Lowriders can be seen from coast to coast in the United States and a number of other countries have these vehicles making their presence known in them as well. These vehicles are called lowriders because the ride very low to the ground because of the hydraulic system in the vehicle. Part of this came from necessity out of the Hispanic community in the US after World War II because many couldn’t afford new vehicles. It then evolved into a new style and eventually the modern hydraulic vehicle was developed so lowriders could also be street legal.
Although the actual inventor of lowriders is highly debated, the one fact that isn’t debated is that the first known lowrider came out of a shop that was run by Harry Westergard. As a pioneer of custom cars, he also loved racing them. He died doing what he loved, going at least 100 mph in a race and hitting a tree after a car swerved in front of him.
Westergard Began Building Cars In the 1930’s
Although Westergard is known for his custom building work after World War II, especially with the lowriders that came out of his shop, his custom vehicle work began in the late 1930’s. He did all of the work out of his garage for some time and he was known for the fast 1930 Ford Model A roadster tat he drove. He’d race the car against others, often just a block or two ahead of police officers attempting to pull them over.
This continued until World War II and Westergard served in the military for a brief period of time during the war. After it was over and the racing was back on, he formed a club to legitimize custom builds and work to eliminate the stigma of criminal activity associated with it. The first club was the Capitol Auto Club, which eventually became the Thunderbolts Car Club.
Westergard might have been known for his custom building skills, but friends and the local community also knew him for his mentoring skills. Just about every day, the local high school kids who were interested in cars, mechanical work, or just wanted to have a good time would show up at Westergard’s backyard shop to learn from the man. He would show them all how to do things to their own vehicles that would help them look better.
What Brought About the Idea of the Lowrider?
Westergard had a heart for helping people. With so many not being able to afford a vehicle after the war, they were forced into the used market to get vehicles that could barely run, much less be a reliable vehicle to drive. These vehicles would be customized to give them some personality and riding low became a popular method – so popular that police began ticketing these vehicles because they weren’t street legal.
Over time, lowriders developed into the tricky hydraulic systems seen in some vehicles today that allow them to bounce or drive at different angles, yet still return to a street legal clearance when necessary. It also led to the practice of scraping, which would happen when the rear of a vehicle was dropped to lightly scrape the ground while driving. To prevent damage from occurring, high grade steel was added to these vehicles.
Harry Westergard was a custom vehicle pioneer who was unfortunately taken from this world too soon. Despite this, his innovations continue to live on today with every custom vehicle in some small way.
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