Ever wonder what happened to some of the best-built Lowrider cars or the people who were behind those creations? In Lowrider Magazine’s 30-plus years of existence, some of the custom lowered rides that have graced these pages have definitely been motivational and inspirational, and are seen by most as nothing short of innovative for car builders of all genres. But whatever came of them?
In the late 1980s, one Los Angeles-based shop known as M & M Customs was breaking new ground in the Lowriding scene. The family-owned business consisted of Mario Martinez Sr., his wife, and their son, Mario Martinez Jr. Young Mario had been into Lowriders since the age of 16, and with the knowledge and experience he gained by working at his father’s shop, he had every intention of creating one show-stopping ride for the Lowriding community. In fact, with the help of his dad and family, along with the assistance of his fellow Klique Car Club members, his ’73 Chevy Monte Carlo, known as Lethal Weapon, went on to capture the coveted Lowrider of the Year Award two years in a row (1989 and 1990).
To this day, many people still speak of Lethal Weapon’s impact on the culture, and how it went on to change the face of how the top Lowrider cars are built. This was evident even back then, when Lowrider Magazine awarded Mario with a special Inspirational Award in 1991 for his efforts on Lethal Weapon. Mario was one of the first to go full custom on the underside of a car, having a candy-painted and chrome undercarriage. It was because of Lethal Weapon that all Lowrider of the Year Award recipients at least featured an undercarriage that was just as nice as the top exterior body. It raised the bar for competitors and improved the quality of Lowriding show cars to an unprecedented level.
After winning his second Lowrider of the Year Award in 1990, Mario was determined to come back the following year and win the award a third time. As per the show circuit rules, he would have to make some major changes on Lethal Weapon to be permitted to compete and qualify again. Mario started redoing the entire interior in a two-tone orange and white upholstery. New airbrushed murals were added to the exterior body, and the hydraulic pumps’ chrome finish was replaced with a chrome and gold combo. A couple of custom-made Plexiglas enclosures were installed in the door panels to display rare and working handguns from Mario’s personal gun collection. Mario had to obtain a special permit to show the guns at car shows and the enclosures had to be fitted with locks. It may have seemed risky and too difficult, but Mario took the time and effort to do it right, and the finished outcome received nothing but jaw-dropping feedback from show spectators. Once again, Mario showed that he still had the edge on being innovative and creative.
Before Lowrider Magazine could setup another feature photo shoot on Mario’s redone Lethal Weapon, a life-changing incident happened at a local car show in Pomona, California that would forever change his outlook on Lowriding. A physical fight broke out among a few show spectators right near his Monte Carlo. Some of the display surrounding his ride was knocked over and damaged, and the car barely escaped damage itself.
Mario had his young son (Mario Martinez III) with him at the show and even though his child was unharmed, it upset Mario that these people were acting like this at a family event. Mario vowed to get out of Lowriding for good and decided to focus his attention on his immediate family. He turned to extra-curricular activities such as camping and fishing for well over the next decade. Even Lethal Weapon was no longer of interest to Mario and he literally gave it away at no cost to a friend who lived on the other side of the country in New Jersey. M & M Customs eventually closed and Mario went on to be a general manager at another auto body shop.
Fast forward to just a few years ago, and Mario III was about the same age as his father was when he first got into Lowriding. Even though he was just a young child when his father got out of the sport at that infamous Pomona show, he still remembered some of it. Somehow the Lowriding bug was biting at him and he began talking with his dad about returning to Lowriding. Mario Jr. may have been a little reluctant with his son at first, but the thought of doing a father-and-son project, just as he had done with his father, ultimately swayed his decision.
Approximately three years ago, Mario Jr., his wife, and their son started their own business, reopening M & M Customs. Once again custom paintjobs and body work were the prominent services offered. As with most new businesses, things started off a little slow, but in the face of the slower economy, M & M fortunately stayed afloat. Just last year, the family moved their operation to a new shop in Rialto, California, and has begun offering additional services such as engine customizing, hydraulic and airbag setups, laser cutting and engraving, undercarriage and frame customizing, and high-custom paintjobs like old-school intricate patterns with large flake finishes. Things have been really looking up for M & M and Mario tells us that he and his son have been taking on many new projects for customers, including some car owners from their own Klique Car Club.
As for Mario, now 47 years old, he says he is already starting to put the pieces together for his next Lowrider of the Year. That’s right, Mario has started rebuilding Lethal Weapon and will be bringing it back out! Apparently, the friend he gave the car to, many years ago, ran into some personal problems and never really did anything with the car. The friend had started to part it out, but fortunately, Mario was still able to get most of Lethal Weapon back from his friend. He may be getting it back in parts, but nonetheless, he hasn’t hesitated on piecing it all together, along with some assistance from another Monte Carlo donor car.
Amonst the history of Lowriding, some of the memorable heavy hitters have come and gone, but for Mario Martinez Jr., he has done both and is proving today that this hobby and lifestyle we enjoy may never die for some it’s just in their blood. n