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.
Silver Spring, Maryland
'60 Ford Thunderbird
As with true traditional customs from the '50s and '60s, the engine is the mildest part of the ride. In this case, the stock 352 was modified with an Edelbrock intake and single 4-bbl carburetor. The factory air cleaner was made over with a two-tone paint job, and Moon valve covers and breathers dress up the heads. Tony's Muffler (Glen Burnie, Maryland) provided the exhaust system, which includes coated header pipes, and Cherry Bomb mufflers. Carl Schinner (Highland, Maryland) assembled the C6 transmission.
Richard kept the car rolling on the original 'rails, suspended by coil springs and gas shocks. He dropped the body just enough by cutting a couple of coils up front and a pair of 3-inch lowering blocks in the rear. The stock drum brakes and steering box were also retained to keep things simple. Brandon Glymph, Len Smith, Ed Harper, and Butch Martin pitched in on chassis work.
Wheels & Tires
Reading Custom Cars Annual in his youth paid off when it was time to select the right wheel and tire combination. The rims are 14x6 repro Thunderbird wires from Wheel Vintiques with Diamond Back Classic whitewall radials to complete the look.
Body & Paint
Without Len Smith's and Ed Harper's sheetmetal work, Richard's paint wouldn't look nearly as good. All body flaws were remedied, all emblems and handles were shaved, and the hood front corners were radiused. Two inches were added to the opened-up scoop, filled with a floating bar. The '58 Thunderbird mesh grille was treated to 27 bullets, matching a pair of larger bullets in the rear bumpers. Chrome mesh backing was added to the '59 Pontiac Bonneville taillights. The spots are genuine Appletons, transplanted from Richard's '54 Chevy hardtop. When it was time for paint, there was only one way to go: the way pointed by Watson in the '50s. Richard used pearl white paint for a base coat, and shot the panels with PPG Prowler orange. Richard and Brandon are responsible for the graphics. Watson invented the use of chrome tape for graphics, and it was applied here for that very reason.
The interior works hard to not out-shout the exterior, although it's hard to beat stock seats still wearing the original black leather, matched by the custom dash pad and loop pile carpet from Doug's Upholstery. The gauges were rebuilt at Classic Instruments, and the stereo system is from Custom Auto Sound.