Ben Chappell

in Latino Studies

ISBN: 9780199913701
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:

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  • History of the Americas
  • US Cultural History


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Lowrider car style is a popular genre of automotive customization. More than the literal lowering of a car, the term lowrider refers to a specific set of aesthetic and mechanical preferences within the broad range of practices of car modification and recreational cruising that emerged in the mid-20th-century United States. It connotes a close relationship to the history of Mexican American communities, where the style spread among family and friends through vernacular social networks. Lowriding also developed as a distinctive social activity, comprising public cruising, car club organizations, and competitive show events. Lowriders are distinguishable from other custom cars by the prevalence of specific consumer products such as Chevrolet Impala vehicles and Dayton Wire Wheels; functional modifications such as the use of industrial hydraulic lifts innovated by California customizer Ron Aguirre; and visual iconographies, both figurative and ornamental, which reference other media, such as public murals, film and television, and religious art. The term lowrider came into use as a marker not only of aesthetic style but also of a particular social identity in the 1960s context of rising Chicana/o consciousness. The public display of lowrider style came to represent ethno-racial and local pride, with aesthetic competence in lowrider style exemplifying the local knowledge gleaned from the shared experiences of urban Mexican America. Thus while Anglos, African Americans, and others have long participated in lowrider style, it remains generally recognized as a Mexican American invention and modern tradition. Scholars have been slow to embrace lowriding as a research topic, with the first dissertation (Bright 1994, cited under General Representations) appearing nearly twenty years after national news media first reported on the style. The growing credibility of popular culture studies has enabled more work, though a great deal about lowriding remains understudied, including related practices of model-car and bicycle customization. This bibliography emphasizes empirical and interpretive accounts of lowriding as a popular practice. It does not address lowriders as figures in memoir, literature, music, or cinema, each of which would be a considerable field in its own right. Nor does it survey the numerous documentary films and videos that have been completed, though not always widely distributed.

Article.  11058 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; US Cultural History

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