheer amount of raw car-building talent on display.


And as I made my way around the lowrider displays at the GNRS, I couldn’t help but notice that many of the people admiring these cars certainly didn’t fit the profile you might have of the typical lowrider fan.


Sure, lowriding in the US has always been known as a primarily Hispanic movement, but I saw a lot of gray-haired white guys with hot rod t-shirts stopping to check out these cars and being very impressed with what they saw. I’ve also got no doubt that the lowrider owners enjoyed checking out the beautiful hot rods that were on hand.


We at Speedhunters love the idea of breaking down boundaries and thinking outside the box – and that’s why we think the lowriders are a very welcome addition to the Grand National Roadster Show. Regardless of background or individual taste, the ability to appreciate and enjoy craftsmanship, style and history is something that all car lovers should share.

Mike Garrett
Instagram: speedhunters_mike

Cutting Room Floor


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When I see automobile works of art like these I'm always pulled in several different directions.

Having built a few cars (not to this standard, of course) I can fully appreciate and admire the sheer amount of hard work and craftsmanship that goes into something like this.....but then I find it a little sad that these cars will never see any tarmac time.

It's like owning a 250GTO and just letting it sit in a temperature-controlled environment whilst you polish it. 

A car's natural state and purpose is to be moving.

Mini-rant over..


StuKP Having lived in California all my life, I reckon there's no reason to assume that most of these cars won't be enjoyed as drivers at some point in their lives (as you do see them around, fine paint and all)... Though perhaps not while the paint is still brand new or the show circuit still on their owners' minds. However, have you actually driven in a lowrider with hydraulic suspension? It sucks. Several of these cars could properly be considered rolling canvases rather than quality automobiles.


StuKP  Idk where you're from, but I see lowriders that are a lot like these minus the detailed undercarriage driving around. Lowriders get driven a lot because when you spend that kind of money, why wouldn't you show it off?


Hi gliebau, I built a Drag-racing Beetle a few years back that had around an inch of front suspension travel and a considerably stiffened rear so am more than aware of the bone-jarring and teeth-rattling ride it gives. Suffice to say with 145 section front tyres and 185bhp, the cornering wasn't up to much but straight-line speed was a hoot!

Certainly in places such as California where the climate can be trusted/predicted it can probably be expected that highly detailed cars would probably be driven more than they would be here in the UK.

My initial scepticism on this front came from a fellow incumbent of the early 90's UK VW scene where a guy built a highly detailed oval and it used to get trailered everywhere. I remembering it sounded like a proper bag of nails when he fired it up to move it the 10 feet down the ramps. I just found the whole idea a bit of a waste of a classic vehicle.

I would agree with your sentiment though that the vehicles in this article are essentially rolling canvases.


Hi Billy J, as per my reply above I'm from the UK where it rains pretty much every day apart from 3 or 4 days usually in May when it's hotter than the surface of the Sun. Hence my scepticism surrounding these vehicles.

However, as you say, there are many examples in your part of the world that don't feature such detailing and are driven on a regular basis. 

I can wholly subscribe to that.


StuKP Billy J So I was driving down the highway one day in a snow storm and a lowrider drove by me wires and all. 
I later talked to the owner and he said he loves driving the car in the winter because it was so heavy it got great traction.
I'm not sure if he's done it since he's painted the frame and undercarriage. He does however beat on the car relentlessly and to me there's something crazy about the fact that the car is built to take a beating like this then drive home.


Mike thank you so much for this post. I know you will probably catch some flack from some who say this doesn't belong on SH but you really nailed it.
The Bellflower style is one I didn't find out about until I was already deep within my lowrider obsession and (given the right platform) I would probably go that style vs strict lowrider. It's the perfect combination of several things I enjoy.
I've always had a deep respect for the lowriding culture because of the attention to detail in their builds and focus on family at their events. Lowrider BBQs I attend year after year always have an environment that isn't easily comparable to other events. Super laid back, tons of fun, and chrome for miles.
Also thanks for the closer shots of the Bloody Mary II. I spent awhile reading about the original on Kustomorama the other day after seeing photos of the second pop up at GNRS. Absolutely wild to think that car was important enough to be brought into another generation.
I could go on and on but then I tend to ramble... so thanks again!


Wow man, every single one of them are rolling art..maybe not driving art but just the same. Really great article, the old american lowrider culture is in my blood whether I like it or not. It reminds me of the stories of my mom's ol' GP ,monte carlo, T-bird and 65 impala, she loved those cars. Of course when she gave them to my uncles they juiced them up and put the wires on ;]

There's a reason why this style is still here today, and why it's travelled all over the world and is booming in japan STILL! Thanks for the write up Mike.


I dont get all.


Awesome dude.  I love lowriders.  If you can't get laid driving one of these then you just suck.  They're clean, kool and bad ass.


BlackMesa533i Thanks buddy. Glad you enjoyed it.


DaveT Thanks Dave! While I certainly did grow up around lowriders, I seem to appreciate them more and more as I get older.


StuKP That's a valid point, but then again every scene has its cars that never really see the road. Also, while I can't speak for the crazy detailed show cars, I know that a lot of the lowriders at the GNRS do in fact see plenty of cruising on the streets of LA.


I cannot believe the ungodly amount of hours and work that would go into these cars. They are for sure works of art and whilst I wouldn't want one, I can certainly appreciate them for their beauty and attention to detail. It seems absurd that they are excluded from ANY show.


Now these are my kind of lowered rides. 
The attention to details and creativity is truly an eye catcher. 
Wish there were more trucks in this post but overall awesome work SH!


Nobody took pictures of the models at the show?!


I've never been a fan of the aesthetic but I'll be damned if I didn't respect and admire the attention to detail these guys go through. Really the most thorough customizers in the car enthusiast community.


Not really pointed out in the article is that L.A. (the Fairplex show site is in the eastern suburb of Pomona) is the "home" of the lowriders, the Latino-Southern California style shown here. Lowriders can turn up anywhere, but the peculiar bright California light and pale, washed out regional landscape, combined with one of the strongest and most proud Latino cultures anywhere, makes the L.A. area the epicenter of the boldest, most brightly painted, and most obsessively detailed lowriders of all. The cars at the show might be mostly trailer queens (for now), but they represent the style and the traditions of the street driven cars, just turned up a notch or two. I would also venture to call the '64 Impala the "deuce coupe" of lowriders, the make and model that didn't start the trend, which established itself well before the 1960s, but the "six-four" was the one to go with, when lowriding and the Latino culture took over huge parts of the L.A. area in the 1970s and 1980s. The '64s were cheap and common throw-away cars back then.
Not my taste, but I figuratively bow in their direction when I see one of these in their natural L.A. habitat. The lowrider guys have as strong a sense of car culture and their own car heritage as any car guys on Earth. Like so many car cultures, the builds themselves are woven tightly into the fabric of the community and the people who build and drive them. They got to be a big part of the GNRS, on their own home turf. Good for them.



Not really a fan either but respect and respect again for the quality of work gone into these cars.


Read it again... all of it.


That black Impala in the bonus shots is lovelier than a lovely thing...


Am i the only one that whistled the tune of The George Lopez show.....


Awesome dude.  I love lowriders. 
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Always great (tho far too rare) to see some lowrider love on SH. But as i always say every time low riders do make an appearance… WHERE ARE THE BOMBS!!!????????


That opening shot took me back to my younger days in the 70's, stumbling around the car shows in a state of sensory overload. I haven't seen cotton and lights used like that in a long time. Thanks for bringing back all those memories. The lowriders still blow me away now as they did 40 years ago.


Great article as always Mike. I spent quite a bit of time around this section of the show drooling over the lowriders. Like you I hadn't attended the show in a bit. But will make sure I attend again year after year.
I spotted you in the lowrider hall. But got distracted by a lowrider and forgot to go up to you and say Hellol.


a lot of your guys share the same thoughts as I did before I read the comments. As I scrolled through the pictures two thing I said to myself "this is automobile art" and "wow the attention to detail is amazing"


I love the color of this car. great
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Awesome collections 
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which are considered the largest automotive trade fair ever, there are many classic cars on display. Yepi
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I'm a huge fan of automobile. Anyways, don't know why I just don't like those cars.


Thank you very much for your post! Have a good day guy
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