There is, without a doubt, a fascinating life story behind each of the famous car builders and collectors showcased in this monthly column dedicated to the recipients of induction into Darryl Starbird's National Rod and Custom Car Hall Of Fame, but the story behind Joe Bailon's life of building custom cars is one of a true self-taught master.
From a very young age, Joe Bailon dreamt of not just driving or owning a car, but actually transforming one into a completely different design. Unfortunately for Bailon, he was just a kid at the time and had to settle for carving model cars using chunks of scrap pieces of wood. Since building model cars-whether from a piece of wood or a dime-store plastic kit-is probably how every single car nut reading this magazine started his or her personal love of cars, we can all relate to this adolescent hobby. But it was much more than a hobby for Bailon, and before he turned 16, Joe had picked up his first car-a 1939 Ford Model A coupe. This car would soon turn into Bailon's very first full custom car, built way before he graduated from high school.
Not long after turning 18, Bailon learned the fine art of cutting and working with steel by taking a job at a shipyard in Richmond, California. This job was short-lived, as World War II called for his assistance. After returning home, he picked up a '36 Ford three-window coupe and quickly got back into the custom car frame of mind. This '36 not only became the car that put the name Bailon on the map, it was also a very cool ride. He first lowered the '36, added '38 Ford taillights, and sunk the rear license plate into the trunk lid. To top it all off, Bailon painted the car with ruby-maroon lacquer. Remember, he hadn't spent countless hours hanging out in local body shops learning the trade; all of Bailon's body skills were self-taught, including his masterful skill with candy paint.
Once finished and cruising around the streets, Joe's '36 coupe grabbed the attention of a local man and was soon sold for nearly three times what Joe had paid it. Riding high on his new success, Bailon picked up a '41 Chevy club coupe for the hefty price of 50 bucks. It's hard to imagine one of the most famous custom cars in history was originally bought for $50 and then customized by a man who had virtually no experience. By the time the '41 was complete, it already had the name Miss Elegance, which by the way was a grave understatement, and was on its way to earning some of the automotive industry's most prestigious awards, including the Most Elegant Award at the Oakland Roadster Show and a bunch of First Place trophies from all across the country back in 1952.
Since Bailon's leap into the custom car world more than 50 years ago, he single-handedly performed every modification on all of the lucky cars that carry the Bailon crest. Not just designing and letting his crew do the work, Bailon performed every modification. Bailon also moved to sunny Southern California for a few years to show Hollywood a thing or two as well. Many of Hollywood's elite had the Bailon treatment given to their daily drivers, like James Garner's wife's Mercedes, Sammy Davis Jr.'s Vega wagon, and Dean Martin's Cadillac station wagon, just to name a few. But the single most important mark left on the automotive industry by Bailon is the creation and execution of the first Candy Apple Red paint job, which led to a full spectrum of candy colors. For those of you out there who may not know much about candy paint-besides the fact that it looks good enough to lick-it is without a doubt the most difficult paint to master. Again, this is all from a self-taught guy from Central California with a natural talent for customizing, and the dream of seeing his imagination cruising down the main street of town.