Cruising Low and Slow in New Mexico, Where Cars Are Works of Art

4Fred Rael in "Boulevard Legend," a 1964 Chevrolet, Española, New Mexico, 2003.

Jim Arndt/Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

Some car enthusiasts look for speed or power in their ideal rides. But in northern New Mexico, where lowriding thrives, it's all about height—or the lack thereof.

Hispanic Americans have been dropping their cars to mere inches off the ground since at least the mid-20th century, when lowriding developed as a laid-back alternative to a high-octane hot rod culture largely dominated by whites. Drivers in Los Angeles and El Paso, who weighed their cars down with sandbags, were early innovators. Today, drivers around the world use hydraulic systems to not only drop their vehicles but bounce or "hop" them several feet in the air.

For many in northern New Mexico, lowriding is a way of life and an essential outlet of local artistic and cultural expression. In the exhibit "Lowriders, Hoppers, and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico," which is on display at the New Mexico History Museum until March 5, curator Daniel Kosharek presents more than 120 images from 31 photographers of spectacular vehicles and their owners and mechanics, as well as car show attendees.

141972 Buick Rivera, owner Adam Garcia of Las Vegas, New Mexico, 1998.

Jack Parsons

81963 Chevrolet Impala, owner Lee Cordova of Alcalde, New Mexico, 1998.

Jack Parsons/Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

car2Left: Fleetwood, New Mexico, 1976. Right: Lowrider Car Show, Española, 2000.

Left: Elliott McDowell/Palace of the Governors Photo Archives. Right: Sam Adams/Palace of the Governors Photo Archives.

5San Gabriel Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1983.

Courtesy of Ken Brubriski

With virtually no existing archives to draw from, Kosharek contacted individual photographers to build his own collection. A handful of art photographers he found, including Low 'n Slow photographer Jack Parsons, had spent substantial time among lowriders for long-term projects. Others had photographed them intermittently as part of wider examinations of New Mexican culture. Some photographed cars for niche publications such as Lowrider magazine. Don Usner, who grew up in Española, New Mexico, the self-described lowrider capital of the world, made new photos for the exhibit.

The earliest photos date to the late 1970s and stretch through the '80s and '90s, when it was popular for lowriders to adorn their car bodies with intricate murals, all the way to the present day. Gearheads will surely slobber over the detailed images of wheels, paint jobs, and plush interiors. But even the everyday museum visitor, Kosharek said, can appreciate the craftsmanship and care involved in their make.

"The intent was to document the artistry involved in making these rolling works of art.," Kosharek said.

car1Left: Española, 2001.Right: Calm Before the Storm, 2010.

Left: Norman Mauskopf. Right: Corey Ringo

16Mariachis and Bombas, 2015.

Corey Ringo

10Manuel Vega's 1950 Mercury outside custom tattoo shop on Central Avenue, Albuquerque, 2015.

Robert Eckert


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