A Day in The Life of Billy Gibbons ZZ Top
The Reverend Billy F Gibbons
One day in 1998, just after the November ’97 re-launch of the SO-CAL Speed Shop my mentor and boss Pete Chapouris said, “Grab your camera, we’re going to Billy Gibbons ZZ Top warehouse in Texas.”
Billy F Gibbons, front man of ZZ Top and Chapouris had been friends for a long time. In fact, in 1978 Pete and Jake had built Billy a Model 40 chassis that had then gone over to Don Thelen’s Buffalo Motor Cars in Paramount, Calif. where they built the first Eliminator Coupe. One of Pete’s profound sayings was, “There’s no money in it after the brakes lines.”
I’m no longer sure why we were going but any trip with Billy and Pete was sure to throw up some fun and some cool cars. I remember the night before. I had to pick Billy up at the airport as he was flying in from somewhere. He said, “I’ll meet you at the curb.” I said, “How will I recognize you Billy?” He replied, “I’m the one in the funny hat.”
I also had to take him out for dinner and that’s a trip in itself as he’s instantly recognizable. And, as soon a people realize who he is and that he’s approachable they flock around like moths. It’s kinda fun but kinda not, as the great unwashed never seem to know when enough is enough. Nevertheless, Billy is instantly making friends, talking to everybody and handing out ZZ Top key chains.
As you would expect, some of his collection is housed in some nondescript industrial buildings. The first thing that greeted us inside the warehouse was the Larry Erickson-designed ZZilla Tour truck based on a Ford Aerostar. When it was on the road the truck was driven by our good friend Ted LeDane.
Sitting in front of the rig was Billy’s seldom seen stretched ’48 Pontiac Silver Streak limo. Found rusting in Texas, the car was sent to Chuck Lombardo’s California Street Rods in Huntington Beach where they installed a big-block Chevy and Dick Dean stretched it 40-inches and chopped the top 4 ½.
Next we pulled out a nice, stock black ’58 T-Bird. Of course, the Bird had been lowered but down the road it would ship to Chapouris where it was transformed into the stunning Mexican Blackbird with traditional Watson-style panel paint by Mick Jenkins at Mick’s Paint.
Over in the corner of the warehouse was my all-time favorite car, CadZZilla. Designed for Billy by Larry Erickson, and built by Craig Naff at Hot Rods by Boyd in the late-80s, the Caddy is essentially a ’48 Cad Series 62 Sedanette that was chopped, sectioned and sleeked like no other custom. It too was recently painted at Mick’s Paint after some unfortunate damage in transit to the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Alongside CadZZilla was a spare stock Caddy because ya never know.
Also there was the only remaining HogZZilla. There had been two designed by Erickson around a pair of Harley-Davidsons Fatboys with spun aluminum wheels. The bikes were built by Chapouris’s gang including Jim “Jake” Jacobs, Steve Davis, John Carambia, Tim Beard, Pete Eastwood and Bob Bauder. To watch Jake hand make four compound curve tank badges was truly amazing. Sadly, one of the bikes burnt to the ground and is no more.
We dragged out the original steel Eliminator next. You can tell it’s the original, steel car because it had three door hinges. The fiberglass replica that was built at Lombardo’s California Street Rods to meet the demand for appearances by the car has no hinges. Mostly sits on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. However, Billy keeps the real steel car safely close to hand. That said, we did fly it over the crowd slung beneath a helicopter at a Monsters of Rock concert in England in 1985 but we’ll save that for another story.
Finally, we pulled out Billy’s ’36 Ford 3-window, which is maybe why we went there. Pete had built this cool, mildly customized hot rod for Billy in the early 90s before Pete re-launched SO-CAL. It was just a nice hot rod that anybody would want to own but controversial because Pete sacrilegiously punched a hole in the original grille and mounted a skull there. Well, that put the purists’ arms up in the air. Don’t worry, we all thought, it just makes all the other grilles more rare and more valuable. The other things that Pete did that got attention was the installation of a racing–style filler cap and using the blood-red leather from his old dad’s old easy chair to upholster the coupe. Nobody did that then.
Lil’ Mambo, just one of several names for the ’36, was the perfect car to go cuisin’. A hot rod for sure but inconspicuous compared to most and it just looked tough as we trailed Billy around town in search of his favorite Mexican food. Nobody hardly took any notice that is until we stopped and took a few snaps—how could you not recognize that beard?
All too soon the sun was setting. Our day was done. Time to lock the doors and head on back to the airport. Thanks Billy.