The name Andy Douglas is one name that I’m all too familiar with. Having entrenched myself in the scene, this name has been ringing in my ears for years as the name of a man who was hitting back bumper and flipping cars over as far back as the 1970’s! One thing I couldn’t attach to the name was the face, since I had never had the chance to see the man in person. When I got the word about his induction to the Hall of Fame for Craftsmanship Honors, I was excited and honored to be the writer assigned to do the feature. The one thing I wasn’t excited about was having just a few days to locate a man that seemed to be more of a myth than a reality. I had to hustle in order to shoot him, interview him, and have it all submitted within half a week. Needless to say, my search began immediately. I got on the phone and started making phone calls to present and past New Style members. I got my lucky break when I called my friend Carlos “Coast One” Malvido out of San Jose, CA. Not only did Coast One lead me to Andy’s whereabouts, he also led me to a good taqueria once I arrived to San Jose! Without further ado, I present to you the story of Lowrider Hall of Famer, Mr. Andy Douglas.
Growing up in the East Side of San Jose, one can’t help but to grow up around gangs. At age eleven, Andy joined a street gang by the name of “Callejeros” (street wanders). “When I came home that night my dad kicked my ass, he wouldn’t let me do it (join a gang),” says Andy sternly. Andy’s dad, who was a diesel mechanic and owned his own trucking company, bought Andy his first car, a 1952 Chevy. “The car was a piece of junk, but I took the car apart and restored it,” says Andy with a laugh.” “I can’t remember what ever happened to that car,” he says, giving me a sense that he’s been involved with so many builds over the years that he’s lost track. This is probably true; as Andy’s dad had him working at the trucking company banging out fenders and doing body and paint work from a very early age.
Getting his Driver’s License and a Nomad at age fifteen, Andy restored the Nomad and eventually turned around and sold it. This was his first foray into “flipping” an older car, and a key moment in his life, as he achieved a lot of confidence in his skills. Around that time, Andy also fell in love with the Impala. “The ’64 was my favorite year,” he acknowledges. By the time Andy was 16, he was able to get his hands on one, and he immediately began to fix it up. “That was my first Lowrider,” says Andy with pride.
One of Andy’s neighbors had a relative by the name of “Poppy” from East L.A. who would come up and visit often. Since both Poppy and Andy were both into cars, they became close friends. “Poppy is the one that got the ‘L.A look.’ inspired in me the 5.20’s, the front lifted, and the rear slammed,” Andy reminisces fondly. During Andy’s junior year in high school, Poppy invited Andy to go down to East LA to cruise Whittier Blvd. “You have to see what we are doing to the cars down there, we are [even] putting little tires on them,” Andy says, doing his best Poppy impression. Back then there was no Lowrider Magazine to show what everyone was doing to their rides, so Andy decided to take a road trip from East San Jo to East Los so he could see these ground-breaking modifications firsthand. “I went down there in my Root Beer Brown ’64 with 10″ wide Anson Sprints and wide tires,” recalls Andy. “I saw all the cars with little tires and even a couple of guys with hydraulic set ups. I was like, ‘this is what I have to do.'” Andy began asking some of these L.A. riders where they had gotten their hydraulic set ups. After making friends with a couple of the guys, Andy went with them to the aircraft shop. “They took me to Cal Nelson in San Fernando, and to Palley’s Supply Company in Los Angeles,” says Andy. “Those were the two aircraft supply places that just sold aircraft stuff.” Of course, aircraft pumps were the norm for the first hydraulic set ups, but Andy was about to embark on a journey far bigger than he ever imagined.
After buying all of the stuff he needed, Andy brought it back to San Jose and installed it on his car and to no avail; it wouldn’t work. Taking everything back out of his car, Andy put it all back together outside of his car and it started to work.”I then put it all back together in my car again and it [still] wouldn’t work,” he says. Andy knew there was something wrong. “That’s when I got the idea of adding more voltage,” says Andy. Sure enough, everything started working perfectly.
“I was still in high school, and a guy came up to me and asked how much I wanted for the Impala,” says Andy, who ultimately responded, “it’s not for sale.” “Later, the guy comes back with $10,000, and I was like ‘you can have it!'” After selling the first car that he had fixed up, Andy decided to get a ’52 Chevy truck, and restore it the same way. “Same thing happened, a guy came up to me and bought my truck,” he says with astonishment. “I was living in the East Side of San Jose, where nobody had money, but these kids were coming up to me with money to buy my cars,” he says, still in shock. “I would have to say that with the money I got from building and selling cars, I started my business.”
“All of the first hydraulic work that I did was on the East Side of San Jose, only a couple of blocks from Story and King, at my parents’ house on Gainesville Ave. That’s also where New Style car club was started,” says Andy beaming with pride. With a lot of people wanting to get hydraulics on their cars, Andy had cars lined up on the street waiting to get a set up installed. “My mom started to get pissed at me because I had hydraulic fluid everywhere, burn marks on the pavement outside from the torch, so that’s when I decided to open up the hydraulic shop,” he says. This move would turn out to be a groundbreaking moment in Lowrider history.
“I was making weekly trips to LA and picking up surplus stuff,” says Andy. “That’s where the bulk of my stuff came from.” Andy’s Hydraulics opened its doors in 1975 on 1st street in San Jose, and immediately began lifting cars from all over. “What I did was to bring hydraulics to the mass market. I did it so that anyone could go into the shop and buy what you needed; products that weren’t available before.” Before Andy, if you wanted hydraulics, you first had to figure out what you needed, find all the pieces, and then piece it all together for yourself. “The cylinders and Pesco pumps were from military surplus stores, the hoses were from tractor supply places and so on,” he explains. These headaches were partially alleviated when Andy decided to simplify things with his own creation; his own pump cylinders.
“I got the idea of making cylinders one day, and I made a deal with a machine shop to produce a cylinder called the ‘D&H Red,'” says Andy. “By the time I was producing the cylinder, we weren’t using the Pesco Pumps anymore. We used what are known as ‘the Gate Pumps,'” he explains. The reason people call it “the gate pump” is because it is used to lift tailgates on work trucks. Andy went to Fenner-Stone (who made the pump) and had them make a pump specifically tailored to the Lowrider car. “It had a #8 pump head in it to push the D&H Red cylinder,” explains Andy. This innovation not only proved to be a more effective design, it also legitimized Lowrider customization in the marketplace as well.
In 1973, Andy and a few of his friends from Overfelt High School founded New Style car club, although the club wasn’t official until 1974. Andy became the first president of New Style car club. “Rick and Manuel Garcia took over the club, and still managed to work on my hydraulics shop. I did it as a hobby at first, but it really took off,” he recalls. “Then, when Lowrider Magazine started in San Jose, it gave the whole Lowrider movement a big push. Everyone wanted to have their car featured in Lowrider Magazine!” he says with excitement.
Andy’s Hydraulics has moved to the historic Story and King area, and once there, he found his shop busier than ever. “Entire car clubs would show up wanting to have all their cars lifted by the weekend,” says Andy with a laugh. Things just took off in the scene, and before long, Andy had 8 stores, including shops in Los Angeles, Phoenix, El Paso, and all others over Northern California. “I opened up stores in the cities that I saw a lot of people coming in from,” says Andy. “It was a snowball effect from there.”
The business proved to be much bigger than Andy had initially visualized. “Things started to get to crazy for me, and I started to get out of it,” he explains. “I was making a lot of money at the time, but money isn’t everything.” “The hydraulics was bringing another element to the scene that I didn’t like,” he says with dismay. “It was bringing in a bad core of people that I didn’t like, so I decided to not do it anymore.”
Now that Andy Douglas has retired, he has opened up a Hobby shop in San Jose. “That’s the retirement business,” says Andy with relief, adding, “it’s just about playing with RC cars.” Although he has stepped away from the hydraulics business, he hasn’t completely departed from the scene. Andy’s Hydraulics is still working on cars these days, because he is willing to work on cars for people that he’s done work with dating back to the ’70’s. “I’m still lifting cars” says Andy, who is working on the fifth car for a new club coming out of the East Side of San Jose called “Chevyitos.” Andy would like to thank Doug Vigil for keeping New Style car club riding strong after all these years. The story of Andy Douglas is an interesting one to me. It is a story that left me thinking about how everything in life happens for a reason. Would the course of history have changed if one young man’s trip to East Los never happened? Would Lowriding be what it is today if that young man would have gotten a blowout on Highway 101 on that faithful day in 1972? These were just a few of the questions that I asked myself after leaving Andy Douglas’ home. I was astonished at how a single road trip changed one man’s way of life, and single-handedly pushed the Lowrider movement to new heights, (literally).