Willie Olea is one of our culture’s finest painters, so it’s no surprise that he brings us this clean ’56 that looks like it rolled straight out of the factory. His paint resume reveals a list of Lowrider heavy hitters, including John Kennedy’s “Southside Player, and also his ’62 “El Gringo,” as well as other greats like “Rolling Four,” “Orange Nightmare,” and Anthony Fuentes’ “Seducer” in 1990. It’s no wonder Willie was the subject of one of our Painter’s Profiles back in June of 2003. Willie honed his skills at the legendary Orlie’s Hydraulics in Long Beach CA., a place he heard about at a very young age when his uncle had a ’62 painted and lifted there. It’s safe to say that Willie has been on the scene for some time now; in fact, he’s been around auto painting for over 20 years. “I first got into painting Lowriders in ’87,” he states. ‘My dad had a Gold ‘65 Chevy on Cragars, my grandfather had a ‘54 Chevy, and my uncles were rolling in ‘62’s and ‘58’s,” he says proudly. “I remember way back, cruising down the street with my uncle and hitting switches in his Pearl White ’62, on the way to the Show Boat to play video games, which is now Speedzone off the 60 freeway.” Willie began learning at Orlie’s shortly thereafter and those early days prepped him to become the painter he is today.
As for the ’56, this car has been a long time coming, but not a long time in the making. After several previous builds that were left unfinished due to Willie’s full schedule of working on others’ cars, he knew he had to follow through on this one. The most recent journey was a ’62 which Willie decided to sell in order to put some work in on his family home, a place he shares with his wife, Veronica and his two children Willie, and Hailey. A few years later, he decided to purchase another project car after going to a Costa Mesa Car Show. Willie and Veronica compared a ’62 and ’56 Chevy, deciding to go with a ’56 to replace the previous project car.
Finding the right ’56 wasn’t so easy. After being close in negotiations with a ’56 owner in Kentucky, Willie was suddenly turned down; for some funny reason, the car was no longer for sale before a deal was complete. “I don’t know what happened. Did the man with the hard accent not like my last name? Or did he not want his prized possession to come to California?” Willie was perplexed. “Months later, I saw the same car for sale. I decided to call friend John Kennedy to see if he could make the purchase, but they turned him down too, as soon as they realized he was calling from California. Glad to say it wasn’t because of my last name,” Willie says.
The frustrating experience proved to be for the best, as Willie located a better car in nearby Fullerton, CA. The car was cruise ready and seemed to have been garaged its whole life. While the car was turning heads in the shape it was in, Willie had to make it his own. It is then that Willie stripped down all the stainless metal, as well as the bumpers and glass. His place of work at the time, Norwalk Collision Center was the hub as Willie and Javier Escareno started those countless hours of blocking and prepping to get that straight solid look that he knew he had to have. One month later it was then ready for paint.
“The vin tag called for yellow and green, so I thought it would be only right to keep it in those colors, but also add my own twist to the shades,” Willie says. “In my 20 years in this business, I had never seen a green and yellow ‘56 around here. After this one, I think there’s a good chance of seeing more green and yellow combinations to come!”