Larry Watson's 1958 Thunderbird, Fuel Curve

Larry Watson’s 1958 Ford Thunderbird – The Car That Changed the Custom World

Larry Watson’s 1958 Ford Thunderbird changed the world of custom cars. Many years ago, Watson had just sold his 1950 Chevy and wanted to build a new custom, but the car he really wanted, the 1958 Cadillac Brougham, was too expensive. As he was walking through the Downey Ford showroom, one car caught his eye: the newly redesigned 1958 Ford Thunderbird.

Larry Watson's 1958 ford Thunderbird, Fuel CurveIt was fairly low, had dual headlights, good body lines and small fins, and came with optional tuck-and-roll interior. He knew this was a car he could work with.

Larry Watson's 1958 ford Thunderbird, Fuel CurveLarry Watson's 1958 ford Thunderbird, Fuel CurveWatson told the salesman to call him when one with tuck-and-roll interior arrived.  A few weeks later Watson got the call. A brand new 1958 Thunderbird had arrived with black and white tuck-and-roll interior, but there was a catch: the car was pink. That didn’t bother Watson, a world-renowned custom car painter. He would simply repaint it himself.

Larry Watson's 1958 ford Thunderbird, Fuel Curve

Larry Watson's 1958 ford Thunderbird, Fuel Curve

Watson drove the brand-new car to his shop and immediately started customizing it. He added dual pipes and then cut the coil springs, which lowered the T-Bird some five inches. The car was then taken to George Barris’ shop, where Bill Hines and Bill DeCarr continued to customize the body. They nosed and decked the big ‘Bird, rounded the corners, shaved the emblems and replaced the door handles with pushbutton solenoids. Then they modified the taillights, brass-plated the mesh grill and added dual Appleton spotlights.

Larry Watson's 1958 ford Thunderbird, Fuel CurveWith the bodywork complete, the car returned to Watson’s House of Style for paint. It was sprayed with a silver metallic base coat with a mother of pearl made from ground fish scales and seashells, but Watson thought it was too bright. So on a whim, he masked the body lines with 1¼-inch masking tape and sprayed a special burgundy hue blended with purple toner, then pinstriped the edges. Watson’s unique paint scheme resulted in the very first-panel paint job.

Larry Watson's 1958 ford Thunderbird, Fuel CurveWatson named the car Vino Paisano, but there is some debate about where the name came from. Some believe it came from a bottle of wine that Watson kept at his shop while others say it was named after the unique paint color on the car.

Larry Watson's 1958 ford Thunderbird, Fuel CurveThree weeks after the Thunderbird was dropped off at Barris Kustoms, Watson debuted his masterpiece at the 1958 Renegades Rod and Custom Motorama at the Long Beach Auditorium. The car was a huge hit.

Larry Watson's 1958 ford Thunderbird, Fuel CurveVino Paisano hit the show circuit and made appearances at car shows all over the country. The 1958 Thunderbird appeared in more than 20 publications in the late 50s alone.

Larry Watson's 1958 ford Thunderbird, Fuel CurveThe car was sold several times before it disappeared from the scene. It was found in the back of an old body shop, dismantled, where it had sat for nearly two decades. Vino Paisano was completely restored in 2000 with the help of Watson himself, who helped match the paint color and outline the panels. The car is currently owned by Watson’s good friends, Roger and Marie O’Dell.

Larry Watson passed away in 2010. He laid to rest in a custom panel painted casket, of course.

Growing up just miles from Fremont Drag Strip where his father both worked and raced throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, Marc Gewertz was exposed to the excitement, color, and pageantry of hot rodding at an early age. During junior high, he began taking his Nikon camera to the dragstrip to capture the action and the people behind all those fast cars. With a penchant for being in the right place at the right time, he quickly developed a reputation as being one of rac­ing’s rising young photographic talents.