Meet the Tovar brothers-a tight-knit group whose family values have transcended through each other into their cars through their family pride. These values were instilled into them by their father, Amador, and mother, Mary Barba, who were married in 1952. Their oldest son, Eddie, who helped begin this bit of family history, told us how they started out in the early ’50s in Southern California and later settled in the Hawaiian Gardens in 1959, where they live to this day. “Basically our dad was a car guy before he even met our mother,” Eddie says. “Back then he had lowered Chevys, which were really lowriders according to today’s terms. The nicest car he ever had was a jet black ’46 Chevy Fleetline. He ran fender skirts and Appleton spotlights on it. It was a super-nice, big-dollar car for its day.”
Amador was an airplane fabricator for Douglas Aircraft. This enabled him to teach his older boys the value of good honest work, how to properly use their mechanical skills, and how to work and interact with each other. Later on they developed people skills, which, along with their automotive knowledge, would lead to their basic beliefs. As the years passed, their father’s health waned. Several heart attacks had taken its toll and Amador was homebound until his passing from a fatal heart attack in 1969. With help from maternal and paternal grandparents, Mary, before her passing, was able to bring up their daughter and four boys and raise them to be tight, to help one another when someone needed a hand, to always watch out for one another, and to keep an eye out for each other.
Eddie’s latest ride is a ’54 Chevy pickup, which is very similar to his Grandpa Pete’s, who actually bought his in 1954. The truck is homage to his grandfather whom the family loved dearly. Prior to that he had a ’48 Chevy Fleetline that was “oh so slammed” with a fierce green finish. “As I was growing up he said, ‘Mijo, this truck is going to be yours when you get old enough to have it,’ and so he kept his promise. When I became of age he gave me the truck, and that’s when I started lowriding. I lowered it, put some chrome rocket wheels on it, and then eventually went to Tru Spokes. We couldn’t afford to take our cars to body shops so we learned on our own,” Eddie says. “When my father was still with us, the garage was full of his tools and the way I got started was my dad gave me a lawn mower to go out and cut lawns so I could make money for my things. I started doing lawns for the neighbors and then one day the lawn mower blew up. I told my dad what had happened to the mower and he told me to bring it into the garage and take it apart. My dad told me that we had all the tools, so I had to take it apart. I took apart in about an hour and a half and then he told me it threw a rod so I needed to put a new rod in it. So he gave me the rod (at the time we had a garage full of parts) and he told me to put it back together. I thought, put it back together? He said, ‘yeah, you know how you took it apart, so just put it back together.’ So I tried. It took me a day or two to put it back but my dad helped me. So I got it back together and it ran, so that was actually my first experience with working on anything mechanical. After that we got mini bikes, which sometimes broke, and we had lowrider bikes, which my dad used to paint for us, complete with spotlights and chrome fenders, sissy bars, and those metal flake seats.”
Paul Tovar used to work part-time after school so he could get his first car, a ‘57 Chevy, which he spotted at a neighbor’s house on the way home one day. At first the owner didn’t want to sell it, but Paul was persistent and the former owner told Paul that if he had $300 the car was his to buy. A couple of days later Paul was able to scrape up the money to buy the car. Why did Paul want that particular car? “My dad had one, only his was a four-door that was nice. We used to have this tree house out front and in it I had a picture of my dad’s car and that picture was a reminder of what I wanted to get,” Paul says. “I was about 10 years old, but that was my motivation.” With help from his uncle to drag the car home, he later realized that the tires needed air and that the carburetor needed primed to make it start. One of the first things Paul did was put on a set of Dynasty rims. He bought them and a set of 5.20 tires from a tire shop off Atlantic Boulevard in East L.A. and immediately hit the boulevard for some good-old cruising.
Donald Tovar’s first car was a ’48 Chevy, which he got when he was about 15 years old. He picked it up from one of Eddie and Paul’s friends’ dad. It was sitting in their backyard, and he got it for about $500. At the time, however, their mom wouldn’t let Donald have the car because she felt he was too young to own a car, plus it didn’t have an engine that was in running condition. Donald already knew how to drive, but kept the car hidden at his uncle’s house until it was the right time to tell his mom that he’d gotten a car. It would be years before he could bring it home, and when he did his mom wasn’t too happy. He had to get it out of there and keep it somewhere else for a few years before his mom said it was OK for him to keep it. Meanwhile, he did have a ’66 Chevy Caprice that ran. Eddie helped him with a few things, like the wheels on the car; this was around 1975 or so. Most of the time, as young as they were when they got their first cars, they couldn’t legally drive, so their mom was really looking out for them. The only problem was these guys already knew what they wanted and how to do many things.
“The one thing about our mom was that she was OK with us having a car as long as it was insured,” Eddie says. “We all had our jobs, mine just happened to be wheels and tires. I got my first job with a wheel place and I’ve been doing that just about all my life. I’ve seen all kinds of cars-hot-rods, customs, and lowriders-so I know what’s going on out there all the time. I’ve been doing it forever and that’s how I got my funds for doing my cars.” Paul used to work for a telephone company, amongst other things. “Hey, we had to maintain our jobs to have our cars. It’s like our cars were like a drug and in order to maintain the habit we had to work for it, which kept us off the streets and away from trouble,” Paul says. “For me, my brothers and my uncles helped me out in learning to use primer and doing bodywork.”
By this time, the youngest Tovar sibling, Michael, had taken an interest in what his older brothers were doing out in the backyard and the ever-busy family garage. Michael’s first endeavor was a ’54 Chevy two-door hardtop, which was in Lowrider in 1987 and then featured in February ’04, which he found, did all the work on it, and cherried out. “What actually got me going was Eddie, Paul, and Donald. I didn’t have my father, so they took care of me,” Michael says. “They taught me everything I know today. When I was growing up they’d take me to Whittier Boulevard, to the shows in San Diego, or to some of the other lowrider happenings or RG Canning shows out there. We had bicycles and stuff so these guys would help me out a lot. They kept me going and staying out of trouble while keeping me busy.” Being the youngest of the Tovar brothers, Michael grew up always being exposed to lowriders. His brothers entered their cars in different car shows in the late ’70s and early ’80s. “While my bothers were showing their cars, I’d be showing off my (custom) bike,” Michael says. “While at a car show at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, I met Anthony Fuentes of Homie’s Hydraulics. Anthony has a three-wheeler and I had a lowrider beach cruiser with a stereo system. Even though we were kids back then, we both took great pride in our bikes and had big lowrider hearts,” he says. “Eddie, Paul, and Donald showed me the trades of getting a car together and showing me how to work to get the things I needed to get me and my cars going in the right direction. They kept me busy and out of trouble.” One if his first jobs was working at a car wash, then he worked for a landscaping company. “At the time I think I was like 15 years old when I had the ’54 and my mother didn’t even know I had the car,” Michael says. “I had to park it down the street for a bit and then finally brought it home and heard about it from my mom for a while.”
As much as they like working on their cars, the Tovars really love attending to the details on the cars. “The way we like our cars is they have to be detailed out, have a nice paintjob, a nice set of tires (either 5.20 or 5.60), and laying on the ground,” Michael says. “That’s my style and I think my brothers’ styles as well.” When tearing down and reassembling, the guys pay attention to every detail. Every nut, bolt, and screw is scrutinized before it goes back on their cars. “Our dad was only 39 when he passed away. He didn’t leave us with much, but he did leave us with a garage full of tools, so that’s where we got started. When anything broke down we went to that garage. We built all of our cars out of that little garage that our dad left us. We didn’t know very much and as we mentioned our uncles taught us bodywork. My uncle Gilbert taught me welding and from my dad teaching me the mechanics of engines and motors, assembling them, and putting them back together again the family just became into lowriding. They’re a little older than us. They used to cruise Bellflower and Whittier Boulevards. My uncle Freddy, my uncle Raymond, and my uncle Gilbert used to go out there in their cars. Back in their day, they used cement bags to lower their cars. We had an uncle Raul who used to channel his cars as well. He had a brand-new ’54 Chevy at the time. Like I said, we couldn’t afford to take our cars to go have them painted or have brakes put in, so we learned right here in our garage. Then if we couldn’t do it or couldn’t finish the job we would ask someone to help us finish the job. Usually they’d end up figuring it out by themselves.” Eddie took college courses in brake and alignment and body shop. He’d be working on something and the other brothers would soak it up and learn from him. “Believe it or not what helped in achieving our style was a welder-a MIG welder. Things changed for us big time. We got our cars and our style by using the welder in ways we’d only dreamed about until then, so as soon as we got that welder it was on,” said Eddie.
Being able to graft rear ends and front clips made their customizing world that much bigger and better. When they hit the car shows and happenings many thought the brothers were a car club, although it might have had to do with the fact that they had enough pride to show their name as a traditional car club plaque. So who was the one who thought it would be cool to have it chrome-plated and shining in their rear windows? The youngster of the group, Michael. Michael remembers getting ready for a show in the late ’80s and recalls sitting at the table with his daughter drawing out the design, cleaning it up, and then heading out to Burbank where the plaques were created out of a cardboard template. The day the plaques were done, Michael called the family together and gave them each a plaque, which they all now proudly fly.
As for the Tovar style, the brothers say that it was Paul’s brown and white ‘57 Chevy Bel Air that was ahead of its time. It had the Tovar taste all over it and help defined their impeccable use of factory styling cues along with their devotion to details. “To this day people talk of its chrome chassis and clean bodywork,” Michael says. It ran a Continental kit before anyone ran a kit on their car, it looked like it just rolled from the showroom floor, just off the ground,” Eddie says. Paul remembers having the car in his mom’s driveway, her asking him if after putting it all back together again whether it would start, and then it making them both smile. That car was also the first car to be featured in Lowrider magazine in December ’79.
Believe it or not, the Tovars don’t have any pet peeves when they look at someone else’s car. They can appreciate other individual’s style-whether it be a hot-rod, muscle car, or motorcycle-the Tovars can and do like other types of cars for the simple fact that they’ve grown up as car guys. You may find them one weekend at an all-Chevy show or at the Grand National Roadster Show, it doesn’t matter, they just feed on the custom car culture. They modify the trends to fit their needs and style. They do appreciate the attention to detail on any car. “The details will make or break you,” Eddie says. “You have to have everything clean, super clean.”
Is there a next generation of Tovars around the block? “It’s in the blood stream,” Michael says. “It’s like a disease and we can’t shake it off, we’re going to die with it. It’s our high.” There are always new trends and fads, but one thing that can never go away is an original car. You can always come back to that original car. That’s the Tovar style.
But then there’s Michael’s open-air, candied, flaked-out bomb that may have pushed the Tovar envelope way past any mailbox. In other words, even the Tovar style can be bumped up a few more notches. They all share the same vibe and the same respect for those who work and fix up their cars. As one of them mentioned, “Who wants to see the same cars at one time at a show? Boring. So the variety that’s out there is welcomed, never shunned, and if you have nothing nice to say about someone’s ride, don’t say anything at all.”
Donald’s ’46 Chevy Fleetline is very similar to one of his pop’s Chevys. A true clone of his dad’s ride, he’s literally working from an old photo of his dad’s car. Then there’s Paul’s “Sedan Delivery,” which is in the works as well. Add to the mix whatever the next generation of Tovars will be contributing and there is little doubt that we won’t be seeing those timeless rides for years to come. “You know that’s one thing about the Tovars, we’re family. It’s a bomb and a family deal, we take care of each other. To be there for one another is the way our grandparents raised us,” Eddie says. “We stick together because family is number one to us. We’d like to thank our wives for being more than understanding, which without them this wouldn’t mean as much nor be as fun.” Michael says, “My mom was the backbone of the family. She supported us in the lowrider life. I would like to dedicate this article to my mom and dad.”