Despite his genius and popularity, Dutch never made any money from striping. Money was something he detested. In this quote from a 1965 article Dutch explains his thoughts on money.
“I make a point of staying right at the edge of poverty. I don’t have a pair of pants without a hole in them, and the only pair of boots I have are on my feet. I don’t mess around with unnecessary stuff, so I don’t need much money. I believe it’s meant to be that way. There’s a ‘struggle’ you have to go through, and if you make a lot of money it doesn’t make the ‘struggle’ go away. It just makes it more complicated. If you keep poor, the struggle is simple.” – Von Dutch
Every so often he would double his rate just to weed out the undesirables. So many were demanding his services that he just couldn’t stand it anymore. It didn’t work! No matter what he charged, they just kept on coming! He hated the commercial aspects of what he did. He believed that you couldn’t focus on doing good work if you worried about the money, and ‘good work’ was everything to Dutch!
Von Dutch was a multitalented artist. In addition to pinstriping, ha was also a gunsmith, kustom painter, knife maker, sign painter, inventor, customizer, and a fine artist. Von Dutch also did a lot of special effects for movies, and was a consultant for period movies because he was a gun expert. The man was a genius, and could make something out of anything. He was mostly interested in motorcycles, but did also customize some cars. One of the cars he restyled was based on a Cord and a Cadillac, so he named it the “Cordillac”. Another automotive creation by Von Dutch was his truck the “Kenford”.
Von Dutch was known as an eccentric artist. In an interview with Hot Rod Magazine March 1977 he tells about a guy visiting his shop bugging him to stripe his car. He really got him mad, so he decided to give him a little surprise, as he put cobwebs and spiders all over his car. Another customer who was foolish enough to pressure Von Dutch into a quick job he didn’t want to do got a striping job that wouldn’t dry, as Von Dutch had mixed a lot of oil into the paint. In Hot Rod Magazine April 1989 Pat Ganahl also tells stories about a fire truck Von Dutch was hired to do traditional pinstripng on for a station in Arizona. Once completed Von Dutch had flamed the truck instead. When racers brought him grille inserts from Model A’s or 32s, half the time he would stripe them upside down. Pat had also heard a story about a customer that got a car striped. When the customer got back to the shop Von Dutch had pinstriped one side of the car differently than the other. When brought the car back to Von Dutch, Von Dutch would tell him: “Who can see both sides of your car at the same time? Why should they be the same? This way, you get two different designs on your car to enjoy for the price of one”.Also if somebody tried to dicker on price, Von Dutch would raise the figure instead of lowering it.
Von Dutch got a little too moody and eccentric for Barris Kustoms, so he moved his operation uptown to “The Crazy Arab’s” Competition Body Shop at 7201 West Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles in 1955. After Von Dutch moved, George Barris asked Dean Jeffries, aka “The Kid” if he would sublease a shop space in the Barris Kustoms Lynwood shop. Dean Jeffries used to hang around Von Dutch in the beginning of his career. In the book Dean Jeffries 50 Fabulous Years in Hot Rods, Racing and Film Dean admits that it was Von Dutch that learned him to pinstripe. As Dean spent a lot of time around Von Dutch, the duo became known as Von Dutch and “The Kid”. Before Dean “Jeff” Jeffries rented space at the Barris Kustoms shop he was working out of George Cerny’s Custom Shop.
In 1955 Von Dutch made a personal appearance at the 1955 Motorama where he striped a 1927 Studebaker for 10 days, he achieved national fame in Car Craft February 1956.
According to his sister Virginia Howard Reyes most of the stories being told about Von Dutch are just stories. Some are somewhat true, but almost all of the stories on him are all different because he never gave a straight answer, and liked to play with you. When he told you something, you believed it, and he got a kick out of it. According to Virginia he never lied, he hated liars, and was very honest. He wasn’t eccentric as a young boy, but since he was quite different from the norm, his family always knew he had something special in him.
After a controller from the building inspector’s office started bugging Von Dutch for having antiquated machinery in his shop, he decided to move into a 1954 public transportation bus, since there is nothing in the vehicle code that says anything about how old the machinery can be.
One of the things Von Dutch enjoyed doing most was building and working on machinery. Building an engine from scratch, see it grow, have it make heat, and power, would beat Frankenstein’s monster to Von Dutch.
Born in 1929 as Kenneth Howard, Von Dutch was the man who brought pin-striping as a high art from motorcycles to automobile bodies. He took his nickname from his stubbornness. “Stubborn as a Dutchman” is a by now quaint ethnic slur. But beyond stubborn, Von Dutch became insufferable. He was the quintessential cliché romantic artist, selfish inside his own vision, alienating family, friends and customers alike. Part romantic, part beatnik, part general pain in the ass, he was a racist and prima donna, he managed to irritate almost everyone who admired him—and in the best esthetic mode, somehow made them admire him more in the process.
He died in 1992, leaving two daughters. At the end, he was drinking heavily, holed up in an old Long Beach city bus. For years he lived at the museum called Movie World, Cars of the Stars and Planes of Fame in Buena Park, California. He had become paranoid and he spent time elaborately engraving and painting knives and guns as well as cars.
Michael Cassel, a maker of surf clothing, established a company called Von Dutch Originals in 2000 and opened the store on Melrose Avenue a year later. He brought in a man named Tony Sorensen who in turn hired designer Christian Audigier. Audigier worked for Diesel and Fiorucci. Casel’s notion was to tap the hot rod set; but Sorensen and Audigier aimed at wider, fashion audience.
From what he have heard through the grapevine the clothing line was started by his daughters in 1996 with Michael Cassel with the rights being sold in 2000 and Tony tossing Cassel out around 2001. The family business the “family” honestly,made NO money compared to what that company made and is still making.
No discussion of Von Dutch would be complete without touching on the subject of his famous Flying Eyeball logo. According to Von Dutch, the flying eyeball originated with the Macedonian and Egyptian cultures about 5000 years ago. It was a symbol meaning “the eye in the sky knows all and sees all”, or something like that. Dutch got a hold of this symbol and modified it into the flyin’eyeball we know of today. He always believed in reincarnation, and the eyeball, somehow, was tied to that.There have been numerous “incarnations” of this design over the years. It still remains an icon of the ’50s and ’60s street rod crowd.