Ben Chappell
University of Texas Press, Austin, TX, 2012, English
Nonfiction, Product/Industrial Design
6 x 9 inches, hardcover, 256 pages, 36 black-and-white photographs, 3 maps, color photographs
ISBN: 9780292737860
Suggested Retail Price: $55.00

From the Publisher. Aren’t lowriders always gangbangers? And, don’t they always hold high status in their neighborhoods? Contrary to both stereotypes, the people who build and drive lowrider cars perform diverse roles while mobilizing a distinctive aesthetic that is sometimes an act of resistance and sometimes of belonging. A fresh application of critical ethnographic methods, Lowrider Space looks beyond media portrayals, high-profile show cars, and famous cruising scenes to bring readers a realistic tour of the “ordinary” lowriders who turn streetscapes into stages on which dynamic identities can be performed.

Drawing on firsthand participation in everyday practices of car clubs and cruising in Austin, Texas, Ben Chappell challenges histories of erasure, containment, and class immobility to emphasize the politics of presence evidenced in lowrider custom car style. Sketching out a partially personal map of the lowrider presence in Texas’s capital city, Chappell also explores the interior and exterior adornment of the cars (including the use of images of women’s bodies) and the intersecting production of personal and social space. As he moves through a second-hand economy to procure parts necessary for his own lowrider vehicle, on “service sector” wages, themes of materiality and physical labor intersect with questions of identity, ultimately demonstrating how spaces get made in the process of customizing one’s self.

On 1 book list
Phil Patton

Sports cars like Porsche can spawn near fanatic cults—even among designers. So can lesser vehicles, such as the 1960s Chevrolets that serve as the basis of Texas “lowriders”—hydraulically modified and painted cars created in Mexican American communities. This book looks at what might be called the anthropology of design and customization. It is written by Ben Chappell, an assistant professor of American Studies at the University of Kansas who spent time with groups of lowriders in Austin. He reports that early ‘60s Chevys are the quintessential lowriders. “A ‘61 to ‘64 Chevy Impala would be perfect. And there are practical and mechanical reasons for that. The frame of the Impala is really good for hydraulics. It’s a very solid car. There are lots of flat surfaces for murals. But it also represents the past to people whose families were entering the middle class in the ‘60s. That was a time there was more consciousness about Mexican American identity, and people trying to become more visible in American society.”

Just as motorcycle gangs have morphed from semi criminal outfits to more social ones, the gangs with which lowriders are associated in pop culture are frequently anti gangs—alternatives to less savory outfits in the same neighborhoods. The cars form a basis for local clubs that function like the backers of teams or hunting or social clubs. “If you have a hydraulic suspension, you can actually make the car bounce, you can ride on three wheels, you can do all kinds of tricks that really make it stand out in traffic or at a car show. That’s the signature modification that defines a lowrider.” Car customization is a social medium too.


comments powered by Disqus