Public Perception, Persona, Profile, Reputation, Stature
The beautiful Southern California haven known as San Diego, California is the second largest city in the Golden State, and is best known for its tourism, manufacturing and military installations. Many military families end up in San Diego, and some eventually call it home, thanks to its wonderful climate and the plethora of job opportunities available in the area.
Rob “Bird’ Rice was born in Toms River, New Jersey but the life in New Jersey only lasted for a couple of months due to the travelling nature of his father’s military career. The family moved around a lot during his childhood, spending time in places like Hawaii, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Minnesota, although they always considered San Diego to be their home. The city was already home to some of the extended Rice family, so Rob always felt a special connection to the area.
San Diego is also where Rob would be given his nickname, “Bird.” During his teen years, Rob was a huge Boston Celtics fan, and was also taller than most of the kids in the neighborhood. The kids took notice of this, and the fact that he was Caucasian, so naturally the only proper nickname they could give him would be “Bird,” in honor of the NBA basketball star, Larry Bird. It has stuck over the years, so much so that up until the publication of this feature, many people have never known his government name!
Although the Rice family moved around a lot, Bird and his father were able still enjoy father and son hobbies, especially working on and fixing up cars. Bird’s father kept a ’55 Chevy and ’69 Chevelle in the family throughout Bird’s childhood, and to this day, he still has them. Working on the cars not only kept Bird and his dad close, it was the avenue that would introduce Bird to Lowriding in San Diego.
In 1991, while cruising down San Diego’s famous Highland Avenue, Bird met Eddie Johnston. Bird had a 1987 Toyota Truck called “Crystal Blue” at the time, and Eddie had his own mini truck as well. The two became good friends and were about to start their own mini truck club when they met David Luquin, who was pledging the Majestics at the time. David invited the two to check out the club meeting to get a feel for the club. The club consisted of 12 members at the time, and they quickly accepted the three. After attending the required meetings, Bird and Eddie became full-fledged members of the Majestics.
After being a member of the club for a year and a half, Bird became the Vice President and held the position for another year and a half. During this time, the club held their first couple of shows with the Naval Hospital in 1993 and 1994. In 1994, Bird was voted the chapter’s President. The club was getting stronger in both membership and car quality, as Bird broke out his 1980 Cutlass named “California Cruiser” that year. He got the car from a member who had gotten married and could not finish the project. Bird took the reins, and the Cutlass would eventually earn him a cover feature in the February 1995 issue of Lowrider Magazine. Club member Charlie brought out his Cadillac christened “Vicious Luxury,” which also got the club a cover feature in Lowrider. Other club members represented the club well, including David with his Monte Carlo and Ralph with his El Camino named “Forbidden Pleasure.” These two guys took home awards with these pristine autos everywhere they showed them. This four-car entourage really helped to put the San Diego Majestics on the map, and the club began making a lot of noise. Since they were a younger generation car-club, they were not well accepted by the older, more established clubs in the San Diego area. Nonetheless, they continued to create their own lane and get stronger.
In 1994, the club took the drive up the 5 freeway to the Los Angeles Super Show at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Bird put the Cutlass on a turntable on the main floor. The experience was a dream come true for Bird to be in the company of such amazing works of art. In 1995 and 1996, he took second and third place with the Cutlass at the Lowrider Magazine shows in San Diego.
In 1997, Bird’s father retired from the Military and decided to move back to Montana where he was born and raised. Bird had to move into an apartment and did not have anywhere to keep the Cutlass, thus, he was forced to sell it. He knew that he would build another project, but had no idea what he was interested in building just yet. Later that year, he was visiting his parents for the holidays when he found a 1963 Impala in a bone yard. Bird and the owner made a deal to trade a trailer and some cash for the car, and. Bird’s dad drove the car back to San Diego for him. Mike Davey painted the car, while Bike Mike from Bottoms Up Hydraulics added the car’s hydraulic set-up. Bird had the car reupholstered, and it was back on the streets in no time.
Bird kept the ’63 for a while before moving on to the “White Ghost,” which was a 1987 Luxury Sport Monte Carlo. Once again Mike Davey worked his magic on the paint, and Bird flossed the Monte for a while before deciding to tackle another project. You see a pattern developing here, right? Bird moved on from the Monte, and found a 1967 Convertible Chevy Impala around 2002. The car had been sitting around for about 10 years, and Bird did not know how bad it was until he broke the car down. It needed full quarter panels and full floor replacements, so Jose Coronado of Groupe San Diego helped him find a donor car to bring the body back to life. Mike Davey again sprayed the ragtop and it debuted in Phoenix that year. The ’67 would also get Bird another feature in Lowrider Magazine. At the time, the ’67 was making rounds on the show circuit, so Bird began working on a 1988 Luxury Sport Monte Carlo called “Freshly Squeezed.” Bird lost interest in the ’67, and found a 1961 Chevy Impala Convertible in 2004. The ’67 went up for sale, and Big Rich from the Los Angeles Majestics chapter bought the beauty from him.
The ’61 came home and Bird continued on with the build of his ’88 Monte, “Freshly Squeezed.” A club member offered Bird money for the car, and it was gone. Remember the pattern I mentioned earlier? With cash in hand and no other car projects, Bird could finally complete the build of the 61 right? Wrong. Bird found a 1964 Chevy Impala, which the club dubbed “Montana Banana,” because Bird had painted it yellow, and his parents were from Montana. Once the ’61 was complete, “Montana Banana” was retired, and the first official debut of the ’61, nicknamed “Rock and Roll Gangster,” took place at the 2009 Las Vegas Super Show. These are only a few of the twenty cars Bird has built since 1991.
At the same time Bird was building his cars and running the Majestics Car Club, he was also producing shows around the San Diego area. SD Majestics were producing shows at the Naval Medical Center and Southwest High School. One day, Bird was talking to Jesse Esparza from Klique San Diego about the old days when the World of Wheels Car Show used to be held at the San Diego Concourse. Jesse encouraged Bird to take shows in San Diego to the next level, and try to produce a show at the Concourse. Bird went to his business partner Mario Lopez and Mario agreed, feeling that they should definitely do the show. The first order of business for the duo was to find the perfect name for the show. They decided to call it “The Super Indoor Custom Car Show.” This was the first indoor car show in over 15 years in San Diego. There were 224 entrees, which was literally all the cars that the Concourse could hold. The first year the show was produced was 2002, and it was held there until 2004, when the Concourse was shut down. The show has been held at the San Diego Convention Center since then, and continues to do well as a mandatory show for many clubs in the Southern California area.
Bird does not take full credit for the success of the show; he credits the team behind him including Mario Lopez, and Fred Sotelo for making the event come to fruition. Bird also credits his leadership skills to his father, who was an Officer in the United States Navy, and credits his event planning skills to his mother. Producing and judging the San Diego show has also allowed Bird and his team to create an independent judging team that will provide judging for car shows. They have traveled near and far to provide judging for car shows and remain committed to ensuring fairness in their judging.
Although Bird has been Lowriding since 1991 and producing the Super Indoor Custom Car Show since 2002, he has cemented his place within the culture and the history books in that short amount of time. The quality of service he has provided throughout his tenure is proof of his commitment to the culture and the lifestyle. I asked him about his feelings on the Lowrider Culture today, and he told me that he was happy to see the unity in the scene now, reminding me that back in the early days, the clubs didn’t associate with each other. These days everyone associates with everyone, and many new friendships have been formed.
The 2009 Super Indoor Custom Car Show is finished, and so is Bird’s work on his clean ’61 ragtop, so what is he going to do now? You know as well as I do that Bird probably already has another build waiting in the wings, but you can rest assured that for now, he will begin planning the 2010 show, and enjoy the ’61 for at least a little while. Not to worry though, Bird is certainly not finished with his Lowriding career, and like many profiled in this magazine, he plans on Lowriding till the wheels fall off, or at least until the DMV comes for his license.