Recently I looked at the fascinating history of automobile paints (you can see that article by clicking here). The advance in technology that gives some show cars that wow factor – deep, bottomless pools of colour. But you can take this a step further with a custom design as well, ranging from a bit of subtle pin striping, to a full blown design.

The wild colours of candy-apple paint adorning classic motors first appeared in the 1960s in California, swiftly followed by custom air brushed designs like the “crab claw flames” which is still seen today. This particular design is attributed to Dean Jeffries, a custom car designer and stuntman/coordinator based in (of course) California. Most people will be familiar with at least one of his designs which ranged from the Monkeemobile to the Black Beauty (from The Green Hornet which starred a young Bruce Lee) to the quite stunning Mantaray from the 1963 film Bikini Beach, which starred Frankie Avalon (who later went on to have a role in Grease).

The custom car as we know it today actually first appeared in the 1950s, often dubbed as hot rods, these classic vehicles were designed to turn heads as well as their wheels. A hot rod could possibly be classed as a sub-genre of the custom car, often having an impractically exposed and highly tuned and polished engine. As engines became smaller and more efficient, the hot rod started to decline. Maybe it just simply wasn’t necessary to shoehorn a powerful engine into a vintage, lightened Ford anymore – you could buy a powerful car off the shelf.

But customising continues to this day, from the body kit available a few years back for the Nissan Micra (I kid you not) to a bank account shattering individual show car. Search around and you can find some cheap alternatives to an expensive custom paint job though. I’ve been aware for many years of the quality of Flat 4 produced products for the Beetle. Many years back I shelled out a small fortune to get some Flat 4 replica Sprint Star wheels imported from California before they were readily available in the UK. Expensive, but the quality and dedication to the original design was exceptional. They also produce a “C” Stripe kit for the Beetle, which was originally made by Empi in the 1960s for the Empi GTV vehicle. Essentially a high quality sticker kit, this replicates the custom air brushing of a professional custom paint sprayer – remember though, always inform your car insurer in case this affects your classic car insurance.

As I looked at the mind boggling array of designs out there, I was quite struck with the work of Wayne Harrison at Advanced Airbrush in Australia. It’s pretty clear looking at his work that the art of air brushing has developed impressively, no longer just eye-catching cartoon-style flames, modern designs and techniques are either subtle, realistic or just plain out of this world – yet I find it quite comforting to see that flames emanating from the engine are still de rigueur for many customers.

So next time you look in your rear view mirror and it appears that a young, baseball capped man is sitting in your rear seat as he tailgates you in a lowered, bright yellow Renault Clio, just remember that although he may not know it, he is actually carrying on the DNA of a long line of customising that dates back to the hey-day of chevy street rodding from the 1950s.

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