An Inside Look at the Lowrider Culture of East L.A.

Master car builder and prolific tattoo artist Mister Cartoon, who is an executive producer on the film <em>Lowriders</em>, takes us behind the scenes of a lifestyle born in Los Angeles

“East L.A. is the mecca of lowriding. Our lowriders are famous for being extra clean and well built, and our paint jobs are the best. But the painters are usually insane. The good ones are alcoholics or might get deported. If Trump has anything to do with it, there will be no custom car builders or paint jobs or interiors. Chevy Impalas are the most sought after. Once N.W.A rapped “Cruisin’ down the street in my ’64,” the ’64 Impala became the official lowrider of the world. It’s not even the most desirable—that’s the ’58 Impala, the original and the greatest Impala—but the ’64 is the most famous.

“There are hundreds of car clubs here, and Lowriders is a peek into the culture. There’s fellowship and brotherhood among people who are like-minded—people who pay the chrome bill before the phone bill. But the movie will educate, too. For years Hollywood has been depicting lowriders as drive-by and murder vehicles. This film is one of the few opportunities we have to show the making of a lowrider: the patience it takes, the families involved. I built the key car in the film, Green Poison. I also designed the tattoos on the characters, the car club plaques, the tees the car club guys wear, and the graffiti on the walls. My partner, Estevan Oriol, and I made sure it looked authentic.”

An illustration by Mister Cartoon of Green Poison, the 1961 Impala from the film Lowriders

Illustrated by Mister Cartoon

Here’s what it takes to make a lowrider.

The Customization

Building a lowrider from start to finish might cost $25,000 “just to get close to the finish line,” Cartoon says. But if you’re willing to drop more cash, the sky’s the limit on modifications: an upgraded audio system, suede interiors, spoke-wire wheels, and wood floors.

The Paint

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Lowriders are known for their paint jobs, and the best involve a two-part process. First a metallic base coat is applied; next comes the candy coat, a translucent paint tinted with pigment—like blue or red or tangerine—that adds depth with each layer. “One of the hardest things to do is pick your color,” Cartoon says.

The Mural

Airbrushed art on the hoods or doors of many lowriders often depicts the owner’s neighborhood, family members, or scantily clad women. Drivers can make requests, but artists usually get the final say. “You don’t art direct the art director,” Cartoon says.

The Hydraulics

FYI, lowriders don’t bounce. They hop. Hydraulic kits can lower the car or raise it until it’s “12 o’clocking” (standing straight up). Drivers have their own style when it comes to “hitting the switches,” Cartoon says. “People get more excited to see our lowriders than they do Ferraris.”