Custom Car Chronicle
Larry WatsonLarry Watson Personal Collection

Larry Watson 1950 Chevy – part two




A mishap in November ’56¬†wiped out the front of Larry’s ’50 Chevy, time for an CUstom update “Grapevine” was born.

[box_light]This article shows a selection of photos of Larry Watson’s 1950 Chevy. All 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]

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n this article about the Larry Watson 1950 Chevy – part two¬†of three,we will share the photos and snapshots from the Larry Watson Personal Collection showing Larry’s Personal Chevy. One of several personal cars Larry owned and created not only for fun, but also to promote his business. Larry would create three versions based on a 1950 Chevy sedan, which he bought in 1955. Each version will be highlighted in a separate CCC-Article with the use of photos from the Larry Watson Collection, and a few other sources.

Grapevine is born

In November 25, 1956 the front of Larry’s Chevy “Heartless” was heavily damaged by a drunk driver. This damage of coarse led to a new round of Customizing. Customizer Jay Johnston was asked to estimate the cost of the repairs. Jay was well known for his Custom work, and especially for the work on his own personal 1949 Ford hardtop. Jay showed Larry some photos of his Ford when he had it painted deep purple with lavender. One of those photos showed the car parked on top of a hill overlooking Los Angeles in the background at night time. This photo and the colors on Jay’s Ford made a huge impact on Larry. This and the fact that Jay made larry a very nice offer to do the repair/custom work on his Chevy made Larry decide to have him do the work.

Larry picked up a 1953 Chevy grille which Jay¬†installed into the repaired front fenders. Only this time the chrome was removed and so where the ribber bottom sectioned. Then Jay molded the grille shell in place and added a new splash pan which was also molded to the body. The hood was reshaped and peaked at the bottom to match the molded in ’53 Chevy grille better. Larry had also picked up some bran new 1956 Oldsmobile headlights and asked Jay to mount them on his chevy to update the front fenders. The sheet metal was modified with a new peak added to the top of the front fenders to make the headlights fit, and make them look like they had always belonged there.¬†Combined with the molded in grille this changed the appearance of Larry’s Chevy drastically.

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-01The Chevy with all the new body modifications finished and with the black primer added.

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-03This photo was taken shortly after the paint had been polished an Larry had started to put everything back together. It shows the new gold painted wheels. Even though Larry had not mixed the purple paint himself, he gave instructions to the guy mixing on how he wanted to have it. We can see this as the first custom mixed color by Larry Watson.

Larry then started to think about a way to add even more ’53 Chevy grille teeth to the grille bar. Eventually he came up with the idea to remove material from both sides of each grille teeth, 1/4-inch to be precise, which would enable Larry to add another four extra teeth to the 13 already in the grille on the first version. This might not mean a lot to us now, but back in 1956 it had car guys¬†puzzled where ever Larry would go. The ground down teeth and the grille bar were chrome plated and installed. It looked stunning.

Jay shave the door handles and reworked the lower portion of the ’56 Buick side trim, the section on the rear quart panels. Jay installed micro switches underneath the trim and added small springs to the trim itself. This way pressing the trim would activate the door openers. New functional scoops ere created in the lower front section of the rear fenders. Jay added small peaks leading to the new scoops on to the rear quarters. Next up was a new design for the taillights. Larry wanted to use a similar set up as he had seen on the Barris-built Lyle Lake ’52 Buick. That car used ’54 Mercury taillights. So larry bought a set from a Mercury dealer and took them to Jay’s shop. Jay reshaped the rear of the fender using Lincoln rear fender sections, and installed the Mercury lenses upside down. The holes left from the Buick taillights were filled in and the body was prepped for a fresh coat of primer, black primer. A couple of days later¬†Gary McNaught sanded the black primer smooth and prepped the body for paint.

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-21One of the most famous photos of Larry’s Grapevine. Photographed by¬†Al Paloczy at Forest Lawn in the Hollywood hills. Larry’s girlfriend Elaine Sterling is the model posing with Larry inside the Chevy.

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-20Larry and his good friend Lowell Helms took the Chevy to Signal Hill top to recreate the night photo of the Jay Johnston ’49 Ford Larry was so impressed with. Lowell took several shots that evening, including this one before the sun had set completely. He used a flashlight to make sure there was enough light to capture the car as well as the interior.

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-19This photo came pretty close to what Larry had in might. The bright city lights behind the chevy.

Larry’s original plan was to repaint the car in the same Oldsmobile Rose mist color as he had it before. But when he was at the paint store looking at the stuff they needed the photo of Jay Johnston’s Purple and lavender ’49 Ford came to his mind, and he could not get the deep purple out of his mind. He asked the guy at the mixing table to mix him some purple metallic paint. Larry roughly described the color he wanted, and the guy at the paint store used toners and metallic powder to mix the color. After a few tries and some suggestions of using some burgundy from Larry the color was exactly what Larry had in mind. Thats it!… mix me two gallons of this color please. While the guy was mixing the new grape-purple color for Larry’s Chevy Larry looked around in the shop for the other materials he needed, and found the perfect lavender to complement the purple. He took one quart of lavender, two gallons of custom mixed purple, both lacquer, and 5 gallons of lacquer thinner to Jay’s E.Olive, Compton shop. Damon Richey painted the car purple with the lavender below the Buick side trim for Larry, and he did a fantastic job¬†adding many coats to get the depth Larry was looking for.¬†After Larry and Gary had rubbed out and polished the paint they put bak all the chrome on the car and stood back… stunning!

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-18Low angle photo from  a photo session at Rose Hills in Whittier, California.

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-17Elaine Sterling posing with the Chevy in bathing suit. This photo shows how low the car really is.

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-04Larry and Elaine posing with the car.

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-16Snapshot taken at night using a flash lightThe main body was hard to see, but the flash sure lightened up the heart shaped interior really well.

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-15Slightly fuzzy and overexposed photo night-time photo of the interior. The interior did not change much from the first version when the exterior changed. This photo¬†does show that the interior on Larry’s Chevy was very nicely done, with a lot of attention to details.¬†

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-14Another flash light night time photo showing the custom scoops in the leading edge of the rear fenders.  

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-12Closer ook at the narrowed ’53 Chevy grille teeth,¬†custom hubcaps¬†created from¬†’55 and ’56 Oldsmobile hubcaps and the Oldsmobile headlights. The wheels are now painted gold and so is the painted center section of the hubcap.

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-11Al Paloczy photo showing¬†“Grapevine” with Larry¬†and¬†Elaine Sterling posing with the car. This photo of them faking a flat tire ¬†was created for a four page feature in the December ’57 issue of Custom Car magazine. The photo was taken at Rose Hill in Whittier, California, and shows the very neat trunk of Larry’s car.

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-08A closer inspection of the well detailed trunk. 

CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-magz-01One of the publications Larry’s Grapevine was published in was the December issue of Custom Car magazine. A color photo of Larry’s Chevy on the cover, and four black and white pages inside. This article sure helped Larry with his career.




CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-05Another close up looks at the new Oldsmobile headlights and molded in ’53 Chevy grille. The flipped upside down front bumper was repeated on the second version.


CCC-larry-watson-50-chevy-p2-02Another ¬†photo taken by Lowell Helms in front of the Bellflower High gymnasium. The girl in the photo is Heide Bachman. I think Lowell put the camera on the ground to show how low Larry’s car really was, the car even has an slight forward rake as can be seen in this photo. Its amazing that Larry was able to drive so much with this car with static suspension this low.

Heartless is possibly the most famous version of all three. This car got the most publication an is the best know of them all. This version of the car also did not last very long. Watson showed it in three shows and of course cruised it everywhere. After he returned from the last show in Palm Springs Larry was caught in a very bad sand storm which would strip of the paint on the front of the car and damage the windshield… time for another update.

Sources and more info:

      • Watson Custom Car Confessions by Thom Taylor and Larry Watson
      • KustomLand The Custom Car Photography of James Potter by Thom Taylor
      • Grease Machines by the editors of Consumer Guide 1978
      • Custom Rodder magazine Winter 1992
      • Rod & Custom Magazine June 1996



The Larry Watson 1950 Chevrolet had three major versions. All versions are highlighted in three separate articles on the Custom Car Chronicle.









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)

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