Larry Watson, one of the greatest and most influential custom paint guys of car culture to ever live, passed away yesterday. Almost ironic that the guy who practically invented the custom paint that American hot rods and taildraggers became known for died on the same day that the first Model T –– a car famously known for being offered in any color as long as it was black –– was shipped from the Ford factory 107 years ago.


Watson opened his first custom paint shop, Watson House Of Style,” as a teenage kid in Long Beach, CA in 1956. He had already become pretty well-known for his “Grapevine –– a low and two-tone purple ’50 Chebby. From that first shop, Larry pretty much invented some of the most common paint treatments still being used today –– especially the revival and interest in metalflake, candies and panel schemes.

Now, while Larry certainly had alot of influence over early flame styles, invented the two-head spray gun that produces the ropey “veiling” style of cobwebbing paint and mastered the art of ‘flake and pinstriping, his legacy is probably going to be made of his creation of the “panel job.” Using the natural body contours and trim of a full-bodied car, Watson famously broke up and accentuated the acres of mid-century American sheetmetal with faded, multi-colored panels, dipped them in heavy ‘flake and buried ‘em in clear. God bless him.

By the mid-Sixties, Larry had created quite the persona for himself; trademark beard, shades and perfect coif became his iconic logo and many emulated his groundbreaking paint. By 1966, he had painted just about everything and anything from coupes to bikes to some of the most famous showcars built by the likes of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Ron Aguirre and others. And it was at that point when he decided to leave it all for Mexico and a budding acting career. Go figure.

Watson returned to California, but mixed his acting career with a renewed dedication to custom paint, albeit for the muckety-mucks of Hollywood, primarily. And it was good to have him back. With some work on feature films and scores of TV show appearances, he kept working regularly as an actor well into the Eighties. In one of the most perfect and random pairings of custom cardom, Larry found himself in one of the earlier episodes of “The Dukes Of Hazzard” as a pistol-totin’ grass dealer. Dig on the ‘stache and the Shaun Cassidy feathered ‘do:


Fast-forward thirty years and Ed Roth’s red-headed stepchild showcar, the “Orbitron” was discovered in front of a Mexican porno shop in 2007. The car was rescued and Larry Watson –– the man who originally painted the car half a century earlier –– was tapped to paint and pinstripe the fresh restoration. And it was at the car’s debut at Beau Boeckmann’s Galpin Auto Sports in L.A. that we finally got to meet the man, himself. What a wonderful moment: we can tell you, from first-hand experience, what kind of epic power eminated from that shades-n-beard combination. Makes a guy weak in the knees. Like when Darth tells Luke he’s his father. Shivers, kid.




We could show you hundreds of shots of all the cars Larry Watson painted: obscure, famous, old or new. But we thought we’d leave you with a selection of some of our favorite Watson Style panel jobs. We think you’ll understand what kind of revolution Larry Watson was when the doors of House Of Style opened in the late Fifties. And we think you’ll also understand what kind of glowing pearl and candied legacy he’s left for us to bask in.

Images courtesy, in part: Rik Hoving, Kustomrama

3 Responses to “THE WATSON STYLE”

  1. Church says:

    The day Larry died, the world became a little less colorful. He leaves some pretty big shoes to fill. Anything less than “legend” just seams to be inadequate. This is a huge loss for hot rod and custom lovers world wide. I already miss him.

  2. Jesse says:

    Larry also invented lace painting cars.

    Thought you might like to know.

  3. [...] passing of Larry Watson over the summer was a real blow to automotive culture. The guy made the world a much more [...]

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