Sal Manzano’s father was a paint and body man who worked at a dealership but also did side work out of a shop he had with a friend. Sal would always end up at the shop after school when he was only 10 years old. His dad would let him help out around the shop. “He would let me sand, take cars apart, and try to do bodywork. I was like a sidekick to him,” Sal explains. One day while at the shop, a candy red 1977 Buick Regal from Amigo’s Car Club pulled up. “The car had a lacquer paint and it dropped to the floor with hydraulics. This was back in 1977 and I had never seen a car do that before.” It was at that moment that Sal fell in love with candies. “I told my father that I wanted to do those types of paintjobs.” His father happened to be friends with the Regal owner’s father and got Sal a job at his detail shop. While working at the detail shop, Sal learned how to paint.
In 1980, Sal was on his way to go use a payphone to call his girlfriend at the time. On his way there, he spotted someone doing a mural on a car in a garage. “I went up to him and asked if I could watch. He said as long as I didn’t bother him. I stood there and watched him for two hours.” That air brusher ended up being Benny Flores. Sal came back to watch him finish the mural the next day and asked if he could work for him. “I already knew how to block, sand, and buff but with Flores I learned how to do candies and patterns.” After a year of working for him, Flores allowed him to help him pattern cars. “He would do tape them up and I would follow through. He would do one side and I would do another. I loved it!” Sal worked with him for about 13 years. Flores went on to paint hot rods and Sal stayed painting lowriders. “Benny is the one who inspired me to do this.”
Sal began painting candies on his own and it allowed him to travel all over the country. One of the most memorable places was New York. “I was out there with the guys from Drastic and I was able to see the twin towers a couple of months before 9/11 happened.” One of the issues with being a traveling painter is not having access to a paint booth. Sal has painted cars in garages, barns, and even storage containers.
He’s painted a lot of cars in his time but has never done one for himself. He currently has one in the works that he wants to build for his son Gael, who was born with a tumor. “It really hit me hard when I found out he was born with a tumor. I blamed myself for that because I wouldn’t wear a mask.” Sal was later found out that the tumor was most likely hereditary since a family member had one two years prior. His son is doing well and shows a lot of interest in some of the paintjobs that Sal has done.
These photos were taken at a rehab center in Tijuana, Mexico, were Sal donated his time to show a lot of the patients some of the tricks of the trade. I like showing these guys something and them make something out of it.
Sal has now been painting lowriders for almost 40 years. Throughout the years, he has remained humble and has always been willing to share his painting knowledge with other painters.
When we last spoke to Sal, he seemed ready to finally hang up his paint gun and retire, but gives thanks to God for everything he has done for him.