Larry Watson's 1950 Chevrolet
Larry's First Car
After working for a long hot summer, Larry's father agreed to help him buy his first car. On the way to the dealership, Larry spotted a white 1950 Chevrolet two-door sedan sitting in a used car lot. Larry convinced his father about this being the right car, and Larry became the proud owner of that 50 Chevy.
In 1955, at the age of 16, when Larry began to pinstripe, the Chevy was the car he used to practice on. Larry began inside, painting a dragon on the dashboard that showed flames blowing from its snout. He had also painted some roses with vines around the instrument panel. After watching both Von Dutch and Dean Jeffries performing their trade, Larry went to an art store and bought some brushes. He also went to Jackson Paint Store and bought some copper paint. He spent two days striping his car before taking it to the Bellflower Clock Drive-In. At the drive-in everyone wondered about how he could afford having Von Dutch pinstripe his car. He told them that he had striped it himself, but nobody believed him. Larry had the car customized as he used it. The first photo of the car shows it fairly stock, sporting whitewall tires. After a while the car was lowered, fit with fender skirts, nosed, pinstriped and dressed up with Oldsmobile Fiesta hubcaps that had the spinners extended 2 inches. The car was lowered by reworking the A-frames and C'ing the frame both in front and rear. The springs were also dearched. Photos of the car exists showing the deck lid unshaved, and with pinstriping above the deck handle.
Keith Christensen remembers Watson and his little Chevy
Keith Christensen firs met Larry in 1955 when he visited a Coachmen car club meeting. "He was introduced that evening to the club members. When we took our break, the gang went outside to look at the pinstriping work he had done on his own car - a little 1950 Chevrolet," Keith told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama in 2020. "It was Chocolate brown on a tan car and the quality of work was outstanding. This was previous to him starting up his painting vocation."Keith Christensen</ref> The deck was later shaved, and much more extensive pinstriping was added.
The Rose Mist Version
After using the car as a striping canvas for a while, Larry had Ed Schelhaas of Bellflower do some minimal bodywork on the car. Ed fit the car with a 1953 Chevrolet grille surround, 13 1953 Chevrolet grille teeth, 1956 Buick side trim, a one-piece Oldsmobile windshield and dual side pipes. While Ed was doing some lead work on the quarter panels of the car, Larry installed a set of 1950 Buick taillights. Looking at old photos, it also looks like the front bumper was flipped upside down. The rear bumper was also replaced on this version of the car. Larry hadn't started painting complete cars yet, so he had Ed's painter, George Newton, paint the Chevy. George painted the car in an ivory lacquer at the bottom, and a new Oldsmobile metallic color named Rose Mist on the top. Larry called the first version of the car "Rose Mist" after the name of the color.
The Grapevine Version
In November of 1956a drunk driver ran into Larry's Chevrolet. After being hit by the drunk driver, Larry had Jay Johnston of Jay's Custom Shop in Compton rebuild the car. The grille surround was reshaped and molded to the body. The stock headlight rings were replaced by 1955 Oldsmobile rings and the rear fenders were extended to accept inverted 1954 Mercury taillight lenses. This version of the car had the door handles and bumper guards removed. All body seams were molded in. By grinding the grille teeth, Larry managed to fit 4 more of them in the grille opening. For the second version of the Chevy, Larry had his friend Damon Richey apply the paint. A Metallic Grape was used above the Buick side trim. The same color but with a lot more metallic powder mixed into it was used below the side trim. This version of the car is known as the "Grapevine". In the book Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50's Volume 4 there is a photo showing the interior of the Grapevine version. The upholstery featured heart-shaped pleated inserts in the seats and carpets. The car was upholstered by Pacific Custom Shop. Renegades Car Club member and good friend Gary Niemi made a set of color-matching hand shaped dash knobs for the car.
The Heartless Version
In 1958, Larry sold the Grapevine to Jim Becker of Albany, Oregon. Larry wanted to start a new trend in painting, and he wanted to use a brand new car. What he really wanted was a Cadillac. He couldn't afford a Cadillac at the moment, so he ended up buying a 1958 Ford Thunderbird. Right before he sold the car, he repainted it. He went back to Jay and asked if he could do it, but Jay was too busy, so after getting a few pointers from Jay, Larry laid down his first-ever full paint job. This time Larry painted the car in Rose Mist with silver scallops which he striped in black. The paint job was a concept he had been dreaming about and experimenting with for a while. This version of the car was completed without fender skirts. Larry also added dual spotlights on the Chevy. Larry got the spotlights from Jack Arnold, after horse-trading them for a scallop paint job on Jack's 1956 Mercury. Larry sold the car for $1,500.
Jim Becker used the car has his daily driver until 1959. In 1959 Jim was getting married and decided that it wouldn't be feasible to keep the Grapevine, so he traded it off for a 1955 Buick on an Albany car lot. Phil Swaggart of Eugene, Oregon saw the car on a used car lot in Albany on a trip home from Lebanon. He stopped by and ended up buying the car for $1,1000. Phil owned and drove the Chevy for about 2 years. It was a common sight on the streets of Eugene and at Les Richfield's station at 6th and Lincoln (owned by Phil's brother Les). The Grapevine became known as "Heartless" because of the pleated heart shapes on the seats, door panels, and floorboards. Phil had Merle Beebe, a local pinstriper put the name "Heartless" on the rear fender panels. After a couple of years Phil traded the Chevy off to Ron McCully also from Eugene, Oregon for a 1953 Chevrolet and $600. The car then moved a block south to Jewell's union station at 7th and Lincoln. Ron changed the column shift to a tall floor shift with a piston for the knob. One of his vivid memories of the car was a prom night date when the battery cable disconnected and he had to crawl out through the window because the doors were electrically operated inside and outside. All in all, the car was a very dependable driver and never let him down. Ron later had it repainted to solid rose color. The last owner of the car was a high school student named Jim King of Eugene. Jim bought the car from 500 Motors around 1962. After owning it for almost 2 years, the car was involved in an accident. Jim brought it to a body shop in Glenwood called H&M Fiberglass. It sat outside the shop for a while and became a fair game for souvenir collectors robbing it for parts. Jim eventually felt that it had been deteriorated to the point that it was beyond repair, so he had it towed to Day Island Land Fill where it still is today, buried under the pillars of the I-5 bridge about 30 feet from the Willamette river.
Magazine Features and Appearances
Hot Rod Magazine September 1957
Custom Cars November 1957
Custom Cars December 1957
Car Craft May 1958
Trend Book 156 Custom Cars 1958 Annual
Custom Cars August 1958
Custom Rodder November 1959
Trend Book 175 Custom Cars 1959 Annual
Custom Cars June 1960
Hot Rod Magazine July 1989
Car Craft May 1990
Rod & Custom June 1996
Hot Rod DeLuxe 2
Clones and Recreations
- Rik Hoving's Custom Car Photo Archive
- Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50's Volume 4
- Custom Cars December 1957
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- YouTube- Custom Cars Painted by Larry Watson in the 1950s
- Custom Cars Painted by Larry Watson in the 1950s
- The HAMB - grapevine history
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