What if I told you there was a time when the color “Candy Apple Red” did not exist. Yes, there was a time when one of the most popular automotive colors ever created was not even an option. We’ve all heard stories of cruising Whittier Boulevard in the ’70s and ’80s. Arguably considered the “Golden Age” of lowriding, these stories all needed several events to occur in order for them to come to fruition on the boulevard. One of those events was Joe Bailon creating the Candy Apple Red color we all love, eventually leading to the dazzling paintjobs lowriders would become famous for. Or what about guys like Larry Watson and George Barris, whose forward thinking ideas would lead us into a customized automotive world we didn’t even know about?
Not only was Joe Figueroa one of the few people who was there as these stories were beginning to unfold, he was right in the middle of it all. “Back then, the Mercury was king,” Joe says. Maybe he’s right or maybe he’s just biased since he’s owned and restored several of them. “Back then, there were no such things as airbags,” he adds, noting that everyone was on hydraulics, even if it was just the front that went up and down. In those days, you would drop your car off on a Friday and by Saturday morning you were transformed into a real LOWrider. Even the term “cruiser” was fairly new, which back then referred to a guy driving a custom lowrider. “Each cruiser had their own area to cruise at,” Joe says, “and we didn’t go to areas like South Central or Compton.” But when Joe wanted to see the latest paintjobs or trends, it was Whittier Boulevard where he would take his latest Mercury chop-top creation. While the legendary stories of this 7-mile stretch of East Los Angeles were still in their infancy, car builders, painters, and fabricators, such as Bill Haines, Vince Briceto, Larry Zeich, Dick Sellars, Ron James, and Tom Shaffen were already neighborhood legends. “Just because you are old, doesn’t mean you were there,” Joe says. “I’m proud to have been a part of and witnessed some of those stories firsthand.”