“In the ’90s I kinda didn’t really have a style yet and lowriders didn’t really appeal to me as much as maybe, say, pro street cars at the time. It wasn’t until a few years later when I started getting into early ’60s styling, like Larry Watson, Andy Southern, and Don Varner. But I didn’t like the Barris cars or the Dick Dean stuff much at all. Junior Conway stuff is good and after doing a lot of research I came to the conclusion that a lot of the customizers were going way out on a limb, being crazy with their design for the sake of being crazy. Once Sam Barris died and to me George was doing his own thing, well those George cars were ugly.” Aaron instead really took a liking to the street customs from the ’60s to early ’70s stuff. “And that’s when those custom cars started to become lowriders, in the ’70s where it was kinda hard to tell the difference between a custom car and a lowrider, because lowriders weren’t as crazy then as they are now. The paintjobs weren’t as crazy and the wheel and tire combinations they used then aren’t what they use now. They hardly used 13-inch wheels; they were mainly running 14s and they were running mags, so those cars were still very interesting and the paint they had was real interesting as far as customs went—mild modifications with tasteful but intricate paint design.” When asked how he approaches a project, Aaron had this to say: “As far as a ’50s car, you can fit the style to any vintage car if done right. But as far as say a ’40s-60s, there’s a ’60s/’70s style you can delve into with those models, makes, whatever.” As for the U.S. Kustoms style of car? “It’d be ’60s blended with ’90s touches, like the blue ’53 Chevy I built was considered like that. In fact if I were to raise the car it’d be a gasser with the wheels and white-walled slicks, the stance brings it into the ’90s because it’d be considered pro street but the wheel and tire combo kinda takes it away from that look. So it’s kind of a blend, a mix of styles that many find appealing. While the green Chevy is pretty much pure ’60s styling with the most influence being that of Don Varner, Watson is a huge influence, but Varner’s paintjobs were just pretty crazy and I take a lot of cues from his stuff. But as far as lowriders and customs, there is a fine line. My cars are considered lowriders to most people around here in New Mexico. You know they’re low, running Supreme wheels, with the difference being I’m running 15-inch Supremes instead of 13-inch Supremes, and there’s probably more modifications on my cars than a normal lowrider would have on their rides out here. But you know to the layman it’s low and it has a lot of flake, so it’s a lowrider.” So would Aaron’s cars be lowriders if they ran wire wheels and smaller tires? “I couldn’t picture my car on wire wheels, uh, I couldn’t tell you, [laughing]! Um, if they had 15-inch Buick wires on it, it’d still be custom, street custom. If you put 13s on it, I don’t even know; it would be weird, yeah!”
Conrad Garcia, Los Angeles, California, curator of the Charlie Lopez Mercury
Conrad Garcia has been immersed in the Southern California car scene since his high school days. His first real passion was the VW Bug that seemed to be everywhere in the early ’80s. Having several killer Vee-Dubs over the years, Conrad soon elevated his knowledge of custom cars when he got into lowriders and classic GMs. Heavy into Chevy iron, Conrad has quite a collection of rare rides, including a certain kustom that was hot back in the ’70s and early ’80s.