Meet the creators of ‘El Valle,’ the Phoenix Suns’ hot new lowrider | Phoenix New Times
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Meet the creators of ‘El Valle,’ the Phoenix Suns’ hot new lowrider

How Chandler car customizer Efrain "Bugs" Gonzales and his team turned a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air into a Suns-themed masterpiece.
The Phoenix Suns' 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air was built at Earnhardt Chevrolet in Chandler.
The Phoenix Suns' 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air was built at Earnhardt Chevrolet in Chandler. Cynthia Coury
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If you're a Phoenix Suns fan and have been on Instagram or TikTok lately, a smidgen of a purple-and-orange lowrider might've caused you to stop scrolling. It's a clip posted on the Suns Instagram page on Nov. 2, and it's still making its rounds on the internet.

Like a scene out of a movie, Devin Booker is depicted walking up to Efrain "Bugs" Gonzales.

"Bugs!" Booker says. "Is it ready?"
 
"She's ready," Gonzales responds. "Check it out."

"That's how you unveil it right there," Booker continues.

A bumping Spanish rap track then plays, and the two are filmed cruising the Phoenix streets in a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air lowrider. Word on the streets is that it would've taken car customizers two years to build a project of this magnitude.
  
"It took us under two months to build it here at Earnhardt Chevrolet in Chandler," Gonzales says. "And we spent many nights here."
click to enlarge Men walking in front of a paint booth that contains a car.
The Bel Air in the paint booth.
Cynthia Coury
Gonzales pulled out his phone, showing the step-by-step process he and his fabricators had done to meet the basketball team's hard deadline. The Bel Air was dropped off on a flatbed truck; it originally had a red-and-white paint job.   

Gonzales said the Suns' staff monitored him for two years as a potential first-round draft pick to build their "lolo," or lowrider — with good reason. Since 1987, the Mesa-born and raised car customizer has his "Bugs Did It" signature airbrushed onto the top lolos in the Valley and beyond. For years, he's proficiently implemented pearl tape shades, flake pinstriping, water drops and silver leafing with candy clearcoats. His ultra-steady hands even pinstriped a lowrider owned by Lowrider Magazine's former editor, Joe Ray.

Then, "I got a phone call from (the Suns' rep), and he told me about painting a car for the Suns," Gonzales continues. "I'm like, is he serious, or is somebody messing around?" Gonzales and his close buddies met with the Suns people downtown. "I'm pinching myself, asking myself, 'Is this real?'" he wondered.
click to enlarge An old car with the hood up in a workshop.
The Phoenix Suns' 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air was built at Earnhardt Chevrolet in Chandler.
Cynthia Coury
Cynthia Coury, his daughter, says, "The Suns presented the El Valle uniform and asked him if he could incorporate the purple and orange colors from the uniform into a paint job and build them the best lowrider. The Suns even gave him total creative freedom."

The Suns' El Valle uniform highlights the classic lowrider, "a Chicano invention originating in the Southwest United States," according to the NBA website. "They began to flourish among the young Chicanos in the 1940s. Today, the lowrider culture is part of Phoenix’s identity. The city is home to dozens of lowrider car clubs and annual shows. The uniform is crafted with the same attention to detail and purpose to represent this unique style and community on the basketball court."

Lowriders are a genre of custom vehicles, usually classics, with hydraulic systems that can raise or slam them down onto the pavement.

And on the Suns' El Valle uniforms, the jersey sports a hand-drawn style "El Valle" embroidery inspired by "the Chicano art movement ... the lowrider representation on the side panels of the jerseys and the shorts, featuring a custom pinstriping design commonly found within lowrider paint jobs." Gonzales even paints intricate lettering.

So, for Gonzales to pull off the two-month deadline, he assembled an all-star lowrider building team composed of the who's who within the metro Phoenix lowrider community. The Suns dropped off the car with the team on Aug. 10.

Samson Fernandez from Come on Holmes Kustoms created the vehicle's hydraulic system.

"I've been doing hydraulics (installations) since 1996," Fernandez says. "I like to be creative."

A switch box by the driver's bench seat controls the pumps, actuators and hydraulic cylinders atop the shocks and wheels. Multiple batteries power the system.

The trunk of the Suns' promo vehicle is a masterpiece in itself; it houses the hydraulic configuration. The trunk is tubbed, an auto-customizing technique popularized by car stereo installers in the early 2000s in which the installers create fiberglass panels in the trunk, which are painted and installed. The trunk appears smooth and almost seamless.
click to enlarge Two men crouch in front of a colorful old car with the trunk open.
Efrain "Bugs" Gonzales and Samson Fernandez pose in front of Fernandez's Impala, which Gonzales painted over 20 years ago.
Mike Madriaga
"And everything I do in the trunk, I'll have Bugs paint as well," Fernandez continues. "So that way, all the chrome and hydraulic tubing accent (one another)."

A fiberglass box houses four batteries. The pumps, solenoids, dump valve, hoses and connecting hardware are mounted artistically atop a fiberglass trunk lining. From the trunk, it pumps the hydraulic fluid to the wheels to raise the body and lower it at a flick of a switch.

The hydraulics are ample enough to lift the body off the ground when Booker needs to elevate the vehicle to clear speed bumps or dips leading into the Footprint Center. Once the shooting guard and small forward pulls into the Suns' garage — as witnessed by the world when ESPN ran the viral clip — Booker drops the Bel Air back down almost impossibly low.

The bodywork, paint and pinstriping were predominantly done by Gonzales, with some work done by his family. He says, "My son Mikey, my brother Chubs, my cousin Fernando and even my wife, Tiffany, helped me with the body; they prepped it."
click to enlarge The colorful, intricate trunk of a custom lowrider car.
The trunk setup of "El Valle."
Efrain "Bugs" Gonzales
That includes taking apart the car and sand-blocking it. "We were here like day and night," he says. "Normally, a build like that can take almost two years."

In the build photos, massive amounts of pinstriping tape were used on the vehicles to help create the paint job's intricate fusion of stripes, candies, pearls, pinstriping and airbrushing. From specific vantage points, the symmetrical lines on the body panel by the rear wheels appear to be sun rays. House of Kolors hooked up the paint materials.

The upholstery was designed, stitched and installed by Jeremy’s Upholstery. They even made a purple-colored boot to cover the convertible top.

The wheels are classic Dayton wire wheels wrapped with low-profile tires.

And since a lowrider is only complete with lots of chrome. Pelone’s Chrome and Polishing chromed and polished the side mirrors, front and rear bumpers, trim package, taillight housing, steering wheel and a lowrider plaque mounted atop the rear seats, which reads "El Valle."

Gonzales, who used to cruise Central in the early '80s, now resides in Chandler. At 60, he still plays oldies and cruises in his lowriders.

"The car came out way better than I imagined, especially with the time given," he concludes. "We had no time to second-guess any of it. This car is for the Valley; it’s for all of us. It is a tribute to the lowrider art, a dedication to our culture. It’s for the kids to inspire them to dream and never stop believing. It’s also for all of the artists of the lowrider art from then until now. We are extremely honored to be able to complete such a beautiful tribute and piece of history."

"The world knows my dad as 'Bugs,' but my brothers and I know him as 'Daddy,'" Coury adds. "In our backyards, in his shops, in my Nana’s carport, there has always been a car or vehicle under a cover. The light in the garage has never been turned off. My dad has always been the first to wake up and the last one to sleep. For our whole lives, we have watched stars be born."

And now, the latest star is the Suns' El Valle lowrider.
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