Culver City Native Carries on Thunder Alley Tradition
Photography by Yoav Gilad
Over the years, Culver City, California has churned out more than its share of legends. In the late-1930s, Judy Garland and Company danced their way down a certain yellow brick road as they made “The Wizard of Oz” on the old MGM lot. Howard Hughes, possessed by images of flying boats, built his H-4 Hercules transport plane (better known as the Spruce Goose) here in the 1940s.
Even amidst Southern California’s fertile car culture, Culver City stands out. Ever since land values skyrocketed in Beverly Hills, forcing the Los Angeles Speedway–a 1.25-mile wooden board track with 35 degree banked corners–to move to Culver City in 1924, this suburb of Los Angeles has been home to an automotive elite. Men such as Vic Edelbrock, Jim Travers and Frank Coon (known together as the legendary builders of the Traco engines that powered cars like the Penske Ferrari 512M), Edward “Isky” Iskendarian, and Dick “Mr. Corvette” Guldstrand transformed a small stretch of South Jefferson Boulevard into “Thunder Alley,” in the process making Culver City synonymous with high performance.
It was against this backdrop that Luis Loyola–along with men like Steve Hogue, Mark Jarel, and Frank Honsowetz, profiled in these pages previously–came of age, attending Culver City High at a time when public schools still boasted a wood shop, auto shop, and leather shop. This environment gave car-obsessed kids like Loyola both the inspiration and the resources to indulge their passion, though it did not necessarily provide specific instructions as to how one made a living with this obsession.
A true product of Culver City, Loyola loved cars and surfing but, upon graduating from high school in 1979, he had no idea how to turn these interests into income. The closest thing he could find was a job as a tow truck driver, which supported his surfing and gearhead habits even if it wasn’t exactly his dream job.
One day, Loyola got a call to deliver a Porsche Speedster from West Los Angeles to a local trade school, where it was to serve as a project car for the students learning to do interior work. After unloading the Porsche, he wandered around the school and peppered a shop instructor with questions about the program. Three months later, he got himself switched to the swing swift at the towing company, bought himself a sewing machine, and signed himself up for classes.
Loyola’s mother had for many years operated a vintage clothing store in nearby Venice and her entrepreneurial instincts, much like the region’s car culture, had rubbed off on young Luis. After learning the basics of interior work at the trade school, he began taking projects into his father’s garage, initially charging only for materials and giving away his time for free as a way to learn his craft. As it turned out, he had talent and, before long, the neighbors were complaining about all the old cars parked on the street. The time had come for Loyola to find himself a real shop.
With no real business training, Loyola often found himself doing quality work and yet still finding himself in the red at the end of every month. He loved his work and wanted to share it with others but in his youthful enthusiasm he was often too generous in giving away time and materials. In search of a more realistic pricing model but uncertain of what to charge his customers, Loyola thus started ringing up other interior shops, posing as a customer who had, say, a 1966 Mustang in need of a new driver’s seat. What might that cost?, he’d inquire.
Over time, Loyola built a reputation for himself not just in Southern California but across the United States, taking in projects from across town and across the continent. His builds, whether on his own vehicles or for customers, have since earned him the attention of national media and have led to collaborations with men like George Barris and Gene Winfield.
The Loyola Auto Interiors shop, now housed in an industrial area in Gardena, Calif., just south of Los Angeles, remains a testament to this timeless craft. As Loyola explains, the process of reviving a car’s interior is little changed from his days as a trade school student thirty-five years ago or, indeed, from a century ago.
“It’s still pretty much a pair of scissors, a sewing machine, some glue, and some chalk,” he says. “It really hasn’t changed much since the 1920s or 1930s.”
Coming out of a place like Culver City, Loyola has an evident respect for longevity and tradition, a respect that drives his desire to preserve everything from classic cars to vintage travel trailers in such a way that his work will stand both the physical and aesthetic tests of time.
“I love to see something that’s all worn out and disheveled and which most folks would simply toss in the trash,” says Loyola. “I get to look at those items and build my own vision for how to bring it back to life.”
For his own cars–which include a 1929 Ford Model A Roadster and a 1952 Dodge Coronet Sierra surf wagon, both parked in the shop–Loyola prefers to work with subdued, timeless colors, “nothing too blingy,” as he puts it. His friends tease him about his predilection for “old man colors,” but Loyola contends that the muted tones of natural leather and clean metal will be as attractive in twenty years as they are today.
Thus the Thunder Alley, Culver City tradition continues into the twenty-first century.