Ever wonder what it’d be like to cruise in the Grapevine with Larry Watson on Spring St. in Paso? Bob’s done it. Click to read more
The Grapevine Sketch by LBCC Chicago’s Brian Morris @brian_mf_morris on IG, ooo000ooo on the LBCC Board
There are cars, people, moments in time that shape us as a culture, things that form us into what we are and bookend eras, such that the world is never the same after their creation. Larry Watson and his Grapevine are the perfect embodiment of this idea in our edge of the automotive universe. Customs were custom before Watson, but never before were custom cars such a perfect amalgamation of shocking stance, dramatic and elegant paint , inspired customization, and bold attitude as was The Grapevine. The Grapevine was a radical departure from the wild customs of the late 50’s, while builders like Barris and Bailon were reimagining what a car could be or might have been in some alternate dimension, Watson was praising and cherishing the car that was.
On the Grapevine, he’d highlight the inherent beauty in a body line by perfectly accenting it with a flowing scallop, he’d drop it way down to the ground so you could really appreciate how bold and heavy the factory lines of a car were, and he’d grab the sexiest headlights that GM had at the time to perfectly complete the slightly modified and toothy frontend. Larry Watson had the uncanny ability to take the body lines of a stock car and amplify them in a way that both celebrated the original design intent and inherent style from the factory and elevate it to a level that showed true brilliance and love for his craft. Watson didn’t just hide and reimagine, Watson could draw from a place of deep understanding of what made a factory car special and take that sense of proportion and flow to take them to an epic level.
For me, growing up deep in the suburbs in the San Francisco Bay Area, cars like the Grapevine were legends and bigger than life. We’d drool over pictures of them, aspire to emulate them, but never fathom touching or even seeing them in real life. The Moonglow, The Grapevine, The Vino Paisono, these cars are more than just clever customs with subtle nuances, these were earth-shaking revolutionary builds whose impact is still as strong today for young kids seeing them for the first time as they are for old-timers jaded by years of show circuits and straw hats. Larry Watson is the king of cool, the progenitor of custom paint, and the orisha of automotive elegance. My first exposure to Randy Rhoades’ Grapevine clone was in a magazine when I was in high school. It blew me away, I never looked at a custom car again the same way after I saw its wild but organically flowing paint and pavement dragging stance. Bob, one our club members from the High Desert of Southern California, actually had a chance to cruise in it with Larry Watson on Spring Street in Paso Robles when he was just a kid. I’d heard Bob mention this experience in passing, and I had to know more. The following is our loosely edited story of Bob’s walk amongst the Gods of customs when he was just a kid in the late 90’s at Paso:
Bob: I think it was around the mid-nineties when Rod and Custom had done an article called “Watson: the Early Years” or something like that that, and it covered the start of his career through the early 60’s. Then a little while later there was another article that covered his career from the 1960’s to the 1970’s, and that was even cooler. I remember seeing that and just fucking being blown away, that article was the closest I’d seen to a visual representation of the stories my dad had told me about growing up and cruising in the late 1960’s, it was just amazing to see that.
Nic: Your Dad grew up in that area?
Bob: Not around Bellflower, but he bounced around a lot and spent his time mostly in Van Nuys from the time he as about 15 into his early 20’s. He was always in the valley there, and he grew up right around all that.
Nic: Where did you guys meet Larry?
Bob: Well, I think the first time we went to Paso was about 1996, and I remember meeting Larry Watson for the first time there. He had a booth and he was signing autographs and stuff, you know, hanging out and shooting the shit like he would do. So there I was, standing there, I was about 12 or 13 and I was just waiting patiently in line for my turn to talk to him. When it was my turn this guy, like a grown man, literally walked right in front of me, and just started talking to him. Larry stopped him, said something like “Now hang on a second, didn’t you see that young man standing behind you?” so this guy barely glanced back at me and then went right back talking to Larry like I didn’t exist, and Larry told him “You know what? I’m done with you, you can take a walk”, so the guy gets all pissed at Larry and he leaves, so then Larry says “Whachu want, kid?”, and I said something dumb like “…you’re Larry Watson” and then started gushing about the Rod and Custom article and he just started laughing. He asked how old I was and how I knew who he was. When I told him I was 14 and had heard stories about him my whole life and read both of the R&C articles, plus a bunch of old mags my dad had bought me, he was blown away. So he started asking me questions, like quizzing me on his paint jobs and stuff, haha.
The next year, we got to Paso early in the morning, and I had seen Randy Rhoades’ clone of the Grapevine, and man I flipped out. You know, the internet wasn’t really a thing back then, so you didn’t have a good way to find out that something like that was being built, and man, it was fucking awesome. So yeah, eventually we tracked him down. I remember he was pulling the car off of Spring Street getting it ready for the cruise when we stopped him and I started talking to him. Man, Randy was and is a really nice guy. I started telling him that I had met Larry the year before, and this and that and the other thing. I think he was a bit overwhelmed by my enthusiasm, haha. Eventually he said that he’d be cruising later, so maybe we’d catch him on the boulevard. So later, my Dad and I had been cruising, we made a few passes up and down Spring Street in my Dad’s 1947 Chevy pickup before we parked and just sat back to watch the rest of the cruise, when here comes the Grapevine. Larry Watson driving, Randy is sitting shotgun, and Randy sees me and waves me over to the car. Larry says “Oh hey kid, I remember you!”, so we start talking a bit when Larry says to “Hey, can he jump in here?” to which Randy says “Oh, sure!”, so yeah, they let me slide into the back seat, and I ended up cruising with them another hour and a half or so. It’s funny, in the moment it was pretty mind blowing, but with time, like the older I get and the more distance there is between me and that night I really get to appreciate how significant and special that was. I mean, I got to cruise in the (clone of) the Grapevine with Larry Watson at Paso. The memory is still incredibly vivid.
It was a pretty crazy experience, and it was cool to hear Randy and Larry talking about the car, like why Randy ended up putting in a later motor, stuff like that. Randy really built that car to drive, and he’d put thousands of miles on it since then. You know, when he built the car with his son, he didn’t build it to be a show car and get a ton of attention, he built it because he loved the original Grapevine and so that clone was made for the road.
Nic: Yea, I’ve always wondered about that, like how nice were these cars that we all worship from back in the day. I mean, when Larry Watson had that ’50 chevy in high school, he must have had no idea how important that car would be to all of us eventually, so I wonder sometimes if the idea that every car built in the 60’s was flawless underneath, I mean I really just have no good point of reference.
Bob: Yea, that’s true, but knowing Larry, man that guy paid attention to detail, I bet you that thing was flawless. I mean, you can find high quality scans of the dark purple version, where you’d really be able to see how the panels line up and man, those panels line up perfect, and it looks like fucking glass. I mean really, who knows what is was like underneath. I know the car had been rear-ended before, which was sort of the impetus to customize it. It’s kind of funny, but that accident ended up being the reason that he started working on that car. I mean, the first car that he striped was his own. You can look at old pictures on Rikster’s site and see his work, and people used to think it was Von Dutch that striped it, but no, it was Larry.
He was extremely anal retentive, you could see it even going to his photo museum, he just had an eye for detail.
Nic: Man, you got to go to his museum?
Bob: Yeah, I did. Larry had invited a small group of us over to his house for a small private tour, it was fucking awesome. I actually have a picture of him and I standing next to my Buick in front of his house from that trip. I had just gotten the Buick on the road, like it wasn’t much of a custom yet, it was just slammed. I remember him asking him what I had planned for it. I remember telling him everything and him just staring at me, nodding slowly. When I got done explaining it to him he put his arm around my shoulder, grinned and said, “See? I knew you were on my team!”, ha ha it was awesome.
Nic: Did you get a good chance to talk to him? I mean did you really get a good feel for what kind of guy he was?
Bob: I think so, I mean, not as good as some other people, but I got to talk to him a lot over the years, and he always remembered me, and he always called me “the kid”, haha even when I was in my mid twenties. He could be fairly boisterous at times, and the dude could tell a fucking story. And man, you could see how he got where he was; he just had this magnetic personality, he was so charismatic that he would have people hanging on his every word. But if he saw me around, Larry always made time to catch up and shoot the shit with me. I never once got a bad vibe from him, he was a truly nice man.
Bob is a LBCC club member from the High Desert. Custom cars are in this guy’s blood, and he lives as a walking embodiment of hot rod, custom car, and lowriding history. You can find Bob and his truck or CB750 Chopper at most shows in Southern California and the High Desert, as well as online as bob_o on our message board,@third_eye_opener on Instagram, and you can check out his Tumblog at http://scrape-groundclearance.tumblr.com/