Imaginative, Eccentric, Genuine, Unique, Distinctive, Master
Everybody’s got a story about how they accomplished a goal in life; something that drove them to put this goal above everything else, and motivated them to stop at nothing short of achieving it. Today, we look at Denver’s “King of Lowrider Accessories,” Robert Morales of Robert’s Tires and Wheels. Robert Morales set a goal early in his life to establish a one-stop shop that would cater to the Denver Lowrider community, and he has done just that. It is now 2010, and Robert’s Tires and Wheels has been in business for over 25 years, enjoying success on a level that has pushed even the Denver community, as his shop has contributed to several elite Lowrider builds across the United States.
In 1968, a five year-old Robert Morales moved from Mazatlan, Mexico to the U.S., with his mother and siblings. They settled down in Livingston, California, where he grew up and went to school. Robert went to his first car show in 1976 at Stanislaus College, where he fell in love with the Lowriding scene. He says he “liked the style, atmosphere, large crowds, hydraulics and, most of all, the cars.” After that first show, Robert began saving the money that he earned while working hard in the fields of Northern California, in the hopes of putting it to use within the context of his newfound Lowriding passion. He also held several side jobs to earn extra money, doing odds and ends to further fuel his savings. He went to more and more car shows, and read Lowrider Magazine to keep up with what was new and going on within the scene.
At fifteen, he had finally saved up enough to buy his first car, a 1973 Grand Prix which cost him $750.00. He was all at once liberated and excited with the road that lay ahead of him. “I always envisioned Lowriding and being part of the atmosphere, being one of those guys with a nice car,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. Once Robert had his car, he began saving again to have money for the customizations he had planned for his first Lowrider. He recalls a trip to Pep Boys in Merced, CA, when he purchased his first set of 14 x 7 Rev Rockets with 5.20s, which were “the ‘hot thing’ at the time.” Fully immersing himself in the scene, Robert kept seeing and trying new things. He sold the Grand Prix and bought a ’74 Glass House in mint condition. It became clear both to Robert, and those around him, that he was hooked.
Robert graduated from High School at 17, and the uncertainties of life instantly sprang up, as his family had decided to move to Colorado to seek better opportunities. Before leaving, Robert asked his friends who had been to Colorado before what it was like there. The unanimous response from them was that “it snowed and it was cold, much different from warm California weather.” This description had young Robert feeling very uneasy about moving. How was he going to enjoy cruising around in his Lowrider if it was cold and snowing? This question would have to be answered eventually, as the family packed up and moved to Colorado in 1980.
Once in Denver and driving around, Robert noticed the environment change very quickly. There weren’t as many Lowriders cruising the streets, or even at community events and car shows for Cinco de Mayo. “There wasn’t much enthusiasm for the ‘sport’,” he says, adding “I was really disappointed.” Missing the California Lowriding scene, he wanted to get back in touch with it, so he stepped out in search of the latest Lowrider Magazine. He had heard about a Lowrider shop in Denver on 38th called “Mile High Customs.” One Saturday, he decided to go buy his copy of Lowrider Magazine there and check it out. He ended up waiting from 9 am to 4 pm for the shop to open, checking back periodically throughout the day, and was once again disappointed; it never opened.
Robert’s passion for Lowriding was personal anyway, so despite the lack of a scene around him, he decided to keep moving in his quest for all things Lowrider. He purchased a 1975 Glass House and began buying Lowrider parts and equipment from Lowrider Hydraulics in San Jose, CA, by mail order. He kept hitting up the cruising spot on 38th and Federal, yet still found almost no action. He soon made friends with a man named Jaime who owned a ’68 Impala. Jaime wanted hydraulics was looking for an experience and dependable shop. When he found out that Rob was from California, he asked if he knew where he could find hydraulics. “He gave me money to get the hydraulics, and I ordered him a rear set-up from Lowrider Hydraulics. We installed the setup in Jaime’s backyard. That was the first time I had ever installed them,” says Robert proudly.
After that confidence boost, Robert decided to try his luck on his own car, and he ordered and installed a front/back setup for the Glass House. He also had 14 x 7 True Classics with 5.20s. Now that Robert was officially rolling down 38th, and showing up to all of the car shows with his tricked-out car, he began to get the attention of a lot of people. They were wowed by the hydraulics and wanted to know where they could get themselves a set-up like his. He realized that there was a need for a good parts store in Denver, one that could accommodate the scene’s blossoming interest in the Lowrider Movement. Robert met the love of his life, Teresa Quintana through a chance encounter with his future brother-in-law, Max Quintana in 1981. Max had a 1962 Impala that needed to get a new hydraulics set-up installed in it for an upcoming show. That upcoming show only gave Robert two days to install the setup, with no time to order parts. Robert worked tirelessly through the night and installed the used parts into Max’s car. At that time in the scene, the hopping record in Colorado was no higher than a can of Coors- roughly 6 inches. At the show, the other competitors’ cars all got to the 6-inch mark. The car Robert built for Max hit for a whopping 21 inches, completely shattering the record and making Robert an instant Lowrider legend from Colorado in the process.
Robert soon met a man named Ron, who also saw the need for a constant parts supplier in Denver. They took a trip to California and set up an account with Andy’s Hydraulics. They began stocking hydraulic parts and wheels at Ron’s house. Robert installed most of the parts and did most of the work, but never seemed to see the money that he deserved. The venture soon folded because of the monetary discrepancy, and became yet another let down for Robert. He was tired of working for and counting on other people, and he wanted something more. Determined to further the scene in Colorado, Robert joined the Denver Knights Car Club, and then Low Impressions Car club. After deciding that he again felt stifled, Robert soon founded his own car club called Street Life. This independence showed him what he really needed to do.
In 1984, after the let down of all let downs, and after struggling to make ends meet with a baby on the way, Robert took matters into his own hands. He borrowed $5,000.00 from his mom, took a trip to San Jose and began his own account with Lowrider Hydraulics. He opened up his own business on 32nd and Tejon called “Rob’s Hydraulics.” He installed hydraulics and performed tire and wheel installs as well. Business began to bubble, but not without the blood, sweat, and tears that can make or break a man. Long hours working, traveling to car shows to promote the new business, running a car club, and providing for a family made it hard for Rob to keep it all together. He had to end his affiliation with Street Life, and put it in the hands of Roy Romero Sr., so that he could focus on his own future as well as the future of the Colorado Lowrider community.
Finally, all of the long hours attending numerous car shows from Denver to California to promote his business began to pay off. The interest in Colorado was growing and so was the clientele. Robert decided it was time for a larger spot, taking into consideration the fact that he wasn’t just doing hydraulics anymore. He was also selling tires, wheels, and auto accessories, which required room for display, inventory storage, and installation. He also decided that a name change was due for the same reason, switching out the shop name from “Rob’s Hydraulics” to “Robert’s Tire and Wheel, Inc.” Robert moved to 20th and Blake in downtown Denver. The stay there was short as well, due to the fact that it was going to be torn down to make way for the construction of the new Colorado Rockies Stadium, Coors Field.
Exhausted from the thought of another relocation, Rob did not want to just settle for anything, only to have to move again. He purchased a section of a 16,000 sq.ft. building located at 5060 Race Street, in Denver. This former diesel repair shop had lifts for many of his hydraulic jobs, and the timing was perfect. Mini-truck bed dancing was the new fad during the late 80’s, and this new shop is where the first double-diamond dump bed in the state of Colorado was created for a customer named Fino Morales. Business was booming! By now, most people on the car scene knew who Robert Morales was, and where he was located, as his reputation for quality work had hit the local Lowrider community like wildfire. After much success, Robert was able to buy the entire building. The large building had areas for a display room and storage for inventory, as well as areas for tire, dump bed, wheel, and hydraulic installs, with an additional buffing room for tires, which made it possible for the shop to do multiple jobs at one time.
The late 80’s and early nineties were the peak time for Lowriding and for Robert’s Tire and Wheel, Inc. Rob was the go-to guy for everything you needed to customize your ride. He put an ad in Lowrider magazine, where people had the information to send in mail-orders for parts. Requests came in from all over the country. The company was grossing over $4 million a year! Robert’s Tire and Wheel became Roadster Wheel’s #2 buyer and Dayton Wire Wheel’s #3 buyer in the United States. Robert traveled constantly to keep up his business, going to shows and promoting, and meeting with new vendors. He was invited by Lowrider to judge the hop contest on a few occasions as well. After long talks and updates about the Lowrider scene in Denver with Alberto Lopez, owner/publisher of Lowrider at the time, Robert was very instrumental in getting the Lowrider Magazine tour to make the city one of its many stops. The tour did its first show at the Denver Coliseum in 1991, where it still takes place some 19 years later, thanks to Robert’s efforts.
Throughout the nineties, many new trends were developed for Lowriding. Through his love of cars and knowledge of what was hot, Robert was able to create his own products. In 1995, he created and became the patent owner of Masterpiece Wire Wheel. The engraved, highly detailed, luxury wheels were on demand for many car builders. They made their way onto Lowrider of the Year winners such as “Loco ’64,” “Blvd Bomb,” “Casanova,’ and many others. He also began installing his own line of Hydraulics, known as “The Leaper Series,” which had cars sending hopping records to new heights, going into the new millennium. The business sustained its spot as number one in the Colorado area, and Robert’s Tire and Wheels sponsored many local car shows, hops, community organizations and teams.
In 2001, an unfortunate fire caused damage to the shop, sending the local community into a rumor-filled panic that Robert would have to leave his doors closed forever. Determined still, Robert spoke to his wife and told her “I may be down, but I am not done.” The shop needed repairs and Robert needed the business to go on, as it was his livelihood. Robert noticed cruising spots popping up on Federal Blvd., and even though the buildings were small and the real estate was very high, it was a good risk for him to take, so the shop was reborn at 12 Federal Blvd. A lot of his loyal customers followed, elated that Robert had not given up. Robert has been around for many years, in fact, he now sells wheels to his customers’ children that are all grown up. It gives him a good feeling to know that their families passed down the love of cruising and Lowriding with their own children. Robert and his wife, Terri, have always taken their children to car shows and helped to run booths for the Lowrider shows. Sundays were Robert’s only day off, and became a family day. On these cherished days, he and his wife Terri would pack the kids in his ’63 Impala, and go cruising at the park, or walk around the car shows.
Robert would like to say thank you to his supportive wife, Terri and his children Colleen, Rob Jr., and Analisia for all of their support and strong family love. Robert feels blessed to have a son, Robert Jr., who can one day take over the family business and allow Robert to enjoy life; a life he sacrificed to turn this Rocky Mountain dream into a bi-coastal institution of Lowrider excellence.