Billy F. Gibbons: custom car connoisseur and guitar collector extraordinaire.
It seems most hot rodders like to collect. Fenders, steering wheels, valve covers, taillights-they can all be collected to varying degrees and, chances are, if you aren't already a collector you probably know someone who qualifies.
For those who have a severe case of collecting (or hoarding), the medical field has a name for it: obsessive-compulsion disorder. But where do you draw the line? When is having 10 '34 Fords in your garage (or the parts thereof) too many?
Though most folks know Billy F. Gibbons as the frontman for the Texas rock 'n' roll trio identified collectively as ZZ Top, true fans already know of one of his obsessions: fine automobiles. You've seen them in the music videos that helped launch MTV in the '80s (the Eliminator coupe) and you've read about them in the appropriate magazines (CadZZilla in Hot Rod, July 1989; and his '36 coupe in the May '95 issue of STREET RODDER).
Just your basic 352: nothing to show under the hood except for the chrome valve covers and
After SO-CAL's Mick Jenkins applied the PPG black paint, DR Designs' Dennis Ricklefs spray
Billy with an identical pair of Bolin-built Mojo Maker Gibsons.
Billy also collects guitars and, as you might imagine, it's extensive (one number puts it around 600). The assortment is world class and was outlined in the '05 book: Rock + Roll Gearhead (ISBN-13:9780760322697), but the work also highlights 10 of his cars, as they're as much about his personality as the guitars he plays and the songs he writes.
Always writing new material for the next album, Billy never lets up with his interest in cars. His most recent addition, a vintage '58 Thunderbird nicknamed "The Mexican Blackbird" (after a '75 ZZ Top song of the same name), was customized and subsequently reborn at the hands of SO-CAL Speed Shop in Pomona, California, under the direction of Billy's longtime compadre and accomplice: Pete Chapouris.
For Chapouris, whose long and illustrious history of car building is as long as Billy's four-decade musical career, the project took him back to his early days growing up in El Monte, California, which is just down the boulevard from Bell Gardens, Whittier, Downey, and a host of other small cities that have had a big impact on car builders over the years, so the look of the cars coming out of Gene Winfield's or Larry Watson's was a big influence on him.
So it wasn't a big surprise when Billy contacted Chapouris to have SO-CAL Speed Shop begin work on something Billy had always wanted: a mid-'50s mild custom. And since the pair had worked together on a number of projects before (including the twin HogZZilla motorcycles and the '50 Ford three-window coupe called Kopperhed), they knew they could bounce ideas off each other and come up with something special.
A mild custom is just that-not a lot of body mods, but enough to make a statement. Rounded door and hood corners, shaved trim, scalloped paintjobs, and a custom upholstered interior are all hallmarks of the genre, and all were going to be employed on Billy's ride.
JAMCO Suspension (Corona, CA) supplied the lowered springs for the 'Bird (3 inches in the
Hot rodders one and all: (from left) Michael Anthony, Billy, Jimmie Vaughan, and Jeff Beck
So Billy reached into his warehouse of cars and produced a mint '58 for the SO-CAL team to start on. With a textbook low profile (aided by Jamco Suspension's 3-inch lower coils in the back and 2-inchers up front), the 'Bird's main body mod would be the removal of the hood scoop and flattening of the hood, capably handled by SO-CAL's Richie Nogueria. The results make the car look even lower, as your eye isn't drawn to a big hump on top of the hood. The wheels, gold-colored 15x7 Wheel Smith steelies, were shod with BFGoodrich Silvertown/Coker 6.70-15 2.5-inch whitewalls and then topped with a set of 15-inch '57 Dodge Lancer hubcaps. One of the few items to be replaced on the T-Bird was the gas tank, which Larry's T-Bird in Corona, California, reproduces.
The car's nameplate, fender gunsights, and door trim pieces were removed by SO-CAL's Tony Sandoval, but the factory Thunderbird emblems found on the nose and decklid were left intact. After SO-CAL's body shop massaged it to perfection, they rolled the car into Mick Jenkins' on-site spray booth and covered the car with PPG two-stage black paint.
SO-CAL Speed Shop reworked the factory seats before Gabe's Street Rod and Custom Interiors
Much talk between Billy and Chapouris ensued as the pair figured out exactly how the scallop paintjob would be finished. After deciding on gold highlights that would follow most of the car's major bodylines, DR Design's Dennis Ricklefs laid out the tape and filled everything in with House of Kolors Zenith Gold.
It was determined the interior of the 'Bird would have just as much impact as the exterior, so Gabe's Street Rod and Custom Interiors got the call to begin working on the highly modified factory seats and adding black and gold Ultra Leather to the buckets. SO-CAL's Evin Veazie modified the stock wiring loom and Dynamat insulation was used throughout, as was square-weave carpet.
The rest of the interior is mostly stock, except for the stereo system created by Alan Hic
The dash is stock, except for a simple but effective stereo system, created by Alan Hickman at Audio Shoppe in Riverside, California. When looking at the dash, you see the factory radio in its stock spot, but it's just a facade. Upon opening the ashtray, there is a plug-in device for Billy's iPod nano, which is a fifth-generation unit from Apple that includes an internal FM tuner to go along with the hours of music he's downloaded to his iPod.
A pre-amp is located in the glovebox that also has the tone and fade controls. The system then runs to two Arc Audio amps-one to drive the four Arc Audio high speakers (two 5-1/4-inchers up front and two 4-inchers in the rear) and the other for the twin 8-inch Arc Audio subwoofers found in a special-made (16 hours!) fiberglass enclosure. Hickman explains: "It isn't a thumper type of stereo system, but it delivers more performance-per-dollar than other systems."
It allows Billy to plug his iPod into a receptacle in his ashtray, with the signal running
The engine, an all-stock 352, was detailed and dressed up with a set of chrome valve covers and air cleaner, but is otherwise your basic Ford V-8 connected to a factory Ford-O-Matic transmission.
Once the low-slung Thunderbird was finished, it was time for a debut, and the car was shipped to the Moon Eyes show in Japan, and then formally unveiled in the United States at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. As Chapouris explains: "The Mexican Blackbird demonstrates what customizers have known for years. With the right platform it doesn't take much more than paint, upholstery, a good wheel combination, and slamming it to the ground to have the baddest ride in the valley."
We couldn't agree more.