There are few things that remind us we’re more than a decade into the new millennium quite like the strange and ponderous collectibility values of Malaise Era cars.

“Malaise Era?” you ask, “WTF?” And for the most part, we don’t blame you. The most active generation of underground car culture was barely conscious when Vanilla Ice notched his eyebrows in the side-view mirror of his 1st Gen 5.0-litre Mustang GT and slept through American History 101 when the half-chapter on the Arab Oil Embargo of ’73 was pop-quized.

But the era of largely-forgettable, nay laughable American cars are now bathing in the light of nostalgia and we have to just deal with that shit. When the oil embargo of the early Seventies put the kibosh on the great Muscle Car era, the early ham-fisted attempts at fuel economy and safety were the rule of the land and it wasn’t pretty. The Mustang II – need we say more? OK, we will: the Laguna S3, the Chevette, Pinto, Gremlin, 2nd, 3rd and 4th-Gen Monte Carlo and don’t even get us started on the ’78 Dodge Challenger that looked suspiciously similar to a Mitsubishi Galant.

But, here we are – some 40 years after the earliest Dayz Of Malaise – and those awkward rubber-bumpered, steel-bodied, hopelessly underpowered shadows-of-their-former-models are now sorta cool. And easy to pick up fairly cheap right now.

We give you this backstory so that we can bring you the actual story: the rise of the Low Custom. And Skoty Chops‘ 1980 Monte Carlo is the perfect example. Take a 1980 Monte Carlo, airbag it over a set of 14″ or 15″ Keystone Klassics, squirt a late-Sixties to mid-Seventies panel job of some sort over metalflake and you’re pretty much right on. It ain’t a lowrider – the hesher wheel choice should give that away. It’s not a traditionally-accepted custom, either – the body model takes care of that misconception. It’s not a hot rod, a street freak, a classic or an antique. It’s a Low Custom…

An easy blend to build on your own, the Low Custom still requires some style cues that have to be adhered to:
• a custom wheel that would’ve been easy to snag at a Pep Boys in the late Seventies…a Cragar S/S, an American Racing something-or-other, a Klassic, you get the picture.

• a large, Malaise-Era 2-door like the aforementioned Monte Carlo or a Lincoln Mark V, a late-Seventies Regal, Mercury Marquis, early-Eighties Pontiac Grand Le Mans…see where we’re going with this? But stay away from the Firebirds or anything named after something from the Muscle Car Era. And don’t you dare try to make a Low Custom out of a T-Type or a Grand National: first of all, those are awesome and rare and more importantly, those cars represented the end of the Malaise Era and are, therefore, off-limits.

• Two words: air bags. Not hydraulics – that’s lowrider territory. Not cut springs or other cheap lowering techniques. Bag that thing. It’s important to be able to lay frame, but be able to get to and from the designated frame-laying area, too.

• Paint should be some combo of panels, striping, lace, fish scales, cobwebbing…anything that might’ve been found on a Funny Car from the Seventies or in a ASCA catalog from that era. And do it over a bed of silver metalflake, kid. No hearbeat stripes or dry-brushing (here’s to hoping the dgital-guaged, tweed-clad Pro-Tubs of the Eighties never make a comeback).

• Motor? Whatevs. Leave it wheezy and smogged-up and stock. You ain’t lifting the hood, but a set of Cherry Bombs wouldn’t hurt, either.

Welp, there you go. We’re stoked about the age of the Low Custom because it’s a refreshing twist that only the generation born in the Malaise Era can own. Not only that, but it’s a truly bitchin’ representation of this crowd unburdened by the confining baggage and self-imposed rules of the older generation that keeps churning out the same black Model A roadster year after year.

We’re gonna start with a trip to the Pick-N-Pull. Pretty sure we saw a ’79 Parisienne that could be driven out the gate for a couple hundred…

4 Responses to “THE AGE OF THE LOW CUSTOM”

  1. Omer says:

    What’s wrong with the custom touches from the 80s and 90s? You know there’s a Pro-Mod, mini-truck, or some other custom creation that was built in 1987 or 1990 with tangerine and teal scallops on a peach base-coat that’s sitting in a barn or garage somewhere, hoping to see the light of day and become the new “period-correct”.

  2. jack pine says:

    My pal Matt Graves and I have been on this for a little while but needed some clarity in the form of this Autoculture post to provide further “shaping” to what we call Pro-Luxury … we even threw together a website around it… not much happening there, as you can see. Maybe in that way it truly embodies the malaise era?

    Our “Chicken Coupe” concept vehicle for the movement arises out of a question… “what would Burt Reynolds’ character drive in Smokey and the Bandit 7 ?” We try to answer that here: using some prime malaise-era iron and plastic….

  3. Brian Marra says:

    I really like this, we need to look at our little corner of the auto world and see our next move is, this is something we can sink our teeth into!

  4. Anthony says:

    Pinto and Vega and whatever (even though I dont agree with that, if you guys are familiar with NHRA Pro Stock in the 70′s you;ll see, as well as the street scene in those days) but a Laguna S3!? C’mon it was available with a 454 granted low compression but you ever drive one?They drive great any of those GM A & G bodies do and offer a lot of potential . Malasie came in the late 80′s when GM turned everything FWD at least the previous cars had some Hot Rodding potential for the regular guy and they had plenty of style.

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