State of Speed: Billy F Gibbons’ ’58 Ford Thunderbird Mexican Blackbird

Photos Credit: Alex Maldonado
STORY BY: Tony Thacker

In the period immediately following World War II, there was a cultural explosion in Los Angeles as service men and women returning from the war sought escape and excitement. Many found it in the burgeoning custom car and motorcycle scene of Los Angeles. But why LA? Why not Detroit, Houston or any other city where returning soldiers settled? Well, LA had it all: Sun, sand and surf and as a consequence, a blossoming, eclectic car culture that ranged from drag racing and dune buggies to customs and low-riders. LA had it all.

Photo Credit: Tony Thacker

LA also had a thriving art scene and, of course, it had Hollywood. Throw all that in a Petri dish, stir vigorously and you’ve got the gene pool that gave birth to the likes of Kenneth ‘Von Dutch’ Howard, Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth and Larry Watson. None of these guys were schooled in the automotive arts but they all had a cultural impact way beyond their Made-in-Detroit palettes. Dutch, of course, originated modern pinstriping, Roth went on to create some of the most outlandish and iconic custom cars ever built and Larry Watson wielded a spray gun like no other painting some of the best custom cars ever.

When he’s not rockin’ the world’s stages, Billy is cruisin’ low ‘n’ slow.

Watson’s trademark was what they called back then ‘panel painting’ as he marked out panels on the car that were painted in contrasting Candy colors over silver, gold, copper or pearl bases. His first panel job was on his own, brand new ’58 Thunderbird that he initially painted pearl before adding the burgundy candy panels. It was an immediate hit and has been copied numerous times since not least of which by Billy F Gibbons, front man of ZZ Top.

Billy had owned the ‘Bird for some years and it was sitting in one of his storage facilities unused until he and the late-Pete Chapouris decided to de-mothball it and give it the Watson treatment and reference Billy’s song ‘Mexican Blackbird’ found on the band’s 1975 album Fandango.

Chapouris’ SO-CAL Speed Shop, Pomona, CA, began with some subtle fifties-style body mods that included replacing the front bumper overriders with bullets, ‘pancaking’ the hood (the removal of the factory scoop), the addition of a small peak along the hood centerline, and the removal of the five trim bars at the bottom of the doors along with a lot of other minor trim parts and doodads. Note, the door corners along with the corners of the hood were rounded in fifties’ style. Under the hood is a rebuilt factory 352 cubic inch V8 with chrome accessories.

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  • GARY
    August 18, 2019 at 10:23 pm  - Reply

    Why you gotta put politics up in here? Stow that shit–enjoy the music, enjoy the cars, respect the Reverend Willie G. Stop the hate!

  • Rob RD
    August 18, 2019 at 10:41 pm  - Reply

    Love the Blackbird I needs that guitar
    Rock on Willie

  • Brian Allen
    August 18, 2019 at 11:51 pm  - Reply

    greg, just go away. First of all you are very wrong in your statement, second of all this page is about an awesome musician and his awesome cars.

    August 19, 2019 at 1:16 am  - Reply


  • David Geiger
    August 19, 2019 at 7:29 am  - Reply

    Fabulous car and incredible guitar!

  • rudy owen
    August 19, 2019 at 5:22 pm  - Reply

    Love the ‘Bird,man. Love it.

  • Rebecca Lander
    August 19, 2019 at 5:39 pm  - Reply

    Billy, if you decide you don’t need that purple blazer, please feel free to send it to me.

  • Steve B
    August 21, 2019 at 1:41 am  - Reply

    Wow! I’m dig’n the mods on that ‘58 T-Bird…and the colors outside and inside of the car are just perfect!
    Way to go Billy G your sled is da bomb!
    By the way I saw a cool pic of you with the crew at So Cal Speed Shop here in Phoenix. Wish I was in that pic!
    Still lov’n your music and ZZ’s too after all these years..over 40 years!

    • Bob Holland
      August 22, 2019 at 9:12 pm  - Reply

      Try 50+ years, these guys played my prom in ‘70.

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