The Summer of ’69

A conscious reader alerted me to this piece on MSN.com:

When Michael Lightbourn agreed to look at an old hot rod buried in a garage apartment basement in El Paso, Texas, he never expected to find a work of art. “I’ve known Gary Hawkins for years. I grew up around him with my uncles, my dad, and everybody.” Michael knew Gary had an old ’23 T-bucket powered by a Corvette L88 big-block.

He just had never seen the car. In 2011, Gary asked Michael to check out the T-bucket for the codes on the 427 to assess the engine’s value. The T, Gary assumed, was just an old kit that “wasn’t worth anything.” Michael found the famous IT engine suffix code for a factory-issue L88, date coded December of 1967, and apparently correct for a ’68 Corvette. But more than the motor impressed him.

The paint job from 1969 still looked “really nice” and featured gold leaf, cool pinstripes, a pair of holograms resembling a marijuana leaf, plus painted emblems that looked oddly familiar. Finally, when Michael worked his way around the car to the tailgate and discovered “Von Dutch ’69” painted there, he quickly lost interest in the motor and asked Gary point blank who had painted this car.

He told me some guy who called himself Kenny.” Michael wondered if this Kenny could be Kenny Howard, also known as legendary painter Von Dutch.

And it gets better.

For the summer of 1969, Hawkins had made building this car his full-time job. He worked on the T from the time he got up until the time he went to sleep, right there in that garage apartment. Gary describes that summer as one of the best times of his life, subsisting on $200 rent paid for two separate dwellings above his head. Von Dutch painted the car and lived with Gary in this small space. In retrospect, Gary today is a little incredulous, recalling paint overspray on the walls and fumes misting in the air of the small apartment where he and Von Dutch slept at night.

To say the two shared some party time together would be an understatement. Nightly, some 20 to 30 hot rods would be parked up and down the steeply inclined neighborhood street outside the apartment’s pair of garage doors, where young men and women gathered. Gary recalls the name of the hot rod club of that era was The Little Giants. We ask Gary about what kind of wild things Von Dutch would do. “He’d take his motorcycle off the back of his bus and drive out in the middle of the street and go crazy doing donuts. I guess it was a stress reliever for him.”

Another stress reliever was to go out into the street and fire his handgun into the air. “It was an odd-shaped thing. I can’t remember the caliber,” Gary says.

Remember El Paso? It used to be cool.

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