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.
It 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.
Watson 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.
With 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.
Watson 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.
Three 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.
Vino 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.
The 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.