Larry Watson's 1958 Ford

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1958 Ford Thunderbird owned by Larry Watson of Watson's House of Style. Named "Vino Pasiano", it's rumored that the car was named after a bottle of wine on a shelf in Larry's shop. Another opinion holds that it was due to the color. Three weeks after Larry had delivered the Thunderbird to Barris Kustoms it was shown on a turntable at the first Renegades Rod & Custom Motorama in 1958.
In the souvenir program for the 1958 Renegades Rod & Custom Motorama the car was presented as "The Burgundy Bird".
The second version of the Thunderbird as it appeared after Larry had added even more panels to hide the fading paint.
The Official Kustomrama Long Beach Division Supporter Shirt. Click here to order yours today.
Watson pinstriping the restored iteration of his old Thunderbird for Gary Niemie in 2000. This photo appeared in print in Custom Rodder March 2001.
A photo of Bill Hines and Larry Watson with the restored iteration of the Thunderbird. Photo courtesy of Gary Mcnaught, provided by Ross Ruiz - 46to64.
September 26th, 2009 Larry's old Thunderbird was offered for sale as part of the Ralph Whitworth collection at the Icons of Speed & Style Auction in Los Angeles, California. The car changed hands for $55,000.
Custom by Paint - Made in Bellflower - A tribute to traditional custom cars of the 1950s. Bodywork by Barris. Paint by Larry Watson. Lifts by Bill Hines. Long live Kustomland! Price: $19.99 - Check availability on

1958 Ford Thunderbird owned by Larry Watson of Watson's House of Style. Named "Vino Pasiano", it's rumored that the car was named after a bottle of wine on a shelf in Larry's shop. Another opinion holds that it was due to the color.

Custom by Paint

Larry bought the Thunderbird brand new in 1958 after selling his customized 1950 Chevrolet, known as the Grapevine. Larry wanted to start a new trend in painting, and he wanted to use a brand new car as his canvas. What he really wanted was a 1958 Cadillac Brougham, but that was far too expensive, so he decided to go for the newly redesigned Thunderbird instead. The new Thunderbird was exotic, carrying the hottest trends in customized cars such as dual headlights, small fins, and an optional tuck'n'roll interior. After looking at a brand new Thunderbird at Downey Ford, Watson told the seller to give him a call as soon as the first car with a tuck'n'roll interior arrived.[2]

Ground Scraping

Larry started to personalize the car right after he bought it. He was in a hurry to get it out on the street, and it went straight from the dealership to Lindy's Muffler shop for a set of dual pipes. According to the next owner, Bob Finley, the mufflers were installed with standard chrome tailpipes. They didn't last two weeks. As the Thunderbird was lowered, the pipe ends would drag on the asphalt, much to Larry's dismay. Larry then had drive shafts chromed and cut to length. Half-inch skid plates were welded to the bottom of the shafts. The skid plates sparked when the car went into a driveway at a 45 degree. Bob believes the car was lowered by the Bellflower blacksmith. Larry's Thunderbird had full-length cutouts (headers). While crossing railroad tracts they were torn off and remained off.[3]

Restyled by Barris

After dual pipes had been installed, Larry brought the Thunderbird directly to Barris Kustoms for a mild kustom job.[4] At Barris Kustoms, Bill Hines and Bill DeCarr nosed and decked the car. The door handles were shaved, filled, and replaced by push buttons. Nearly all outside ornamentation was removed before the edges and corners were softened, giving the car a sleek, streamlined look. The taillights were modified with chrome-reflective center bullets. The grille mesh was brass-plated by Custom Chrome of Paramount, California.[5]

Panel Paint Job

Dual Appleton spotlights were installed by Barris before the car returned to Watson's House of Style where Larry applied a silver base coat on the car. The base job was followed by six coats of pearl lacquer. Larry thought the car was too bright, and he decided to mask the edges with one and one-quarter-inch masking tape and shot a special mix of candy apple burgundy in the open areas. The purple paint was mixed up by Joe Sheline.[2] As a result of this paint scheme, many believe that Larry invented the Panel Paint Job when he painted the Thunderbird. The Thunderbird was the first car featuring a silver pearl and candy burgundy paint job, but before he painted panels on his own car, he had already paneled Zeno Stephens' 1955 Mercury. The wheel wells were painted with a special white and crinkly paint so that dirt did not stick firmly to the surface. Watson told later owner Bob Finley that the wheels looked brighter and whiter.[3]

First Golden, Then Lavender Pinstriping

According to Teddy Zgrzemski, who worked as a painter's helper at Barris Kustoms, Watson was probably one of the best pinstripers he ever saw back in the old days. "He could pinstripe a straight line, and it was unbelievable," he told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama in 2021. "The 58 Thunderbird that he had. He striped that thing in a golden tan, and then a couple of days later, he didn't like that, so he went over the whole thing with a lavender color. Right over on top of that other pinstriping, and you could never see what the original color was. He was very good at pinstriping long straight lines. Jeffries was good too, but I think Watson was better at the long lines."[6]

Shown at the 1958 Renegades Rod & Custom Motorama

Three weeks after the Thunderbird was delivered to Barris Kustoms it was on a turntable at the first Renegades Rod & Custom Motorama in 1958.[4] In the souvenir program for the show, the car is presented as "The Burgundy Bird".

Shown All Over the US

As Watson's Thunderbird toured major car shows, the Thunderbird was constantly awarded the highest honors for its outstanding paint and bodywork. In addition to being viewed by thousands of show-goers, his breakthrough beauty appeared in over 20 different publications of the day and was in constant demand for appearances not only around the Southern California area but all over the country.[7]

The Second Iteration

The candy pigments used in the late 1950s were temperamental at best. The color was prone to fading in the sunlight and often required touch-ups or resprays. As Watson's paint began to fade, Larry decided to fix it by masking off more panels within the panels, and by adding more colors. The second iteration of the car looked even wilder than the first one. This version of the car featured chrome reverse wheels that Larry had made for it. The wheels were cut by hand with a torch, reversed, welded together and chromed. Moon hubcaps with a chrome bullet bolted in the center were installed.[2].

Sold to Bob Finley

In 1959 Larry sold the Thunderbird to Bob Finley of Long Beach, so he could buy a brand new 1959 Cadillac instead. Larry and Bob went to high school together, and they used to park their cars next to each other. Bob paid $ 4,000 for Watson's Thunderbird. According to Finley, the Thunderbird had 40 gallons of paint. When he questioned Larry about it, he said most was clear. Finley remembers that if you drove too fast on a rough road the paint around the air scoop on the hood would crack. While he owned it, the car was never driven in the rain. He washed it every day and waxed it once a week. When Finley owned it, there was a brass French style telephone connected to the radio. A 10 record 45 player played while the car was moving. The spotlights were Appleton's, and they worked. On the top part of the spotlight, Larry had painted a burgundy web. In late 1961 Finley sold the Thunderbird to the principal of Long Beach Poly High School. After the Thunderbird, Finley bought a 3000 Austin Healy Deluxe.[3]

Rediscovered and Restored

The Thunderbird swapped hands several times before it disappeared from the scene. Rumor has it that the car spent fifteen years disassembled in a body shop before being meticulously restored to Larry's first version in 2000. Larry helped the owner match the paint and outline the panels. The restored version of the car attended a few car shows and spent some time at the Peterson Museum.[2]

Sold at the Icons of Speed & Style Auction

September 26th, 2009 Larry's old Thunderbird was offered for sale as part of the Ralph Whitworth collection at the Icons of Speed & Style Auction in Los Angeles, California. The car changed hands for $55,000.[7] Roger and Marie O'Dell, who had dreamed about owning the car for a long time, were the buyers. After buying the car, Roger and Marie let Watson display the car in his personal museum.[2]

Magazine Features

Rod & Custom October 1958
Custom Cars November 1958
Trend Book 175 Custom Cars 1959 Annual
Custom Rodder March 2001
Traditional Rod & Kulture Illustrated 20
Trend Book 208 Custom Cars 2012 Annual



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