Custom Car Chronicle
Larry WatsonLarry Watson Personal Collection

Dick Gonzales 55 Studebaker


Larry Watson painted Dick Gonzales his 1955 Studebaker Candy yellow and Pearl White. The car became world wide know after it was on the cover of the Dec. 1959 issue of R&C magazine.

[dropcap]D[/dropcap]ick Gonzales bought his Studebaker new at the Studebaker/Packard dealer in Fullerton California. The car was a 1955 Studebaker Speedster, lime green and yellow with yellow leather quilted upholstry.
What really sold Dick on the car was the fibre glass dashboard with Stewart Warner gauges. Dick had to have the car and one week after he bought it he started to customize it. Just some minor details at first. But in 1956, Dick took his Studebaker to Art’s Custom Shop for some more serious custom body work. Dick wanted to replace the stock very heavy chrome plated grille surround and wanted to replace it with an 1954 Chevy grille. Art decided to create a new grille surround to fit the Studebaker and work with the Chevy grille bar as well. Art frenched the headlights and taillights, shaved the door handles  and installed electrical door openers. This version was painted black with a Gold top. Custom wire wheel hubcaps set on wide white wall tires and a lowered suspension finished this first version.
[box_light]This article shows a selection of photos of the Dick Gonzales 1955 Studebaker. Most of these photos come from the Larry Watson Personal Photo Collection. More on Larry’s personal collection can be found in the Larry Watson section on the CCC-Site. Or on the Custom Car Photo Archive.[/box_light]
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-25Dick’s 1955 Studebaker had no less than four photos and almost a complete page in the 1957 Restyle your Car trend book.
Not long after that Dick took his Studebaker back to Art again for more custom work. The stock Chevy grille needed a few more grille teeth, and the stock bumper just did not work together with the grille, so that was removed and replaced with an hand made unit created from chrome plated metal plates and tubing to fit the Studebaker pans. Art also rounded the hood and trunk corners and around this time the frame was modified for better handling with the lowered suspension. The car was repainted black again, the gold stayed. as it was on the previous version. It was like this that the car apeared in the Trend Book Restyle your car by George Barris and Jim Potter in 1957.

Second version Strawberries & Cream

After showing the car in this version for some time Dick took his Studebaker to Art again in 1957. Art would remove the stock side trim, and replace it with an 1954 Buick unit on the front fenders and doors. On the rear quarters Art created a nice “S” shaped scoop and extended fenders and hooded the Studebaker taillights. The car was painted a wonderful Rose Mist metallic paint (Oldsmobile color). Dick named this version of the car Strawberries and Cream. The interior was upholstered in white tuck & roll upholstery done in Naugahyde by Wright’s of Long Beach. The new all white interior looked stunning with the Rose Mist paint. New three bar spinner hubcaps cleaned up the look further.

CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-01Ina Mae Overman took this photo of Dick’s Strawberries and Cream version of the Studebaker. Wonderful color with white pin striping.

Third version Yellow Pearl

After a while Dick was in need of a new version of the car, and since he was very pleased with the overall look of the car he decided it only needed the front fender vents to be welded shut and then only new paint this time around. He choose to have it done by none other than Larry Watson. Dick talked to Larry about what needed to be done, and explained to Larry he could do all the prep work on his Studebaker. This was fine with Larry. Dick mentioned he wet sanded the car so much that his fingers bled. But he was determent to have the best prepped body he could do to insure a wonderful end result. Dick then choose to have his Studebaker done in pearl white and Candy Yellow. Larry painted the car with 10 coats of pearl white, with were sanding in-between each coat. Larry designed the scallops and outlines, taped them off, and added 30 coats of candy yellow followed by black striping. Because Dick helped Larry Watson prep the car, it only cost around $100, which included the paint. “Those were the days”! When Larry was done with the paint Dick installed a set of Dummy Spotlights and added Chrysler wire wheels. The car was on the cover of Rod & Custom magazine in December of 1959, and was a big hit at all the car shows. Dick had renamed his Studebaker to Yellow Pearl. The first premier showing of the Yellow Pearl was an outdoor show in Santa Barbara, California. Dick mentioned that the bugs and butterflies attacked the bright painted car like a light bulb. We had to bring out wind fans to blow the bugs of the car, HA!

The Yellow Pear won many trophies at the shows. Dick mentioned that his main competition in those days was a 17 year old kid named Junior Conway in his beautiful ford he painted himself. Today he is the premier painter in the world!

CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-04The Yellow Pearl 1955 Studebaker in 1959 at the Watson Rosecrans Blvd famous shop wall. Watson’s color and outline style on this car was genius.

CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-05Close up gives us a better look at some of the details, including the white tuck and roll interior which continues in the headliner. The Chrysler wire wheels and the the wonderful outline paint job by Larry Watson.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-23Dick had a four page feature plus a color cover with his Studebaker in the December 1959 issue of Rod & Custom. Especially the color cover made a deep impact at the readers.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-06At some point the car was damaged a bit on the drivers side. Here it is back at Larry’s show for some touch up work.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-13Larry Watson on his flip-flops stages striping Dick’s Studebaker for a magazine photographer.
In 1964, Dick decided to update the car once more. Bill DeCarr was hired to do the work which included reshaping the doors and rear quarter scoops to flow nicely with the Studebaker’s character line on the door. The rear fenders were reshaped and new taillights were created to look like a Cadillac Eldorado. The front was not changed for this version, as some of the photo might suggest. The previous body work on the front really only needed some small repairs in the cracked lead. The car was finished in primer and waiting for paint, but, by then, Dick had bought a more suitable “family car” and put the Studebaker up for sale. He eventually sold the Studebaker to his neighbor. While in storage awaiting new paint, a fire destroyed the car completely and its remains were scrapped.

The photos below are from the Larry Watson Personal Collection taken at the Bill DeCarr shop during the process of the restyling. Sadly there is no photo of the completed version in primer before it was sold to Dick’s neighbor. I would have loved to see this version of Dick’s Studebaker as a finished Customs. I wonder what paint ideas Dick and his neighbor would have come up with.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-21It must have been difficult for Bill DeCarr to put his sander on the wonderful Yellow Candy and white pearl paint.. The front end was not changed, but the precious body work was starting to crack a little and needed to be smoothed.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-22We have no idea who was washing the car in front of Larry’s paint booth at Bill DeCarr’s body shop, but this photo does show the Studebaker with the front work in a fresh coat of primer.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-14At the back the stock bumper was removed and a Studebaker grille pan was reshaped to fit. The lower edge of the trunk was welded to the the fenders and a new line was cut for a shorter trunk.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-17The Studebaker pans are welded to the fenders and the new shorter trunk is now open. Notice the pan was cut in the middle so that it could be narrow to fit the rear fenders.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-15Bill started the reshape a new taillight opening on the driver side. Sheet metal has been added to the round rod shaped opening. The bottom section and the inside section still need to be finished with the round rod at this point.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-16At this point the new taillight opening on the driver side was roughly finished. It had an unique split in the top of the fenders, something that would be changed later on.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-18Then it was time for Bill DeCarr to repeat the process on the passenger side. Notice the blistering paint.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-19Same stage as the previous showing the complete rear end of the Studebaker. At this point a decision was made to change the top section of the rear fenders and form a peak with can be seen in the next photos.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-24Andy Southard took this photo and probably gave Larry a print of it at some point. It  shows Dick’s Studebaker inside Bill DeCarr’s shop with the Johnny Zupan Ayala/Barris 1949 Mercury sitting outside in front of the shop. We can now see the rear fenders have been reshaped at the top.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-20The rear fender extensions and taillight shape work has been finished and primered. Bill is now working on the new trunk opening. 
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-08Dick wanted to have the rear door edge to follow the Studebaker body line in the doors. Bill sketched new lines on the Watson paint.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-09Bill cut out a section on the rear quarters as well as a rounded shape from the back of the door. The top of the door opening had some material added and a wire rod  was welded to create the final rounded shape of the new door lines.

CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-11At this stage Bill DeCarr has welded the hole on the rear quarter and was working on the door jambs. Its amazing that the seats were not even removed at this stage.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-10Bill performing more work on the doors.
CCC-watson-dick-gonzales-studebaker-12Sadly this is the last photo we have of the car. The new door line looks amazing with the Studebaker dip in the door as well as with the new reshaped scoop on the rear quarters. It is really sad this version of the car was never finished.

In 2011 I have a few email conversations with Dick Gonzales about his Studebaker. I shared these photos of the Larry Watson personal Collection with him. Most of them, Dick had never seen before so they brought back many memories. Dick mentioned that he was working on a new version the Yellow Pearl. Inspired on his old car, but improved in many ways.

This is what Dick mentioned in his emails.



Hi Rik;

I have an Art Morrison chassis that was a special build for a 1955 Stude and I installed the 1953 Chrysler wire wheels with white walls just like the orginal. I plan to drop in a LS 5/6 Corvette engine with a 6 speed tranny.

The body will look exactly like the original “Yellow Pearl” with the exception of a 2 1/2″ chopped top. This is the most difficult part as all window frames, moldings and glass have to be fitted to the new dimensions. But it really looks good.!
I have smoothed out the underneath which also looks very nice. We will have to rework the firewall some as I want to be able to lift the body on and off from the chassis with ease.
Yes, it will have the exact Larry Watson candy yellow paint with pearl scallops and the black striping. For your info the base was 10 coats of white pearl, then the scallop designs, masked and then painted the candy yellow.

The inside will have the more modern bucket seats but I will maintain the 1″ white tuck& roll everywhere even the headliner as before. I also have that wonderful fibre glass dash to install when ready.

The chassis and the body are now on the rotisserie.
All the body details are done, I even have the multible teeth 54 Chevy grill.

If I had full time help available it could be completely finished in 9 months. But as a hobby and finances (100K left) I think it will be within 2 years. The car will have $150,000 in it when finished. Just think I only paid $4200 for the car brand new and another $1000 in modifications on the original “Yellow Pearl”.

I helped Larry Watson paint the car and it only cost $100 including paint, those were the days! Today the paint job will cost $20,000 U.S. !

Best Regards,











Kustom Kar Books Golden Sahara



Rik Hoving

Rik is the CCC editor in chief. As a custom car historian he is researching custom car history for many years. In 2004 he started the Custom Car Photo Archive that has become a place of joy for many custom car enthousiasts. Here at CCC Rik will bring you inspiring articles on the history of custom cars and builders. Like a true photo detective he will show us what's going on in all those amazing photos. He will write stories about everything you want to know in the realm of customizing. In daily life Rik is a Graphic Designer. He is married to the CCC webmaster and the father of a 10 year old son (they are both very happy with his excellent cooking skills)

One thought on “Dick Gonzales 55 Studebaker

  • I always liked the “Yellow Pearl” version that I first saw when it was on the cover of Rod and Custom. The Studebaker had the perfect look with the body modifications, Watson paint and the white interior. The Chrysler wheels were the crowning touch!

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