I always think of American car culture as having peaked in the ’80s or ’90s, when vintage drag racing and car shows spread out over hot lawns seemed to reach maximum velocity. The hype portrayed in period photos seems more or less unmatched when you compare this to the level of excitement seen at muscle car-type events today.
Turnout and interest is on the way down, with magazines and shows all but disappearing over the years. This is due in part to a simple fact: owners of old cars are getting old. Still, not everyone who appreciates cars from decades past are old, so with this thought in mind Sara and I made it a priority to capture a slice of current American car culture during our Florida trip earlier this year. Having missed out on capturing anything American-themed during my previous visit to Miami, this was doubly-so a priority.
One problem: we didn’t really know anyone with this type of car that might also catch the eye of Speedhunters readers.
However, when Sara came across a certain purple-on-purple Buick as she was surfing on Instagram, it clicked – this was definitely the car and definitely the owner, too. What was supposed to be a simple feature turned into something so much better, as we ended up cruising together through the Miami night in a trio of older American cars.
Hanging out long into the night, it also ended up being a way to catch our breath between long days of shooting.
This might not make sense since we were technically on the clock, but it just didn’t feel like work. Instead, it was a relaxing hours-long cruise through some of my favorite areas of Miami, and my camera seemed to just be along for the ride.
Cars aside, we had the opportunity to meet an awesome group of guys and learn not just about the cars but their owners as well. Past or present, this is what car culture is really about. I’ll let Sara pick up the story…
I have a secret: I don’t like American cars. However, I can make some exceptions, and one of those exceptions is for lowriders. This community manages to completely transform American cars from something geriatric into something awesome.
I’ve only recently become interested in the lowrider scene, mostly because of the stunning and interesting – albeit somewhat controversial – movement happening in Japan. So, when I heard about a group of lowriding friends in Miami who seemed to be doing it right, I knew we had to pay them a visit on our trip out.
We were instructed by the guys to meet in the parking lot of a Burger King in Hialeah, which seemed fitting already. While snacking on some mediocre french fries we spotted an ‘80s Cadillac nonchalantly pulling into the parking lot. I Immediately felt my pulse speed up a bit, and we knew it had to belong to one of our new friends.
Moments later we were shaking hands with Andy, who was exactly the man you’d expect to be driving a car like this. He sports a contagious smile garnished with gold teeth, facial tattoos, dreads, and a presence as large as his old Caddy.
I’d argue he is as much a piece of art as he is a person, which correlates perfectly with the cars we centered our night around. Lowriders are much more of a physical representation of culture than they are a way to get from A to B, as is the case with lots of niche modified cars.
Andy let us know that the other two cars were getting some gas before we headed out for a night cruise around Miami, and that he would gladly chauffeur us around for the evening. Needless to say, Trevor and I were both pumped up and very grateful for the opportunity to kick back on our busy trip with a few sweet cars and go for a cruise.
Tasting The Rainbow At Chevron
We hopped in Andy’s ride and a short trip later spotted a pair of orange and purple stunners at the gas station. This is where we were properly introduced to our dates for the evening, as well as the folks that built and look after them.
Like any good friend group, every person plays a crucial role; this is true as well in the creation of these impeccably interesting cultural powerhouses. The attention to detail circumscribing the cars is poetic, and they were brought into existence through a talent-based barter system or sorts.
Andy, who you’ve already met, is a tattoo artist who’s carried his skills over to metal engraving. He explained — with a smile, of course — that he went to a convention in California and picked up the skill almost immediately. Talented as he is, it makes sense, and it’s thanks to Andy the trim on each of the cars twinkle like his gold teeth – just that little bit extra.
Eric Estrada is keeper of the orange El Camino and also the paint guy in the group, although his portfolio is very diverse. His actual day job is as an artist, where he primarily paints fishing-themed art — seriously, check it out — and in the evenings he makes magic happen on these lowriders.
The pigments pop from afar, drawing you closer, but it isn’t until you get intimate with the cars that you notice all of the fantastic details. His passion is seen in his product and the energy it gives off is contagious; this is the type of work that makes you want to better yourself.
Last but certainly not least is Steven Gonzales, a barber who looks after the purple Regal as well as everyone’s hair. The group is a sort of rainbow of diverse talents – not unlike the color of their cars.
And we can’t forget Jason; we’ll call him the mechanic. He came along for the ride (with his son, too) and it’s just as well that he did since an issue with a pesky belt needed to be addressed before we even got rolling. After interrogating the guys for a little too long, they managed to get me back into Andy’s car and we headed out.
Big, Beautiful, & A Little Bit Boaty
But once we did, it was every big as magical as I could have imagined.
Let me tell you, if you have never been inside of an ‘80s-era Cadillac, you’re missing out. They are the vintage yacht of American cars; huge in size and enormous in couch-like comfort. Not to mention all of the hilarious period details that just don’t quite make it onto cars today.
Best of all, the car seems to transform you into the coolest person on the highway. At least that’s how I felt riding in the back of the thing as Trevor leaned out to get photos while gliding between Miami’s lit-up skyscrapers in the company of three proper examples of this style.
The sensation at 60mph while sandwiched between two vintage cars in an old Cadillac is probably as close to floating as you can get.
We took one of Miami’s many freeways toward downtown while Steven hopped up and down beside us, dodging the perturbed — for lack of a better word — drivers sitting in their average and unsightly daily drivers.
Once we got into the city the reactions of people around us changed from irritated to excited. If one thing is clear, it’s that almost everyone loves interesting cars so long as they aren’t in between them and wherever it is they’re going. But if they’ve already arrived, they love ‘em.
We decided to head out to a shipping yard and see if we could grab some quick shots with the Miami skyline and docks in the background. At this point – with California stuffiness in mind – Trevor and I were a little doubtful that security guards would allow us in for long. But, we were able to hang out among the shipping containers for a good hour or two and weren’t bothered by security even once.
Our minds were blown, but I suppose the authorities had more pressing matters in downtown Miami — cough, cough — to attend to.
We easily could’ve spent all night with the cars, but stomachs were grumbling so we cruised back to Hialeah for a fast food feast at Taco Bell. Of course, we also wanted to hear about the future schemes and dreams for the vintage beauties outside.
I couldn’t help but feel a little voyeuristic while in the company of these artists, like I was watching this beautiful and private waltz of exceptional craftsmanship and friendship play out. The group’s lowriders are the vessel in which the whole melody was delivered, and it was so cool to share a part of that.
I rarely hear car culture being referred to as something that is crucial to the human experience, but this collaborative effort between talented composers seems to be just that. Whatever your passion is, it really should be that important.
Photos by Trevor Yale Ryan
They See Me Rollin’