Espanola man’s lowrider museum soon to be reality

AP photo

In a Feb. 6 photo, Fred Rael poses in his ‘67 Chevrolet Impala SS convertible lowrider at his home in Espanola, N.M.

ESPANOLA, N.M. (AP) — A walk around Fred Rael’s Espanola home is like strolling through a museum of lowrider culture.

It starts with his two conjoined garages with walls covered in car show posters, license plates, rims and other relics from 40 years of lowriding. That’s also where he keeps two of his three vintage cars, a burnt orange 1967 Chevrolet Impala and Na black 1994 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham.

His third, a white 1964 Impala convertible, sits in a trailer in the backyard. It isn’t far from about 10 rundown vehicles, most of which Rael says he bought when “parts were scarce” for old cars.

Inside the house, “best of show” trophies line Rael’s living room, where there are also framed covers of magazines like Lowrider and New Mexico Journey that feature him and his cars. Glass display cabinets hold memorabilia, from dozens of diecast models to movies and small themed toys.

Rael started collecting all of this stuff after he bought his first lowrider in 1979 at the age of 15. Since then, he has owned about 20.

When his eldest son was a kid, Rael recalled, if they would go to the store and see a lowrider toy, “I would buy him one, and then buy one for me to keep in the box.”

“I think I’m a little more obsessed than your average lowrider,” he said.

That’s only fitting for the chairman of the Lowrider Museum Coalition in a city that calls itself the “Lowrider Capital of the World.”

Last summer, shortly after the closing of the New Mexico History Museum’s popular “Lowriders, Hoppers, and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico” exhibition, Rael began working with a nineperson team of car collectors, and city and Rio Arriba County officials to follow through on a longstanding dream of a museum honoring this culture.

Coalition members say the idea, which has been brought up many times over the years, finally has the support to become a reality. Funding from the state Department of Tourism’s Rural Pathway Project will match money from a nonprofit that is redeveloping Espanola’s old Hunter Ford Complex, providing seed money for the museum.

The state award, which requires members of the museum coalition to attend state-provided business development courses and turn in a development plan by early March, is for up to $50,000. The local match could make the total funding $100,000 as the museum heads toward a potential summer opening.