Vehicle Spotlight: 1964 Chevy Impala "Gypsy Rose"

Gypsy Rose

The venerable lowrider Gypsy Rose checks all the boxes for automotive enthusiasts- it’s beautiful, historic, wonderfully unique, and now, legendary. In April 2017, Gypsy Rose was inducted into the Historic Vehicle Association’s National Historic Vehicle Register, an honor reserved only for the most iconic vehicles. How did Gypsy Rose go from cruising Whittier Boulevard to a display on the National Mall? As with many lowrider cars, the story of the car is inextricably linked with the story of its creator, Jesse Valadez (1946-2011). Mike Rivera, former president of Imperials Car Club, recalls that “Jesse was the godfather of lowriding. Even without the Rose, [everyone] knew who he was.”

Jesse Valadez was born in Mexico but grew up in East Los Angeles, where he became a founding member of the renowned Imperials Car Club in 1965. This era is considered by many to be the heydey of lowriding, where lowrider communities met on the boulevards of East Los Angeles with ever more amazing car customizations. Valadez was said to take these customizations to another level, with his incredibly detailed paint jobs, upholstery, and overall artistic vision. At first, the sumptuous aesthetic appealed to few. According to Lowrider Magazine, “the detail, craftsmanship and vision were there, but the minds of fellow lowriders weren’t up to pace.” Years of appearances in Los Angeles’ lowrider scene culminated in Gypsy Rose’s national exposure on “Chico and the Man” (1974) and “Boulevard Nights” (1979), the look of the car became part of the lowrider artistic canon.

This Gypsy Rose is actually the second one. The first, named after the burlesque dancer, was unfortunately destroyed. It was already so well-loved, that Valadez recreated it in 1974. Gypsy Rose is adorned with approximately 150 hand-painted roses, and the interior features pink crushed velvet upholstery, chandeliers, and a cocktail bar. As Lowrider Magazine writes, “Gypsy Rose serves as a memento of heritage, culture, and a lifestyle that was born out of Los Angeles.”  The Petersen is fortunate to have hosted the legend in two of our lowrider exhibits.