Another one of the legendary leaders of our hobby has passed away. Larry Watson, the kid who changed the way we paint customs (and hot rods), died of cancer on Tuesday morning, July 20.
Watson was born in 1938 and grew up in the Los Angeles community of Bellflower. By the time he was in high school, his talent was already emerging and Larry was gaining notoriety among his friends by ‘striping their cars.
He was still a teenager when Watson’s House Of Style opened in Long Beach in 1956 and had already built the ’50 Chevy, now known as Grapevine, that has become one of the world’s favorite and most famous customs. His panel-painted ‘58 Thunderbird, ’59 Cadillac (fresh from the dealership), and ’57 Cadillac quickly followed the Chevy into custom car history. Exposure at local cruise spots like the Bellflower Clock drive-in brought Watson local attention, and exposure in numerous custom car magazines of that period stretched his fame to the rest of America.
After his remarkable start in the ‘50s, Watson was not left behind by the changes brought by the 60s, and continued to innovate. By that time, he had already created or perfected many of the paint styles and techniques that are copied today. He has been credited with inventing scallops (to cover up some paint runs, as the story goes), panel paint, seaweed flames, and lace painting. He experimented with new looks including fades, veils, and cob webbing, and new materials including metallics, candies, and pearls.
His influence and his talent never faded. When Ed Roth’s Orbitron was discovered and restored in 2008, Watson—who had painted several of Roth’s customs, including that one, in earlier years—was consulted regarding the correct paint, based on his personal recollections of the original formula.
Two years ago, Watson paired up with the equally legendary Gene Winfield to host the first Winfield and Watson Custom Car and Hot Rod Gathering. That successful event was repeated in 2009, and the third annual Gathering has been scheduled for October.
Larry Watson left many impressive accomplishments and undoubtedly had more to do. His loss, like his legacy, is great.