Auburn’s candy-apple red creator dead at 94

Joe Bailon’s Blast from Past events were fall fixture for many years
By: Gus Thomson of the Auburn Journal
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Inspiration on a nighttime drive more than 60 years ago led to a lasting place in automotive history for Auburn-area resident Joe Bailon, who died Monday. He was 94.

Bailon recounted to the Journal in an interview more than a decade ago that there was something about the taillight of the car in front of him that inspired him.

“I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t that car look good the color of that taillight,’ and so I started working at it,” Bailon said. “I mixed all kinds of powders, paint, blends – everything I could get my hands on.”

After years of trial and error, Bailon found his color by developing a process that started with an undercoat of highly reflective silver paint, then several coats of transparent, dark red – and then multiple coats of clear paint on top of that.

The new color was dubbed candy apple red and its appeal has been a lasting one among car customizers as well as a stylish embellishment for electric guitars, furniture and even railroad locomotives.

Bailon’s death was announced on his Facebook page Tuesday.

“A true custom car legend and wonderful person,” his great-nephew Ray Olivas said. “Rest in piece great-Uncle Joe.”

Bailon’s work in paint development and car customization was marked by his charter membership in the national Rod and Custom Car Hall of Fame. In the Auburn-area, where he moved more than 30 years ago, Bailon was a humble, knowledgeable and honored presence on the local car scene, most notably when he played host to Bailon’s Blast from the Past car show. The gathering brought a bright array of customized cars annually to Auburn from California and Nevada.

Bailon grew up in the 1930s in the Woodland area. His first car was a 1929 Model A coupe bought by his brother for him from an orchard owner. After his discharge at the end of World War II, Bailon started customizing vehicles in a field that was starting to emerge as an industrial art form.

His first major recognition came when his work was honored at the 1952 Oakland Roadster Show, where he won a national award for a customized Chevrolet that came to be known as Miss Elegance. It established Bailon as a top customizer out of his Hayward shop.

The National Roadster Hall of Fame membership would come in 1960.

The lasting contribution would always be a color that would leave him with the nickname “Candy Apple Joe.”

According to the Kustomrama website, Bailon suffered a stroke on Saturday and died Monday in a Carson City, Nev. hospital.