Larry Watson was just a high school kid when he started putting paint to sheetmetal in a way that would make him famous and move custom car styling in a whole new direction. He's been credited with inventing scallops and panel painting, and was without a doubt years ahead of his time. It was Watson's '58 Thunderbird that got his name written indelibly in the custom car history books. If you've read those books, you know the story of how teenage Watson advance-ordered one of Ford's radically recreated T-birds from a dealership in late 1957 and, within three weeks, had it slammed and shaved, dressed up with Appleton spots, and completely repainted. Nobody knew what the car was, only that it was wearing the wildest paint job they'd ever seen. The custom was an instant sensation at drive-ins, car shows, and eventually, on the cover of the 1959 Custom Cars Annual.
Richard Glymph was in the 8th grade when that issue of CCA hit the newsstands. As soon as he saw Watson's T-bird on the front, he knew he wanted to be a painter. He started practicing on models, moved on to real cars, and has achieved his career goal with a great deal of success as paint man at Chandler Auto Body. By the time his own son, Brandon, was old enough to get interested, Richard had already owned a bunch of cools cars-but never a "square 'Bird" like the one that had inspired him.
That changed when he bought this '60 a few years back. The car was an original, second-owner car with only 53,000 miles under its wheels. The only modification at the time was the 2 inches of body filler added to hide a sideswipe scar.
The Thunderbird served as Brandon's daily driver for a couple of years. After the stock transmission died, Richard let the car sit for a couple more years, "while I was mad at it." Eventually, the inspiration came back. With help from his friends, the conversion from original to period custom progressed pretty quickly. In addition to shaved sheetmetal and rounded corners, the T-bird body was customized with a bullet-riddled '58 grille, '59 Pontiac taillights, an extended and opened scoop, and some amazing paint. The design is inspired by Watson's 'Bird, and the colors are reminiscent of Ray Moore's '52 Ford, painted by Watson during the same period. Even the chrome-taped 'stripes are a tip of the hat to a classic Watson technique.
Richard says that the paint "is not meant to copy Watson, but to pay tribute to the panel-painting era inspired by Watson's work." That's exactly what we thought when we saw Richard's custom at the Goodguys Nationals. The 1,000-mile round trip between Silver Spring, Maryland, and Columbus, Ohio, was the first big trip for the Thunderbird, which-like its inspiration-has been making a splash wherever it shows up. Now, here it is in Rod & Custom and-who knows?-maybe there's an 8th grader out there who just decided he wants to be a painter.