This article was originally published on Poetinis.
The engine of the midnight-blue, 1975 Chevrolet Camaro roars to life in my driveway. It is a Sunday night around 8:30 p.m. in mid-November; the air is crisp, and the full moon glows like a giant flashlight, shining on my brother, Elvis Arteaga, as he gets his ride ready. He rolls down his windows, turns on his newly-installed, blue LED floor lights, and connects his phone to the radio to blast a soundtrack for our adventure. He swings my bedroom door open and asks if I want to go with him. Excitedly rushing out the front door, I grab the nearest jacket from my closet and get in the passenger seat of the Camaro. He drives out of our driveway and away from our neighborhood to hit the East Los Angeles streets, where many gather for a regular meet-up. Driving into the streets with the rolled down windows, the wind begins to thwack my face with the smell of taco trucks and car smoke.
The event my brother and I are going to tonight is in Montebello. Turning onto the street where the meet-up is taking place, we spot a few other cars going in the same direction. The street begins with light traffic, but, suddenly, my brother starts hitting the brake every 10 seconds; we have just arrived at a huge jam. We hear stereos booming, along with the noise of people all gathered with their family and friends down the entire street, their classic cars parked in front of them. Random calls of “Aye!” and people laughing echo in the background as we drive down the street. The food stands of tacos and tortas are blended with the large crowds, and smoke is rising from them. The smell of the food trucks carries through the crowd and draws in long lines of folks ordering small meals while spending hours watching the parade of cars.
Classic cars automatically stand out with their assortment of colors, designs, and styles. All of them are squeaky clean; you can see the moonlight reflected in their tire shine. Each car has its own spotlight from the headlights of other cars.
Classic cars from all around East Los Angeles meet up together, mainly on Sunday nights, to take their rides for a spin and enjoy the other lovingly preserved classics. Many of these meet-ups happen on Whittier Boulevard along the streets of Montebello. Car shows began as a way to represent the car culture of East L.A. and the history these vehicles have carried for many generations.
The car shows integrate themselves into busy streets, either parked on the sides or driving in loops around the same streets. Anyone is welcome to stop or drive by them to record them. Meet-ups have been going on for many years, and were widely renowned in the 1970s, when more people owned or were intrigued by the rich history of these classic cars. Reasons vary from person to person; some have classic cars because they were passed down by family members, or it was a family project in which multiple generations worked to restore the car. For others, it is simply their personal passion to own one in order to attend these car shows as a hobby. Car culture is a community that brings people with the same passion together to share the pride they have of owning a classic car.
With one hand on the steering wheel, Arteaga drives down Whittier Boulevard, showing off his 1975 Chevrolet Camaro for all the cameras that are recording the cars cruising down the street. When I asked Arteaga why he decided to buy this car, his eyes shone proudly as he told me the significance it carries for him: “As a child, I have always wanted to have a Chevrolet classic, and, by the age of 18, I needed a vehicle and came across this beauty online.”
He enjoys coming to these car meets because he gets to meet other people with the same interests and discuss the next upgrades they have planned for their individual cars. Arteaga plans on continuing his passion and going to car shows around his area — along Whittier Boulevard, in East Los Angeles, or downtown Whittier. He mentioned that he plans on owning more classic vehicles and passing his passion to his future children. “Having these types of cars brings people together,” he said. “We are a community.”
We stop at a red light, and a man driving a 1954 Chevrolet Pickup Truck with a patina paint job stops next to us. He and Arteaga give each other a nod of approval and a thumbs up for the cars they each own. “Like I was saying,” Arteaga continued, “people own classic cars because of the sentimental value it holds to some of us.”
He told me that family values and togetherness are a big part of the culture around these classic cars, since parents or grandparents have often passed these cars down through the generations. These families enjoy bringing the cars back to life, as if it just came out of the dealership.
Looking around the streets, I noticed the family togetherness he brought up because, around each classic car, there is not one man alone. His wife, children, and friends are either all in the car, enjoying the ride and sights of other vehicles, or they are parked, standing next to the vehicle they own, laughing and talking to the families next to them. We park the Camaro next to some of my brother’s friends’ cars and go off into the chilly air to say hello. Our eyes are blinded by all the headlights shining down the street.
We met up with Jose Vivas, a middle-aged man who has been a fanatic of classic cars since he was very young. He is with his nephew, Ignacio Carrillo, who is also planning on owning a classic car in the future. Ignacio, also known as ‘Nacho’ to his closest friends, is a hardworking young man in his 20s with a lighthearted personality. As a side hustle, he cleans cars and has turned that into his own small business with loyal customers. Carrillo wipes his beard while eating some tacos and mentions to me that he likes going to the car shows to see the different styles of cars. “I get to talk to different people with the same love for classic cars and talk about different modifications they have done to their vehicle and exchange ideas,” he said. “Classic cars are appealing, and each one has its own character.”
When coming to these car shows, the uniqueness of each car is obvious. No car is the exact same, nor does it carry the same significance. These vehicles represent the owner’s lifestyle and their own unique style. Carrillo does not have any classic cars at the moment, but he is planning on it for the future, so he can share the culture with his children.
Jose Vivas is the proud owner of a silver 1969 Chevrolet Nova Super Sport since the age of 25. His car has two black racing stripes that extend throughout the hood, roof, and onto the trunk. Before owning this car, Vivas had a yellow 1972 Chevrolet Nova but decided to sell it and buy himself the silver 1969 Nova instead.
“Why do classic cars intrigue you? Do they carry a sentimental value?” I ask him. Leaning back against the hood of his silver classic car, he responds while tracing his hands along the black racing stripes. “My dad had an almost identical car like this one when he lived in Mexico. It brings me back so many good memories.”
Vivas mentions that the paint job and the racing stripes were the same as his dad’s car. His dad would take him on many rides when he was younger, so having one for himself now is a very meaningful accomplishment for him.
Ezequiel Mares, a 23-year-old who has been involved in car culture since his childhood thanks to his family, who lived near Whittier Boulevard in the ‘90s, now owns three Chevrolet C10 trucks from the years 1970 – ‘72. His passion began around this time his family began to take him on Sunday nights to see the classic cars drive down Whittier Boulevard. Mares still plans on owning a couple more classic vehicles. “It takes a lot of time and money to restore a classic,” he said. Nonetheless, he says, the beauty and history a classic car carries within itself is worth it.
Whittier Boulevard is deeply rooted in its culture of classic cars. With the weekly meet-ups and enthusiasm of the people, the classic car events will continue being a vibrant tradition. Classic car ownership is costly and time-consuming, but people do it out of passion and take pride in the vehicles, which is apparent through the upgrades, modifications, and designs they add onto them.
Throughout the evening, many historical vehicles drove by us, each car behind one another having its special moment in the spotlight. Volkswagen buses and Beetles, Lowriders, Chevrolet Novas and Corvettes, Ford Mustangs, and so many more radiant wheels are cruising the streets of the Whittier area. Sitting in the passenger seat with my window rolled down and having Donnie Elbert’s song, “What Can I Do,” blast on the radio, I pull my phone from my jacket and hit the record button, like everyone else, to capture the scintillating classics.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Eastsider L.A.