The origins of pinstriping can be traced back many different ways throughout history, from everyday items used during the Roman Empire, to more modern uses like lettering on fire trucks, store fronts, and of course, custom car paintjobs. During the 1950’s pinstriping on custom cars were made popular by the likes of Von Dutch, Dean Jeffries, and Walt Prey whose intricate techniques and styles have influenced many of today’s pinstripers.
As a kid growing up in Michigan in the 1960’s, the custom car culture and pinstriping profession had already held a significant influence on Mike Lamberson. At an early age, Mike used to build plastic model cars with his own twist; the model cars he built would always be finished off with a pinstripe. Mike felt the models were simply not “done” until he striped them. In 1971 at age 13, Mike and his family relocated to Pomona, California, where he saw his very first Lowrider cruising Pomona’s famed Mission Boulevard.
A few years later, almost completely by chance, Mike found a local pinstriper and decided to stop by his shop to better observe the artist at work. The flow of the designs and the skill of the pinstriper fully enthralled Mike, giving him the courage to express his desire to learn from the pinstriper, and to even inquire about the possibility of an apprenticeship. Distracted and visibly annoyed, the pinstriper finally put down his brush and escorted a dejected young Mike out of his shop. He was simply “not interested” in teaching his skill to a youngster who would one day take work from him.
The negative encounter with the pinstriper did not deter Mike, in fact it made him more determined than ever to become a pinstriper. He found an old car hood and put in on the floor of his first apartment and practiced for hours. Since he did not have a reputation in the custom car scene, Mike sold his striping skills to car dealerships and body shops around the Southern California area. For the first 20 years of his career, Mike was mobile. He would travel to each job and work on-site at the dealerships and body shops, building up his skills and techniques while slowly but surely creating a name for himself in the upper echelon of his field.
In 1996, Mario DeAlba Sr. who was working at one of the shops that hired Mike for pinstriping, asked him to pinstripe one of his prestigious show cars. After Mike pinstriped Mario’s car, his pinstriping really began to get noticed at the local car shows. Mario’s car was featured in Lowrider Magazine, and as a result of the magazine feature, Mike began to get a lot of business from the Lowriding community. He would work at the dealerships and body shops during the week, and on the weekends he would drive to his customer’s home to commence work on pinstriping their Lowriders. As a result of his work on Lowriders, his referrals continued to grow, keeping him quite busy, and more importantly, quite happy.
Within a year of the magazine feature, Mike had so much work pinstriping Lowriders that he was able to quit working for the body shops and car dealerships, enabling him to open up his own shop in Ontario. The shop allowed Mike to work in a clean, controlled environment without having to worry about the outdoor elements contaminating his work. At this time, Mike’s work was featured regularly in Lowrider Magazine, as well as in other custom car magazines. His reputation continued to grow and his contribution to the Lowrider culture was highly evident in the Southern California area.
One year, Mike attended a Lowrider Magazine show in Fontana, California, with fellow pinstriper Buggs Ochoa, based out of Arizona. While walking the show, Buggs pointed out that almost every car in the show had some striping and or leafing that was done by Mike. It was an amazingly fulfilling moment in Mike’s pinstriping career to see all of his artistic work on display throughout the show.
After years of rising overhead costs, Mike decided to close the shop in Ontario and move his business to his own property located in Riverside, California. Mike and his wife Lynn built a separate garage on the lot as his “office”, stocked with everything he needed to pinstripe. After he moved the business to his house, one of Mike’s friends sarcastically remarked to him, “Are you sure you want those gangsters coming to your home?” Mike’s stoic response to his friend was simply, “My experience has been that Lowriders are hard working, and family oriented people who have always treated me like one of their own”.
Around the time Mike moved the shop to his home, the DUB car trend was starting to evolve. Many vehicle owners with these types of cars emulate the styling cues of Lowriders, so it was only natural that they would start taking their cars to Mike for his work. Not only were they having pinstriping done, they were also having him apply Silver and Gold Leafing to their vehicles. His pinstriping and leafing on the DUB style of cars is evident throughout that scene. As a result, Mike and his pinstriping have gained even more exposure on the Internet, Television and media publications throughout the world.
A career that spans 32 years has made Mike and his pinstriping a very significant and important part of the Lowrider and custom car cultures in the Southern California area. Over the years, he has developed and perfected his pinstriping, scroll work and leafing. Remember the pinstriper that kicked Mike out of his shop? Well, he still pinstripes. Not only does he allow Mike in his shop, but he considers them to be colleagues and friends.
When asked how long he plans to continue to pinstripe, he stated that he will continue to work full time for about 10 more years before he retires. Like most artists, Mike says that even in retirement he will continue to pinstripe because he enjoys it so much. He has already started to mentor a young man that is just learning to pinstripe. Asked to sum up his career, Mike posed us this question in his response, “how many people get to make a living doing what they love while making hundreds of friends in the process?” Not very many people can answer that question, but it’s clear that Mike Lamberson can.