Meet the SoCal Car Club Bringing Souped Up Motors to Lowriding

Vernon Maxwell custom engine, courtesy of his Facebook.

The art of lowriding has changed quite a bit in the 60+ years since it was born in the post-WWII Mexican-American barrios of the West Coast and Southwest. At today’s massive lowrider shows, you’ll still see the classic Chevrolet Impalas with 100-spoke rims and 24k gold-plated Daytons, and gleaming, three-stage metal flake paint jobs. But while the cars’ exteriors may look just like the tricked out cruisers that once rolled down Whittier Boulevard in the 60s and 70s, beneath their hoods you’d find something new: engines capable of 2-3 times the horsepower.

“We used to be low and slow, but under the hood, we weren’t doing that much,” Lowrider Magazine editor Joe Ray told the LA Times. “Then we started investing in performance.”

The Ultimate Riders Car Club, a group of lowriders based in Inland Empire, have become one of the leading faces of this new chapter in lowriding – one that not only values creativity in a car’s outer appearance or its hydraulic lift systems, but also focuses on drivetrains. The club’s co-founder Vernon Maxwell (who goes by “V-Max”) says he started installing these big engines in the cars about five years ago, choosing LS motors from later model Chevrolet Corvettes instead of the old school 60s V-8 engines.

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Growing up in South Central LA, V-Max would spend time sitting in a Church’s Chicken, watching some of the city’s top car clubs, like Individuals and Stylistics, cruise by. Eventually, he began building hydraulic lift systems for lowriders, and entering his customized cars in competitions. “It was my ’63 Chevy “King of the Streets” that really put me on the map,” he told Lowrider Magazine. “Soon, my phone was ringing off the hook with people wanting me to fix up their cars. I found myself at photo shoots with Ice Cube, Mack 10, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Gwen Stefani, just to name a few.”

V-Max’s real claim to fame was putting a new LS engine with two carbs and stroker in a lowrider – something no one had ever done before.

V-Max’s real claim to fame, however, was the idea to put a new LS engine with two carbs and stroker in a lowrider – something no one had ever done before. His signature LS engine approach has made him one of SoCal’s most prominent lowrider builders today, one who Lowrider Magazine calls “one of the lowriding community’s most influential car builders and trendsetters.” It has also made him a major prizewinner. At his Riverside shop Ultimate Hydraulics, his multiple “Best in Show” trophies are on display in the showroom.

Together with co-founder Greg Dixon, V-Max launched the Ultimate Riders car club in 1998, which has since become known for the fleet he’s built over the years. “We both believed that for a club to have longevity in the Lowrider game, it really has to have a great set of values and an extremely committed group of members,” Dixon explained.  “The last thing we’d need would be a bunch of cats that aren’t about Lowriding and family.”

Today, the club is helping evolve the supercharged future of lowriding. Still, despite the changes under the hood, the updated motors haven’t changed lowriding’s traditional roots, say club members. The cars may be easier and more fun to operate, but old-fashioned cruising is por siempre.

Lowriders is set against the vibrant backdrop of East LA’s near-spiritual car culture and follows the story of Danny, a talented young street artist caught between the lowrider world inhabited by his old-school father and ex-con brother, and the adrenaline-fueled outlet that defines his self-expression. Lowriders is out in theaters on May 12. Watch the trailer below: