Larry Watson single handedly changed the way we paint custom cars. He is best remembered for his innovative panel paint jobs, and the huge impact they had on the custom car world in the late 1950s and ’60s while he was painting, and throughout the subsequent decades as his work influenced custom car painters that followed.
In 1955, a 16 year old Larry Watson sat on his bicycle outside of Barris Kustoms in Lynwood California, and watched the pinstriping artist Von Dutch stripe a car. He spent the next two days striping the dash of his own car in his driveway using paints and brushes from an art supply store. That car was a 1950 Chevy that would later be known as The Grapevine, an influential custom in its own right. Before long, every time he got home from school there were three or four cars sitting in the driveway waiting to be striped, including Duane Steck’s 1954 Chevrolet – The Moonglow.
While still a high school kid, Watson experimented with other custom paint techniques like seaweed flames and scallops, drawing further from the work of Von Dutch and other painters working at the time.
After graduating from High school in 1957, Larry opened his first paint shop called Watson’s House of Style. Larry was determined to find new ground for custom car paint work, where the paint itself was the customization. To that end, he purchased a brand new ’58 Thunderbird, had some basic custom bodywork done to remove the door handles and unwanted trim on the nose and rear deck, and proceeded to bury the car in six coats of pearl over a silver base. He then taped out the natural body lines of the car and shot candy apple burgundy over it. This was perhaps the most recognized and most influential paint job of its day, and Larry’s ’58 Thunderbird remains an icon today.
In 1966, after a brief hiatus from painting to try his hand at acting, he opened up a new shop in Lakewood. Larry was determined to announce his return to the show car circuit in a big way, and was painting a ’64 Pontiac Grand Prix that his client was to debut at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in the spring of ’67. Larry recalled a story that Von Dutch told him about cleaning up his shop one day: Dutch removed a lace doily that had been sitting on the work bench, and found a beautiful overspray pattern left behind. He liked the look so much, he sprayed clear over it to preserve it. Larry spread sheets of lace table cloth over the vast Pontiac and invented the lace job:
Watson later left the custom car scene to pursue a TV and film acting career. He painted more than a few luxury and sports cars for directors, producers and actors to get a foot in the door, and between 1967 and 1985, Larry appeared in over a hundred TV show episodes from Mission: Impossible, to The Dukes of Hazzard and MacGyver.
For now, I’ll leave you with some of Larry’s amazing work to drool over.
Thanks, Larry. We miss you.