1964 Buick Riviera | Owner: Eric Chandler

From the 1930’s up until somewhere in the early 1980’s, summertime meant one thing for a large population of Long Beach youth. Car cruising.

Well, technically, there was time all year long for car cruising back in the day. But summertime meant more days out of the week to be out later into the night.

The night would always start at a drive-in. That’s where you met up with friends and ran into people you knew.

There was Hody’s at the corner of PCH and Anaheim, the Clock Drive-in by the Traffic Circle, The Lakewood Drive-in on Carson Street, the Los Altos Drive-In on Bellflower and Spring, and Grisinger’s Coffee Shop at Atlantic and San Antonio, among others.

Guys and gals, 16 years and up, would spend the day making sure their car looked as good as their outfit. Then it was time to hop in, turn your key in the ignition (sometimes more than once), and motor off…away from mom and dad’s house and toward friends beckoning at the drive-in. That would just be the start of the night.

From there they’d cruise.

Jack Petitt (Millikan class of ’68) and Don Chambers (Lakewood ’71) reminisce with 908 about the routes they used to cruise – in much the same way they do each Sunday morning when they meet with their “Mercifuls” Car Club at Glory Days Grill for breakfast.

Jack Petitt’s 1957 Pontiac Chieftain, 1969 Nova, & Don Chamber’s 1955 Chevy Nomad. The two are members of the “Mercifuls” Car Club in Long Beach and can be found cruising all around Long Beach these days just like the 60’s and 70’s.

“Major streets, neighborhoods, friend’s houses, other drive-ins…anywhere there were good-looking girls who appreciated good-looking cars,” says Jack.

But the real spot to cruise - if you had a bitchin’ car to show - was Bellflower Blvd in the City of Bellflower. The night would start at Harvey’s Broiler on Firestone Blvd. in Downey, the famous drive-in/diner. Then they’d cruise Bellflower.

Everyone would be there. The top hot rods, “kustoms,” mild kustoms, street machines, low riders, you name it—from Long Beach, Lakewood, Bellflower, Wilmington, Downey, Compton, Norwalk. If you had something to show, Bellflower was your stage.

“Nothing was organized,” says Don Chambers. “You would just go down there and run into people with similar interests, some you knew and some you didn’t. We were all just looking for a good time and it was a lot of fun.”

Bellflower cruising was a scene straight out of a movie. Packed. Cars cruising up and down all night long. The Lakewood Sheriff would go up there and try to impose a two-lap limit on crowded nights. Anything to keep the high school car culture coeds from having too much fun, too long into summer nights.

But you couldn’t stop the fun in those days. Besides the Long Beach teens, other local legends would cruise Bellflower. Guys with really cool cars. Guys like Ed Roth, the creator of Rat Fink, or Larry Watson, the pinstripe painting legend.

Larry Watson

A regular on the strip, Larry Watson was outgoing and personable, but that’s not why people recognized him. Watson’s pinstriping detail in lowrider paint designs, and signature candy apple paint jobs with the real flashy scallops and flames, made Watson stand out among Bellflower cruisers.

“Larry Watson was the king of Bellflower Blvd,” says Andy Heintzelman, a current 908 resident and member of the prominent Long Beach Car Club “Sultans.”

Andy got to know Watson over the years because he was a friend of the Sultans Car Club. Car enthusiasts around the world worship Watson for the impact he’s made on paint style. Pretty cool that the Long Beach Sultans got to hang out with him on a regular basis before Larry passed away in 2010. It’s a perk of growing up in the heartland of the car scene.

Andy’s current car, a 1955 Ford pickup truck painted bright orange with white scallops would never exist without the inventive and creative paint style of Larry Watson. In fact, Watson saw it at a car show once and complimented Andy for having one of the few front end scallops painted true to the time period. A blessing from a true deity in the car world.

Watson may have been the King of Bellflower Boulevard cruising, but he wasn’t the only guy who influenced the world of kustom cars from a So Cal garage.