Tucked in the corner of Anaheim’s Linbrook bowling alley parking lot just off the cusp of Fullerton, classic custom cars ranging from Cadillac Coupe De Villes, Chevy Bel Airs and Ford Coupes filled the spaces. Juxtaposed next to the neon sign of the bowling alley, one might suspect that they have stepped back in time.
Toby Lewis, Fullerton local and one of the founders of OC Cruise Night thats held at the bowling alley, started the weekly event to offer a place for Southern California car enthusiasts of any level to exchange ideas and show their progress on custom rides.
“You build what you have to whatever level you can build it to. A lot of the people that come out to this event are just like that too. They’re a little bit younger, and they’re working on their car as they are driving it,” Lewis said.
Parked in the front row of the event is Lewis’s fully restored 1956 Chevy Bel Air. Lewis admits it is a common car, so he has some flexibility to customize it without worry of traditionalists in the car community having issues with his creative liberties.
“Some people restore cars back to their original condition; other people will restore cars to the way that they want them. If there are cars that are particularly rare there are purists that will get a little upset when people take liberties modifying them. Most of the guys that we hang out with build what they like, and that’s what we’re into,”Lewis? said.
CSUF alumni Mario Murillo explains the different crowds that attend car shows.
“When you go to shows where cars are more pristine and that are built to factory specs you get the older crowd. It’s a different lifestyle cause they kind of frown upon people customizing these cars,”Murillo said.
The custom car community in Southern California has seen progress despite opposition from traditional hobbyists. The Muckenthaler Mansion holds an annual invitation-only car show, the Muckenthaler Motor Car Festival. The show has since been split up into two days that showcase two distinctive categories of classic cars. The first day is dedicated to Hot Rods and custom cars, while the following day is the Concours D’Elegance, which is dedicated to cars that have been restored to factory specs.
“Classic custom cars started in the early 1920s in Southern California. You had people like Douglas Fairbanks driving an expensive Rolls Royce, and the low-class working man drove a Ford, he (the working man) wanted his car to look expensive. So, they would take expensive parts from expensive cars, and start putting it on their cars,” Murillo said about the origins of customized classic cars in Southern California.
Brian Bitting brought his 1962 Chevy Bel Air to cruise night. He commutes to work in his Toyota Corolla Tuesday through Friday, but outside of work and on the weekends, he would rather use the Chevy Bel Air.
“It’s the personality– I drive a white 2016 Toyota Corolla, I put it in the parking lot and I can’t find it,”said Bitting.
He opens the hood of his Chevy and starts spouting out hotrod jargon:“That is a 383-small block, a 350 block with forged pistons, forged rods, 10:1 compression, roller cam, roller rockers, and aluminum heads… Basically, when I get on the freeway and put my foot on it, it’ll move.”
Spectators listened to him intently while they looked at the shiny new engine that allows it to go up to 120 miles per hour on the freeway, twice as fast as it would be without the upgrades.
“Some guys go to bars and drink, or play golf, I sit in my garage and work on my car.” Bittings said about his hobby.
Bitting’s love for building cars can be traced back to his memories of working on cars with his dad. Now Bittings has his 12-year-old son help him with his restoration projects like his father before him.
As a recent graduate of American Studies and History, Murillo likes the idea of owning a piece of history that he is able to utilize in his day to day life.
“If you take a picture of this car in black and white with the right background, you can’t tell if the picture is from this time period or if it’s from back then. I want to keep these cars alive, because it’s a dying breed,”Murillo said.