Annual lowrider show gleams in downtown Bakersfield

Mar. 18—Longtime judges Bobby Morris and Chavi Perez have a weird way of looking at nice cars. For every feature added — body modifications, engine packages, color-matched wheels — they see a vacation postponed, another couple of years without replacing that old TV.

"A lot of people here don't go on vacation," Morris said. "They'd rather chrome their bumpers or put a new motor in. If you're the common man, you gotta give something up to compete here."

The two are a part of this year's Show and Shine car show, hosted by Carnales Unidos car club in downtown Bakersfield. Typically featured at the Kern County Fairgrounds, it was held this year along 17th Street. The event boasted all the typical fanfare and machismo of a classic car expo.

Around 300 cars and plenty more bikes were entered, categorized for contests into subgroups, depending on the era and type of vehicle. Stretched along five blocks of 17th Street, there were Impalas and Roadsters puttering their horsepower for passing judges, hydraulically raised Cadillacs, and Midwestern favorites such as Studebakers and Packards. Several sedans were adorned with exotic paint jobs, from airbrushed candy cane to mango stardust.

Morris and Perez were assigned to '90s cars and trucks, along with motorcycles.

"There's a lot but thank God, it's not that many," Perez said. "Normally on the big show it'll go from stock, to semi or soft-street — it's a ton, man."

If Los Angeles is the capital of the nation's iconic car scene, then Bakersfield is its younger cousin. Many of this show's participants tried and failed to get into the invitational meet in L.A. at the end of the month. Whereas in a big show one can get money and fame, here it's all for a plaque and pride.

"Lowriders are the culture of California and L.A. is definitely the capital," said Eli Lovato, a longtime contestant who laughed at the mention of going electric. "But that doesn't mean we don't have some mean-looking cars here."

His car is named Red Rose, a 1951 Chevy Bel Air hardtop. "She's my baby — besides my wife," Lovato said, laughing. "This is my last car, unless I come across a convertible."

Each car is judged for how meticulous and rakish it is restored, and maintained. Several owners were seen wiping and rewiping their hoods and scraping the mud off their flaps.

When asked about placing, Lovato said he's placed several times before. "But that's not really important here, man," he said. "Most people just come out to reconnect and support each other. Plus it's not good to worry too much about the car, because you eventually got to drive it out of here."