The Legacy of Larry Watson

For as long as he can think, Jean-Daniel »Momo« Mottier has had a soft spot for American mid-century culture. To be more exact, his favorite period of time goes from the late 1950s to the early 1960s: »I love the music as well as the daily items from that era. But what impresses me most are the cars, especially the Bellflower style kustoms.«

To Momo – and most likely to many others as well – this crossover between early low rider and traditional kustom is very stylish and understated, but at the same time creative and exciting. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise either, that there’s one person he considers the undisputed master of Bellflower style: the unforgettable and legendary Larry Watson.

Maybe a bit more surprising comes the fact that Momo lives in Switzerland, and already at the age of 17, he had started his customizing career turning a 1961 Impala into a mild kustom. Having no garage at the time, he had to do everything in an underground parking lot, with cheap tools and almost no space. Later on, he was able to build his first custom car from the ground up, a 1965 Impala.

But before kustomizing it, Momo decided to do a road trip with it – an epic road trip. He shipped the Impala to the United States, and drove it cross-country from west coast to east coast! After returning to Geneva, Switzerland, the car slowly started turning into a full-on Bellflower style kustom: air ride suspension, Astro Supremes, white walls, and a glossy black paint job with candy red scallops. It was named El Diablo and became very famous all over Europe. No wonder, it was the pride and joy of Momo for more than 23 years.

Until a very dark winter day in February 2012: The club house of Momo’s club, The Crazy Cruisers of Geneva, caught fire and burnt to the ground. Several cars were completely destroyed, with Momo’s beloved 1965 Impala among others. The club received a lot of support from car clubs all over Europe, and over the following months, Momo started looking for a new shop and club garage. But it took a lot of time until his motivation was slowly beginning to come back.

A small ray of hope, the insurance company paid for some of the damage, so with the help of this money, Momo was able to start a new project. »Ever since my early youth, a 1958 Impala Coupe has been my dream car.« But as this model is very difficult to come by in Switzerland, Momo was never able to turn this dream into reality. With his spirits fueled by the promise of a new kustom project, Momo started searching all over Europe and finally found a 1958 Impala in Germany. It was in severe need of a restoration, but hey, it was a start!

When it came to choosing the future look of the 1958 Impala, Momo didn’t hesitate a second. The green 1958 Impala that Larry Watson had built for Jim Doss has always been a huge inspiration. And since Momo had met Larry Watson in person in 2002 – at Bill Hines’ 80th birthday party nonetheless – he knew for sure what he wanted to do: create a Larry Watson tribute. But in spite of copying or cloning an older Watson kustom, Momo decided to do it his way.

He started with disassembling the 1958 Impala and removed the body from the frame. Besides restoring and repainting the frame, Momo put in an air ride suspension and upgraded the front end with dropped spindles and disc brakes. The engine was replaced with a 383ci Chevrolet small block, very well-known to Momo. He had built it years ago for his brother who used it in his 1962 Impala SS, another car that got destroyed by the fire in the Crazy Cruisers’ club house.

Luckily the engine was saved and now sports a rare Offenhauser manifold with three big Rochester carburetors, the exact same ones used on the Tri-Power-equipped Pontiac GTOs. Coupled to the motor is a TH700 R4 transmission from Gear Star Inc. with a 2400 RPM converter, while the rear end is a 3.73:1 Positraction.

Pretty impressive machinery for a boulevard cruiser, right? »I used to say that all my kustoms have a hot rod heart«, Momo explains with a big grin.

Still, a Bellflower cruiser is first and foremost about looks and style. It’s a philosophy of mild customizing with only minor body mods and a focus on paint, stance, and details. And the details are everywhere on Momo’s Impala. Some of our favorite parts are the super stylish atomic age 1959 Lincoln taillights that Momo found on eBay and managed to modify to match the original shape of the Impala’s rear section.

The front of the car also got a new look, thanks to a shortened 1954 Chevy grille, garnished with grille teeth from a 1953 Chevy. The headlights are Lucas units from a 1960s Jaguar.

When it came to the wheels, Momo didn't want to decide on one set. So, depending on the intended purpose, he can change between gold painted steel wheels with classic bias-ply whitewalls and Olds Fiesta spinner hubcaps, perfect for those long boulevard nights, or, if he decides to go a little faster, a set of Chrome Reverse wheels on skinny white radials.

The finishing touch on the outside is the flawless paint job in gloss black, with Watsonesque outlines in metallic gold. A white cream striping will be added soon in order to further pronounce the separation between black and gold.

And this is only the dramatic intro until the real show begins: the interior! It’s a true work of art, done by Da Grisel from Style Inside Inc. Everything is covered in black and gold, with an endless amount of diamond stitching, outlined with cream piping.

The swiveling front seats are from a 1966 Oldsmobile and the rear ones are stock, while the two speakers in the rear side panels came from nothing less than an old Drive-in Theater!

The dashboard has been cleaned and smoothed in order to receive an eclectic mix of pinstriping and lettering by Vince’s Pinstripes, same for the seatbacks. Another funky detail is the shifter knob that has been made by a Swiss artist named Thrashboy, designed after a sticker from Larry Watson.

Now everyone would think that with all this attention to detail and flawless execution, Momo is a happy camper? »Oh no«, he says, »this car is still far from being finished! It still needs a lot of work until I’m happy.« So, there’s nothing left to do for us but to sit and wait and see how Momo is going to make his dream kustom even more perfect. But whatever his plans are, we’re sure Larry Watson is watching from above with a huge smile.


The Normal People (video)

The Normal People from Daniel Soares on Vimeo.  Doesn't get much better than this.


the club coupe

No matter whether you're a metalhead, an avid comic book reader, or a hot rodder: There are those holy grails in the hobby that not only add spice to your dreams but also can really fuel your ambitions. The 1932 Ford 3-window-coupe is one of them.

Fred, a member of the Cheaters Car Club of Geneva had been on the lookout for a new hot rod project for years, and of course, being in a club like that, there's plenty of inspiration around. So, it doesn't come as a surprise that Fred's been working on all kinds of Ford products, ranging from Model A sedans to traditional roadsters to wild 1960s inspired model Ts. But unlike many of us, he didn't work on those projects one after another, Fred chose to tackle all of them at the same time. Unfortunately, this didn't turn out too well. And a few months ago, Fred decided to sell everything, with the exception of one roadster project.

Now Fred not only had regained some peace of mind, but also some space and some bucks. And all of a sudden, he came across an ad on the Swiss equivalent of Craigslist. Some collector, only a short drive from the Cheaters club house, was selling a beautiful and bone stock 1932 5-window-coupe.

Fred went to check it out and made an offer, but as they couldn't agree on a price, Fred went back home.

Fred was in good spirits when his phone was ringing. It wasn't the seller of the deuce coupe though, but one of his fellow club members. He was telling Fred about a 1932 3-window-coupe being for sale in Paris, France. And well, I don't have to roll out this story any further to explain to you what decision Fred came up with.

There isn't too much known in the history of this 1932 Ford other than it's been in several european hot rod clubs. It originally was imported from the US by a member of the A-Bombers from Sweden before it got sold to a good friend of Fred, a member of the Loud Mufflers club in Paris. And now it's in the possession of Fred, a Cheaters Geneva member.

One of the previous owners already had put in a French flathead but since the car had been sitting for a while, Fred decided to go through the mechanics, especially the brakes. He and his girlfriend Hélène had been planning a two-week road trip through Switzerland and since there might be one or another steep climb and some downhill sections on their way, good brakes are a good idea.

It was on that very Swiss cross-country road trip when Fred and Hélène stopped at my place for a weekend's stay. Many beers and laughs later, on the Sunday morning just before they wanted to hit the road again for the next stretch of their trip, I came up with the glorious idea of doing a photo shoot with the 3-window-coupe. It probably had struck me during the night that there has been a beautiful 1932 Ford sitting in my driveway for two days...

So, just when Fred and Hélène were putting their bags into the trunk, I asked them, hey guys, watcha think, wanna do a photo shoot? I mean, right now? As they are some of the nicest and loveable people, they didn't turn down my brilliant idea. Of course, I promised them to be done in 15 minutes. And I was done in 15 minutes. Not much time but enough to capture some of the soul of this gorgeous little machine.


kustoms, hot rods, and olive trees

Being a family man, it keeps getting harder to make sure everyone at home is happy. And it just gets worse when it comes to choosing a destination for a weekend trip or a family vacation. Luckily, there are guys like Max Trono who know how to throw a party. A party that doesn't just appeal to the kustom or hot rod guy but also to his wife, his kids, and his friends. It's called the Kustomweekend and it's usually held sometime in May, consisting of a car show, pool parties, surf band concerts, soap box races, flea market, barbecue and much more. Okay, I guess you get the point. There's something for everyone. And best of all, it's situated in the heart of Tuscany, Italy, in the beautiful Chianti region just south of Florence.