Lowriding is an art that pushes car technology to the limits. Car Clubs members are like family and lowriders spend decades restoring cars to exactly how they looked and rode in the 1960s and 1970s. While lowriders are mostly men, Marisa Rosales is one of the exceptions. She is the only woman within the 13-member Dukes car club.
Marisa’s car has won many awards. She won 1st place in Extreme Autofest in July 2015 for the ‘40s Custom category. She also won 1st place at the 2014 Grand National Roadster Show. Her boyfriend is part of Klique where they don’t allow women, but Marisa doesn’t mind. She says the 12 guys in Dukes car club are all like her brothers.
Her only car nowadays is the one she’s had for 24 years. It’s a 1949 Hudson Brom. When Marisa was about 21, her boyfriend bought this car. That was back in 1991. Marisa explains, “I do a little bit, but I don’t paint. I don’t do upholstery. I send it to the shops for that. I assembled all the chrome you see on it. I detailed the engine. I had all the chrome and accessories on the engine, they were done at home.”
Mar Vista Wouldn’t Let Her Take Auto Shop
Born in Los Angeles, as a child Marisa lived in Tijuana with her stay-at-home mom. Her father, a baker, worked in Los Angeles during the week and then would visit the family on weekends. At the age of eight, Marisa was sent to live with an aunt in Imperial Beach where she could attend an American school.
“I’ve actually always been into cars ever since I was a little girl,” Marisa says. “Ever since I was little I would play with hot wheels. I would sit on my mom’s porch and just watch the cars go by. I always loved cars.”
She explains, “My first car I had when I was sixteen. It was a little Toyota Corona. I mixed spot putty, which is lime green, with paint thinner and I sprayed it on the bottom to make it look like a little racing stripe and then it had little aluminum rims.”
When Marisa enrolled in Mar Vista high school, she kept signing up for auto shop, but they put her in home economics instead. Finally, in her senior year Mar Vista allowed her to take a class in auto shop. However, during that school year, “I had a heat stroke in class, because they put some trailers in the back and there was no air conditioning and it was hot and I suffer from heat strokes. So I had a heat stroke and they said I was high on drugs, so they kicked me out of school.”
Marisa ended up at an adult school. While there, she was allowed to do all her electives in auto shop. That’s how she got into working on cars. She also went right from graduating adult school to getting her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in sociology from SDSU. She’s been a child welfare services worker for the County of San Diego for the last fifteen years, investigating child abuse.
While she worked and raised her son as a single mom, her hobby became fixing up cars. “At one point I had about 5 cars, but I wasn’t doing much. I also had a ’67 El Camino. That car I fixed up and that car was show worthy. I could take it to shows. I had a ’49 pick-up, I had a ’48 Fleetline and I had a ’37 Pontiac Indian. Those cars I got rid of because they were just rusting away.”
It was the 1949 Hudson, her only classic car, that got her into the Dukes car club. She has been perfecting its features for 24 years.
The 1949 Hudson Brom
Originally an older gentleman in San Ysidro owned the car. There was a yard out there full of Hudsons. When the gentleman passed away, his heirs started selling the cars. A friend of Marisa’s boyfriend bought the Hudson and parked it in the Tijuana River Valley. It sat in a backyard of a house off Hollister Street. That house was washed away during the floods of the 1990s. Marisa’s boyfriend found the Hudson, bought it and put it in Marisa’s backyard. Then, tragically, Marisa’s boyfriend died of pancreatitis at the age of 32. His Hudson was the only thing he owned. Now, it was Marisa’s.
Marisa decided she was going to fix up the Hudson in her boyfriend’s memory. In the beginning, there was no engine, transmission or interior. It was just a body and tires. She bought the transmission from another friend. The motor was empty, so she saved the money to buy one. She went to military surplus stores and walked down the aisles with a cart, picking parts. The parts of the back of the Hudson were aircraft parts for landing gear. “Bombay doors for B-2 bombers. These are the mechanisms that would open those doors or bring down the wheels on the airplanes. This is the hydraulics that they would put on their cars. This is all aircraft military surplus.”
Working on her Hudson happened very slowly. “Because I wasn’t making a lot of money, I was going to college and I had a little boy, so I was working on this little by little,” Marisa said. “I actually got a little lowrider bike for my son, so I could keep him involved too. I would put the bike on the back of the El Camino and me and my son would go to car shows.”
Marisa seems unbothered by the majority of males. She admits, “I know there’s still reservations regarding having females in car clubs. Some car clubs are very patriarchal.” But for Marisa, it’s really about working on the cars. Nowadays the lowriders are focused on fixing their show cars to match the high standards of competitions. The days of protests, political rallying cries or anger over the no-cruising ordinances are over. Lowriding is not really a political thing to do, and hasn’t been for a long time. Instead, as many lowriders explain, “It’s a way of life.”