Low Riders

By: David Dowsey, Photography by: Mark Bean

Presented by

low riders low riders

For some enthusiasts driving in a straight line is just not enough

Like any motoring sub-culture low riding is an attempt to create something individual – in this case with hi-po suspension. But low riding has had more than its share of detractors and according to one club low riding is a misunderstood movement.

Some people believe that good original cars are being wrecked by low riders but quite the opposite is the case – originality and preserving the past is at the core of the movement.

And at any rate surely these cars are much less modified than their hot rod brethren.

The Sydney Style Club is a small band of dedicated enthusiasts keen to preserve low riding culture in this country. President Andrew Morgan who owns the red 1964 Chevy Impala
Hardtop explains its origins: "Low riding began with Mexican people. They would gather together to form a common wealth and would share a car, something cheaper than the American hot rodders had.

They would bring the family cars in and they would cut them down to create that low look that was popular at the time."

Praise the lowered

Around the 1960s and ’70s low riders started tinkering with hydraulics using aircraft components – landing gear and actuators – from military surplus. A key piece of the low riding look was also the use of small wire wheels and tyres.

"In LA and East LA they would share a car and would work on it themselves," continues Andrew. "The Mexicans were good auto trimmers so the interiors were always great and the paint was always good too.

"When the aircraft parts became scarce they moved on to hydraulic gate pumps. Some people would go around and steal the pumps off the back of the trucks."

In the mid-’80s a lot of other cars came into the fold including ‘Euros’ – which weren’t actually European at all – they were Japanese. But these are hardly the genuine article according to the boys at Sydney Style.

Praise the lowered

Classic Impalas and Cadillacs are the main fare for low riders – the suspension is perfectly suited to the hydraulics. Presently there is a nostalgia for running actual aircraft parts – or reproduction aircraft parts in low riders.

There is another more pragmatic reason for the beginning of low riding culture. "Using adjustable suspension was a good way of avoiding the coppers," muses Andrew, "but it was also a good way of getting around town without scraping the car’s underside."

There are a few fundamental things that make a car into a low rider according to Sydney Style. The car has to have hydraulics, wire wheels are a must and some kind of custom paint work or a very original look is important too.

And for those who want to get into low riding?

Praise the lowered

"People can invest in a hydraulic kit which you can get from $2000-3000 and batteries to run them off. There’s also a lot of fabrication involved," Andrew says. "We like to reinforce the chassis and suspension parts. You can’t just lower the car and call it a low rider – airbag suspension doesn’t make a car a low rider – they are modern phenomena.

"The scene in Australia is growing," Andrew continues. "We are the biggest club in NSW. But people also want to protect it and keep it out of the hands of the ‘Auto Salon’ crowd. Everyone knows each other in this scene. Rap videos get people into it but whether they are committed to doing their cars properly is another thing. It is a friend-based movement. There is a lot of rivalry in who can get the best car out, but we are also very friendly."
Sydney Style has about 8-9 members based around Sydney. A full member needs to have a ‘full’ low rider and help run the club.

"All of us got together about eight years ago and Sydney Style formed in around 2001," says Andrew. "We are proud to be an Australian club, not a chapter of a US club where low riding is huge. But we wanted to bring our own flair to the scene."

Praise the lowered

The scene world wide – especially the US and Japan – has grown enormously. There are whole industries now devoted to supplying the equipment for the scene.

Australia on the world stage is also starting to get noticed according to Andrew.

"I got into low riding around 1990," he remembers. "A lot of guys were watching hip hop videos which gave me a buzz and I did a lot of research into the scene. In 1994 I purchased my car in Melbourne. It has been 12 years of constant tinkering. It had hydraulics on it when I bought it but they have all been removed. It was a bit ratty. I got a hydraulic kit sent over from the US and I bought a set of wheels. I did all that in my parent’s garage.

"I have chromed the grille and bumpers and I kept the interior as stock as possible. The styling of mine is original. I have reinforced and extended the front suspension and A-arms. It’s all been smoothed and reinforced. At the rear end I have stainless brake lines etc.

"I wanted a hard top. I fell in love with the big wide grille of the ’64. I wasn’t going to settle on anything less. I run a two-pump eight-battery set-up and either 60v or 72v to the front-end to make it run faster.

Praise the lowered

"I like low riding because you can build something that you really want and the hydraulics make the car more into a machine," Andrew says. "It takes a bit of a knack to learn how to bounce your car. It’s all in the set up and controlling the switches correctly.

"I get a bit too much attention when I drive," he laughs. "I love it when old-timers talk to me about the cars. We get a lot of positive comments from them saying it’s great seeing young blokes who are into Chevs and cars like that instead of plastic Japanese cars.

"What a lot of people don’t realise is that low riding has been around as long as hot rodding. Some people don’t like it that we convert the suspension but we do less to a car than hot rodders or customisers who cut up cars. We actually like to keep the cars looking pretty original.

"Some people won’t give us the time of day, especially mechanics," says Andrew philosophically.

Praise the lowered

"When they find out the car is a low rider they don’t want to work on it. That’s why we do a lot of the work ourselves. But things are slowly changing around."

"Basically it was watching music videos when I was young and it was just me," says Rob Hughes explaining how he was bitten by the low riding bug. He now owns the green 1968 Chevy Caprice.

"I was aiming for an SS two-door but being a Caprice was such a bonus. It was a low rider when I bought the car from Michigan and I imported it myself. I have replaced some stuff like shocks that weren’t good.

"It has absolutely lived up to the dream. I always dreamed of doing three-wheeling around corners and that’s what I’m doing so it’s great. I’m learning all the time – to hop it.

Everywhere I go people comment – from little kids to the elderly. They look at the interior and the best comment I get is,
‘I could sleep in it’."

Rob isn’t finished with the car yet though. "I plan to put in heavier springs and extend the A-arms even more. So there is some other stuff to do.

Praise the lowered

"We don’t have any problems with the police. They look at our cars and they admire them. They are too busy pulling over Skylines," he laughs.

Corio Cremoux owns the featured 1961 red Chevy Impala. Of French origin Corio used to live in the US which is where his love for low riders began.

"When I moved to Australia I met Andrew and I was thinking about getting a low rider so I got mine about five years ago from the States and I restored it."

Corio likes to keep his car original and more traditional but has a pretty nifty custom paint job which he has dedicated to his father.

Praise the lowered

"The interior, wheels and engine are all original," he explains. "The car originally had a white roof with inserts. I decided to have it painted.

The pattern is things that I like. The guy that painted it used to paint Harleys; he’s American so it is in his blood.

"I like to cruise, to go 10km/h instead of driving with a turbo and crashing at the next corner," Corio explains.

Praise the lowered

"It is also a different kind of car that people respect. People who used to drive cars like this talk to me and I like that. We also have a great family with Sydney Style and it’s great to be involved.

"We have a clubhouse with a garage and we work in there most weekends. We have a couple of beers and we can work well into the night. We have a lot of equipment. It is very much like a family and that’s what it’s like in the States too." n

Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for more unique car reviews and features plus see the latest unique and classic cars for sale.

Subscribe to Unique Cars magazine
- Print edition
- Digital edition