He started one of the most respected car clubs of its time, built a car that set the pace for Nor Cal; his car club helped promote a small magazine named Lowrider in the 70’s; he helped add rules to the judging rule books; he was one of the judges in what is arguably the most controversial sweepstakes decision in Lowrider history; he has been Lowriding for almost four decades, and chances are that you’ve never heard of him before. His name is Jose Martinez, and he’s a lifelong Lowrider enthusiast that is still involved in the Lowrider scene. If you’ve attended Lowrider Magazine car shows in the past two decades then you’ve definitely seen this veteran there.
Jose Martinez started Lowriding when he was in high school at the age of 17. Back then, the big car clubs in San Jose were New Style and First Impression. At that time, I wasn’t thinking about joining any car club, says Jose. In 1976, he owned a 1975 Monte Carlo that he would take to school. One day, Jose ran into Larry El Larry Gonzales, who was selling a small paperback magazine called Lowrider Magazine in Jose’s high school parking lot. Jose and Larry hit it off right away, and as they started talking about cars, they became quick friends. In 1977, Jose’s brother and few of his high school friends got the keys to their first Lowriders. Soon after, the idea of starting their own Lowrider car club began to be kicked around between those high school friends. In the summer of ’77, they formed Low Conspiracy Car Club. Jose Martinez was voted as the first president of the club. That same summer, in the same city of San Jose, CA., Larry Gonzales came out with the first issue of Lowrider Magazine. Low Conspiracy and Lowrider Magazine did a lot of things to help each other out in those early years. Since Low Conspiracy had set such a high standard for the cars in their club, they used to get constant features in the magazine. The club helped promote the new magazine, and always supported Larry. Within two years of the club’s existence, the membership grew from ten members to thirty. Back then, in order to get in to the club, your car had to have a clean paint job with no primer spots, it had to be lifted, and you had to be riding on Zenith wire wheels. Once you were in the club, you were also expected to add a custom paint job to your car. That’s how I got into painting cars, explains Jose.
The cars weren’t the only thing that had to meet a certain standard, the owner had to as well. In the 70s and 80s, the infamous Story and King Boulevards in San Jose would be packed with tens of thousands of car enthusiasts and spectators. In fact, the Story and King area would attract people from all over the state and surrounding areas every weekend. Every club would make their way out there, but Low Conspiracy would always make their presence felt. The club would hang out in different areas of the Boulevard and wouldn’t get harassed by the police as much as the other clubs. This respect stemmed from the fact that the club was known to help out with community events, and for the fact that Jose made sure that all of his club members conducted themselves in a respectful manner. They went so far as to make sure that they cleaned up the trash in the parking lots that they hung out in before leaving the boulevard.
One of Jose’s favorite memories of Low Conspiracy Car Club is when they were headed to an LG car show in Stockton. We were going with thirty cars, he recalls. I was in my Bonneville leading the way when I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the rest of the guys following. Back then, no one used a trailer to take their car to the show, everyone drove them. When they showed up to the show, Jose and his club proudly filled up a whole building of nothing but custom cars.
Jose took his brand new Bonneville to John Evans to get painted. I started talking with the guy and I told him that he should hire me because I would bring him business, Jose says. He laughed and then said, If you bring me business, then I’ll hire you.’ In no time, Jose started bringing John business. He hired me and I started from the bottom up. He showed me how to paint real well and we became good friends, explains Jose. I took business cards with me to the shows and we got real busy, says Jose. I’m still busy, but I just slowed down because I’m old, laughs Jose. A passion forever, Jose is still painting cars to this day. Right now, as soon as I finish painting a car, I have another one lined up and ready to go, says Jose.
Back in 1991, Larry Gonzales asked Jose to be a judge for the Lowrider Magazine car shows. At the time, Jose didn’t want to be involved. By 1992, Jose started going to more car shows with Larry and began to get interested. There was already a rule book made, but Jose and the rest of the judges kept adding to the rule book throughout the year. We learned over the years, explains Jose as he describes the process. Many adaptations have been made to the judging criteria, but many of the ground rules remain intact from Jose’s early days.
In 1995, the most controversial decision for the sweepstakes award was made, and Jose was right in the middle of it all. They were both beautiful cars, says Jose about Joe Ray’s Lincoln called Las Vegas and George Torres’ Impala called Loco 64. The complaint was that the Las Vegas car didn’t run, explains Jose. I had seen the car run before he displayed it, and if your engine fired up and moved two feet, no one would complain, he states. After that year, the rule was made that your car had to travel ten feet and be able to move from side to side. I was paid to do a job and I ain’t going to lie, all I got is my word as a man, he says, referring to the sweepstakes decision. Two months after the’95 Super Show, Lowrider Magazine had a meeting in Los Angeles and invited everyone to come down. At the meeting, the members of different car clubs were asked what they would like to see in the rule book and if the staff agreed, then the changes were added to the rule book. One of the rules that was set was rule number 10, which states; Finality of judges determination. Currently, Jose Martinez is a real close friend with George Torrez and he remains friends with Joe Ray.
You can still find Jose with a clipboard in one hand and a pen in the other, as he judges Lowrider Magazine Car Shows and shows all over NorCal. Jose has been judging cars for so long now that he is now judging a second generation of car builders. Some of the new generation of car builders, remind me how I used to judge their fathers’ rides back in the days, reminisces Jose. Stuff like that makes my day. There is always someone or something at a car show that makes me happy to do what I’m doing. Before we end the piece, Jose has some instruction for all the future car builders out there build your car the way your heart tells you. Wise words Jose. n