It was the summer of 1972, and Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, David Bowie, and Disco Music filled the radio airwaves, and ruled the record charts.. The Summer Olympics, the Brady Bunch, and Benny Hill commandeered the television screens, and the first generation of video games was born when Atari released PONG. The world was changing, and so were the streets of East Los Angeles. The roads in the area had begun to rumble, haunting residents with flashbacks of the earthquake that had rocked the Los Angeles area just a year earlier. This was no quake however, the earth shaking vibration that residents were experiencing was caused by the glorious birth of the New Life Car Club, which was hitting the streets of “East Los Angeles” and was becoming a force to reckon with!
Unhappy with the car club they belonged to, a visionary group of 7 or 8 guys had decided that they were going to branch out and start their own club, and they wanted to run it the way they saw fit. The first order of business was to come up with a new name. Someone suggested the name “New Life,” and they agreed that it was the perfect name for what they wanted to accomplish with the new club. Shirts were ordered, plaques were cast, and pretty soon the streets of East LA were filled with cars flying New Life plaques. Reynaldo “Butch” Martinez founding President of New Life, and his 1966 Buick Riviera set the bar for the club in terms of both build and style. The club set up rules and regulations, implementing a leadership structure that would serve as their foundation for years to come.
Almost overnight, the club membership exploded. Within a month, new recruits were showing up to the meetings in droves, as current members would bring friends and family members that were interested in joining the New Life. Most potential members were leaving other clubs, or had left other clubs because they liked what they saw in New Life. Naturally, this did not sit well with the other clubs, and they made it very clear that they felt New Life was not going to last, and that the members who left would be back to rejoin their previous clubs upon its failure. Membership requirements were simple; attend four meetings, let the club get to know you, and after the fourth meeting, your membership was voted on. New Life’s meetings at the Montebello Golf Course were filled with perspective members as the clubs popularity grew. Requirements were as simple as have a clean car to get in and the right attitude kept you in the club. Butch kept these meetings very organized, as he and his officers had the recruitment process down to a science.
All walks of life were represented in New Life, and many of the members were even still in high school. Montebello High School, Cantwell High School, Schurr High School, and Garfield and Roosevelt High School all had New Life members within their respective student populations. There were members that were in college, and members who were already working regular jobs. This diverse membership proves that New Life was not your typical car club. Most car clubs of this time period had a stereotype image, whereas many of the New Life members were regular guys with long hair, who listened to Rock n’ Roll, and who happened to be into Lowriders. There were members who were considered homeboys, and yet others who were into the Disco scene. Even though they all did not share the same taste in music, they all shared the same appreciation for a clean, stylish Lowrider.
In these early days, there weren’t too many car shows, so winning trophies was not important to the car club. It was about the love of your machine, and being noticed while cruising out on the streets. Whittier Boulevard was the sacred ground of Lowriding, so New Life would hit the Boulevard deep, bringing out their finest club cars. The club was up to about 80 members at the time, so they would take up quite a bit of curb space on Whittier. After the Sherriff’s Department discouraged parking on the Boulevard, New Life moved to a parking lot like most of the other clubs did. Their presence on the Boulevard was huge, and the competition realized that the club was for real and here to stay, thanks to its sizable membership and innovative cars. They did not use the organ pipes, paint their fender wells, or paint the names of songs on the windows of their cars like fads and the other car clubs were doing at the time. New Life Car Club was simply a different breed of lifestyle.
Social events were also a big part of Lowriding at the time, so New Life would produce dances with bands like Cold Duck at venues like Kennedy Hall, the Holiday Inn, and Rudy’s Pasta House. These were the days when the car clubs put their event posters on the side of their cars and cruised all over, advertising their events to everyone who passed them. New Life would also have club activities like beach parties in Huntington Beach, and picnics at local parks. They used to go to Dodger games, and movie premiers in Hollywood and Westwood. Some of the members even attended the Academy Awards. At that time, you could just drive to the awards ceremony venue, park your car, walk in, and enjoy the show.
The club also participated in baseball and football games with other clubs. At one particular Baseball game at East Los Angeles College, New Life showed up in a caravan of legendary size and quality that completely floored the opposing car club, that New Life came to play. New Life rolled up in a well planned out procession of cars that were lined up by make, model, and year of the car. Imagine having a car club so big that you had multiple members owning the same make of model cars! It’s easy to see why some of the other clubs were blown away, considering that an 80-car entourage all flying New Life plaques was quite the sight to see! You would think that a club this large would not be easy to manage, but Butch oversaw the club and kept everyone in line with the help of his officers.
New Life member Thomas “Pooh Bear” Sustayta’s childhood home on the corner of 6th and Williamson in East L.A. became the club’s hangout. It was christened “The Block” by the club members. Soon it was the place to be any day of the week, and at any time of the day or night there was always someone hanging out on “The Block”. After the club was done cruising Whittier Blvd., they’d make the two-block trip north to reach “The Block.” There were times when the streets around Sustayta’s home were filled with New Life cars, and the sidewalk in front of the Sustayta’s home was filled with club members. Sustayta’s mother was very supportive of the club, and welcomed the club members with open arms, and they in turn, held her in high respect and regard.
As the club’s reputation grew, they were noticed by people who wound up hiring them to chauffeur events. The club started to chauffeur weddings, Quinceneras, presentations, and had the honor of appearing in the music video for the iconic song “Lowrider,” by the band War. The video was filmed on “The Block” and featured New Life club cars in the video. New Life even chauffeured a wedding for a famous Los Angeles Rams football player.
The club was hitting its peak of popularity when club president Butch Martinez began to show signs of failing health. Most of the club did not know that Butch had been battling a respiratory disease since birth, and they were devastated to find out that he had been sick during the times he did not come out with the club. It got to the point that he had to be hospitalized, and he handed the reigns over to someone else to run the club. It did not work out and the club started to falter, and even worse, in 1975 at the tender age of twenty three, Reynaldo “Butch” Martinez passed away. When Butch passed away, the spirit of the club died with him. His leadership, camaraderie, and vision left a void too big for anyone else to fill, and at Butch’s funeral, the club members decided to disband the club. The club banner and plaque was buried with Butch. As far as the club members were concerned, Butch was New Life, and there could not be New Life without him.
Although the club was only around for about three years, its impact to Lowriding can still be felt today. New Life helped raise the bar of the culture in everything they did, and their organization set the blueprint for the many clubs that would eventually follow in their footsteps. It’s safe to say that our way of life is better now, thanks to the efforts of this visionary club.
The end of New Life led to the creation of Lifestyle Car Club, which was formed by some of the core members of New Life who were not yet ready to park their Lowriders. While the name of the club had changed, the song remained the same. In the fall of 2009, a reunion of the former members of New Life was held in Southern California. Former members came from all parts of the Southland to reconnect and reminisce about the early days of New Life. Photos, plaques, and flyers from back in the day were passed around, and the guys caught up on each other’s lives. A lot of the former members have reconnected since the reunion, but there are no plans to restart the club. Out of respect to Butch, the club will only live on as a memory; a memory in which Lowriding dreams became a reality, and a positive culture was born. Thanks, Butch.