Sotero “Shorty” Villarreal was born in a small town on the outskirts of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. His father moved the family back and forth from Mexico to California and he eventually settled down in a town called Selma, which is in Northern California. His dad joined the farm laborers who worked in the fields picking fruit.
Shorty recalls growing up around the times when Boulevard Nights came out at the local theaters. Back in those days, things were getting bad because people were trying to act like gangsters or cholos. With a bad education in a small, poor town the choices were limited–you either lived a straight life working the grape or peach fields or you could roam the streets and get locked up. In 1979, Shorty was given the choice to move with his brother to Houston. At that time, he thought it would be fun to fly the coop, go out and party, and do things without his parents’ supervision. But that was not the case because he dropped out of school in the ninth grade and had to start paying for rent and bills on his own.
He started working for a Mercedes-Benz dealership sweeping floors and taking out the trash. After a while he started to get paid a little more whenever he did oil changes. His brother had given him advice about making choices and living in the real world, so he started to save his money. Around that time Shorty started building a lowrider bike in his spare time because he was growing up in a lowrider-influenced neighborhood. Shorty attended Lowrider car shows and would cruise with his older friends who had lowriders on the north side of H-town’s Airline Street. At 17 he’d saved up enough money to purchase his first car: a ’77 Cougar. Unfortunately, he got fired from his job, but soon after he started working at another job.
Shorty’s interest in hydraulics started when he purchased a one-pump setup from Louie La Fuentes’ hydraulic shop after he had received his first Christmas bonus. The setup included one pump, two cylinders, batteries, and a switch. At that time Rudy Carrion, from the Finest Few Car Club, was the person to get your setup hooked up. Rudy was also the local distributor of Lowrider magazine back in 1979, so he was well-known and respected by the lowrider community. He lifted the ride for a six pack of Schlitz beer and some candy for his kids. When Shorty was helping Rudy put the setup in the Cougar, he became addicted to installing hydraulic systems. He was amazed by the fact that he could raise the rear end of his lowrider with the hit of a switch.
Shorty’s Cougar hit all the cruising hot spots in Houston until one day, after getting home from work when it was parked out in the street, someone crashed into the back end and smashed it against the sidewalk near a telephone pole. The car was totaled out, of course, so Shorty went out and bought a ’74 Caprice convertible that happened to be a full show car with suicide doors, trunk, hood, and a custom paintjob.
In 1984, the car was put away in storage while Shorty and some of his close friends started Latin Fantasy Car Club. After helping out a few of his members juice up their cars, people began asking Shorty to hook up their cars with setups. Since it was also hard to find hydraulic setups in Texas, Shorty started stocking up on hydraulics and selling parts out of his house. Around that same time, he met his wife Sheila and together they developed a growing hydraulic business. With time Shorty’s house became too small to handle the business, so he partnered up with a mechanic, painter, and stereo installer to split the cost of the building. Shorty’s business was so successful that when he put up a sign for his customers to know where he was at, his partners tore it down. Shorty then packed up and moved to his now-famous location on Main Street where he’s been for the past 15 years.
His new business became successful because of his knowledge of hydraulics and the support of his wife who helped out at the shop 24-7. Besides selling and installing hydraulics, he also sells lowrider bikes and models. With the car hopping and dancing competition in full force for the last decade, Shorty built his first dancer, which was switch-controlled by David from the famed Red’s Hydraulics industry. During that time his oldest son John got into building model car dancers that were hitting 18 inches on tabletops. John decided that school was not for him so he quit and started working with his dad at the shop full time where he has also become a master of hydraulics. Later, Shorty helped John build another dancer called “El Canio” and started competing with Shorty as a team. That year El Canio took Second at the Vegas Super Show in the Street Dance category.
After the show, dad and son decided to build a Mazda truck hopper. After attending a few hop competitions, the truck wasn’t really doing well, it was only getting Second Place. During that time it seemed like everyone was building Mazda hoppers, so after inspecting the frame of a Ford Ranger, Shorty decided to build something that was unheard of, so “Texas Ranger” hit the show circuit and took First Place in numerous competitions all over the nation, including three-time consecutive winner at the Lowrider Nationals.
Shorty and his team have built quite a few competitive winners, including “Sky Scrapper,” “El Mero Mero,” “El Travieso,” and “The Butler,” but after reaching new heights in hydraulic competitions, Shorty gets a whole lot higher by helping his community with charity shows like the annual Latin Fantasy Jugetes Para el Barrio. This Christmas Toys for Tots event has been going strong for 17 years and gets bigger and better by the years. Shorty’s family and the Latin Fantasy Car Club gathers early on Christmas day to pass out toys and goody bags to all of Houston’s less fortunate neighborhoods. This past year, Jugetes Para el Barrio passed out over 6,000 toys and more than 3,500 goody bags.
Shorty would like to thank all the people who help out on those special days, including the car show supporters who showed up and raised funds for the toys, the local sponsors, and especially his car club members whose hard work pays off and is rewarded simply by looking at the poor and needy kids’ faces and their happy expressions. Shorty’s great generosity and positive attitude have given him the opportunity to travel all over the world, including to Mexico City and Spain. He has also been featured on many TV shows, like the Junk Yard Wars, where he took First Place, and MTV’s My Sweet 16th. Shorty will always give credit where it’s due, including to some of the legendary car clubs like the Viejitos, Old Memories, and Dukes, and lowrider families like the Tovars and De Albas who have put forth hard work to pave the future of lowriding. Shorty feels that the hopping movement is dying out due to the cost of fuel and travel to other state-held competitions, but the street competitions and the smaller, closer shows are keeping lowriding alive. Shorty plans to expand his business and his shop by adding a paint and body section and even doing air suspension! His legendary Veterano-style setups have put him on the map because of his one-of-a-kind old-school quality look. Shorty is excited to let people know that he has been working on his ’64 convertible, and that it will be hitting the show circuit full force in 2009.