Damn, I love living in Los Angeles. I’ve been extremely fortunate – my photographic career and personal interests have led me all over the world, and I’ve been lucky enough to experience automotive culture in other countries like Japan, Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Greece, the UK, and more. However, there’s just something about the car culture in Southern California.
Los Angeles is a melting pot of many cultures, so the car culture in Southern California is diverse as well – this place is ground zero for modified cars! Los Angeles has automotive heritage that spans from the first hot rodders and dry lakebed racers in the 1940s and 1950s to the evolution of the European and Japanese car scenes on US shores that began in the late 1960s and continues strong until today. People complain about all the smog and traffic and crappy roads in LA, but we’re lucky – as far as I’m concerned, we have it all.
As Southern California car culture evolved from traditional handcrafted V8 powered hot rods to include the modification of small bore, high power output Japanese cars, our car scene truly has come full circle. It may be difficult for some to grasp this, but today, one of the most popular events in Southern California celebrating hot rods and the culture behind them is actually run by a group of hardcore hot rodders from Japan! The event I speak of is the annual Mooneyes Christmas Party at Irwindale Speedway, and year after year, it captivates me like it was my very first car show. Year after year, the Mooneyes Christmas Party remains paramount in my mind as the very best hot rod event I’ve ever attended.
This car is always a familiar and welcome sight. This masterful example of raw metal and patina is owned by CePe of the Dead Sleds. I met him several years back, and I actually have a ton of photos of his car. My first encounter with the guy was actually kind of funny:
The Dead Sleds always have a big presence at Mooneyes. When I initially approached the big group of Latino guys drinking underneath the Dead Sleds banner to find out who owned the car, I thought to myself, “I hope these guys are cool. They sure don’t look very friendly.” Since I’m Asian with a shaved head, they probably thought I looked like a guy who drives a car with neon lights and a big ass wing. Haha! One of the guys pointed me towards the leader of the crew, interrupting what looked to be an important cellphone conversation, saying, “Hey CePe, this guy is looking for you.” (WTF? Nice introduction, man…)
When I introduced myself and our website to CePe, I was shocked as hell. Instead of the “Oh yeah? What the hell do you want?” response I was expecting, the leader of the Dead Sleds crew responded with… “Oh yeah! Man, I’ve seen your photos online. You got this bad ass photo of my car last year. I got that shit as my wallpaper on my phone.”
Wow. I was surprised as hell. That was pretty damn cool. Turns out that CePe and his unfriendly-looking Dead Sleds crew were pretty damn cool. And I was completely floored and honored by what he said. Crazy.
One thing I like about going to hot rod shows like Mooneyes is the fact that most of the people at the event don’t know me. Therefore, they don’t notice me as much (even though I have a huge white lens hanging on my shoulder), and as a result, I’m able to fade into the background and capture some cool candid images. I lucked out and captured this “private moment” shared by a couple in the backseat of a car as they were being driven off into the sunset. I bet the spacious back seats of these slammed kustoms are used for some pretty interesting activities.
While many of the cars at Mooneyes had rusty body panels or satin paint (or primer), there were also quite a few that placed some effort into the details of their paint and bodywork! Just look at the detail that went into the restoration of this gorgeous Chevrolet Impala station wagon! The hood emblem, chrome grill and headlight surrounds are pristine. The bumpers and period license plate were also incredibly clean. This thing was AMAZING.
Check out the super clean paint and bodywork on this wagon. I noticed it had interesting looking chrome shade things on the rear hatch. Presumably they’re sun deflectors? I dunno. But man… look at that clean red interior?! Gorgeous.
Continuing with the theme of gorgeous things clad in black and red, I bumped into my friend Sharon aka “Lil Bit” at the show, who caught my eye and captured my attention when she was competing in last year’s Mooneyes Pin Up Girl Competition. She wasn’t even modeling in this year’s pin up girl competition, but while all the other guys with cameras were busy snapping photos of the girls on the poorly lit stage… I stole her away from the pinup trailer and asked her to take a couple photos with me. She agreed, as long as she could bring her beer… and who am I to deny her that right?
Check her out in this photo! With this pose, I think she looks like a Latina version of Marilyn in the famous Seven Year Itch photo! I was lucky to get this capture… right as she was taking off her skirt. LOL. Sometimes my timing is impeccable. But it all just boils down to luck.
How about a Lil Bit of Cadillac love? If this were the 1940s, this is the type of scene you’d want to paint on the side of a B-17 bomber plane (obviously these Cadillacs are not from the 1940s)… but that’s a long lost art. Nowadays, all you see is Our Lady of Guadalupe on the back of a truck tailgate, or stick figure families on the rear window of a Tahoe on Dubs.
One thing that has always fascinated me about Southern California’s lowrider culture is the need for car owners to represent their crews and where they’re from. I love it. The rear window of this Chevy caught my eye because it had a gold butcher knife in the rear window! This guy was representing Auto Butchers from East Los.
It’s interesting that a car club would call themselves the Auto Butchers, because when my friends and I use the term “butchered” when referring to a car, it usually used in the context that the owner royally screwed up their car, cutting things that shouldn’t be cut or lowering the value of a classic car by repainting it a ridiculous color even though it already had clean original paint and body. However, by looking at this particular car from the Auto Butchers, it looked completely legit to me. It might look even better if it had period correct speaker grills (or hidden speakers) on the rear deck, but I do understand that many of the cars at the Mooneyes Xmas Party are works (of art) in progress.
One super stylish frame dragger that caught my eye was this bad ass roadster. It had an awesome mix of personality that comes only from custom handiwork and ingenuity. This was a traditional hot rod with rust and patina on the body panels, but not TOO MUCH rust. These days, some car builders overdo the whole rust thing, just ruining their car bodies… but in my opinion, this particular roadster was a good example of how to do it right. I especially loved the burgundy hued classic wheels with chrome caps and outer lips, with clean, classy Firestone piecrust slicks. Very nice!
I also loved the more subtle touches on the car – like the leather straps holding down the pinstriped rear trunk door and the matching plaid blanket strapped down to the rear trunklid.
One thing that immediately caught my eye was this awesome intake pipe sitting on the carburetor, which looks like it was made from some sort of headlight bucket! Awesome.
Aside from all the old school whips in attendance, one of the coolest thing about “lifestyle” events like Mooneyes is the fact that a lot of stylish hot rod honeys are always in the crowd. I’m not necessarily talking about the contestants in the pin-up girl competitions. Actually, most of the attractive women in the crowd were just eventgoers kicking back with their car clubs as they barbecued carne asada, having drinks with friends or shopping for pieces of hotrod memorabilia in the vendor row. Either way, many of these ladies looked incredible and sexy; all done up with hair, makeup, vintage dresses and tattoos to match the lifestyle they love so much.
Many of these inked ladies wore their emotions on their sleeves. Some had tats that told stories; some did not. Either way, they were all bound by their love of ink and iron.
While many people in the crowd were dressed in era appropriate clothing, it didn’t stop them from taking advantage of technology. As I walked throughout the show, I saw all sorts of females on their iPhones – Instagramming no doubt. Check the @MOTORMAVENS and @AntonioSureshot feeds for mobile phone photos from Mooneyes, and click the geotag so you can see all the photos that eventgoers were publishing from the event!
The ladies weren’t the only ones dipped out in fresh gear for the show. There were plenty of motorcyclists cruising the parking lot of the show, rocking custom built choppers, bobbers and cafe racers, with stylish jackets, custom painted helmets, and old school goggles or sunglasses.
It was awesome to see some familiar faces at the show! I ran into my boy Sid from the legendary Southern Cali Honda crew, Phaze2, as I was cruising through the parking lot. I didn’t expect to see him at Mooneyes – I think the last time I saw Sid was at a Nisei Showoff, where he was displaying his Integra’s incredibly clean wire tucked engine bay and polished Work Equip wheels.
Instead of his frame dragging Integ, Sid was out at Mooneyes with his rusty Volkswagen Beetle. When I took a close look at the car, I discovered that it had a really awesome light blue color painted on the dash and inner parts of the doors. Sid mentioned that the car was originally light blue, but he rusted the outside of the car because he liked the look.
I know that rusty cars are popular these days, but as a guy that owns several old cars, I’m not sure if I could bring myself to add surface rust to body panels of my car if they weren’t already rusty! I think I would freak the hell out. One thing that’s for sure though… Sid and his crew are known for super clean engine bays, so he had some fresh brushed aluminum air horns bolted up to his air cooled VW motor. These velocity stacks looked stood out A LOT in contrast to the rusty exterior!
Aside from rusty panels, satin paint is also commonly found on cars at the Mooneyes Xmas Party. I think this car might have been another member of the Dead Sleds crew. I’m not sure though.
Satin paint and rust certainly have their place in the automotive scene, and certainly look dope when they’re pulled off well… but damn! Look at the paint and body on this old school Buick Riviera!!! SICKKKKK.
As they were driving out the venue, I wonder what song these guys were listening to in this humongous Cadillac. If it were me driving the Caddy, I might be bumping Outkast – SouthernplayalistikCadillacfunkymusic.
Damn, that thing is super long! (That’s what she said.) I have so many photos to go through… we’ll have many MORE photos from Mooneyes posted up in just a few, so check back frequently! If YOU attended the Mooneyes event this year (or previous years), please share your photos with other members of the MotorMavens Community by posting them up in our Reader’s Blog!!!
Back to editing – I’ll publish more photos from Mooneyes very soon!
:: Antonio Alvendia