By Erika F. Washington
Photos by Erika F. Washington
Dozens of cars and trucks lined the west end of the old Huntridge pharmacy parking lot last Saturday afternoon. Each gleamed like it just rolled off the Detroit assembly line; however, these cars are all at least 50 years old.
You can hear them before you see them—the low growl of the engine, the shift of the transmission and the low squeal of the hydraulic suspension system just before it lowers itself inches from the ground.
The 4th annual Viva Ray Vegas Car Show made its first appearance in the Huntridge neighborhood, but residents hope it won’t be the last. The celebration was started by a group of friends who wanted to celebrate the return of their friend Ray after deployment to Kuwait.
“We just wanted to welcome him home, and after he was redeployed we did the car show again when he returned home,” said Jessie‘Joker’.
His name comes from their car club “The Sin City Jokers,” but don’t be fooled; these guys are serious about their passion for cars.
Last year the festivities were held near Rainbow and Sahara, however Jessie decided to bring it to the vintage neighborhood with the help of his friend and owner of the barber shop, Martin.
According to city data, the Huntridge community is almost 50 percent Hispanic, so it seems fitting for the car enthusiasts to gather in the mostly unused lot.
“It worked out really well… we put it together this year really fast,” said Jessie.
Vendors such as ‘Coast to Coast Print T’s,’ ‘Beach Bash,’ and various food vendors were on hand to round out the more than 120 car entries.
Art Cassata, a bartender at the Huntridge Tavern, said he was glad to see the younger crowd the show attracted. “I’m happy to see the young people rediscovering this area.”
Low-riders are cars with cut suspension coils to create the low-to- the-ground effect started in the 1940’s and 50’s. It was cool and looked upon as a status symbol for the young boys of East Los Angeles. Today it has become an art form — a symbol of culture originating from the California coast by Mexican-Americans.
The antique cars are fully restored but the original owners may not recognize the brightly painted, low to the ground automobiles.
Every car — even the exact same models — all look vastly different. The car is an extension of its owner, thus the custom features and paint jobs will reflect that. Some owners stick to the classic fixtures and adornments, while others choose to upgrade and include DVD players, video game consoles and undercarriage lights. “Bajito y Suavecito” — Low and Slow, or “Tumbado” — Low to the ground, is always the end result.
Jessie Joker prefers American made cars but joked that he let a few Volkswagens in this year.
Kristina Hayden wandered down from the other end of the strip mall to check out the action.
“I love how this captures a simpler time,” said Hayden noticing the retro wear of the attendees as well. Some donned high-waist hot pants and victory rolls, while others looked right at home in T-strap oxford heels and calf length, cinched waist dresses.
Today’s life seems so chaotic… I feel like they are chasing the dream and trying to recapture what life was like during my parents’ era,” said Hayden.
Gabrel Maldonado has invested more than $10,000 into his 1964 Silver Sport. “I plan to give it to my son… but he’s only 13 right now.” He has spent more than 16 years and countless hours perfecting the antique car. “I love the color,” he said. “Its lavender, but in the sun it looks sort of different, you know? It really attracts the ladies.”
Maldonado also works on a 1937 Chevy and a 1950 Ford with his friends at their shop.
Ron Aguirre of Rialto, California seems to be the undisputed father of hydraulics. His brown 1957 Corvette is widely acknowledged as the first car ever using hydraulics to raise and lower the front suspension. Right after purchasing the sports car, it was lowered a bit by cutting the coils up front and by installing wooden blocks in the back.
According to the website SundaySlacker.com, Aguirre with the help of his father designed the hydraulic system using 12 and 24 volt pumps, much like the ones used in body shops to pull out dents.
“Ron’s father knew about an aircraft surplus place south of Los Angeles called Palleys. They went down there, and began to talk to people about the problem and how to solve it. He bought… different types of cylinder lines and equalizers to equalize the pressure. This was done over a period of time, but Ron and Louie eventually got the system to move the car up and down smoothly and easily by just pushing a button.”
Car customizing has become big business with owners wanting custom murals, pin-striping and graphics painted on their vehicles. The artwork can range from pop culture icons like Marilyn Monroe or Selena to unique patterns using bright colors or religious symbols.
Jessie Joker estimates he has spent at least $20,000 fixing up his 1954 Chevy Bel-Air.
“I probably won’t do another car… it’s a lot of work,” said Jessie.
Low-riding has developed into a family-based affair. Many of the car clubs including the Sin City Jokers said they always try to sponsor events throughout the community with the hope of inspiring the youth of today.
“It’s important to give back,” said Jessie.