What is a lowrider?
Lowriders are cars that have their body lowered so that they sit close to the ground. They are usually old, classic cars that are modified to have:
- Colorful paint;
- Smaller wheels;
- Hydraulic or Airbag suspension that lets the driver raise or lower the sides of the car. They can even make it drive on three wheels!
- Other modifications (changes) to make the car look good, like wheel skirts (covers for the back wheels), or decorative (fancy) bumpers.
The first Lowriders were created by Chicanxs that formed car clubs in Southern California in the 1940s and spread to other Mexican-American communities in Texas and the Southwestern United States, as well as Baja California, Mexico.
While other groups changed their cars to make them faster, lowriders were made to drive “bajito e despacito”/"low and slow" to show the beauty and style of the car when cruising.
The famous lowrider, "Gypsy Rose". Video by Historical Vehicle Association (YouTube).
Some say that driving slow was a way to avoid being stopped by police, who often unfairly harassed Chicanos. Even so, lowriders became targeted by law enforcement in California in 1958, when authorities made it illegal to drive a car that had been modified to have any part of its body below the level of its wheel rims.
That's when Ron Aguirre came up with a solution: he would add hydraulics from an old World War II fighter plane to his car so that he could raise and lower it at the flick of a switch! This would become a big part of lowriding culture, using hydraulic or airbag suspension to make the car dance or bounce. They even have competitions to see whose car can hop the highest!
Lowriders equipped with hydraulics. Video: Austin Lowriding (YouTube).
Lowriding culture allowed people to express their identity as being Chicanx, their Mexican heritage, and their belonging to their neighborhoods in the United States. Even though the authorities looked at car clubs as if they were gangs, they were really a place for friends to share their love for cars, and their culture. Many lowriders became involved in social justice projects and movements to improve life in their communities.
Today, all kinds of people drive lowriders, but they are still strongly associated with Chicanx people and culture. You can see this in many of the amazing murals that decorate lowrider vehicles.
Learn a bit more about Lowriders from people that live the culture
Lowriding in Austin. Video by La Prensa Austin (YouTube)
"Everything Comes from the Street". Video by KQED Arts (YouTube)
Class is now in session!
Click the links below to review all that is need for this activity, pick you age group and begin!
- Parent Guide Ages 5-7 years
- Parent Guide Ages 8-13 years
- Teaching Curriculum Ages 5-7 years
- Teaching Curriculum Ages 8-13 years
- Worksheet (included in the pack; can print out or use the digital version)
- 1964 Impala (easier) or 1957 Bel Air (harder) Template from the pack printed on plain white paper or cardstock
- Coloring pencils, markers, and/or crayons
- Glue stick
- Glitter pen (optional)
- One plastic disposable fork
Los Lowriders Vocabulary
- Candy Paint, Pearl Paint: Paint that is applied in a special process to make it very shiny.
- Flakes: Metal flakes in the paint that makes it look glittery.
- Mural: An artwork that is painted on a wall or other large surface.
- Paint job: The way a car is painted for decoration.
- Pattern: Part of an image that repeats over and over.
- Two-tone: Using two different shades of color, especially one light, one dark.
- Chicanx: Name used by many Americans of Mexican heritage to describe themselves,their identity and their culture. Also includes Chicano, Chicana, Xicano, Xicana.
- Cruising: Driving around for fun, often on a strip of road that others also cruise on.
- Mexican-American: An American of Mexican heritage and their culture.
See More Lowriders in Austin
Lowriders at the ESB-MACC
Lowrider culture doesn't just include modded cars; it has expanded to include amazing lowrider bikes. Here are a few that have been on display at ESB-MACC events.