You know what is, I think at least, one of the most under-appreciated automotive subcultures in America? Lowrider culture. The cars that fall under the category of “lowriders” have a pretty amazing breadth: there’s one side of the spectrum that includes cars built with such intense and deep attention to detail and craftsmanship that they almost become like mobile, motorized cathedrals; and then there’s the other extreme, where big American land yachts are modified to leap into the air like 4,000 pound jackrabbits and come crashing back down to the ground, with all the exuberant violence of physics. We got to witness, up close, the latter part of the Lowrider spectrum, at the Galpin Car Show, in a surprisingly compact arena considering there were Lincolns and Monte Carlos hopping around. This is the Lowrider Hop.
A Lowrider hop is a pretty simple sort of competition, really: you get a bunch of lowriders in one place, and have them jump and hop as high as they can. As the legendary Mad Mike explained to me, you measure the height of the jump at the base of the front wheels. Before the jump, the rear suspension raises the car as high as possible, and then the suspension is chained to the frame of the car to, basically, keep the whole body from flying off, and the rear axle tends to get moved rearward, at least a bit, to push the fulcrum of the lever that the car becomes further back. This is technically cheating. You can watch the video here: (click WATCH MORE to see it on YouTube):
The frames are reinforced, and there’s hydraulic pumps in the car that provide the jumping force to get the thing off the ground. The power for these pumps comes from batteries that are packed as far rearward as possible, to act as a counterweight to get the front as high as it can possibly go.
And that’s where a bit of a conundrum happens: I call it the Overhang Conundrum, because the cars overhang – the body rearward of the rear axle – you want to be as long as possible, to get the heavy batteries (and fake, slightly cheaty 500lb rear bumpers) out as far as you can, for maximum leverage. But, when you have a long overhang, at some point it’s going to smash into the ground, reducing the height the front end can achieve.
Now, there are classes that allow the rear axle to go way, way, way back, not remotely stock at all, and in that case, you can just move that fulcrum way to the rear and get the best effect. But if you have a remotely stock-type lowrider, this is just a tradeoff you have to deal with.
It’s an incredible display, and the kind that it’s probably best you don’t think too much about while you’re there, right next to these jumping cars. One guy at the event did his hops “from the door,” meaning he did not have control boxes on long wires to actuate the solenoids that make the car jump, instead just standing in the open door of the car, hitting switches on the dash, while the whole car hops around him. It’s bonkers.
There’s really no other car competion quite like this one, as most tend to operate on the horizontal axis, while a Lowrider Hop is unashamedly vertical. It’s fun and nervy and loud and somewhat destructive-seeming, but a hell of a lot of fun, and you have to admire the engineering that goes into making these cars do things that the bean counters at GM never, ever intended.
So watch that video. It’s a blast, and you’ll learn what “potato chipping” is, too.