Custom car legend Larry Watson dies

Angelo Van Bogart |

Larry Watson (b. July 21, 1939, d. July 20, 2010)

I can’t say I ever met Larry Watson, but every time I see a Ford with flames licking past the doors or a panel-painted Pontiac, I can’t help but think of the famous West Coast artist who applied his craft to the finest formed metal to come out of Detroit.

Watson was in the right place at the right time with the right skill. He was in LA during the 1950s, hanging around the shop of Sam and George Barris with other notables as Dean Jeffries and Von Dutch who, together, made Southern California in the 1950s that magical place and time.

Watson is probably best known for his custom 1950 Chevrolet two-door sedan, nicknamed “Grapevine,” as it was the first car he striped. Others followed, including a new 1958 “Squarebird” to which he promptly applied panel paint and shortly thereafter, a candy apple red 1959 Cadillac with a silver top to which Watson applied scallops. Not surprisingly, this 1959 Cadillac is the car I always associate Watson with, not just because it’s a Caddy, but because of its tasteful custom paint treatment, and because it probably reflects the pinnacle point in Watson’s early (and triple-deuce quick) evolution of style, at least on his own cars: from striping to panel paint to scallops. Fadeaway and metallflake paint jobs followed in Watson’s career, but those style of paint jobs (and the custom cars that went with them) have always been too heavy with the mods for my taste.

One of my favorite books in which to see Watson’s work has always been Andy Southard and Tony Thacker’s “Custom Cars of the 1950s” book. It’s an older book that’s heavy on the pictures so you won’t learn a ton on Watson the man, but you’ll definitely get a good flavor of the artist’s talent. I suspect that’s how a talented man would want it anyhow. 

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