- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

LOS ANGELES

Its walls are padded in lurid pink velvet while the room boasts vases of plastic roses, mini candelabra and a drinks cabinet. But this isn’t a love-motel room, it’s a car — a “lowrider.”

Hundreds of the customized vehicles, most sporting velvet swivel seats, interiors dotted with disco mirrors and bodies adorned with bright colors and suggestive murals, crowded into a Los Angeles stadium earlier this month.

The lowriding phenomenon, begun in the late 1950s, is picking up speed again with a new generation of fans who have turned their passion into a subculture that worships the glitzy vehicles.

In car-bound Los Angeles, the lowrider culture of the “Grease” generation has been taken over and personalized by the city’s huge Mexican population, some of whom invest their aspirations, fantasies and a lot of money and time in their eye-catching assets.

“For lowriders, their cars are their babies and tell their life stories and depict their dreams,” said Greg DeAlba, 24, an Ageleno of Mexican descent and a second-generation lowrider.

“To us it’s art, like painting or drawing,” he said, pointing to his pristine purple 1958 Chevrolet station wagon that boasts chrome trim and engine and a portrait of his new wife under its mirror-lined hood.

Virtually every personal expression is in evidence at gatherings of lowriders, who transform cheap jalopies into shiny status symbols and objects of desire.

In a potent mixture of machinery and sexual innuendo, lowriders strut their stuff in cars that generally feature scantily clad women in a suggestive poses on the bodywork, and interiors worthy of a rolling boudoir.

Car murals depict their owners’ dreams, hobbies or professions: dollar bills, drug motifs or, in the case of one auto-body painter, a bikini-clad woman brandishing a pair of spray-paint guns.

In addition to sporting traffic-stopping paint work and upholstery, some lowriders also can “hop” up to 5 vertical feet on their rear wheels, bounce from side to side on customized hydraulic suspensions or hit speeds of 130 mph.

Lowriders, named for the vehicles’ low profiles, started out simply as cars with dropped suspensions but have evolved into fantasies on wheels.

“When I got my first lowrider in 1959, I had to load the back with sandbags to bring it closer to the ground,” said lowrider family patriarch Mario DeAlba, 57.

“Now you can make them do anything,” he said, pointing to his deep-red 1960 Chevrolet Impala, on which he has spent more than $30,000 in the past four years.

Over the years, Mr. DeAlba, who lives in a modest home east of Los Angeles, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on stripping and converting 50 to 60 cars.

Among them, the auto-body-shop owner and his four sons have eight lowriders, some 1950s and ‘60s classics and others ‘90s cars.

“It’s like a drug,” he said. “You think you’ll only do a couple of things to it and then you find you can’t stop.”

“We build these cars with our hands and put our souls into them.”

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