For a contrivance once dubbed a "horseless carriage," automobiles have come a long way. They've sparked more admiration, ingenuity, creativity and artistry than just about any other product of the human mind.
St. Paul resident Rickie Sanders is a fan of the low rider, a style as unique as the hot rod, the sports car and the dragster. Yet while those machines are designed for speed, low riders are built for cruising at an easy pace, or for enjoyment just standing still. Instead of being jacked up to go fast, they're dropped down to move slowly. The men and women who build and enjoy low riders have done as much to expand these cars' potential and appeal as any other group of gearheads or hobbyists.
Sanders has always loved low riders. He bought his first car, a 1964 Chevy Impala SS, when he was 18. At that time, he didn't have the experience to do the work himself, so he had a shop fit the parts he had in mind - custom rims and hydraulic lifts. Smaller rims will put a car close to the ground, but air bags or hydraulic systems can vary ride height as desired. Sanders had hydraulics fitted to the four corners of his '64 Impala, allowing the car to do some pretty amazing stuff.
If you haven't seen what today's low riders can do, you're in for a surprise - you might even think it's time for an eye exam. Sanders had his '64 Impala set up for "3-wheel motion." By adjusting the hydraulic lifts between the body and road wheels, a driver can keep three tires on the road while hanging the fourth wheel in the air. Raising and lowering corners independently, operators can make their cars look animated, doing things the rest of us thought were possible only in cartoons.
Many low riders are capable of "hopping." This move involves bouncing the front end up and down so energetically it can rise five feet off the ground. It's not uncommon for the back bumper to touch the pavement. Many low rider owners raise the back hydraulics first, so when the car's front end goes way up there's more rear-end clearance. Hopping low riders bounce so forcefully, owners don't even sit inside to do the trick. Instead, they stand next to the vehicle with a wired switchbox operating the low rider like a full-size remote-control car.
Not only can the wildest low riders hop, some dance. Imagine a car stepping and swaying like a world-class dressage horse and you have a feel for what a dancing low rider can do.
Along with the inventiveness these cars showcase, Sanders also likes the inclusive, family nature of low rider culture. Wives, husbands, sons and daughters are always welcome at low rider get-togethers. Many have low riders of their own - Sanders' five-year-old daughter Tamar and twelve-year-old son Robby have low-rider bicycles. This lifestyle of cars and family so appealed to Sanders that he started the Minnesota chapter of Rollerz Only, an international low-rider club with shows and rides all over the country. (Los Padrinos is another well established and popular Twin Cities low-rider club.)
In the warm months, Sanders says, "we meet every weekend and we even meet during the week." He and fellow club members work on their own cars and help other people who might be trying to hook up some of the complicated gear that makes low riders move like no other automobiles. After his '64 Impala, Sanders built a '61 Impala convertible that he sold to a buyer in Japan. Lately, he's been building low-rider Cadillacs. His current project involves cutting a '96 four-door hardtop Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham into a two-door convertible.