SANTA FE, N.M. — By his measure of success, Fred Rael has hit the jackpot.
The Española resident, who turned 48 Wednesday, has his 1967 Chevrolet Impala Convertible Supersport gracing the cover of the May issue of “Lowrider” magazine.
“It was like a dream come true,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted.” His cars have hit other magazine covers, but “Lowrider” is the most influential in the arena, he said.
|If you go
WHO: Fred Rael and his 1967 Chevy Impala lowrider
WHAT: Autographs and picture-taking
WHEN: 1-3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Main entrance, Buffalo Thunder Resort, Pojoaque Pueblo
“And it’s the Cinco de Mayo issue,” Rael added. “The caption they put on it says, ‘Viva New Mexico.’ ”
An editor from the magazine approached him last May at a car show in Phoenix, the first one at which Rael displayed this particular vehicle. He asked Rael for some pictures, so the proud owner had some taken in July by Travis Ruiz of Albuquerque and sent them on.
And now, there it is on the cover, along with a model in a skimpy pink outfit and sombrero.
Rael said he put about $50,000 into fixing up this convertible, which he bought 23 years ago. “I started working on it, then I found another convertible in better shape and kind of put this one on the side,” Rael said. “I started again on it seven years ago, and it was nonstop until it was finished.”
He calls it “Liquid Sunshine,” with a finish the magazine describes as “Daytona Sunset Orange finish and gold leafing.”
“I do most of the work myself,” he said. “I had other people do the upholstery and the pinstripes.”
Rael said he has been building lowriders since 1979 – he estimates the total number now at about 15. He lived for a while in Los Angeles, where one of his cousins had a lowrider, and when his family moved back to Española, Rael saw the cars cruising on weekend nights.
“Ever since my first car, I’ve been putting on the small tires,” he said. “It used to be more for cruising. The scene in Española was really big in the ’80s and ’90s. … But the cruising slowed down, and I started putting them more toward the car shows.”
Last year he went to seven shows, going as far as Las Vegas, Nev. “I won seven ‘best in shows’ so far, and I’ve won some cash prizes as well,” he said. He has sold some cars that he fixed up, but Rael said, “I don’t really do it for profit. I do it because I enjoy cars. I get really attached and keep them.”
He currently has three lowrider convertibles from the ’60s, a 1994 Cadillac, a Silverado to pull his loaded trailer to the car shows, and a Honda Accord to drive every day.
He works as maintenance director at a Santa Fe retirement community, and also is an electrical contractor, he said. “I just work hard,” Rael noted of his full life.
That life includes a 26-year-old son, who also builds lowriders; a 14-year-old daughter who “is starting to like to go to car shows”; and “my 4-year-old son (who) loves lowriders,” he said.
“I’m doing what I really, really enjoy,” Rael said. “I guess people can measure success in different ways. I’m living the dream of my life.”