Pre­sent­ing Miss 505 Jus­tice Lo­vato’s Cadil­lac El­do­rado lowrider


Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Paul Wei­de­man

Miss 505, Justa “Jus­tice” Lo­vato’s 1985 Cadil­lac El­do­rado lowrider, is a glit­ter­ing work of folk art. It’s also a ver­i­ta­ble au­to­mo­tive trib­ute to New Mex­ico. “She’s Miss 505 for our area code and our cap­i­tal city,” Lo­vato said. “Every­thing’s cus­tom: the logo, the li­cense plates, the 505 de­sign on the trunk, and the words ‘Tierra Sagrada.’ That’s ac­tu­ally from the bridge com­ing into Santa Fe. It means sa­cred land. And ‘New Mex­ico True,’ be­cause she’s to­tally ded­i­cated to New Mex­ico.” You can see the car at the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum, where it was wheeled in on Jan. 3 as the fi­nal full-size au­to­mo­bile en­try of the ex­hi­bi­tion Lowrid­ers, Hop­pers, and Hot Rods: Car Cul­ture of North­ern New Mex­ico. The trunk lid is wide open, re­veal­ing a vis­ual feast of bling and glit­ter and ob­jects: game money, play­ing cards, cham­pagne glasses etched with Zia sym­bols, U.S. and New Mex­ico flags, dice, plas­tic chiles, pic­tures of road run­ners and of the cathe­dral, and a New Mex­ico map and mag­a­zine.

Lit­tle painted yucca plants break up the pin­strip­ing along the tops of the fend­ers. The phrase “En­chanted Ex­pres­sions” is em­bla­zoned sev­eral times on the car’s sides — this is the name of the Santa Fe car club Lo­vato founded in 2010 — and “Cap­i­tal 505 Clas­sic” is sten­ciled across the top of the wind­shield. At the ends of the “En­chanted Ex­pres­sions” lo­gos on the bot­toms of the doors and fender pan­els is a Zia sym­bol with a “13” in the cen­ter — this de­notes the 13-inch rims on her 100-spoke Day­ton wire wheels.

“I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated with cars. My dad’s a me­chanic,” she said. “I de­cided to build this car after I got out of the Navy.” The Santa Fe woman (of Span­ish, Na­tive Amer­i­can, and French des­cent) served five years in the U.S. Navy, where she learned avi­a­tion me­chan­ics. That re­calls one of the ori­gin sto­ries of lowrid­ers: Peo­ple who worked on wing-flap hy­draulics in Cal­i­for­nia air­plane fac­to­ries after World War II then adapted sim­i­lar hy­draulics tech­nol­ogy for cars in New Mex­ico. “The term ‘lowrider’ refers to ei­ther a car whose sus­pen­sion has been low­ered to inches from the ground or the person who drives it,” ac­cord­ing to Lowrid­ers, Hop­pers, and Hot Rods cu­ra­tor Daniel Kosharek. The motto of the His­panic peo­ple who fash­ion and love lowrid­ers is ba­jito y suavecito — “low and slow,” a method­ol­ogy that was con­ceived as an al­ter­na­tive to speed-de­mon An­glo hot rod­ders.

Lo­vato’s par­ents gave her the El­do­rado in 2002 as a grad­u­a­tion gift. “She saw the Caddy in Casino with Robert De Niro and she de­cided she had to have one, then a friend sold one to us,” said Ju­lia Barela Ar­mijo, Lo­vato’s mother and a sev­enth-gen­er­a­tion Santa Fean. “At least I got a high-school diploma for it. I parked the car out­side and teased her with it to keep her mo­ti­vated. My hus­band, Rick Ar­mijo, in­spired her with cars. He’s one of the top tech­ni­cians in Santa Fe, and he has a 1949 In­ter­na­tional and a 1967 Mus­tang.”

Jus­tice mar­ried Ju­lian Lion Lo­vato in 2006, and they de­cided to work on the lowrider as a cou­ple. “I help her, she helps me, we do it all,” he said. “She likes to get her hands dirty.” Ju­lian Lo­vato did all the paint, the in­te­rior, and the en­gine work, his wife said, stand­ing out­side the mu­seum on a cold Tues­day morn­ing. After sev­eral at­tempts, Ju­lian and mu­seum staff got the car to roll in the front door. Then the cou­ple spent 10 min­utes wax­ing the al­li­ga­tor-pat­tern mat and rolled the ve­hi­cle onto it. Fi­nally, she care­fully sprin­kled glit­ter on Miss 505 and added a garland of col­or­ful plas­tic flow­ers at the front. Sit­ting


on the mat with it is a lit­tle pedal car of a sim­i­lar style, which was Jus­tice’s mother’s as a child.

Some of the lowrid­ers that have been fea­tured in the mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tion have been “en­hanced” with parts from other cars. One stand­out was the late prize­fighter Johnny Tapia’s blue 1950 Mer­cury, which sports a 1961 Thun­der­bird in­te­rior and a DeSoto grill and now be­longs to Chuck Mon­toya. Miss 505 is not one of those. Nor is it (ac­tu­ally, Lo­vato al­ways calls the car “she”) a hop­per. Th­ese are cars equipped with hy­draulic lifters that fa­cil­i­tate their jump­ing and bounc­ing be­hav­iors at shows. “No, Miss 505 has air-shock sus­pen­sion, so it’s all air in the back and you can drop it or lift it,” Jus­tice Lo­vato said. “There’s no hy­dros, be­cause the back trunk is all vel­vet and I don’t want oil back there.” The only prac­ti­cal items you see in the trunk are the spare tire and a big sub­woofer. She de­scribed her sound sys­tem as “a Type 4 Alpine speaker and a Sony Xplod amp, and then I have two kick­ers in the back seat.”

“Since I’ve been show­ing her, she’s got­ten 67 awards and tons of best in show, best paint, best in­te­rior, best dis­play. My best in shows in­clude the su­per na­tional shows in Es­pañola, where I’ve also got­ten first place lux­ury lowrider. Lux­ury lowrider is one of the hard­est cat­e­gories you can com­pete in and I’ve pulled that three times, so I’m pretty proud of that.” Lo­vato her­self is def­i­nitely the show­case of the cou­ple. “I have been pro­fes­sion­ally mod­el­ing since 2009. I’ve been in nine mag­a­zines and not only for cars. I’ve been in En­chant­ment Desert Pin-Ups, Street

Low, and Lowrider mag­a­zines; also four cal­en­dars and two com­mer­cials — Cover Girl and Coca-Cola — and I’m a spokesmodel for Cricket Wire­less.”

When asked if Miss 505 is fin­ished, Lo­vato said, “Oh, man, I don’t think she’ll ever be fin­ished. I al­ways want to do some­thing else. Like the paint job: At night she turns pink. She’s a purple pearl in a pink hue so she’s a pink Cadil­lac at night, and pink’s my fa­vorite color.”

At first glance, Lo­vato’s car can seem more about theater than me­chan­ics. “But the ve­hi­cle for her ex­pres­sion is a cher­ried-out ’85 El­do­rado and she did the work on that,” said Kosharek, who is also photo cu­ra­tor at the Palace of the Gover­nors Photo Ar­chives. “Jus­tice takes a great deal of pride in the fact that she’s done the work her­self, she and her hus­band.”

He re­called the day he met Lo­vato. “I was sit­ting in my of­fice, and I had a call that there was some­body here to see me. I went up to the front and it was her. She looks like Amy Wine­house with this scraper hairdo, a re­ally tight low-cut dress, and she says, ‘Hi. My name is Jus­tice Lo­vato and I’m a lowrider.’ She pulls out her cell­phone and shows me all th­ese pic­tures of her car — I’d seen pho­tos of it be­fore — and says, ‘I want to put it in the mu­seum.’ I had a full sched­ule but I thought we could do it after the first of the year. I wanted to show­case the fact that [lowrid­ers are] not just men.”

Jus­tice Lo­vato is a pi­o­neer­ing woman lowrider ex­hibitor, and al­though it’s prob­a­bly doubt­ful that she’s the first any­where, she could eas­ily make a claim about the num­ber of tiny rhine­stones she has glued in de­pres­sions along the mold­ings around the win­dows, on the tail­lights, and in dozens of other places in­side and out­side the ve­hi­cle. If you crouch down and look in the red-painted wheel wells, you’ll see el­e­gant dia­mante scroll­work, and even the lit­tle door-lock but­tons glit­ter with rhine­stones.

“Of course! Diamond Diva,” Lo­vato said. When asked, “Is that your nick­name?” she replied, “Yes, sir.” And how many rhine­stones does she think are on the car? “She’s decked out. I love my di­a­monds.”

This par­tic­u­lar lowrider artist takes flam­boy­ance and just runs with it. “I don’t want to use the word ‘girly,’ but the way she tricks out the car with lit­tle flower bou­quets and glu­ing lit­tle crowns on the door­jambs is pretty out­ra­geous,” Kosharek said. “It’s over the top. She’s so ec­cen­tric, with all the glit­ter on the floor and the high-heel shoes on the red-vel­vet front seat and the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceil­ing. This is re­ally a per­sonal ex­pres­sion. She’s a Santa Fe icon. Every­one knows her be­cause of her car.”

“I’m a bird of many col­ors,” Lo­vato averred. “I choose to stand out. And En­chanted Ex­pres­sions, the name of my car club, rep­re­sents the Land of En­chant­ment and free­dom of ex­pres­sion.”

Above, heels, pearls, and glit­ter were not a front-seat op­tion when the ‘85 Cadil­lac El­do­rado hit the mar­ket; left, Lo­vato in the driver’s seat; op­po­site page, Lo­vato with Miss 505 and a minia­ture ve­hi­cle her mother had as a child

The Caddy’s trunk with New Mex­ico me­mora­bilia and bling; above, Lo­vato’s hus­band and mu­seum staff pre­pare to roll the car in­side while Jus­tice takes a selfie; in­set, the rear win­dow

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