Golden Idol 1977 Buick Regal lowrider

Golden Idol 1977 Buick Regal lowrider

This is Sundancer, a 1977 Buick Regal that’s one of the most intricately painted cars ever built in the UK. Artist Maxime Xavier explains how she created this stunning lowrider…

Words: Mike Renaut

Photography: Matt Woods

Lowriders appear odd to the uninitiated, there’s an emphasis on looks and showmanship beyond the point of practicality with over-the-top paint and stunning interiors. The sheer amount of work involved means few have been built in the UK; you need skill and an artistic eye. That’s where Maxime Xavier, who put together this Buick, has a distinct advantage given that she’s a talented artist and an airbrush expert.

Golden Idol 1977 Buick Regal lowrider

From left: Maxime Xavier, Stewart Homan of Dream Cars and Andy Saunders, Maxime’s partner

“I’ve always been into cars,” explains Maxime, “my dad George Cox worked for Harold Radford Coachbuilders constructing Peter Sellers’ Minis and even did cars for royalty, meaning I got taken to motor shows and met people such as Pininfarina. Later when I made bronze sculptures, Dad made stands for me on his lathe. I was brought up around his workshop and the smell of oil. I’m very dyslexic, meaning school was difficult so I put my energies into art and a love of horses. I won an art competition when I was eight years old but I could never go to art college because, due to the dyslexia, I could hardly read or write. But I still find my inspiration in all sorts of places. I’ll go to the National Gallery and copy the style of the paintings there, to try to feel the style and techniques of the masters.

Golden Idol 1977 Buick Regal lowrider


“I grew to recognise the lines of cars to the point where I could identify them as they drove past,” continues Maxime. “I’ll see a car and spot if the design doesn’t look balanced; it jumps out at me if it’s wrong. I’d always wanted to build a lowrider, right from the first time I heard that song Low Rider by War. I’ve airbrushed skateboards, some car bonnets and so on and about seven years back I did a two-day ‘mechanics of the airbrush’ course, but I’m largely self-taught. People often selfdoubt about what they can and can’t do, but I’ve never learned the rules and I don’t know any different. My poor education meant I became really independent. I’ll happily jump into a project such as a 40-foot long mural, I’ve always painted big − I just get on with it.”

Golden Idol 1977 Buick Regal lowrider - engine

Maxime’s partner is the renowned UK custom car builder Andy Saunders and the pair have collaborated on several of Andy’s recent builds. “When I met Andrew, it opened a door to working on cars,” explains Maxime. “I call him Andrew; everyone else calls him Andy… I airbrushed a blue 1953 Ford Anglia, the ‘Angelina Icon,’ we built, and that was done partially as an advert for me; I included film scenes and celebrities’ faces such as Marilyn Monroe holding the rear number plate. That paint was over four months of work. I also airbrushed a mural of a female robot with the lion on the bed cover of Andrew’s Metropolis Peugeot 202 pick-up.”

Golden Idol 1977 Buick Regal lowrider

But Maxime’s next car would be by far the biggest and most involved yet.

Regal beauty

“It’s a 1977 Buick Regal. I wanted a lowrider but it had to be something I could still drive,” says Maxime, who already owns a 1965 Mustang coupe with factory A/C. “I saw a number of potential cars and ran them by Andrew, but there was always something not quite right until we saw the Buick. It’s been in the UK since 1977 and the first owner was a US airman. It was in really good condition with a few scratches but no real rust and it drove beautifully.”

Golden Idol 1977 Buick Regal lowrider

The first job was to strip the Buick’s entire bodywork back to completely bare metal. “We took the vinyl roof off, then Andrew filled a few holes, rubbed it back and primed it in white, making a smooth canvas for me. I looked at other lowriders for inspiration, but always knew I’d include reds, yellows and lots of gold – warm colours. The Buick was originally blue and Mike Wareham at Stylecraft Coachworks did it all over in silver metalflake paint.

Golden Idol 1977 Buick Regal lowrider

“I was working in a small garage where I could only reach one side of the car at a time, and then only about half of it. Even using trestles, I couldn’t get the centre and of course I couldn’t lean on the roof since it would dent.” More on that in a moment… “There was a lot of climbing up and down and stretching. We took the bonnet off and I made a six foot by six paper template and worked out the design of the Sundancer figure because she’s the focal point so had to be the right size and in the correct position. Sundancer is the start of the car and everything flows from her outward and down the sides. Although the bonnet is hinged from the rear so you have to be slightly above to really appreciate her, if the bonnet was hinged at the front it would have been ideal.

Golden Idol 1977 Buick Regal lowrider - interior

“That bonnet was so big I couldn’t reach it all – I had to prop it against the wall and stand on a table. One day I slipped and a blob of paint landed in the wrong place – that became the bird that says ‘hope’. Often a mistake will give you an extra idea. When you start you have the most creative energy so you begin at the most important part – that focal point. I drew the Sundancer’s circle freehand and it turned out almost perfectly round. From there I moved outwards and worked out what looked nice, then it was a case of maintaining continuity across the car. I actually really enjoying masking up a car like this, I love the process.”

Two further aspects to consider when looking at the Buick are that Maxime was working entirely with an airbrush and solely using candy paints which are clear, tinted colours. “This was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever painted. It’s all candy cellulose car paints which are translucent, so it quickly changes shade depending on how heavily you apply it. Once it’s on, you can’t make it lighter like you could with oil on canvas, only match what’s around it; there’s no candy whites. And I’d only previous worked in solid acrylics.

Golden Idol 1977 Buick Regal lowrider - interior

“Covering the sills was hard since they’re so low and curved. I’d tried using a full-size paint gun applying some of the primer, but found it too violent and heavy flowing compared to my Harder & Steenbeck and Iwata airbrushes.” As well as her freehand pinstriping across the entire car, Maxime added different finishes within the various panels between the stripes. “There’s a paint you can apply in different temperatures and it reacts differently by crazing or cracking; it sort of crystalises like a frost effect. But I got so many different effects when I actually wanted it all the same that I just referred to it as ‘Bastard Paint’,” giggles Maxime.

In certain areas the finish is genuine goldleaf. “It’s applied by hand, tearing off the corners so there’s no hard edges, it has to be glued in four-inch sections and you wait the precise amount of time for the glue to set up. Once dried, I engine-turned or jewelled it by hand to get the circular finish. Sometimes, the length of one small panel would take the entire day and I’d end up shiny and covered in gold. People would suggest I’d never complete it but I’m very determined…”

Second time lucky

Everything didn’t always go according to plan… “One thing you don’t consider is that a car may be slightly different from one side to the other in terms of its measurements – it’s surprising how the panels aren’t always perfectly equal dimensions. Of course, they curve in different directions too. I also worked across different areas that later had to be matched. For instance, I was partway through painting one wing and door when Andrew said the Buick had to go to Rayvern Hydraulics to have the suspension fitted. So I started work on the bootlid and tried to match that to what I’d already done. Fortunately, I have a really good memory for colours so could replicate them in my brain.

Golden Idol 1977 Buick Regal lowrider - interior

“Another time, I’d lacquered the body and had a paper sign saying ‘Don’t Touch.’ As we were admiring the paint sparkling in the sunshine, the wind took the sign and dumped it into the wet lacquer along the Buick’s side. I had to add another bird to cover some damage I couldn’t remove and redo the goldleaf work when I was already running short on time.

“Then I’d asked Andrew to measure the centre of the roof above the windscreen just to check I had it correct since he’s a foot taller than me. He climbed on the bonnet and while I was warning him not to crack the windscreen his knee dented the roof. “I’ve never seen a roof made of tinfoil before,” he explained.

Golden Idol 1977 Buick Regal lowrider

“We brought a dent guy in to straighten out the doubleskinned panels through a sun visor mounting hole. That came out of Andrew’s budget!” laughs Maxime. In total the paintwork took over eight months of the 11-month build. “I spent the whole summer in the garage; everyone else was suntanned and I was ghostly white…”

As for the rest of the Buick, “it’s a stock 350cu in V8 with three-speed auto. I designed the interior in leather and crushed velvet, then Keith Harding did an excellent job stitching it all together. The mirror in the headliner came from eBay, as did the door handles − which are ashtrays I’ve semi-polished. The wheels are vintage Daytons.

“In the future, I’ll clean up the engine bay and probably add some engraving on the various components since I’ve become fascinated by engraving and polishing metal. I’ll get the boot upholstered too as we really ran out of time getting it ready to debut at the Supernats.

“The Buick seemed to be a big hit through,” adds Maxime, “some visitors were looking at the car for over 45 minutes and more than one bloke asked if I had the Sundancer girl’s phone number…!”

Pumps in the trunk. Interior retains a ‘Regal’ feel. Interior retains a ‘Regal’ feel.

Dayton wire wheels and side exhausts are must-haves for a lowrider.

Candy paints change tone if applied heavier. Headlining mirror came from eBay.

Paint stripping in progress. Original paper template… …became this. Even the door jambs are airbrushed.

Ashtray door handle.

Numerous custom painting techniques were used and the work took more than eight months.

Sun themes are everywhere. Controls for the suspension.

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