Duane Barbee’s 1960 Desoto Fireflight
Written by: Becky Sue Means Photos by: Heath Cofran of HMC Creative
Duane has always had a passion for 60’s Customs, specifically the finned cars from Chrysler. After his retirement from Boeing in 2005 he went car hunting at G&G Mopars in Colton CA. & while wandering around their yard he saw a ’60 DeSoto Fireflight sitting in the weeds on the outside edge of their lot. The DeSoto Fireflight has always had a bold, almost custom appearance to begin with, so, naturally it seemed to be a good choice for Duane to build a 60’s custom from. The exterior of the car was heavily oxidized and the gas tank and fuel lines were nasty from sitting for years in the SoCal sun but thankfully the car had minimal body rust. The chrome and stainless were heavily pitted but that did not bother him because he knew that he would be removing all of it anyway.
Now with free time on his hands and a car to customize, he enrolled in an all-ages ROP Auto Body class at Fullerton High School where his good friend Mike Doyle was the instructor. Mike in fact, had built Duane’s two previous mild customs a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere and a 1961 Pontiac Bonneville and he had encouraged Duane to get more hands on after his retirement. Topics covered in this all-ages collision repair class were: metal straightening, MIG and TIG welding, the use of fillers, use of abrasives, along with materials for painting and paint application. A lot of the high school students did not have cars to work on and eagerly helped Duane when he asked for their help.
The first thing that Duane and a couple of the students began doing to the Desoto was shaving all of the trim and emblems and filling in the holes. The next thing they moved onto was the rust repair. With that effort completed the front end customization began. This started with removal of all the stock hardware from the front end & grafting on a highly modified grill surround from a 2003 Ford F150. Next the hood corners were rounded, the original headlight mounting points and the fenders were tunneled out with the plasma torch to make the space for the meticulously hand formed headlight buckets, they would rest beneath extended fender eyebrows. The actual quad headlights filling the buckets are Harley Davidson. The Desoto also received a facelift with the aid of a new grill and front bumper.
The Desoto was completed in 2010 & Duane loveingly named her Island Girl. In 2010 Mike also decided to retire from teaching at Fullerton High School. When this happened he and Duane rented a shop together in Anaheim where they could continue to work on personal projects and “The Man Cave” was born. This “hobby shop” as Mike referred to it, was located directly across the street from Anaheim Rod and Custom. It was this direct proximity that lead to the formation of a relationship with builder/fabricator/painter, Matthew Means. Their paths would cross again when Duane proudly displayed the Island Girl at the Tiki Highway event that Matthew Means put on in Huntington Beach at the now gone but beloved, Don the Beachcomber.
Duane cruised Island Girl from 2010 until 2013 when Island Girl was involved in an accident that took out both her left fender & door. It was then that Duane (now that he had his own shop space) decided to go thru her from top to bottom & update her custom image. This started with the installation of 1957 Chrysler Windsor grill wings inside the grill surround & filling the turn signal locations in the 1961 Buick LaSabre . With that effort completed Duane & Mike molded the front fenders into the rockers and cowl to continue her smooth lines. On the back side of the car, 1961 Chrysler Imperial tail light housings were used but they were installed upside down and 1959 Cadillac taillights with custom Blue-Dot lenses were mounted on custom stanchions inside the modified DeSoto housing.
“We were very lucky to end up in that space with Matt across the street,” says Duane. “We didn’t know it at the time but in hindsight it was almost a meant to be thing,” he continues. As Duane recalls, Matt wandered across the street one day to see what was happening at this building with the large “Man Cave” banner hanging above the bay door. He took an immediate interest in Island Girl and began helping the guys refine their long block and other body working skills. “Ultimately, I chose Matt to do the paint on my car because I trusted him. He said he could give me the paint job that I wanted. I explained that I wanted a fade with candy and pearls and he gave us physical spray samples. He absolutely nailed it when I presented my ideas to him,” Duane explains.
At first glance one might think to themselves that this is a Winfield or Watson paint job but one thing that makes Matt’s painting style different is that rather than laying the highlights on the tops of the fenders and body lines as his predecessors have, he flipped it and the car gets lighter as your eye moves down the body panels. There is a deeper tone of the pearl paint running down the center of the car rather than a highlight. Plus, all of the shades used are in the same color family one spilling into the other with a smooth transition and no overly defined highlight or lowlight.
Means, with a background in art, finds his inspiration in nature. “I have always been influenced by the work of Watson and Gene Winfield because their large, long gradients are the kind of thing that you see in nature. What I was thinking about when painting the Island Girl was the natural colors of the sky and the graduation of color tones in an ocean bay. The Island Girl to me is an orchid: it’s beautiful, it’s simple, while at the same time being complex.”
At the time he painted this car, the consensus about the new House of Kolor Shimrin 2 line was that it was too transparent so, Matt used this transparency to his advantage when layering, blending and fading in the various color tones on the car. This flawless finish was created by using 2 coats of KD3000 series custom mix seafoam sealer as the base, with 3 coats of iced mint (custom mix) pearl base, followed by 18 delicately applied coats of the custom Bali Bali Bay pearls. This was all encompassed in 3 coats of USC-01 clear then sanded flat with three more coats applied and all was finished off with meticulous color sanding and buffing. When Means was asked why he chose the name Bali Bali Bay Pearl for this paint job he said with a chuckle,
“Well, because the paint came out so nice I just had to name it twice!”
Duane Barbee would like to give special thanks to: Mike Doyle, Roger Underhill, Rick Morgan, Oliver Pendergrass, Bill Hernandez, Anaheim Rod & Custom, Jerry Guadao, Brian Adams & Richard Marmaduke “Duke” Langdale (RIP)