In 2011, Lowrider Magazine interviewed Mr. David Leal, cofounder of Taste of Latin Car Club of Odessa, Texas. The excerpt below shows the final comments made to the publication for David’s feature, and he wanted to make it known that the culture of Lowriding played a pivotal role in defining his character outside of the garage. While we heard plenty of good things from David after the feature, his time on earth ended this past May, making the late rider’s comments that much more powerful. One of the rarest forms of cancer in the world took away one of the world’s rarest talents; a charismatic man with a beautiful smile and a heart of gold. His fight against this disease was fought like the rest of David’s battles, with faith, determination, and more faith. Though we often say, “someone lost their battle to cancer,” I believe David’s battle was more of a spiritual journey in that he left his fate in God’s hands, which eventually embraced him as he returned back home. People react differently as their life’s chapter comes to a close. Some ask, “Why me?” Others accept it willingly, and only now in his death can David truly understand the impact of his role here on earth, and the honor in his new role—doing God’s will. His journey was so special to many people; his wife, children, and the many other lives he touched while he was with us. I also feel privileged and honored by his friendship, as David made me a better person, and I know I’m not the only one who can say that their life is better because of his friendship. One thing is for sure, if you knew him personally, you know firsthand why he was given an early assignment in heaven. I realize not everyone believes in the same principles as noted in this article, but this article is written for David and his beliefs as a tribute to what this man realized and achieved in his life. We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
David’s story started out like many other lifetime Lowriders: A multi-generational love and passion from father to son found David transforming and personalizing metal, paint, and chrome with inspiration from his family. In 1968, when the Leal family moved from Corpus Christi to the West Texas town of Odessa, he and his seven brothers got that passion from David’s father. The automotive restoration trade would help define one son, David Leal, as a Lowrider legend decades later.
At 15, David bought his first car, a ’62 Chevy Impala hardtop for $150. As soon as the 14-inch Rocket wheels were bolted on, he hit the cruising scene. While cruising Clements Boulevard with his brother, Abel, they met Nick Hernandez (2006 Hall of Fame) and Tony “Brodita” Garcia. As the four cruised the West Texas boulevard, it soon became apparent that it was time for them to start a car club. With no established car clubs east of El Paso, it was difficult to set the standard. David recalled, “I remember watching Gypsy Rose on the opening credits of Chico and the Man. I thought, ‘Who better to ask for advice than (2007 Hall of Fame Inductee) Jesse Valadez?'” David wrote a letter to the Imperials Car Club president asking for advice in starting a club, but did not expect a reply. Much to David’s surprise, Mr. Valadez not only replied, he passed down a lesson in car club 101. With that greatly appreciated knowledge, and a few trial namesakes, Taste of Latin Car Club was established in 1972. It was no longer a couple of cars cruising the South Barrio streets, either. There was now the entire car club caravanning down the boulevard with Taste of Latin plaques in their back windows.
To the local “good ole boy” police, these lowered vehicles “were not looked upon too kindly”, and were subjected to continuous harassment and fines, dampening the spirit of the blossoming club. Things got so bad that in 1975, officials, while in isolation at the local jail, beat a local Chicano to death. The incident outraged many, and members of the community began a movement for change and justice. The Taste of Latin members were stunned by the event and united with the Brown Berets to demonstrate for change. David and his club marched the streets of Odessa and its surrounding cities, protesting for civil rights as Chicanos. These civil rallies educated and motivated the car club into becoming more than just a group wanting to cruise. “They had a voice and an opportunity to educate people about their rights and the importance of community involvement,” David said.
In 1978, the young Leal family moved to Corpus Christi. It wasn’t long before David was missing the club activity of Sabor (the Taste). With Nick’s endorsement, Taste of Latin Chapter II was established and David presided over the club for 22 years. In fact, this chapter was featured in the pages of LRM back in July 1980. Thanks to Corpus Christi’s diversity, Lowriders were accepted in a more positive light. Still, much like its predecessor, this chapter continued to have an active role in political and community issues. “If there was a neighborhood or cultural need, it was certain that Taste of Latin would be out fund-raising for it,” David said. David’s ’76 Caprice Classic was synonymous within the coastal city cruising scene during the late ’70s and early ’80s, as he mobilized his chapter. Although the Glasshouse went through different looks over that period, the ride is best remembered as “Cherry Blend” with its Brandywine paint schemes. During that time, David had the pleasure of meeting LRM Publisher Sonny Madrid in San Antonio. In those days, the river city was the hub for the magazine’s statewide distribution. “So who better to distribute to the South Texas Gente?” David said with a smile.
In 1990, the family moved back to Odessa, where this veterano’s Lowrider legacy began. There, he continued his work as an active member in the car club, decades after its inception. Even more impressive, David and Nick share a continued brotherhood that held the test of time for over 40 years. “Nick Hernandez has always been an influence in my life and I’m privileged in working alongside him with Taste of Latin and Texas Tours Entertainment,” David confided in us before his untimely death.
Anyone who knows David is familiar with his unrelenting love for the onda. Along with his son, David Jr., the Leals continue to exhibit David’s ’79 DeVille “Caddberry”. Some of his recent creations included a ’51 GMC, “La Patrona”; a ’76 Impala, “Unique Pleasure”; a ’76 Caprice, “Big Bully”; an ’86 Caprice, “Tejano Sunrise”; a ’63 Impala, “Puro Sabor”; a ’73 Caprice, “Blue Diamond”; and a ’73 Impala, “Magentalicious” (Lowrider of the Month, Dec. ’06).
Mr. Leal believed that his legacy was not bound by chance, but became possible through the guidance of Jesus Christ and the support from his wife, Connie, and their children, David Jr., his wife Silvia, Angela Alvarado and husband Angel, and Stephanie De Armond and husband Clay. He also cites inspiration and motivation from his love for his wonderful grandchildren, Branden, Sean, Sarai, Alexis, Jordyn, Angelina, Angel, and Casen. David’s sisters Mary Lou, Yolanda, Rhonda, Vielia, and Lorraine, brothers Robert, Abel, Roy, Oscar, Jimmy, and Ruben were all a big part of who David was and why family was important to him.
I wish to thank Eddie Zamarron and Nick Hernandez for providing the resources of information for David’s tribute. The last time I saw and talked to David was at the 41st Annual Tejano Super Show in Odessa last November. David’s spirits were high and though his illness had aged him, it could not touch the courage, spirit, and graciousness we will all remember him by. Ride in Peace, my friend.