In today’s society, we’re always demanding bigger, faster and better, and lowriding is no exception to the rule. It’s continuously reinventing itself, from the customized bodies and suspensions to the high-tech powertrains and hydraulic systems. In addition, as new car clubs continue to be formed, some of the established clubs are increasing their membership in the hundreds as they successfully launch numerous chapters worldwide.
Whether small or large, all of these clubs continue the tradition of brotherhood, unity and pride. Even yesterday’s cultural movement is no exception, as it has transformed into today’s mainstream popularity as an automotive entity. But what got us here? Who inspired today’s automotive artists and leaders? Was it a jefe, a brother, a club leader or maybe even a car customizer?
The Lowrider Hall of Fame’s main objective is to reintroduce and, more importantly, educate today’s enthusiast of its lowrider history and culture. That is, long before the magazine, before the commercialization as an automotive sport, and before the media’s continuous misconception, many were lowriding for club pride, for bragging rights in the streets, for the passion to create automotive art, and of course, for the fine ruca sitting next to you on any given weekend. Others utilized lowriding as a positive tool in political and racial issues of decades past.
Fortunately, there are numerous individuals who fit these descriptions then and now. However, it is crucial to acknowledge those of outstanding merit for their lifetime contributions to the Lowrider Movement. With that, the LHoF will continue to strive to bring these humble individuals into the limelight and recognize their leadership, their innovations, and their influence, not just to the movement and sport, but to its time-honored history.
The LHoF Nomination Committee, consisting of Lowrider Events judges and past honorees, will submit all nominations to the LHoF Executive Committee. These nominees, with a required minimum of 20 years involved in the lowrider culture and/or sport, are reviewed and final inductees are confirmed by the Executive Committee. The category honors are as follows:
Memorial HonorRecognition of a deceased individual, who has demonstrated an outstanding contribution to the lifestyle and/or automotive sport of lowriding; in regards to leadership, craftsmanship, or lifetime contribution. Does not require 20-year minimum history.
Leadership HonorA founder/leader, who has directly affected the course, actions, contributions and positive influence of a recognized and organized group and/or car club.
Craftsmanship HonorDesigner, builder, artist in creating original and outstanding vehicles. Also, exhibiting these vehicles for a consistent period of time.
Lifetime Contributor HonorA community leader and/or activist with a lifelong dedication of time, resources and heart in contributing, influencing and/or investing directly back into the lowrider community. This category may include individuals who promote lowrider events that simultaneously educate and entertain such community.
Note: The LHOF Executive Committee may reserve honorable mention nominations for reconsideration for one (1) year, of which for 2009, will include Terry Anderson, Noah Hipolito, Alberto Lopez, Mike Lopez, Walt Prey, Michael Tovar and Richard Ochoa, Sr.
In its senior year, the LHoF continues to celebrate and honor its alumni of extraordinary jefes, brothers, leaders and innovators. The Executive Committee proudly recognizes the 2008 Lowrider Hall of Fame inductees: Gary May, Memorial Honor; Kita Lealao, Leadership Honor; Ruben “Buggs” Ochoa, Craftsmanship Honor; and Fernando Ruelas, Lifetime Contributor Honor. On September 20, Lowrider Magazine will present the Fourth Annual Lowrider Hall of Fame ceremony at the Long Beach Hilton in Long Beach, California. Plan to be a part of a historical and emotional night, as the lowrider community honors its own. Paz
Ruben “Buggs” OchoaFrom the streets of east l.a. to the limelight of the media, this lowrider craftsman has been creating a style for more than 35 years.
“Hey, get the f*ck away from that f*cking car. Don’t you scratch my f*cking car,” says the guy to then nine-year-old Ruben Ochoa of East Los Angeles, California, as the young boy checks out the flawless candy paint job on the parked car. He had never seen anything like this candy paint job and he was fascinated by the color. The owner of the car was a client of legendary custom car builder Bill Hines. Though the irate man didn’t know it at the time, he was scolding a kid who would eventually become one of the best custom painters to ever come from the streets of Los Angeles. What a way for Ruben “Buggs” Ochoa to be introduced to what would become his great passion, and his way to leave a mark in the annals of lowrider history.
“As I got older, about 13 years old, I’d go by these body shops and I would always ask them for a job and they’d never let me work there, but after about a year they said yes,” recalls Buggs. “At that time, there were all of these custom cars, lowriders, maybe one or two every so often.” The shop was a regular paint and body shop, but would cater to the custom crowd who might want a flame job and Buggs would study what was going on and just soak it all in. This was back in 1967, the “Summer of Love,” when Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were floating about the airwaves and in peoples’ minds.
The shop called Harold’s was located near Brooklyn Avenue and Lorena. Upon entering high school, the first thing to do for Buggs was to enroll in a body shop class where kids could bring in their cars to work on. Although one of the youngest in the shop, his friends were all 18 and 19 year olds, the 16-year-old made friends fast by being persistent. The class was small and limited, but the older guys steered Buggs in the right direction as to how he could work his way in if and when another kid were to drop the class.
“Then the shop teacher found out that I could lay flames and the older guys asked me if I was making any money off of that and they said that he [the teacher] was making money off of me,” remembers Buggs, who learned that the teacher was charging his friends some $200 for graphic work using school materials and the students for free labor. The older students were kicked out of class because they were onto his scam and were a bad influence on the younger classmate.
“They told me to charge him and soon the teacher lined up too many cars and the older kids said that they wanted a cut,” Buggs relates. ” ‘So how much of a cut are we gonna get, guys?’ Their piece of the action came out to about $75 a car. For four to five guys to split $75, well, that was a lot of money back in them days! For $3, you can cruise all night long, it was like .30 cents for gallon of gas and if you cruised in a Volkswagen it’d even last longer.”
So the shop teacher was up against the wall with all of these jobs and Buggs advised him to let the older students back in to the shop so that they could help knock out the paint jobs. The teacher reluctantly agreed. This is the period when Buggs really cut his teeth and performed his first full-on paint job. “I was in the 11th grade and I painted a VW pearl lavender and then the next year I did some flames on it and shot more clearcoat,” he says. “Back then, all that my friends could afford were Volkswagens.”
So is this where the origin of the nickname “Buggs” came in? “No, Buggs came from my dad,” reveals Ruben. “One reason is from Bugs Bunny and the other was that my dad used to run numbers for mobster Mickey Cohen in downtown L.A. and they used to call it the ‘bugs.’ You’d buy this ticket every day just like the lottery now, but like underground. So he used to run numbers for Mickey Cohen who used to know Bugsy Siegel. Now how much of that is true, well, I don’t know.”
The early days were a fruitful time in Buggs’ life and things were going well, but he was looking for more and entertained the idea of joining a car club. “Actually I wanted to join Klique, but I was too young so they had a walking Klique,” he says. “A lot of guys had jackets but no cars, but the older guys had cars and a limit to how many walking members were allowed. In fact, back then, Gil Cedillo (California senator) rolled with Klique along with future Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who owned a clean candy root beer ’65 Chevy Malibu.
As for his early lowrider experiences while growing up in and around East L.A., Buggs shared with LRM one of his first true moments during an evening out on the town. “I’d been cruising up and down the boulevard in a stock car, no fancy paint job, maybe some wheels, but I’d never been down the boulevard with the whole aspect of being in a ’64 Chevy and a New Wave (car club) plaque. It was a whole different vibe, all of these girls looking, and my friend Roberto ‘Beto’ Hernandez asked if I had been down the boulevard and I told him not like this! Maybe after a football game you’d cruise around to Shakey’s or go down by Eastern Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard, but, later, after 12 midnight, that’s when all of the real cruisers came out after a party or a dance!” Clubs like Sons of Soul, Orpheus, Klique, New Wave, Bachelors, Miracles and Groupe were laying the foundation of cruising spots on the eastside of the city.
When Buggs wasn’t out painting, he’d be out at the park with his buddies playing a little football against other local teams from other parks or schools or groups of guys who wanted a little friendly competition. Sometimes, there were car club members in the mix. “I noticed that when we played Groupe, we had like 16 guys and they had about 60 guys and 40 girls to cheer them on,” Buggs recalls. “We kicked their ass in football and I knew half of them. I was so impressed by them that a couple of weeks later, I was painting cars for them and I asked them, and they said, yeah, you can come in, come check us out.”
The first actual lowrider paint job that Buggs could take full credit for was actually from Groupe Car Club. “It was a ’65 Buick Riviera and it was green with flames, ” he relates. “It was owned by Chuck Holguin. It was the first one that somebody took notice of. The car showed in 1974 when Groupe came out strong with 15 cars at a show. The car was so bright, it was all metalflake with lime green flames faded out with a gold pearl and was put at the head of the display line.” The show was held at the L.A. Sports Arena and hosted by R.G. Canning, who threw a variety of shows back in its heyday.
The buzz around Buggs’ paint started to grow as many asked who did the paint on that Riviera. Luminaries such as Larry Watson and Bill Hines were also in attendance that weekend. Buggs actually worked for Watson, but not as a painter. “I was there prepping and sanding cars for Larry right out of high school,” he says. “I never really learned any techniques in the spray booth, but I did learn eyeballing and learning the colors. How do you mix this color and that color, basically color theory; how you get certain effects with a candy paint or a pearl.”
Another Larry to make a bigger impact on Buggs’ life was Larry Sights, who had a shop in the City Terrace area of East L.A. Larry rented out half his place to Buggs in 1973, which was located on City Terrace Drive near Ditman and across the street from Murray’s Automotive. Sights was a member of Classics Car Club and was “older” than Buggs, in his mid 20s, and had clientele that would later become Buggs’ as well.
Buggs acquired a ’65 Ford Galaxie from Larry who had painted it candy red. Seeing as it was his car now, Buggs decided to flake out the top and add some graphics as well. It would later get another facelift and body mods before being entered in the show circuit in 1975. “Larry is also the one who taught me how to flake a car and there’s a lot of sanding, a lot of sanding in flake jobs,” Buggs states. Those flake jobs are just a memorable as the “regular” custom jobs that Buggs is known to pull off throughout the years.
Ah, but there’s been his share of critiques as well. “One time at an earlier showing, I had a painter come up to me and he said that he saw my work,” Buggs remembers. “He mentioned that even though I had painted a couple of cars, I was still not a painter!” He also told the young Buggs that until he had around 15 complete custom paint jobs, he wouldn’t acknowledge him as a painter. “That made sense to me. Not like these guys who would only do graphics here or a pattern there for a job.” So who was the painter who told him this? It was “Crazy Art” Fullington, a master painter himself who also had some of his work there that day.
The first car to be featured on the cover of Lowrider Magazine was also a highlight for Buggs. Steve Mott’s ’66 Pontiac LeMans, “Fancy Dancer,” recently received a facelift and was on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
So where do the two Gs come in, you ask? “The two Gs came around 1977 when I met Crazy Art Fullington and he said that I ought to be unique and spell it with two Gs and not one,” Buggs tells us. But most of the magazines wouldn’t print it right or even worse wouldn’t credit him at all for some of the work that showed up in their books. “Probably in the late ’80s, I started to enforce it and definitely when I met the other Bugs (from Arizona) there had to be a distinction.”
This was also around the time when lowriding in general was below the radar. Buggs was still doing those awesome paint jobs but there weren’t that many shows happening and the shows that were happening were out of town in places like San Diego, Bakersfield and northern California. So what’s Buggs’ take on the period of time? “Mini-trucks! Mini-trucks and Euros,” he replies. “A new generation of kids came along and bucked the lowrider tradition by relating to the here and now which were also their daily drivers.” Buggs also mentioned an incident at the Pomona Fairgrounds back in 1984 where a big brawl happened between the clubs, which pretty much put a damper on the show circuit for quite a while.
“Not until ’88 when Alberto Lopez took over Lowrider Magazine did lowriders rise up again and take notice,” Buggs says. “Everything picked back up and the communication gap was closed; no magazines meant that there was no source of communicating to the masses. LRM combined the trucks and the Euros with the traditional lowrider, which was a smart move. There was something for everyone to relate to in the book again.”
For those of you who’ve actually had a chance to meet the man and see his work, you can see that there’s a certain amount of machismo that comes from Buggs as he tells you how it’s been for him these many years. Yes, there are the countless cars, bikes, trucks, boats and so forth; his work has been seen around the world several times over, sometimes getting credit in print but many times not. He’s even one of the architects that back in the ’70s regulated how lowriders should be judged on the show circuit. He’s been a show promoter since the mid-’70s and a diehard sports fan with his favorites being the Oakland Raiders, the USC Trojans and the venerable New York Yankees. He’s even had his son Ruben, Jr. help out on a few paints jobs, most recently on the April 2008 LRM cover car dubbed “Riviera Paradise.”
That car was not an overnight job, though. It took several years and a lot of manhours, and when it got the nod to be showcased at the 2006 SEMA show, well, Buggs knew that this was as good if not better than any award ever bestowed upon him. What made it even more rewarding was the fact that master builder and custom car designer Chip Foose chose the car for its striking use of metalflake, patterns and dynamics as part of a segment on the Discovery Channel TV special called SEMA After Dark. “It’s funny how that green Riviera was the only lowrider in the show and everything else was hot-rods,” Buggs adds.
As for tips and tricks from the master, we asked Buggs what’s more important, the prepping (preparation) of the car or the paint job? “The prep because some people tend to combine incompatible materials,” he replied. “The biggest mistake is when these guys try and short-change the paint job. Not putting enough materials, hiring the wrong person to do the delicate work and general inconsistency.”
Straight candy or a crazy graphic paint job, which does he think is more difficult? “Candy is much harder,” he says. “It’s all technique. When I come out with a good candy paint job, I plead with the guy to not put graphics on the car, maybe add graphics three years later. When I do a nice kicking-ass candy with gold base I just say leave it as it is, man.”
Buggs mentions that every time he goes into the booth it’s always different as each color and the accompanying technique tends to change. There are three protocols that Buggs is used to dealing with when approaching custom work: graphics for the car, candies which are harder to accomplish and actually teaching someone how to do a custom finish.
That takes us into the present-day and what Buggs is doing now. Since it’s pretty hard to catch him in the middle of one of his various painting projects, those who are interested in learning from the living legend can now have him at any time. All you have to do is own a DVD player and TV. Buggs is developing a series concerning the process of doing automotive paint jobs, particularly custom paint schemes and the ins and outs of what it takes to do the job correctly. It will be available in English and Spanish.
Also addressed in the videos will be the obstacles that a painter may experience during the job. He’ll also be adding extra bonus material and some behind the scenes footage on some of the show-winning vehicles that he’s worked on recently, including some that have yet to be featured in the media. As for advice to the next generation of painters, Buggs says, “Don’t be lazy, do a little extra if you have the time or you’ll be doing it again, trying to save a dollar and you end up doing the task two or three times.”
As for the naysayers in the world of custom car building, Buggs has something for them as well. “When people talk about me, it really doesn’t bother me,” he declares. “It actually motivates me to try even harder and prove to them just what I can do. I have a competitive steak in me; it’s not about the money, it’s about the work that I do. Like the owner of the Oakland Raiders, Mr. Al Davis, would say, ‘Just win, baby, just win.’ “
Gary MayA Man Ahead Of His Time And Ours.As part of the Lowrider Hall of Fame inductions, it gives us great pleasure to share with you some of the memories that we have of friend and legend Gary “The Wizard” May. Gary passed much too early, but he left an indelible mark on the people he loved and the passion known as the lowrider culture, specifically, the kinetic part of the sport known to us as hydraulic hopping. We spoke to both his dear wife, Betty, and his long-time friend and buddy Ted Wells, a true lowrider guru and the recipient of a spot in the Hall of Fame, which was bestowed on him in 2007.
Ted’s first encounter with Gary was in the mid 1970s during car show season when they were hitting all of the shows such as R.G. Canning at the L.A. Sports Arena. “Gary was one of those guys you kinda just clicked with right away,” Ted recalls. “Gary’s one of the few people in life who everybody loves. I don’t know anybody who didn’t like him, except for the guys who hopped against him, but they still respected him. Other than that, everybody loved Gary.”
With Gary, hydraulics was always a friendly competition thing. Never was a negative remark heard from the guy. He loved lowriding too much for it to be anything but a good time. As for Gary’s take, or should we say philosophy, on lowriding, 99.9-percent would be all about hopping. He could appreciate a lay and display ride, but for “The Wizard,” it was all about getting that front end off of the blacktop.
“You know, that was his thing,” agrees Ted. “My thing was posing, laying your car down, and looking good. Gary liked lowriding, but his trait was hopping.” In Gary’s view, if a car didn’t have hydraulics and didn’t hop, well, it wasn’t his type of lowrider. As for working on cars, Gary would always be working on something. “You know, Gary’s name was The Wizard, but I don’t know who named him that,” says Ted. “All I know is that he had been called that and kinda stuck with it.”
Gary was so hardcore back then that he had contacted Fenner-Stone and asked them to make him some hydraulic pumps to his specs. Just as the hot-rodders would tear down their engines and figure out how to get as much horsepower out of a powerplant, Gary would dissect the pumps and blocks with all of their gears, valves and ports just to see what he could do to push the envelope. Gary would have pump heads made especially for him, which he would use to the point where he’d do different configurations on a pump, to see what it would and could do.
If and when that pump went out on him, he’d save it for parts or reference just in case he came across a similar situation with another of his units. Gary would take something from, say, Stillman and mess around with the different size ports and fittings. “He even designed his own blocks,” Ted remembers. “And I have one original block that he made out of steel some 25 years ago. I have it bolted to the wall on my garage as a memento of him.”
“Gary didn’t mess with show cars like my car, he’d just do hoppers, that was his thing,” Ted adds. “He was the kind of person who could take something and make it work better. You know, he invented that Z-block thing with two armature casings on one pump.”
Once on the streets, Gary didn’t want to miss a hop and rarely did he lose in a hopping contest. “Well, one day there was a hop in Alhambra, okay,” continues Ted. “This was a while back and there was a bunch of guys there waiting to be in the hop and so when they see Gary show up they just say ‘aw forget about it,’ and want to leave. Now, I know in a football game that one fumble can change the course of the game and, sure enough, that day Gary fumbled. He knows exactly what his car can do, how the setup is and the way it should work.”
Gary had some sort of mechanical breakdown that prevented him from actually doing something to the competition that Sunday afternoon. That was indeed a rare occasion, but Gary wasn’t one to sulk; oh no, he wa just as much a gentleman after a loss as he was in victory. Gary was the kind of person who would actually come to the aid of his some-time competitors like “Ragtop Ralph,” who would actually compete against Gary for real money when going toe-to-toe. Usually, though, he’d do it when he wasn’t in direct competition, but Gary was never the spoilsport and did so at his discretion.
By now, Gary’s car of choice was either a ’63 or ’64 Chevy Impala. Gone was the old ’59 because it just wasn’t as feasible as them “newer” Impalas. Many who were around the hopping circuit back then remember his red Impala and the things that it could do. When going up against a ’63 or ’64 Impala hopper, Gary had somewhat of an advantage because of the intimate knowledge gathered when working on his own rides. He knew what the cars were capable of doing.
The Wizard really didn’t need a crystal ball; all he’d need was some time in his garage to work his magic. “He was always, always trying to do something different and new,” Ted says. “He came up with all kinds of new things. His wife, Betty, can attest to that.” “Oh yeah,” agrees Betty. “Gary would be out back in the garage for hours and hours working on whatever new idea he had.”
Betty remembers meeting Gary while still in school. “Gary had already graduated from Centennial High School in Compton and I was still attending Locke High and he was working at a shoe store as an assistant manager,” she recalls. “My friend and I were out passing out invitations to her party and we invited him. Well, come the day of the party I got real sick and didn’t go, but Gary did.” Later on, when they bumped into each other again, Gary mentioned that he went to the party, most likely in hopes of seeing Betty.
As time went on, Gary would invite Betty to different hangouts, usually where lowriders congregated and Betty would sometimes question the place. “He’d ask me to meet him at Church’s on Century and Vermont Avenue and I’d be like, ‘huh?’ I wasn’t really into that scene,” she admits. “I was more into going to nightclubs and dancing to music.”
By this time, we’re talking late ’70s and early ’80s, Gary was deep into lowriders and doing the hopping contests, and he finally got Betty to attend a local car show to see what it was all about. “I went out there and saw how things were,” says Betty with a chuckle. “People started coming up to me saying that your guy’s pretty good and I’d say, ‘yeah, he is, isn’t he?’ “
As much as Gary loved lowriding, he loved his family more and he would always make time for them, especially during Betty’s vacation time, around August after the Bakersfield show. “After that show was done, Gary would get his son and I together and take us out to Las Vegas for a nice little getaway,” she relates. “He loved Vegas.”
Gary worked as hard if not harder while working his regular job for Kaiser, sometimes doing both swing shifts as well as graveyard. “There’d be times when Gary would be at work and Ted Wells would be calling the house at midnight asking if Gary was still up,” Betty recalls. “I’d tell him that he wasn’t home yet, not until probably one in the morning and to call back then. I’d then tell Gary that Teddy called and he’s going to call again and that I had better not hear more than one ring when he calls.”
Late nights were nothing new in the May household. There were plenty of times when Gary would have Betty running around town getting this and that for his projects. “There was one time where we had to make new measuring sticks for a car show out in Bakersfield,” she says. “This was when Gary was judging and was working the night before the show. So I go out to Gardena to pick up some piece of Plexiglas. At the time, Gary was doing something else. Well, we were up until three o’clock in the morning and I asked Gary what time we had to leave for Bakersfield and he said something like five a.m.! I said, well, we have to at least get cleaned up before the show!”
Gary loved those times when they were on the road and he was truly committed to being a judge for the hop. “There was one other time when Gary had a real bad toothache, so bad that his face was swollen on one side,” Betty remembers. “We were to go out to Houston, Texas, for the show and I felt so bad for him. But he said, ‘just give me a bag of ice and some aspirin, I’ll be okay.’ “
Losing Gary was hard on everyone who knew him, a list that includes a lot of people, but it was hardest on the May family. “When he passed, I closed his garage out back,” Betty tells us. “Our dog ‘Chevy’ didn’t know what was going on at the time. She’d wait in front like always with a neighbor dog; a routine that would have happened until Gary got home from work. Well, a week had passed and when the casket car made a pass at the house, my neighbors said the dogs actually got up on their hind legs and finally realized that he was gone. They just knew it then. They seemed to have looked over at the car, which is what my neighbors told me. Funny, huh?”
Well, it would be an entire year before Betty could open up that garage and deal with what was there and clean things up. The dog went to where she usually sat when Gary was in there, but this time it was just Betty tending to the business at hand. When asked what comes to mind when we speak about Gary, she remembers that smile of his. “He could be mad for a bit, but then he’d get over it real quick. I have this one picture of him from a trip to Vegas and there he is, him and his smile.”