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 Honor Recognition 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 Honor A founder/leader, who has directly affected the course, actions, contributions and positive influence of a recognized and organized group and/or car club.
Craftsmanship Honor Designer, builder, artist in creating original and outstanding vehicles. Also, exhibiting these vehicles for a consistent period of time.
Lifetime Contributor Honor A 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
Fernando Ruelas Duke’s C.CLifetime 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.
The Man With The Drive, Dedication And Heart To Keep Duke’s Car Club Moving Forward.Josefina Ruelas, a single mother with five boys, moved from Tijuana, Mexico to Los Angeles, California, in the 1950s to create a better life for her family. With the help of family members already living in the L.A. area, the Ruelas family began a life of optimism and opportunity. The boys’ Uncle Tinker was an important influence on their early lives, as he helped steer the boys’ interest into the mechanics of engines, bikes and motor scooters with items that he purchased from junkyards. Eventually, the boys graduated to automobiles.
Although Fernando Ruelas may have only been eight years old at the time, he clearly recalls doing hands-on work at that early age. Lowriders were a big influence on the brothers, and as time progressed, they all ultimately had their own cars. Fernando bought his first car at the age of 13, a four-door ’49 Chevy Deluxe. Fernando proved to have the talent to refurbish these cars inside and out, and often helped his brothers with theirs.
At the age of 15, Fernando completed his first hydraulic system. Drafting classes in junior high school allowed him to develop the skills to draw up his hydraulic system plans. People began coming around from all parts of the Southern California area for lift work from Fernando.
The organization of Duke’s Car Club occurred around 1962 with all of the Ruelas brothers having a hand in the cofounding. Although Fernando was nowhere near driving age, that didn’t stop him from getting behind the wheel of a car whenever he got the chance. In the early ’60s, Duke’s C.C. was all about gatherings, dances and cruising.
In 1967, Fernando, along with his brother Ernesto, opened Ruelas Custom Body Shop in L.A., and was employed by Sam Palley, one of the largest distributors of surplus aircraft parts in Southern California. They had a business relationship from ’67 to ’69. The late ’60s brought war to the neighborhood, and many Duke’s members and friends were drafted into the U.S. Army, including Oscar, Ernest and Fernando. During this time, Duke’s C.C. was inactive.
Upon the completion of their respective tours, Fernando threw himself wholeheartedly into building cars, engineering hydraulic systems, and perfecting his bodywork and painting techniques on lowrider cars. In 1970, he opened a second body shop with Oscar and Ernesto, and by 1972, Fernando was solo in the body shop business. His projects included his brothers’ cars, many of which are still around today, such as the “Fabulous ’39” (first and second), owned by Oscar Ruelas (the original owner was Ernesto) and “Duke’s ’39” (named by Fernando and owned by Julio Ruelas RIP).
Fernando was married in 1974 to Gloria De La Rosa, and his wedding was one of the first to feature a wedding caravan of lowriders. In 1975, his first son, Jason Fernando Ruelas, was born. The brothers were still attending car shows, such as the Trident and R.G. Canning shows, although they were not representing as a club. Old friends were invited back to the neighborhood around this time (1976).
During one of their many gatherings, it was decided that, although the club was never officially closed, to revive Duke’s C.C. With Fernando’s input, the Duke’s hat and cane plaque design was chosen and voted on. And, as Fernando’s wife recalls, they were living on 43rd Street in L.A. at the time when Fernando walked in and said, “We’re starting up the club again and they want me to be president.” Not knowing much about the club and what it would entail, she answered, “Sure, sounds good,” and they were off!
With Fernando at the helm, Duke’s C.C. helped produce the first Super Show at the L.A. Convention Center along with Sonny Madrid, founder and editor of Lowrider Magazine. Duke’s was also one of the first car clubs to be featured in Lowrider and have had a good relationship with the magazine throughout the years. Duke’s was part of the first L.A. Street Scene, first to participate in the Cinco de Mayo show in L.A. and first at the MEChA show.
Fernando and his club have also appeared in films and television. Universal Studios contacted Fernando in l981 and commissioned him to build a ’39 zoot suit car for the movie Zoot Suit. Upon completing the body work, he then commissioned club members Vince Hernandez and Rick Rangel to prep and paint. Duke’s had the privilege of chauffeuring the cast to the theatrical and motion picture premieres.
In 1990, Fernando opened his recent body shop business, Ruelas and Sons, located in L.A. In 1996, Fernando was contacted by filmmakers Monica and Mike Van Wajenan and was asked if Duke’s would like to participate in a documentary about the Ruelas family and the lowriding tradition. Fernando has always been open to new opportunities and agreed. The end result is a fascinating piece of work named Low and Slow.
Fernando’s leadership has led Duke’s Car Club to influence their community in various projects. In 1978, Duke’s hosted a car show for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union at Union Station in Los Angeles, and later that same year formed the West Coast Association along with Imperials, Groupe, Together, Artistics and other clubs. The West Coast Association annually raised proceeds at their Christmas car shows for toys and stockings that were given to children in the South Central area.
The resilience of Duke’s is not just an accident; it’s taken dedication and drive to outlast many other clubs that have fallen by the wayside. Fernando has the drive, dedication and heart to keep this club moving forward, along with the support of all Duke’s members, his wife and their three boys who have followed in their father’s footsteps in supporting Duke’s.
This dedication has allowed Duke’s C.C. to grow throughout the U.S. Duke’s is also international with a Japan chapter and Australia soon to follow. In 2004, Fernando, along with his brother Julio, was presented with the Treasure of the Hobby, a prestigious award presented by Meguiar’s Corporation in a fabulous presentation held at the famous Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California.
Although Fernando, his family and Duke’s were hit with a devastating blow in January 2007 with the sudden death of his oldest brother Julio, the family is now starting to have some closure with the tribute to Julio in September 2007, and the family would like to thank all who helped support this event. The Duke’s family and members are now moving forward as Julio would want.
There’s no end in sight. Being the man, the myth, the legend, Fernando is currently promoting the “Ice Cream Truck,” a work of art depicting the Chavez Ravine story. This is the brainchild of well-known music artist and writer Ry Cooder, with artwork by Vincent Valdez and customization by Fernando and family, most notably Jason, Alex, Matthew, J.R., Ernest and Richard Ceneceros, AKA “Chivo.” Expect more Duke’s C.C. activities in the future. As the club’s members are known to say, “Ain’t no stopping us now!”