Coping with loss is always difficult. Being left with an irreplaceable void which can only be relieved through memories is one of the toughest aspects of dealing with someone’s passing, and our community knows this full well after losing one of our great Lowriders this past year. On June 16, 2011, the Lowrider community of Orange County, California lost one of their long time members; Robert Camarillo Rocha aka “Rocha” passed away in Fountain Valley California from a battle with stomach cancer. “Rocha,” as he was known throughout the Lowriding community, was born to Metodio and Josephine Rocha on December 14th, 1946 in the city of Orange, California. He was the oldest of the seven Rocha children, and a graduate of La Quinta High School in Westminster, California. The hard working Rocha was employed by W.R. Grace in Santa Ana, California, and the dedicated SoCal native spent his whole life in Orange County; the place that introduced him to Lowriding.
Like many Lowriders, Rocha’s exposure to the culture came by way of another family member, in his case, his cousin, Danny Leon. An avid car-guy, Danny had both hot rods and Lowriders, which caught the attention of an impressionable Rocha. He admired the way his cousin Danny fixed up his cars, and decided that he wanted to build his own custom car. Once he started turning a few wrenches, Rocha began a lifelong obsession with Lowriding and car restoration. While he was doubted by some, Rocha proved his love affair with autos was real as he began with a 1954 Ford before moving on to a 1965 Chevrolet Impala.
The ’65 gave Rocha a ton of satisfaction, and the Lowrider enthusiast was often seen cruising it solo around the streets of Santa Ana. This would all change, however, when he was introduced to members of a car club called the Classics Car Club of Santa Ana. The club was fairly new and was looking for members, and at the age of 22, Rocha joined the club. Looking to step up his game as he was proud of his new affiliation, Rocha’s first order of business was to lower the Impala and put white walls on it. It was a requirement of club membership and Rocha happily obliged. Like many Lowrider owners of that time period, Rocha’s 1965 Impala was a daily driver as well as his show car.
About a year after joining the club, Rocha decided to repaint the car from the stock mustard yellow color to a custom metal flake paint job. At the time, metal flake paint jobs were gaining in popularity, and Rocha was one of the first riders to hit the Boulevard with one, much to the envy of other cruisers. He also added the custom tail lights, antennas, and headlight modifications to the Impala, since it was lightly disassembled for paint. Rocha did not want to miss any of the Lowriding action, so while the Impala was getting redone he purchased a 1954 Chevy sedan. Once the Impala was completed, the ’54 was sold and Rocha was back in the driver’s seat of the Impala. Since the car was reborn, Rocha felt it needed a name so it was christened, “Emperor’s Galleon.”
Rocha and the Classics were a fixture at car shows and cruise nights throughout Orange County and Southern California. They also used to cruise the famous Whittier Boulevard, Van Nuys Boulevard, and any other hot spot they could find. In addition to their cruising activities, the club also used to compete at the very competitive RG Canning shows that were held at the Long Beach and Los Angeles arenas and were regular show winners at these events.
Rocha and his club also had their presence felt on the Silver Screen! In 1983, the cult classic movie “Heartbreaker” premiered in movie theaters. Rocha and the Classics car club were featured in the movie during the club meeting scene, car show, and cruising scenes. Rocha’s Impala was also used in the climatic car chase scene. This was quite an accomplishment not only for Rocha and the Classics; it was an accomplishment for Lowriding. The cinema wasn’t the only place where Rocha was making his mark; print magazine also showed love to the builder. Rocha’s Impala was also featured in Firme Magazine and Street Rod Magazine back when Street Rod was featuring Lowriders in their pages. Although he was never featured in Lowrider Magazine, Rocha and the Impala were featured in some of the car show coverage that has been published over the years.
A dedicated rider, Rocha was a regular fixture at car shows and cruise nights for the past 42 years. Whether he had his car with him or not, Rocha could always be found at the Garden Grove Cruise Night every Friday. He not only was a fixture at Lowrider shows and cruise nights, Rocha was a regular at the Hot Rod shows in the area as well. As a mainstay at automotive events with a true passion for his culture, Rocha was an ambassador for Lowriding; a man who showed many people from different demographics and car cultures what Lowriding was all about. He was an inspiration to many of today’s car clubs, and car owners, and many people at his memorial services credited him for their time in Lowriding, considering him as a mentor and influence.
With over four decades of service to the culture, Rocha never took a break from Lowriding; it was simply in his blood. He is probably one of only a handful of people that could claim this feat in their lifetime and the culture is better because of him. He was the face of the Classics and the face of Orange County Lowriding, a void that will never be replaced. He leaves behind his daughter, Valerie Cardenas, his son, Robert Rocha Jr., 9 grandchildren, two great granddaughters, and hundreds if not thousands of friends he made over the years. Rocha will be missed but never ever forgotten; we here at Lowrider Magazine send our condolences to the Rocha family and the Classic car club for your loss. May his memory ride on forever!