Among Lowriders, U.S. Cars Still Reign Supreme With their embrace of big, classic, gas-guzzling American cars, lowriders tip their hats to a time before the industry's current woes. Enthusiasts recall when GM made huge family cars that they "souped up" to ride closer to the ground.

Among Lowriders, U.S. Cars Still Reign Supreme

Among Lowriders, U.S. Cars Still Reign Supreme

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The auto industry in the U.S. may be in deep trouble, but there's at least one place where American cars reign supreme: the lowrider culture in Southern California. Lowriders love gas-guzzling, big-body cars that are perfect for cruising "low and slow."

At the "The Lowrider 2009 Tour" held last weekend in San Bernardino, Calif., a 1963 Chevy Impala belonging to a father-daughter team hopped up and down on hydraulic lifts.

Trino Alfaro's award-winning Impala, named "Cherry '64," glistened on a rotating display with mirrors underneath. The car sparkled with engraved chrome and intricate murals.

At this show, there will always be just one kind of GM: the GM that existed before the oil crisis of the 1970s, the GM that built hulking family cars that rebellious kids turned into lowriders.

"Put it this way: GM hasn't designed a car that the lowrider automotive culture would accept for the last, wow, 30 years," said Joe Ray, editor of Lowrider Magazine, which hosts this car tour and competition.

A Living Museum

As Ray moved through the car show, his eye wandered to the bold wings on a 1959 Chevy Impala. "That's incredible, man," he said. "They're so rare, but you're always going to find them at lowrider shows. That's a 50-year-old car right there."

This show is a kind of living museum. There are plenty of Chevy El Caminos here, too, even though GM stopped making them in the 1980s. Alfred "Big Al" Carr won the show's hydraulic hopping contest in the souped-up El Camino he inherited from his father.

"Maybe GM will see [me winning this contest] and want to continue the El Camino," Carr said, adding chances of that were very slim. "It's worth a try."

Alfaro said he thinks GM's bankruptcy is likely to boost the market for cars like his. "These cars are going to be worth more because they're GM," he said.

Lowriders said their hard work has always been aimed at bringing new life to cars that seem unsalvageable.