Feb. 12, 2016

Getting Made - Lowrider Plaques

Posted on: Wed, Aug 12 2009

L.A.-based plaque-shop owner Joe Garcia is definitely a master at what he does, and the proof is in the pudding at his shop, Jagster...

On any given day, if you’re in the right part of Los Angeles, you might see a lowrider or super tricked-out classic car. But if you’re in a lowrider, or you own one, you might see something entirely different. Chances are, the first thing you’re looking for is what club that car represents. The plaque lets everybody know what car club you’re reppin’ for....and its serious business. If the car is fly, you’re bringing shine to your club and everybody’s knowing. But on the same token, if you’re totally slipping....everybody’s knowing. So the key is to stay on top of your game.

Gold plated, or pure chrome,diecast or laser cut, if you roll with a car club, your plaque is your flag. Although they used to be straight plates, they’ve now evolved into custom die-cut pieces of heavy chrome or hand-dipped gold. They’re the badge of honor and the family crest, so to speak. When the whip has reached a presentable state and the standards of the car club elders, you earn the plaque. The plaque is flown usually in the back window, standing on a short pole between the seats. If the car falls below standards or disrespect is brought to the plaque, you lose the right to fly the plaque.

The scientific process at Jagster turns out about 60-100 custom car plaques a month. But according to Joe, pressure ain’t a thing. “It usually takes about three weeks to get one done, but I’ve made five in one day before.”

Veteran photographer, director and Soul Assassin and Lifestyle Car Club member Estevan Oriol sat down to give a little more insight into the weight of the car plaque:
“Plaques are used to show what family you’re with in the lowrider community. People riding by can look in your back window and see who you’re affiliated with. They’re gold or chrome... [the Lifestyle plaque] is gold. And it’s always been that way. No matter what, we roll with gold, even if chrome might look better. In our car club, Lifestyle, you can only have your plaque in the window if the car is absolutely perfect. There can’t be shit fucked up on your car. There can’t be molding missing, there can’t be paint scratched... your whitewalls gotta be the cleanest possible. Your car has to be the best it can be. Once the plaque goes up, you can’t be caught out there doing dumb shit,like starting fights, road raging or anything that could jeopardize the club name. And when club members die, we bury them with the plaque.”

Something so serious can’t be easy to make, and even though they probably aren’t cheap to cut...the value seems to be priceless. Estevan sheds more light on the subject. “The plaque process starts with a drawing, then it goes into the mold, then it goes to the first sample, then it comes out the real deal. So much work and pride goes into them, that it would be the ultimate sign of disrespect to fuck with somebody’s car plaque. Like, back in the day people would smash out the back window with a bumper jack or a crowbar and take the plaque. Its kind of like how now, rappers snatch chains, it was the same thing except they took your plaque. It was the ultimate way to diss somebody. People even burned garages down. But it’s like the guys that were in gangs that wanna do something positive are into cars now. It keeps them busy. It took me a year to get my car tight enough to put my plaque in the window.”

Fellow Soul Assassin, Lifestyle Car Club member and tattoo/art impresario Mister Cartoon gives his take on the importance of the club plaque in car history. “They started out being metal plates first in the ‘50s and ‘60s. When the ‘70s came they figured out how to diecast them. They were meant to represent car fanatics, and they were put in the back window. The game elevated and then fools started making plaque poles to hang ‘em on. The car has to be approved in order to rock the plaque. [Lifestyle] dips ours in gold to show the highest respect, because gold is higher than chrome. But if you wanna put gold on your car, its gotta be approved. We don’t usually have gold on our actual cars, except when it comes to the plaque.”

Cartoon continues, “When your car breaks down on the side of the road, the first thing you do is go put your plaque down, not check your car. You don’t want nobody to say ‘Yo, I saw Lifestyle broke down on the side of the street’. They might be able to say it, but it won’t be because they saw the plaque. As far as the way they’re made, there are different ways. Lots of folks got laser-cut plaques, but there are the old school molds, which are better. The new style plaques are laser-cut. The old ones come out of a cast, a cast iron plaque so they’re much sturdier. On the laser cut ones, they have parts glued on and you can see it. The older ones are cast like that. We roll with the older ones.”

As with anything that takes time and effort, a huge amount of pride lies behind car club plaques, and every detail counts. So the next time you see that ’67 candy coated Chevy bend a corner, bear in mind it’s about more than the system and the paint job...keep an eye out for who’s reppin in the back window.

Joe breaks down the process with the 10 steps of plaque making...
1. First we start by scanning in the artwork once we get it from the car club.
2. Then we clean the image up in photoshop
3. We put the image through two or three software program that the cutting machine uses to make the machine language.
4. Once the machine language is done, we lay a sheet of steel with a .187 thickness on the machine
5. The machine cuts through the path we generated with the machine language.
6. We put the freshly cut steel in acid for about 10-15 minutes. The acid eats all the metal skin and oil off to make the chroming process easier
7. The cut is then rinsed in water and sprayed with oil, because they rust really fast when exposed to air
8. We send it off to get polished up.
9. After the polishing, they go to the chrome shop to get triple plated. The first layer is copper, the second is nickel and the final is the top notch, finest chrome. We call it ‘show chrome’.
10. They buff the plaques out for a shiner luster and send them back to the shop, where I give them a hand wax and ship them off


Photos by Estevan Oriol

Words by Sum Patten