Those who aren’t afraid to take risks in life often yield the biggest impact, and the same holds true for those trailblazing individuals in Lowriding. Our culture has always and will continue to evolve, thanks to technology and those brave souls willing to try new things. We truly have come a long way. During the early seventies, the Lowrider culture in Phoenix, AZ., was just hitting its stride. Central Avenue was starting to look like a scene out of American Graffiti, as gorgeous rides would be glistening under the desert moon and city lights during the ceremonial cruise nights. Things were cool and calm, but the Lowriding scene was about to get hoppin’! A young Phoenix native named Manuel Moreno changed this local cruise scene forever with the new sight of headlights bobbing up and down and rooster tail sparks shooting from the back bumper. Hydraulics had made their debut on the Phoenix streets, thanks to the efforts of Mr. Moreno.
While visiting Los Angeles, California, Manuel saw how hydraulics had already impacted the Lowriding scene out there. For these hydraulically-assisted Lowriding folks, their rides seemed so much more enjoyable when their cars could clear speed bumps with ease and at the flip of a switch, could be put to sleep on the ground. Fortunately for Manuel, he had always been mechanically inclined, so the idea of the functionality of hydraulics simply fascinated him. Once he saw the rides in L.A., he began purchasing hydraulic parts from a shop known as Palleys. With the right equipment in hand, Manuel then went on to create the first hydraulically altered Lowrider back in Phoenix with his own 1965 Impala. The year was approximately 1972.
Once Manuel’s ride hit the streets, he became a very popular guy. Everyone wanted to get the hydros installed on their ride, so, out of his own house; Manuel began doing installations, learning and becoming more advanced with each install. Since Manuel naturally became a teacher within the world of hydraulics, he ultimately educated many students along the way. Many friends and acquaintances followed his creations and some even worked alongside him as he did his magic. He worked hand-in-hand with Lowriding legends Sal Gonzales (longtime president of The Sophisticated Few car club), and one of the Sophisticated Few’s most admired lifetime members, Peter Luv. He also brought in Frank Castillo, later known as the owner of Frank’s Custom Hydraulics, and a student going to DeVry College at the time named Efrain Lopez. Efrain later became known as “Little Efrain” of Reds Hydraulics. In the Phoenix scene, Manuel continued to do what he loved for many years; he built Lowriders from the ground up with his close friends.
In preparation for a trip to a car show in Yuma, Arizona, with his close friends, Manuel decided that he wanted to formalize a car club for Phoenix that would be special. His Lowriding brothers Peter Luv, J.R, Mike, Joe, Nabor, Bobby, and Benny welcomed his desire with open arms, and after Manuel’s wife, Cynthia, helped come up with part of the club name, “The Sophisticated Few car club” was finally established.
When The Sophisticated Few arrived in Yuma, they represented themselves as Phoenix’s first car club to be hitting switches and flying club shirts. As with most early car clubs, their first plaque designs were also forged with a cutting torch and grinder, with the end result eventually shipped off to Central Plating for a nice chrome finish. In a relatively short amount of time, The Few was a club in Phoenix that stretched their membership all across the state of Arizona. Their impact continued to grow, as the club became regulars in the car show scene, showing annually at the famous Civic Plaza, where they always seemed to be in the running for the award for most members. The Few also pulled in quite a few trophies for its show cars, from J.R.’s Glasshouse to Peter Luv’s “Chop for Daze,” a radical ‘65 Impala. Of course with the club’s in-house arsenal like Big Mando’s custom upholstery and Eddie Torrez’s intricate pinstriping, The Few was defined as a one-stop shop for its members. Undeniably, the club’s big gun was Manuel Moreno, who launched the club’s popularity through the roof thanks to his hydraulic installations and custom paintjobs. In fact, several show cars, painted by Manuel, were presented as centerfold features in various issues of Lowrider Magazine.
Manuel eventually moved to Southern California where he still keeps his skills sharp to this day. In fact, his custom-built hoppers are still winning awards and breaking records, and he still competes in the hopping scene as a major contender with his radical ‘60 and ‘61 Chevys. Recently, he gave the gente quite a show at the Los Angeles Lowrider Show last year, proving that while he is a veteran, he will never stop wowing crowds with his unparalleled building abilities. Later in 2011, Manuel also set the record in the radical class, hitting an astounding 135 inches at the Las Vegas Super Show.
Manuel’s exclusive hop crew now consists of his sons Mike, Manuel, Maurice, Max, and Marc. His daughter, Cynthia, also keeps him motivated by helping out with the logistics of the family business. The great thing about this beautiful American motorsport and lifestyle that we call Lowriding is that it is multi-generational. We hand down our skills, talents, and car titles for the next generation to build upon. Manuel’s legacy will continue in this same fashion without a doubt, not only within his own family but, among Lowrider culture in general.
Some of Manuel’s painted cars that were featured in LRM:
June 1980 issue – Junior’s Caprice Classic
March 1981 issue – Junior’s “Gangster of Love”
February 1983 issue – Big T’s ‘52