Did Your Christmas Party Include Enough Mopar, Lowriders, And Dragsters This Year?
Photography by Ian Wood
I go to a lot of car shows in the greater Los Angeles area, and this marked my 130th event this year alone. Most of them are pretty specific, focused on a type, brand, or nationality of car; Luftgekühlt for the air-cooled P-cars, Trans Terra for Land Rovers, Concorso Ferrari, the Japanese Classic Car Show, these are just a few examples. The same holds true for American-manufacturer-based shows. They are usually culture or club focused, like the lowrider-dominant Torres Empire Supershow, the customs-heavy Huffarama, and countless local club events and cruises that tend to attract similar kinds.
This Mooneyes event is a highlight of my year in large part because of its wide and deep coverage of pre-Nader Americana—an era of risk over safety, scale over efficiency, style over convenience. It captures an enduring era of cars that today’s clubs and niches continue to evolve and take cues from. In fact, it could be argued that a few folks embraced the title of Nader’s industry-changing book Unsafe at Any Speed as a sort of motto.
The Mooneyes X-Mas Party Show & Drag doesn’t mince words or anything else, and it brings a swath of different types of car enthusiasts together to indulge in an indulgent but important hobby. East L.A. lowrider clubs park next to nostalgic door-slamming street legal Mopar dragsters, themselves next to biker gangs and air-cooled VWs—it’s mostly American marques featured here, but anything goes as long as it’s pre-1965. There’s also racing open to 100 of the pre-1969 cars. In the background there is a pin-up contest, live bands, live pin-striping, arguably all in the spirit of the times.
And I suppose it’s pretty timely as well. The Irwindale Event Center was threatened with extinction just last year, and it was announced that it this was going to be the final Mooneyes show because of a strong interest from developers wanting to build a shopping mall on the site. A site that consists of ½ and ⅓-mile paved oval courses, a ⅛-mile drag strip, and all located far enough away from residential areas that might otherwise complain about the noise. Thankfully retired three-time track champion Tim Huddleston and his Justice Brothers distributorship stepped in last minute to rescue it from turning into a Macy’s, and they managed to secure a two-year deal to continue operations as usual.
The show opens its gates to the public at 6AM—there is a true commitment involved in getting there with your club early enough to get the best spots. I was there, like a lot of participants, waiting in the dark on Saturday in a long line of stationary traffic, breathing in the fine fumes exiting all of the pre-catalytic converter exhausts. Navigating around the broken-down cars in the line (I counted three), I finally made it into the event proper. The fact that the majority of the display cars were already set up tells you something about how serious folks consider this show. Apparently the gates were open much earlier for them.
The first club assembly I spot is Heatwave CC, a group centered around on ’70s-style lowriders defined in part by their subtler paint jobs and often small-diameter steering wheels. One of their cars, a Mercury, broke down along the way too, but their showing was still strong and featured two immaculate Monte Carlos and a beautiful 1973 Ford Galaxie. Just next to them Cruzwell Manufacturing had brought along their near-completed ‘66 Riviera in stock form, parked next to a seemingly eternal project Camaro lowrider. Cruzwell produces accessories and clothing to support the ’70s style cars, mainly known for the handmade chain-link steering wheels. Just across the entrance from them were the Iconix CC with their laid-out Cadillacs. Walking past that lineup revealed a host of ’50s and ‘60s Chevy lowriders from Techniques CC.
Other notable groups and clubs included a varied set of VW Type 2 split-window buses, full-custom Mercury chop-top sleds, a slew of ground-scraping rat rods, tons of choppers and other bikes, even a selection of classic custom vans, a scene that is on the rise again as of late. Continuing to wander east past the vendor rows the content transitions to drag racing cars. The team trailers and support vehicles are interspersed with the 100 contestant cars for some ⅛-mile racing.
There are some beautifully purposeful beasts in this crowd. 1960s Mopar glory, Mustangs and Novas, gassers, dragsters, all meticulously prepared for the day. Engines are often in pieces before the run, beer cans cover the open exhausts, tennis balls rest in the trumpet air intakes, connected by string. After their prep, the V8s come to life and the vehicles line up in the entry lane, the high-pitched whine of superchargers clearly audible above the pulsing collective idle of big-displacement power. Parked right up front is a stock-looking four-door 1959 Cadillac on normal tires, ready to hit the strip. This car is known to race the strip more than most of the vehicles here, a constant pursuit to challenge basic physics.
The drags are engaging, an easily digestible form of motorsport that’s over in seconds. This strip is a very short run and the course drastically narrows just after the finish line. A few cars wheel-stand on launch, and some are hitting over 100MPH at the finish line, which is an exceedingly fast trap for this distance. The pairs roll up to the line and perform the half-functional, half-theatrical burnouts to warm the tires, the distinctive scent of rubber smoke lingers constantly, the race fuel stings your eyes occasionally, and the exhaust notes temporarily deafen you to any other sound. This is the real deal, the original cars, still here doing their thing. As extinct as it may seem, the Mooneyes scene continues to evolve and fight through the challenges of the post-Nader times, and though certainly not everything was greater back then, this is a piece of our past I’d love to carry into our future.