Custom Car Chronicle
Larry WatsonLarry Watson Personal Collection

Fred LeFevre El-Camino by Watson




Smooth, subtle customizing by Bill deCarr, and bright yellow pearl paint with candy green outlines by Larry Watson, make Fred LeFevre one of the most beautiful custom 1959 El-Camino’s ever.

The year is 1959, the golden age of radical custom cars is nearly over. When panoramic windshield became standard in the mid 1950’s, custom cars were hardly chopped anymore. Other important custom techniques from the decades before, such as body sectioning, fender swapping, and major reworked bodies, where seldom used on cars built after 1955. Owners relied on other, much milder and easier to execute, techniques to create their dream customs. Body work consisted mostly of removing the chrome trim, shaving the door handles, nosing and decking.

Perhaps – if you wanted to go wild – you would adapt some different head. and taillights. Perhaps even a new grille,or perhaps some scoops here and there. That would give the owner an unique vehicle. A car that could get you trophy’s at the many Custom Car shows, that were held in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. But also a car that could get you into the magazines – if you where lucky – . The new trend of ‘less is more’ was not as easy as it might have looked to many. Cars still needed to be planned carefully , and all the components of the minimal body work, wheels/tires interior, and paint needed to work together to create a stunning custom car.

One of those cars was Fred LeFevre’s 1959 Chevy El Camino. Fred brought his near new El Camino to Bill Ortega’s (Bill would change his last name to deCarr in 1960) Speed & Custom shop in Bellflower California. Bill would perform the body work on Fred’s red 1959 Chevy El Camino in two steps.
CCC-Larry-Watson-LeFevre-1V-01WThis photo of the car in red was taken when Bill Ortega had just finished the first part of the customizing. The body is still in its factory “Roman” red,  with primer spotted in where Bill had performed the body work.
The first time around Fred had Bill remove the door handles, all the emblems, and clean up the nose eyebrow scoops. Bill also removed the stock grille, and installed an aftermarket tubular chrome tube grille, and a set of spotlights, which where still very popular in 1959. Although the real working Appleton Spotlights had made place for none working dummy spotlights. Those Dummy Spots were a product that Dick Jackson “invented”, later on produced by the Cal Custom company. The Dummy Spotlights are still being produced, and sold today. But lets get back to the car. Fred drove the car around like this for a short time, he came up with some new ideas to further improve his Chevy, and returned to Bill’s body shop for round two.

This time Bill would fill in the openings on the front of the hood, and upper grille bar – the “eye brows” and extend the hood all the way down to the grille opening. The removal of the eye brows – when done right – on a 1959 Chevy is always an instant improvement of the frontal look of this car. To make it even better Fred decided to use a 1960 Mercury grille. The Mercury grille was brand new in late 1959, when Bill installed it in the modified grille opening. Bill used round rod to extend the head, and taillight openings. The headlight unit was installed slightly frenched, and surrounded with a cut-to-fit, fine perforated, metal sheet.

At the rear the same perforated material was used, and two 1959 Cadillac taillights on both sides installed. At the rear Bill also molded in a nice license plate surround. Bill and Fred lowered the car, by removing some material from the coils until it sat closer to the ground, nice and near level. The rear portions of the exhaust pipes where removed. They were replaced with chrome plated Bellflower pipes, which move outboard just behind the rear tires, thus creating extra length to the car.

CCC-Larry-Watson-LeFevre-Pre-01WCCC-Larry-Watson-LeFevre-Pre-02WCCC-Larry-Watson-LeFevre-Pre-03WSadly we only have three rather fuzzy photos showing the car when it was first finished in pearl lemon yellow. The first two photos were taken in front of the Bill Ortega shop when the car was put back together, still missing the grille, head and taillights. And the last photo was when the car was almost put back together in its first version.
Then they went to Larry Watson to cover the car in an incredible pale pearl lemon yellow. The photos in Larry Watson Collection of this versions of the car are unfortunately all very blurry, as if the camera was damaged. In early 1960 Fred drove the car to Larry Watson’s Rosecrans Ave shop, to have him add some outlines in candy lime green. Larry did a really fantastic job. The outlining created more visual length to the car. The green around the side trim with the white painted center, works extremely well. As are the very subtle outlines around the wheel well’s, following the body contours. The roof of the car was done in a reverse way with the main portion in candy lime green, and the outline in pale pearl yellow. I think this is the best version of the car. Clean, simple, and very effective. It was photographed like this for Custom Cars magazine, and appeared on the cover of the June 1960 issue, and one photo inside the July 1960 issue of the magazine. On the cover photo the light lemon yellow pearl looks much more orange than it really was. In the 1961 Custom Cars annual the car received a whole page.





CCC-Larry-Watson-LeFevre-2V-02WAbove show’s Fred’s El Camino after Larry Watson added the candy lime green outlines. The car is absolutely stunning in this version. The green outlines make the body look even longer and lower than it already was. Fred used a set of 1959 Dodge Lancer hubcaps on medium wide whites. The stance is perfect creating possibly one of the best 1959 El Camino’s ever built. The photo was taken at Larry Watson Rosecrans Blvd. shop in 1960.

CCC-Larry-Watson-LeFevre-CC-J60The June 1960 issue of Custom Car with Fred’s car (nose) on the cover. Strangely enough the car was not featured or shown inside this issue.

CCC-Larry-Watson-LeFevre-CC-1961The 1961 Custom Cars Annual page on Fred’s 1959 El Camino.

By the time this last publication had hit the book stores, the car changed hands. Fred sold it to his brother Ron LeFevre. Custom car trends were moving fast in those days. One season the outlined panels where the thing to do, and next thing you know it was out of style. In late 1961 the thing to do was paneling. Ron took the car back to Larry Watson for one more transition to keep up with the trend, and to be able to keep scoring points at the shows. Larry left the paint work he had performed for Fred, but added white panels to the yellow portions of the body. These panels where fogged in with a darker green. Perhaps perfect for the time, but I think this was overkill. This version is the last we have seen of this car. And we have no knowledge if the car is still around today or not.


CCC-Larry-Watson-LeFevre-LastV-01WThis last version – as far as we know – was also photographed at the Larry Watson 9012 Rosecrans blvd. shop in Bellflower. On this photo you can see just a small portion of the famous Watson logo shop wall on the far right. The Peanut House was a bar and called this because they served a big bowl of Peanuts with the order and the floor was covered with peanut shells.


CCC-Larry-Watson-LeFevre-LastV-02WThe paneled version of the 1959 El Camino, now owned by by Fred’s brother, Ron LeFevre. The 1959 Cadillac taillight bullets sitting on perforated metal in the reshaped openings, look right at place at the end of the pointy side trim. Also new on the pick up is the white hard tonneau cover.


Resources and more info

    • Custom Cars Annual, 1961
    • Gasoline magazine, 1-2012


(This article is made possible by)





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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