It’s the end of rush hour on a Thursday afternoon when a custom Acura—black and low-slung with glossy ground effects and a spoiler on the back so big it could double as a lunch counter—screeches into the parking lot of the Lowrider Shop. A seismic bass riff escapes from inside the car. The driver, a woman who appears to be in her late 30s, leans out the window and calls out to Victor Carrillo, the shop’s owner. “I need those tweeters put in,” she says, with a note of pleading in her voice. “You busy?”
“I’m always busy,” Carrillo yells back, flashing a million-dollar smile. “I got two cars ahead of you. Come back in an hour and I’ll fix you up.”
Nearly three years ago Carrillo opened the Lowrider Shop, located along Haywood Road in West Asheville. He doesn’t know how many cars he’s worked on since then. (“I’m not into paperwork,” he claims.) He is a welder by trade, and until recently put his skills to work building hangars to house B-52 bombers. Now his talents are used to more peaceful ends, although the word “detonation” springs to mind when he turns up the bass on a stereo he’s installing on a ‘70s-vintage Buick Riviera. A sticker pasted nearby says “IF IT’S TOO LOUD YOU’RE TOO OLD,” and hey, point well taken.
By reputation and word of mouth, Carrillo keeps a steady traffic of custom projects going through his shop, where he buffs the generic away from stock vehicles and brings the custom in the form of chrome grilles, halogen fog lights, headlight guards, aero kits, spoilers, stereos, speaker enclosures, full hydraulic suspension systems, custom wheels and “Lamborghini doors,” which swing upwards to give even the most nondescript sedan the appearance of an insect in flight. More recently, Carrillo has developed an affection for “train horns,” a series of trumpets bolted to a car’s undercarriage, capable of loosening the bowels with a single blast. Need a paint job? No problem, vato. He’s “got a guy” who does that.
The Lowrider Shop is a nexus of social activity—across the age spectrum, across ethnic groups, across income brackets. The unifier is the automobile and its potential for transformation. Beyond the irregular parade of clients and their rides, on any given afternoon, Carrillo’s wife, Maria, is in the shop as well, keeping accounts straight and working the register. And when school’s out, the couple’s three children invade it to play video games, clamber over stacks of tires and, in the case of their eldest son, Victor, help out.
The woman drives off, and Carrillo gestures to a Chevy Tahoe parked nearby. It looks a little tired, a little worked over, with its faded paint and dirty rims. Just wait, he says. “I’m gonna do a body kit. I’m gonna paint the whole truck, put wheels on it, lower it. Inside, the whole interior is gonna be different, from top to bottom.”
“This one,” he says, “is gonna be so nice.”