Friday, April 15, 2011

Bob Bond, pinstriper extraordinaire, continues to add his artistic touch to cars all over Kansas City while passing his skills on to others

One of the reasons the old car hobby is so interesting is that it takes such skilled people to make it all work. Mechanics that are patient enough not to throw their tools through the garage wall, body men that are skilled enough to massage metal panels and lay smooth paint, even shade tree engineers who can design everything from brackets to headlight buckets, all deserve way more respect than they usually receive.

One of my favorite side skills in the automotive world belongs to the graphic artist. When you see flourishing pinstripes, faded flames, and hand-painted signage on an old vehicle, it doesn’t take long to determine how skilled that artist was. And if you are paying attention to what’s out there in the Kansas City area, you realize that some of the best stuff flows from the steady hand of Pinstripers Hall of Fame member Bob Bond.

One look around Bond’s Lee’s Summit home workshop makes it clear that you are dealing with someone with a real passion for this. Everything from cars to mailboxes is decorated in his signature style. Tables are set up so he can teach pinstriping workshops on the weekends. Books, brushes, and posters are everywhere. It is sensory overload for people who know who created the Winged Eyeball.

And with his big, white beard, Coke bottle glasses, and scruffy, white ponytail, you may get the impression that Bond possesses some Von Dutch-like eccentricities. But if you speak to him for awhile, you start to realize that there is a real order to his technique.

You see, in spite of the creative nature of his business, Bond was trained as a technical illustrator. But while he was getting his feet wet in the Southern California corporate world, he got the urge to lay some stripes on his Volkswagen Squareback. From there on, he was hooked. Once he practiced his skills on a few of the neighbors’ cars, he had enough confidence to take his talents to the local Volkswagen dealership.

“Bugs were the easiest cars to stripe,” recalls Bond, “because they had those grooves in the hood that you could follow with a brush.”

He traced those grooves on hundreds of Bugs in the Santa Barbara area, before quitting his day job as a technical illustrator at IT&T to open his own shop in Van Nuys in 1970. Bond stayed there for 21 years, and worked on projects for everyone from George Barris, the King of the Kustomizers, to Elvis Pressley, the King of Rock and Roll. He also ran a successful T-shirt printing business that eventually became the official printer for Ocean Pacific after he sold out to his partner.

14 years ago, Bond recognized a need for his type of artistic skills in the Kansas City area. Today, cars and trucks featuring his work are prevalent at nearly every car show in town. In fact, when asked how many cars he has worked on, he just sighs and says, “thousands.”

Bond is not just content striping cars anymore, though. He is always trying to improve his craft. When I took the truck in for some “Hover Motor Co.” door signage last week, he was genuinely excited to explain the technique for aged lettering that he has been working on. And indeed, what ended up on my doors looks like it has been there for 40 years.

Bond is also one of the foremost experts on gold-leaf lettering, and his work can be seen on many ornate fire engines and high-end hot rods. He is also proficient in painting flames, cartoons, and even fine art.

I asked him if he worried about all the guys he teaches workshops to becoming his competition. And while he acknowledges that it does happen to some extent, he remains philosophical. “Since the beginning, the experienced painters have always passed their craft along to the apprentice.” Bond loves his craft enough that he wants it to live on long after he’s gone. So if that means fostering a little competition, the results are worth it.

Another thing that he is proud of is his commitment to charity. Bond was one of the founders of the PINHEADS Pinstriper’s Association, and over the years they have managed to raise some $2-million in charitable donations. Locally, you can always expect to see members of the group striping away at the Kansas City World of Wheels show, where they end up auctioning off their one-of-a-kind artwork.

And lest you think Bond’s work is only recognized locally, you may be interested to know that he is regularly featured in nationally known automotive art books, and he is the publisher of Auto Art Magazine.

The slideshow below contains several photos of Bond’s automotive masterpieces over the years. You are sure to see something you recognize, and it may give you an idea for your own ride. I can attest that his prices are reasonable for the work you get, so if you are interested in learning more, be sure to visit

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