Your Highness

'People have been cruising for more than thirty years," says Jon Henriquez, tour manager of Lowrider Events. "The lowrider movement took off in the early '80s, but now it's more mainstream...you'll see lowriders in Pepsi commercials and hip-hop videos." On Sunday, June 25, the Lowrider 2006 Tour will stop at Qualcomm Stadium. The word "lowrider" is defined on Wikipedia as "a car or truck which has had its suspension system modified (usually with hydraulic suspension), so that it rides as low to the ground as possible." Many lowriders are rigged so that when they come to a stop, the body of the car rests on the ground.

Hydraulics are also used to make a car bounce up and down, a feat known as "car hopping." The Lowrider Tour will host a hydraulics competition during which "accessorized vehicles will actually bounce and dance for the crowd, sometimes to such extremes that they flip over."

In this context, hydraulics is the custom-built system that lifts a car using the pressure of hydraulic fluid in the same way brake fluid is used to stop a car when pressure is applied to the brake pedal. Car batteries placed in the trunk power most customized hydraulic systems. "Some vehicles have eight batteries in the back, just to be able to have enough juice to juice up the pumps," says Henriquez. "Double pumps give [lowriders] more power to jump up and down."

A more recent trend, beginning around four years ago, is to use airbags rather than hydraulic pumps. "You can modify your vehicle to have an air compressor in the trunk which compresses air into the pumps or airbags that [then] lift the vehicle up from its springs."

Henriquez has noted that most of the people who place in lowrider competitions are those who own their own paint or body shop. "If you do that for a living, you don't have to spend 20 grand for getting your car painted," he says.

In his article "Air Bagging a Bomb on a Budget" in Lowrider Magazine, Dick DeLoach explains how two guys tricked out a 1949 Chevrolet straight-six two-door sedan by modifying the car's stock suspension. Tools required for installing an airbag hydraulic system include Vise-Grips (locking pliers), ratchet wrenches of various sizes, a plasma cutter, an electric grinder, and a welding torch. The cost of materials, including airbags, compressors, a tank, fittings, lines, valves, and two airbags (one for the front and one for that rear), was around $200.

"The car that is traditionally what people think of as a 'lowrider' is the '64 Impala," says Henriquez. Mike Lopez, a member of the lowrider club Lifestyle C.C., altered a 1967 Chevrolet Impala that has since been dubbed the "Devil's Chariot." The glossy black auto has been returned to its original condition and sports black vinyl seats, carpet paneling for doors and floorboards, and an eight-track player in working order. The only part of the Devil's Chariot that is not factory original is the lowriding components, which are powered by four Sears Die-Hard batteries and four solenoids.

Henriquez says that modified SUVs began appearing a few years ago, the most impressive of which may be a Cadillac Escalade with a body made entirely out of Plexiglas and at least 20 plasma televisions installed underneath. "[Because the vehicle was clear] you could see the way they set up their sound system," Henriquez remembers. "When you turn [the car] on, all you see is TVs. The floor is made of Plexiglas, and there are TVs in the floor. The seats are Plexiglas, and you can see TVs underneath them."

Henriquez believes major car companies get many of their ideas from vehicle-modifying enthusiasts. In the early 1990s hobbyists and body-shop professionals began installing televisions in their cars. "Eventually some of the dealerships start taking those ideas, and now you see plasma TVs on the back of headrests."

Some cars are modified to such a degree that they are never driven on the road but rather trailered from one show to the next. "You might see somebody that has the whole undercarriage of their vehicle made of gold chrome. One car that won best of show had a roulette table custom-built in the back part of the vehicle."

Henriquez has never tricked out one of his own cars, but in the early '80s he would often go cruising down East L.A.'s Whittier Boulevard in a friend's lowrider. "A lot of cities have banned [cruising] because it creates a lot of traffic in the area. If people can't cruise, they go to the beach to show off their cars." When asked if cruising was intended more for showing off to the guys or picking up girls, Henriquez responds, "In general, girls are kind of fascinated by seeing someone driving a beautiful-looking car that's well taken care of. Whether it's a lowrider or a convertible Porsche, they'd be, like, 'Hey, what's up?'" -- Barbarella

Lowrider 2006 Tour Sunday, June 25 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Qualcomm Stadium Mission Valley Cost: $30 for adults; children 10 and under free Info: 714-939-2441 or lowridermagazine.com/lowridertour

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