Kustom Vixens Forever

When the hot rod and custom car scene took off in the 1950s, women were little more than sideline decor and cheerleaders for their drag-racing boyfriends. But local car clubs such as the Black Widows--one of the few all-girl car clubs in the country--are proving that L.A. gals are perfectly comfortable behind the wheel as well as under the hood.

The club and a few others like it spring from the same Mexican American neighborhoods in Los Angeles that popularized the lowrider scene, which has traveled as far as Japan, and their look is no less distinctive than that of their male counterparts. Sporting short bangs, sharp eyebrows, gasoline jackets and vintage threads, the Widows are more Bettie Page than grease monkey.

"It took us three hours to replace a radiator hose, but we did it," says founder and President Carmen Vasquez, 30, who started the club in 2000, a year after she bought her 1955 blood-red Oldsmobile Rocket 88. The Highland Park resident, a research assistant at USC, wanted to form the club "just to show that we could do it."

Car "kustomizers" are aesthetes, after all, and the Widows are no exception. "My car is dropped and has shaved door handles, locks and emblems, frenched headlights and stoplights, custom skirts, electronic pop-outs installed for the doors and trunk, and flat semi-gloss paint," says Vasquez, who had her bodywork done at Lordz of Kuztomz, a local shop specializing in hot rods and classic cars.

Member Janet Crisanto, 37, has been around cars all of her life, thanks to her dad's job as a mechanic. Six years ago the El Sereno native and former bus driver bought a pink 1956 Pontiac Starchief and never looked back--except to the classic car era. Crisanto's love of all things retro extends well beyond her choice in cars. Her home is decked out with vintage Coca-Cola memorabilia, leopard faux fur coats, Kewpie dolls and fuzzy dice. She says the only thing that separates the Black Widows from traditional car clubs is that "we got the [breasts] and the butt." The only downside? "With females things can be touchy and little things turn into something big," Crisanto explains.

The Black Widows raise eyebrows while cruising their Eastside neighborhoods and other favorite haunts, such as Hollywood and Sunset boulevards, and sometimes socialize with Hell's Belles, another all-female car club in the L.A. area. In the Bay Area you'll find all-girl clubs such as the Radiator Hoes and the Pedal Pushers, but they don't have a SoCal presence yet. "We get a lot of thumbs-ups on the freeways," says Crisanto, who prefers '50s body styles. "The cops wave and the rancheros tip their cowboy hats to us." They also attend local events such as L.A.'s Blessing of the Cars, Return of the Hot Rod Zombies in Santa Ana and the famed Friday night gatherings at Bob's Big Boy in Burbank.

They fly their flag proudly. "No matter what, the jacket goes everywhere," says Widow and paralegal Eva Hurtado, 28, referring to the black gasoline jackets that feature the group's name in Gothic lettering. Their cars currently have Black Widows stickers; the latest order of business is getting each ride a custom plaque. "It makes me feel good knowing that more and more girls are getting into classic cars," says Hurtado, who drives a 1959 Edsel. Adds Crisanto: "It's the power of my car; it just hauls. It gives me a sense of pride. And if you're single and you get behind the wheel of a nice car, you will definitely be noticed."

The original eight Black Widows are lately down to three, but the East L.A. car club is currently recruiting. For Angelenas who are ready to ride, there's more information at www.blackwidowscarclub.com

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