A rare 1963 Impala. A gold-plated engine. An anaconda-skin ragtop. Twelve painters. One-hundred and fifty master craftsmen. $170,000 in materials. Nearly 10 years of work. What do you get when you combine all these things? Anaconda, the most famous lowrider in the world.
The story starts with Gilbert Quevedo, a lowrider enthusiast, finding a rare 1963 Chevy Impala, a British model with right-hand drive. Only 500 were made. He went to a San Francisco car show and saw the work of “Tiger”—aka Willie Lopez—a well-known engraver in the car community. Three years later, Quevedo called Tiger to tell him about the custom work he was doing on his car, pitching it as the next car of the year (1991), and asked Tiger to do the engraving work.
Tiger says he and Quevedo “just clicked” and liked each other’s ideas. With 30 years of engraving experience, he wanted the chance to do a fully custom car—a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The car's theme began to take form. Quevedo purchased a 25-foot-long Anaconda skin for use as a ragtop. The skin, which cost $25,000, had a surprisingly macabre urban legend behind it. More than 100 years old, the skin was rumored to belong to an anaconda that terrorized a small village in Brazil. After several children mysteriously disappeared, the anaconda was caught and children were discovered inside.
Work on Anaconda began in 1991 and has never really stopped. The group of engineers and artisans working on the “radical,” a class of extreme lowrider, quickly expanded to more than 150, including 12 painters. According to Tiger, Anaconda is one-of-a-kind, as a gathering of so many master craftsmen was truly a one-time event. Tiger explains why a collaboration of so many masters is rare: “Everyone wants their own claim, their own theme, and to be able to say I painted that, not 12 of us painted that."
Even though the car was made by masters of the trade, working on Anaconda for such a long period of time took its toll. For many, being dedicated to the car meant making sacrifices to get the job done. “We got families, careers and our own goals. We can’t drop our lives for the car, because we’ve already done that. We already put everything we could in it. If there was competition against us, we would be full time on it, but there isn’t anyone to compete against, and we’ve done it.”
Anaconda has won numerous national and international lowrider competitions. The car has been retired as a show car, because there is not enough significant competition, and it is considered unfair for such a famous car to compete, Tiger says. If it were competing, the craftsmen would still be working on it full time. But since it's out to pasture, only Tiger is still modifying it, making changes to the engraving on the car slightly every year so the look stays fresh.
Anaconda has had its run and will go down in history among car enthusiasts. Fifteen years later, it is worth $175,000. So has all the blood and sweat been worth it? “You got to put everything on the line to boost your career, and now I don’t need to do it, because I’ve done it, and I know I can do it," Tiger says. "I don’t have that fear anymore, and I have confidence through my work and through the public. People from all walks of life let me know how good me and the work are. There isn’t a job that I can’t do, after Anaconda.”