In the mid ‘70’s, Mario and Noah Torres worked at an upholstery shop during the day and cruised under the glow of the San Bernardino street lights at night. As these brothers cruised their respective rides, a’73 Monte Carlo and a’73 Firebird down E Street, their little brother, Sam, would tag along and witness firsthand the Inland Empire cruising scene. Even though these older brothers introduced Lowriding to Sam as far back as he can remember, it wasn’t until at age 8, while attending a car show at the National Orange Show, that his perception of a Lowrider would reach a whole new level. “I spent most of the day in awe staring at this work of art known as “Gypsy Rose,” and fantasizing of driving off with the car with no idea of knowing how to drive,” Sam recalls with a laugh. After leaving the show, it was time for Sam to take on his first build, a Lowrider bike. Being from a poor family, the young enthusiast had to get creative. While leaving a mystery of the missing iron flower décor from the front yard, Sam had his brother cut and welded the metal roses as the bicycle’s rear fenders and finished it off with, of course, the fuchsia color as that of the famous bowtie. Happily, Sam pedaled the local streets on his new work of art.

As a teen, and now a part of the I.E. street scene, growing up was a challenge; Sam found out that the streets could engulf you quickly. Luckily for Sam, his leadership skills were not overlooked. While at Curtis Junior High, the school principal put those skills to work by having Sam lead a new school youth program, Chicano Lifestyle. With many of its members having had a previous taste of the gang scene, “the program’s focus was to emphasize a positive role model and break away from the street mentality.” For two years, under Sam’s leadership, the program was praised for its school/community involvement, and he credits it with being highly influential in leading Sam on the right path in life. The timing couldn’t have been better, as there would soon arise needed and new challenges as the family would move to Texas.

At 17, Sam was excited for the move, as he was ready to experience a better life, a better school, and a better neighborhood. Where better to experience this than in the Dallas suburb of Oak Cliff! Let me put this into perspective: If Inland Empire had a twin brother; his name would be Oak Cliff. As Sam put it, “I went from one tough ‘hood to another tough ‘hood, and the only thing that changed was my address!” From his start at Sunset High, Sam felt like an outsider, and it showed in his grades and attitude, causing a few trips to the principal’s office. While some saw a baggy pants-wearing cholo with no future; again, someone would see the potential of this young teen. While sitting in front of the principal for the umpteenth time, Sam was asked, “what is your interest, your passion?” His quick reply; “Lowriders!” Sam educated this school head in the subject of “low and slow” with inspiring success. Under the principal’s recommendation, Sam was accepted to the Transportation Institute. He was finally where he wanted to be, learning the ins-and-outs under the hood.

Now that he had some automotive knowledge under his belt, Sam got his “feet wet” with his first build, a slammed 1965 GMC truck. But Sam was looking to build something that represented more of the I.E. memories he had, and did so when he purchased a 1965 Impala. “I bought Tru-Classics for it, one at a time,” he says proudly. Throughout the years, including the mini truck and euro crazes, Sam has built numerous rides. In fact, he has become well-known for his car collection, “over 60 at last count” states this car aficionado. This collection ranges from high end luxury, SUVs, classics, and monster trucks, to his Lowrider collection which he is most proud of with good reason. Among his works of art are “Pura Sangre,” a 1960 Impala, “El Camote,” a1960 Elco, and “Cadistrophic,” an immaculate ’93 Fleetwood. Even with this impressive collection, Mr. Torres beamingly shows me his grandkids’ vintage stroller and pedal car, which are painted fuchsia with roses, confirming that the 8 year old in Sam lives on.

Two years ago, Sam opened a shop to primarily work on his vehicles, but the demand for his custom work surpassed the hobby. Enough so, that a bigger location was quickly needed. Recently, the new Torres Empire Shop was opened in the DFW area. The 6,500 sq. ft. location is a one-stop shop with hydraulic/airbag installs, custom paint, murals, stereo installation, and frame-off restoration. But, it’s not all business with Sam, as his personal builds continue in the new location. On my visit, the shop staff was in the preliminary planning stages for a Lowrider build-off competition that extends throughout the 2011 WEGO Tour, buena suerte!

In recent years, Torres Empire has played a significant role in the United Lowriders Assoc. (DFW), the United Lowrider Council (FW), the statewide WEGO tours, and his own shows in Dallas and San Bernardino. This year, T.E. is excited in partnering with Lowrider Events in the 2011 LRM tour with stops in Woodland, Dallas, and at “the show stop of the year” the L.A. Convention Center. When Sam first started pondering his car show ethic, he went to his lovely wife, Elisa for advice. Together, this couple of over 25 years agreed that these shows would be a “family affair.” Those that have attended any T.E. promotions know that there is always a Kid Zone and it is always free! Also, the entertainment would reflect a positive atmosphere for all those attending. Most importantly, they structured these events to have respect for the competitors and the history that made these types of events possible. For Sam, it was a personal fulfillment when he promoted his first Cali show at the National Orange Show in 2009, as this was the site of where his Lowrider love affair began four decades earlier. With expected success this year, Torres Empire (e.g. Inland Empire native) plans to include 3 new nationwide stops to the 2012 LRM tour.

Sam expresses that “to be successful, you need to surround yourself with a great staff,” which he does with acknowledgements to Jesse, Monty, Gary, Manuel, Marcella Torres, Cynthia Torres, Marcella Rodriguez, and Tim “People’s Choice” Walls for their hard work. Sam also expresses a heartfelt thanks to his children, Sam Jr., Corina, Nathan, and also his wife Elisa for their patience and support. I asked Sam what makes him truly successful. He replied, “At the end of the day, cruising in my Lowrider with Elisa by my side; that’s true success!” Paz, Tejas

Shop Information:

Torres Empire Shop
2340 W. Pioneer Pkwy.
Pantego, TX
817-459-CARS (2277)