Some Lowriders have dedicated their lives to building the perfect Lowrider, and their garage resume runs the gamut of just about any make and model you could possibly think of. Jose Romero is one of these veteran builders and riders, having breathed life into various Lowrider creations since his first wrench turn way back in 1977. In that year, he built his first Lowrider bike and went on to become quite the fixture within the San Diego Lowrider scene. “I was about ten years old when I started,” Jose says. “That’s when I got my first Lowrider bicycle.” He bought his first car in 1981, and it began his four-wheeled career, which generated a lot of press. “In February of 1991, I started on a ’59 convertible. In 1994, “Suavicto ‘58” came out in Lowrider Magazine; after that build came my ’58, named “Straight Clownin’” in 2002,” Jose explains. “Over the years I’ve had hoppers, Cadillacs, Monte Carlos, ‘62s, ‘63s, ‘64s, ‘58s, ’59s, you name it. Altogether, I’ve probably had a good 30 Lowriders―and all of them badass,” Romero says confidently.
With a resume as deep as his, it takes a very special car to stand out from the rest, and Jose Romero’s latest creation holds that distinction. He’s been envisioning exactly how this finished car would look since the mid-nineties when he first picked up the car. “I found the ’55 over at the Pomona Swap Meet in 1996,” he recalls. “At that time, I hadn’t seen any ’55 Bel Air convertibles on the circuit. It was the rarity of the car that caught my attention; it’s not something you see on the road that often,” says Jose. Without a second thought, Jose bought the ’55 on the spot and put it in the back of his garage while he spent several years finishing up the rest of his other projects.
Over the years, Romero developed a vision of how this ’55 could stand apart from the rest of the scene. “I saw the car clearly in my mind. It’s such a rare car, and I wanted it to look elegant; I wanted it to be beautiful,” he says wistfully. What he had on his hands was far from that, however. His work was cut out for him as this Bel Air was far from roadworthy, let alone ready for the show circuit. “It took me exactly a year to strip it all back down and redo it,” Jose says, exhausted from the memory. “When I bought the car, it was in primer condition. It needed floors, a trunk, and lower quarter panels, so I took it all on myself. I did the body work, metal work, welding, cutting, torching, striping, sand blasting, paint, buffing and polishing. I tore it all down at my house,” Jose states. “The only time it left was to go to the spray booth and muffler shop. The rest of it got done in my garage; this car is 100% Jose Romero.”
While he may not have painted it, he carefully planned out the color scheme on his own during the time he spent stripping the car down. “I painted it in my head before I ever took sandpaper to it,” he says with a smile. “When I chose those earth tones, it all fell into place. When it was finished it was exactly what I wanted. She’s perfect.”
The simplicity of the paint meant the rest of the car needed to follow suit. The interior was restored to a stock-like condition with the exception of adding leather. The motor also needed to match the factory styling. Like putting lipstick on the Mona Lisa, too much chrome and power would only detract from the car’s inherent beauty, and too little would be like a cheap frame, so Jose built carefully. “The motor was actually donated,” says an excited Jose. “The engine compartment on the car is dedicated to the Cewall family in National City. The motor sat for many years until I tore it apart, stripped it, chromed it, and when I finished; it was just the perfect touch,” Jose says, adding, “It’s got that right amount of swagger going on.” His happiness with the build stems from the fact that he never strayed from his vision of building a trophy contender. “I think if I had put the original motor in there it would have lacked something and looked plain. It’s not a hopper, it’s a show car,” he says.
With such deep roots in the scene, and such a long building history, we had to ask this veteran which car out of his collection was his favorite. His answer was an interesting one. “Asking me what my favorite Lowrider is like asking an alcoholic what his favorite drink is,” he says with a laugh. “The answer is ‘the next one.’ I always look forward to building my next project.” Building and cruising is what has defined his life thus far and Jose Romero is not about to hang it up after the ’55. “I’ve done a lot for this Lowrider community and I will continue to do so,” Jose says proudly. “I’ve had a good run so far, but I’m not done. Everybody that’s been there for me; I thank you. And to the haters, I say thank you and I love you more. You are what keeps me going; shame on you for counting me out. Some people watch sports, I don’t. I Lowride.” Spoken like a true Lowrider.
Tech Specs “Lighter Shade of Brown”
Vehicle: 1955 Chevy Bel Air
Owner: Jose Romero
Location: National City, CA
Engine: The Bel Air sports a 1985 Chevy 305 with TPI fuel injection, and 22-inch glass pack mufflers.
Paint: Jose Romero completed all of the bodywork himself before the Bel Air was sprayed with an iconic Tan and Brown paint combination.
Interior: Tan and brown leather wraps the interior with a stock-inspired design installed by Flaco Customs in San Diego, CA.
Suspension: Jose Romero installed a hard line set up with eight-inch cylinders in front and 12 ‘s in the rear, around a stock molded frame.
Stereo: The audio consists of a Sony deck which powers four 6x9s, all installed by Rodney’s in National City, CA.
Wheels: 13×7 radials.
Accessories: Spotlights with built-in mirrors.