William Chandler Hines was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1922. He had a twin brother named Edward Robert, and a sister named Elizabeth Gertrude. Bill was born with a badly curved spine. It was bent at unusual angles, and it kept him leaning way forward instead of standing straight up. He was a sickly child with severe health problem. Two years old he was sent to the hospital for two years in his hometown of Erie. He had two vertebrae removed. That helped his condition, but it didn’t cure it. Soon after Bill's release from the hospital, his father, Edward Hines, died of tuberculosis at the age of 36.
- 1 The Sunshine Camp
- 2 Moving to Detroit
- 3 School
- 4 First Car
- 5 First Custom
- 6 California
- 7 Dick Dean
- 8 First Custom Shop
- 9 Lil' Bat
- 10 Teddy Zgrzemski
- 11 Moving to California
- 12 Back to Detroit
- 13 The X-Tremist
- 14 Bill Hines Kustom Auto
- 15 The Leadslinger
- 16 The Godfather of Hydraulics
- 17 Bellflower Shop
- 18 Recognition
- 19 Custom Cars from Planet Hines
- 20 Monster Garage
- 21 Detroit Autorama Builder of the Year 2005
- 22 The Last Leadslinger
- 23 Bill Hines' Personal Cars
- 24 Cars Restyled by Bill Hines
- 25 Cars Restored by Bill Hines
- 26 References
- 27 Sources
The Sunshine Camp
After Bill's father died Bill was sent to a "Sunshine Camp" where he was strapped to a board for seven months. In an interview with Autoweek Bill told Mark Vaughn about his time at the Sunshine Camp; “They put me on a board, put me in the sun in the morning, I would stay there all day, then they would take me out at night. Two and a half years I did that. And it cured my spine, my humpback.” Bill said.
Moving to Detroit
Bill's widowed mother, Willie Jane Chandler, moved to Detroit, Michigan for work while his grandmother raised the children in Jackson, Tennessee. In 1932, when his mother was settled, Bill and his brother moved to Detroit to join her. When Olav Kvipt worked with Bill in his shop, he told him that one of his childhood memories was hunting frogs with a slingshot.
During the Great Depression Bill was enrolled in art and shop classes where he excelled. At age 14 he wanted a motor scooter. He couldn't afford one, so he ended up building his own, using his skills in the machine shop to fabricate the necessary parts. Bill often skipped the academic classes to spend more time in both shop and art classes. In art class he sculpted a clay bust of Will Rogers that he cast on school.
Bill's first car was a 1934 Ford tub that he bought while he was in school. The car was powered by a Flathead V8, and Bill used the machine shop at school to mill the heads. In 1989 Jerry Weesner interviewed Bill for Street Rodder Magazine, and during the interview Bill told Jerry that after the heads were milled he proceeded to race anyone who dared choose him off. Bill loved racing so much that he would go on and build and professionally campaign a V8-60 powered Midget. The interview, titled "The Leadslinger, " appeared in Street Rodder September 1989.
In 1941, while in the 11th grade, Bill quit school and rented a garage in Ecorse, Michigan to practice custom body work. Bill was self-learned when it came to leading, and he claimed that it just came to him! Later on the same year he opened up his own gas station on Dix highway in Lincoln Park, Michigan. Behind the gas station he continued building custom cars, doing custom body and paint work. 1941 was also the year Bill bought what would become his first custom car; a brand new 1941 Buick convertible. Bill told Jerry Weesner that he immediately began customizing the Buick. The first version was turquoise with molded fenders, widened rocker panels, fender skirts, single bar flipper hubcaps and a spotlight. Later on he cut the doors down and added a fin to the center of the decklid. Bill used the car while it was being restyled, so while he was working on the doors, he drove around without doors. Fins and cut-down doors would be one of Bill's first trademarks. The fin was way ahead of its time, and Bill took a lot of kidding for it. So much that he after a couple of weeks installed a stock decklid back on the car. In 2015 Bill told Mark Vaughn that he chopped the top 2 inches. He also told him about the fin, and how he widened the rocker panels; "I widened the rocker panels, they had a 4-inch rocker and I probably made an 8- to 10-inch rocker panel. And it had fins. Every one of my cars winds up with fins. I like the fins. I have ‘em in all of my cars." When Bill bought the Buick it was blue. After he had restyled it he painted it red. In 2015 he told Anna Marco that "Every custom should be Candy Red with Tan or White accents. No other color. My first car was a blue 1941 Buick. I had to paint it red."
In 1943 Bill and three friends decided to make the trek west from Michigan to California on two Harley's. One of the Harley's belonged to Bill, and it had a sidecar. Bill told Olav Kvipt that a one-legged buddy drove with him in the sidecar, and that they drove Route 66, spending 9 dollars and 30 cent in gas. While in California Bill and his buddy stayed at a friends place close to Redondo Beach. When Fall came they packed their bags and returned to Michigan. After that Bill visited California several times during the Summer seasons.
Vick Sawitskas ran a Nash dealership in Wyandotte. Vick's body men could remove and replace anything that unbolted, but they were not capable of doing extensive bodywork, so an outside fellow that owned a tin building with a dirt floor did all the serious repair that called for replacing quarter-panels and lead work. That fellow was Bill. Vic had a son, Richard "Dick Dean" Sawitskas, that Bill taught how to work lead and do other custom tricks. By the late 1940s Bill had become quite handy with the paint gun, and he was also painting cars at the dealership, giving used cars new paint jobs. In 1949, at age 16, Dick had a 1941 Hupmobile that his dad let him work on in the shop. After Dick had leaded and straightened the body on his Hupmobile, Bill painted it Vermillion. Dick became known as the “Sultan of Chop”, and during his career he chopped more than 1000 cars. Around 400 of these were 1949-1951 Mercury's.
First Custom Shop
In the early 1950s Bill finally opened up his own custom shop in Lincoln Park. One of the most famous cars he restyled there was Marty Ribits’ 1934 Ford convertible. Marty bought the beaten up Ford late in 1952. He wanted to turn the car into a head turner, so he commissioned Bill to turn the rustbucket into a custom hot rod. Modifications included a 6 inch channel job, a 6 inch sectioned grille, a sectioned rear, and raised fenders. The Mercury flathead powered Ford was painted a rich burgundy. Inside it featured a black and white rolled and pleated upholstery. Once completed, Marty won the “Best Custom” award at the 1953 Detroit Autorama with the car. Bill continued to work on the car, and it eventually received 1955 Chevrolet headlights, extended front fenders, a custom pan, a brand new 322 Buick Nailhead engine, a black and white diamond tuck interior and a gold paint job. The gold version, named Golden Nugget, won the first place trophy for Altered Street Roadster at the 1958 Detroit Autorama.
Another famous custom that rolled out of Bill’s Lincoln Park shop was a 1950 Ford called the “Lil’ Bat.” The “Lil’ Bat” was Bill’s personal car, and he built it in 1957. Modifications included a 4 inch chopped top, frenched headlights, a 1951 Ford Meteor grille bar and huge fins that incorporated 1956 Ford taillights. The “Lil’ Bat” made its debut at the 1958 Detroit Autorama, and in 1959 it gained national recognition when it was featured on the cover of Rod & Custom March 1959. The story was titled: “Those fins are still growing.”
Teddy Zgrzemski was Bill's nephew, and even before Teddy was old enough to drive, Bill took him under his wing. In an interview with Joey Ukrop for the book Hot Rod Detroit, Teddy said that Bill taught him how to do leadwork; "He was not a very good teacher." One day at the shop Teddy was frustrated by the drudgery of sanding panels, and he asked Bill if he could weld instead. Bill started by cutting an old fender in half, forcing Teddy to weld it back together. With the pieces reassembled, Bill tested the handiwork by trying to destroy it. "He couldn't break it," Teddy told Joey. "So he said 'you know how to weld, now go back sanding."
Moving to California
In April of 1958 Bill moved from Lincoln Park to California. He brought the whole family in a house trailer along with the Li'l Bat. He stopped by the Barris shop with the Li'l Bat, but George Barris, Bill Carr and Dean Jeffries were out of the shop, on a show tour back East with The Aztec and The Kopper Kart. Bill met a guy named Gene Simmons, who was the manager at the time. He saw Bill's custom and asked who did it? Bill told him that he had built it himself. This was a Wednesday, and Gene, also called Gino, told Bill that he could use somebody right now. Bill told him he could start on Monday, but Gino replied "How about tomorrow?" Bill loaded his toolbox and started the next day. Sam was gone by then, Junior Conway was just a prep boy, and Larry Watson took care of the paint department while George was away. George returned about three weeks later. He saw Bill working on a car and he kept looking and looking. This went on a couple of days, not much said, as George was a fussy man according to Bill. But Bill was doing so good, and so fast that George was very impressed. Bill can't remember what he did first, but according to Larry Watson he did all of the work on his 1958 Ford Thunderbird. After that he got into the big ones, Dave Cunningham's 1940 Ford, Mitch Nagao's 1957 Ford Thunderbird, and Shirley Barris' 1958 Ford Thunderbird.
When Bill moved to California, his nephew, Teddy Zgrzemski, tagged along. Being a teenager, Teddy was in custom car heaven. He helped clean cars for George Barris, getting them ready for shows. Eventually he started sanding, preparing and painting cars as a painter's helper at the shop. He also volunteered helping Dean Jeffries mask off paint jobs on some nights after work.
Back to Detroit
Bill stayed in California for about 9 months. He left the day before Christmas and went back to Detroit. He stayed in Detroit all of 1959, and built several custom cars there, such as Jerry Yatch's 1959 Chevrolet Impala that he gave a candy apple paint. According to Bill this was one of the first cars in the Detroit area to ever be painted with that type of paint. Hines is also credited for being one of the first people to do molded-in side pipes. Bill was quite busy painting Candy, being overloaded with work he hired the Alexander Brothers to do bodywork. The Alexander Brothers didn't do Candy paint jobs, so they traded work for candy instructions and paint on their own jobs. Their first major paint job was on The Mroz Brothers' 1950 Ford, which received a Candy paint job under Bill's watchful eye. The Alexander Brothers also gave Sy Gregorich's 1955 Ford Victoria a Pearl paint job while working with Bill.
Back in Detroit, Bill helped Teddy Zgrzemski restyle his 1954 Ford into the radically restyled X-Tremist. When Joey Ukrop interviewed Teddy about the car, Teddy said that he only wanted frenched headlights, rounded hood corners, a bar grille and maybe split bumpers; " But I came home from school one day and went to the shop and he had the whole front end cut up with welding rod and tubing." Bill told Teddy he would front clip if Teddy tackled the rear. "I always thought the front end was ugly, and he always thought my back end was ugly." Shortly after completion, the car was shown at the Detroit Artillery Armory in Oak Park. "I was completely broke. I didn't have any money to buy headlights or taillights." He scoured his uncle's shop for burnt out bulbs to fill the voids. It wasn't a big problem Teddy told Joey, he was perfectly satisfied being a 16-year old with a car in a car show.
The warm California weather was calling Bill, and in October of 1960 he returned to California. He went back to work for Barris Kustoms again, but as George wouldn't pay him more than $100 a week, Bill rented a building next to Eddie Martinez in Lynwood. One day George called Bill in the office saying "Hey Willy, I hear you got a shop" He was pretty hot-headed in those days according to Bill, and told him he couldn't make it. But Bill was there for 23 years running his own company called Bill Hines Kustom Auto. George had respect for Bill, they were still friends and Bill continued doing some sub-contracting for George when the shop was busy. Bill and George were competitive, and according to Bill, George kept Bill out of the magazines, keeping him from getting recognition. George never stepped on Bill's toes though, and according to an interview Bill did with The Rodder's Journal Number Fifty Six, he never took credit for any of his work.
As new materials such as Bondo and Fiberglass were introduced on the market, most custom car builders and body shops stopped using lead. Bill considered Bondo as poison, and he swore to lead as long as he lived.
The Godfather of Hydraulics
In 1962 after meeting Ron Aguirre and his X-Sonic bubble top Corvette Bill equipped Tats Gotanda's Candy blue 1959 Chevrolet Impala, better known as the Buddah Buggy with a full hydraulic lift system. After that Bill became one of the first installation shops of hydraulic lift systems, and he installed hydraulics on several other cars. The best set around at the time included an Adele square pump or Kidde valve with the pump tank containing the hydraulic oil sitting on top of the motor. Bill was later named "The Godfather of Hydraulics". In 1969 Bill's shop was located at 11 508 Long Beach Blvd. in Lynwood, California. In 1981, Bill told Chalo Lafuente of Technical Lowrider Magazine that some of his latest hobbies included restoring antique cars back to original, and converting Cadillac Sevilles into 2-door convertibles using hydraulic system to retract the rag top. In the same interview Bill also told Chalo that he had stopped putting hydraulics on cars due to the increased cost of parts and labor.
In 1988 Bill was inducted into the West Coast Kustoms Hall of Fame. In 1992 the '41 Bat was named "Custom Car of the Year" by Kustom Kemps of America, and in 1996 Bill was also named International Show Car Association Builder of the Year.  In 1997 he was inducted into Darryl Starbird's National Custom Car Hall of Fame.
Bill’s grandsons, Matthew, Mitchell and Michael have spent several hours with their grandpa in the shop, and Bill has been passing his talents on to them, learning them the tricks of the trade. Brad Masterson of Masterson Kustoms is another apprentice of Bill Hines.
In 2004, Bill was part of Jesse James build team on the Monster Garage's Old-School '54 Chevy project. Entering the show in his Bat, equipped with a cigar, it seems like the younger generation of kustom car builders rediscovered this old legend.
Detroit Autorama Builder of the Year 2005
83 years old, Bill Hines was named 2005's Builder of the Year at the 2005 Detroit Autorama. He was on hand to receive accolades for his contributions to the art of customizing, and five of his creations were displayed at the show. One of the cars was the newly restored Marty Ribits' 1934 Ford cabriolet, the Golden Nugget. Current owner Larry Jordon completed the restoration 3 days prior to the show.
The Last Leadslinger
In 2015 Bill lived in Garden Grove, California. He had lived in Orange County since 1963, and was still working seven days a week! The same year he told Mark Vaughn of Autoweek that he would never consider retiring; "Noooooo, noooo. That’s what keeps me goin’. I’m 94 years old! What am I going to do, lay in the bed? Ha ha! Get up and eat an’ lay back in the bed? No, I’ll have a garage long as I live. Period."
In December of 2015 Bill had a mild heart attack, and the doctors kept him in the hospital for a few days for observation. He got back on his legs again after the heart attack, but 5 months later, May 20, 2016 Bill passed peacefully away at his home, 94 years old. Unretired.
Bill Hines' Personal Cars
Cars Restyled by Bill Hines
Marty Ribits' 1934 Ford - The Golden Nugget
Jerry Yatch's 1940 Mercury
Dick Dean's 1941 Hupmobile
Tom Rodriguez' 1947 Ford
Johnny Shredder's 1949 Ford
Bill Hines Bat
Jim Contreras' 1950 Mercury
Brad Masterson's 1951 Chevrolet Fleetline
Steve Lininger's 1951 Ford Convertible
Mark Drews' 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air
Jesse James' 1954 Chevrolet 210 - The Old School Chevy
Teddy Zgrzemski's 1954 Ford
Anna Marco's 1955 Studebaker
Dave Robertson's 1956 Ford F-100 - Lil Nugget
Pinky Richard's 1957 Chevrolet Corvette
Rich Pichette's 1957 Chevrolet Sedan Delivery
Tats Gotanda's 1959 Chevrolet Impala - The Buddah Buggy
Jerry Yatch's 1959 Chevrolet Impala
Bill Hines' 1960 Chevrolet El Camino
Richard Mikami's 1961 Chevrolet Impala - The Ant Killer
Alexander Ruelas' 1965 Chevrolet Impala
Milton Mills' 1965 Chevrolet Impala
Nick Daneri's 1970 Chevrolet Camaro
Cars Restored by Bill Hines
Larry Sanford's 1940 Mercury 4-door Convertible
- Custom Rodder March 2004
- Autoweek - Remembering the Leadslinger: Famed customizer Bill Hines, 1923-2016
- Driving - Custom car legend Bill Hines does things the old-school way
- Olav Kvipt
- Street Rodder September 1989
- Hemmings Daily - Bill Hines is still slinging lead at age 93
- Custom Rodder May 2004
- Hot Rod Detroit
- The Rodder's Journal Number Fifty Six
- Technical LowRider
- The Souvenir Program for the 1969 Westernationals
- The Orange County Register Thursday, March 21, 2002
- Larry Jordon
- Rit Pchette
- Mitch Hines
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