Larry Watson was one of the central figures of custom car building in LA during the 1950s. He was a trailblazer of custom paint trends, techniques and tricks. His name is synonymous with candies, pearls and metal flake along with some of the brightest paint jobs seen due to his colour mixing talents. To this day, various styles of custom paint work are still referred to as Larry Watson scallops, Larry Watson panel jobs or Watson flames. His unique style is held in high esteem throughout custom car lore and can be seen adorning custom rides today. Dennis Jones’s 1959 Ford Fairlane is one such car that pays homage to this avant-garde customiser of the past.
Purchased in 1979 as a neat two-tone grey stocker, Dennis kept the four door sedan for a couple of years before selling it to good friend Graham Holden. Dennis then purchased himself a 1959 Galaxie retractable hardtop for cruising duties but that old grey Fairlane never left his mind.
Most of the body modifications were completed by Russell Parker whilst in the care of Graham. Russell is an old school body man who loves to customise things, and Graham is no stranger to cutting things up either, chopping a ‘54 Chevy sedan back in the day before people did that kind of stuff here. Between them they concocted a selection of traditional custom mods, most notably turfing the bumpers in place of rolled pans front and rear and trimming the tail fins. Aside from the chrome around the glass and roof and the custom tube grille, the entire body is void of any factory trim. All trim holes have been eliminated and edges rounded smoothed. A trio of ‘59 Cadillac taillights replace each of the factory units of dinner plate proportions, with an additional pair of ambers as blinkers. Not so easily noticed is the sliding steel sunroof which gets operated when the time is right. Custom accessories include dummy spots, lakes pipes and Fox Craft spats.
Dennis watched keenly as the project began to take shape. “A couple of times I asked Graham if he would be interested in selling it back to us. I had a vision of what it could look like finished. Then he rang one night and inquired about a 1965 Galaxy I had, 24 hours later a deal was struck.”
Having received the customised rolling shell, he could see the potential for a Larry Watson-inspired custom ride, in particular, Larry’s famous 1958 Ford Thunderbird dubbed “Vino Paisano” (see Back Page). Dennis’s first introduction to the classic T bird was as a teenager back in 1961 when he was on a road trip to Albury with his parents. “I was complaining that I wanted something to read so they bought me a hot rod magazine, inside it was the T Bird and other well-known cars of the era.”
The Fairlane sat in the shed for some time while Dennis worked out his plan of attack, which included relieving an XB GT Falcon of its disc brakes and nine inch rear end. Don Burton was given the task of performing the amalgamation of American custom with Aussie muscle. Initial plans were to shoehorn in a 460 and C10 auto, but Dennis wasn’t prepared to start cutting up a good floor, so a 302 Windsor with matching C4 auto was slotted into the hole where the original 332ci motor and box had sat. Exhaust duties are taken care of by the factory headers running through twin pipes with a crossover, all taken care of by Warragul Exhausts.
Next in line was the interior, and since there was none to speak of, Dennis set about designing his own utilising a set of XD buckets minus headrests for the front while an ZB Fairlane rear seat with centre armrest was chosen for the rear. A custom made console houses the auto shift and extra gauges mounted under the dash gives peace of mind driving. Rob Geisler Motor Trimming from Moe was the man with the magic stitching and covered the cruising compartment in white and burgundy tuck and roll with burgundy piping. Both interior and boot are complimented in burgundy carpet highlighted with white piping. With a fresh coat of paint across the dash and some rejuvenated bright work, the interior has that show class custom finish to it.
Dennis has always enjoyed drawing cars so when it came time to design a paint scheme, he was the first to step up to the plate. His wife Karen-Anne printed off some images of a Fairlane so that Dennis could create some design concepts, in the end they settled on magenta with white pearl highlights, Watson style of course.
Dennis contacted Leon Davies at Big L’s Chop Shop, aware that Leon doesn’t paint just anything. Once Leon saw the photos however, he contacted Dennis to say he was keen. He started with the metal flake on the roof, a trip to Spotlight securing the lace he used as a template for the insert. “Leon reckons he had half a dozen ladies helping him choose the lace at the store,” laughs Dennis. He masked and painted the scallops as per Dennis’s design and added some more of his own over the boot lid.
The 2013 ASRF Street Rod Nationals was the planned debut for the Fairlane and with the help of friends it was finished on the Sunday before heading off on Monday to Queensland. As usual, life never runs smoothly as Dennis and Karen-Anne found out. Travelling up the Newell Highway, a stray rock smashed the windscreen. Locating another one while stuck in Forbes was going to be a challenge but Ralph Moore Auto Glass from Sydney came to the rescue sending one out ASAP seeing the happy cruisers back on the road and heading to the Nats within two days.
Dennis is more than happy with the Watson-inspired Fairlane, dubbed ‘Priscilla’ after Don Burton’s wife started referring to it as that in the final stages. “It stuck and we reckon it suits,” said Dennis. “The thrill of the Nationals was that every time we stopped somewhere, people wanted to take photos and try to work out what it was.” But perhaps the nicest compliment was from the previous owner Graham. “It ended up with the right guy,” he said, patting Dennis on the back, “she came home.”
BY GREG FORSTER, PHOTOS BY CAPRICE PHOTO. FULL FEATURE CRUZIN MAGAZINE #159.