“Cuz’n” Bill Lorenz is more than an artist; when he doesn’t have a tattoo machine in his hand, he’s gripping the steering wheel of his hot rod, Lydia. It’s no surprise, then, that car and motorcycle culture are a big part of Bill’s artwork. Our friends at Gearhead tell Bill’s (and Lydia’s) story and explain why, as Bill says, “it all goes together.”
Her name is Lydia and she is the love of his life.
"Cuz’n" Bill Lorenz isn’t two-timing his fiancé though. Lydia is his hot rod. She’s rusty and hobnailed together. She may not be pretty, but everything about her is perfect. Every time Bill climbs in and fires her up, his heart fills with love and he is transported to another place.
His love affair with hot rods began when he was a little kid. Bill’s dad was one of those guys who was always tinkering on something with a motor, trying to get it to go faster and to look cooler.
Bill tagged along behind his dad, curious and fascinated. As he got older, he vowed one day he would have a hot rod of his own, but until then he focused on motorcycles. It was another thing he and his dad had in common, so on the weekends, Bill would race motorcycles while his dad, Bill Sr., cheered him on. Occasionally, those weekends included a trip to the hospital when things didn’t go quite right, but Bill Sr. would encourage Bill Jr. to get back on the bike and give it another shot.
When Bill Jr. was 16, he shelled out 100 clams for a 1971 rusted Plymouth Satellite. The engine was in tip-top shape and it was the fastest car in school—Bill Sr. made sure of that. Being a typical teenage boy, however, Bill Jr.’s attention was distracted by cute girls and his punk rock band, Vomit, so spending weekends working alongside his dad in the garage fell to the wayside.
His dad’s love of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and the Rat Fink character also inspired Bill. Drawing at a very early age, Bill would emulate some of the drawings he saw his dad do. He also got inspiration from hot rod magazines and was soon incorporating his own “kustom kulture” style into his artwork. Despite being told "that wasn’t art" by his teachers, Cuz’n Bill pursued his love of drawing off-the-wall art. He later taught himself to tattoo and soon was practicing on his friends until he scored a real apprenticeship at a tattoo parlor.
After mastering the fine art of tattooing, and now sporting a new nickname, Cuz’n Bill struck out on his own, first tattooing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and then traveling south to Florida to open his own shop. Busy running the shop, he had little time to look for a hot rod, and even less time to build one, so he focused on motorcycles instead, riding a chopped Norton Commando for several years before settling on a chopper Harley Sportster.
After moving to Sacramento, CA to work at Sacramento Tattoo and Piercing, where traditional-style tattooing was deeply ingrained in the California hot rod culture, Cuz’n Bill began regularly tattooing hot rod and kustom kulture inspired art work on his clients and attending classic car and traditional hot rod shows in his off time. After years of saving and hoping to build his own gT Bucket from the ground up, he realized that maybe finding something already done was the way to go. That dream was answered one day when one of his buddies called him up with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
"He sent me a picture of this Frankenstein hot rod. She was gorgeous, exactly what I would have built for myself if I had the time," recalls Cuz’n Bill.
She was a ‘27 T Bucket roadster pickup, but the floor was comprised of riveted on license plates. Her frame was hand built. The engine was a 327 Chevy motor with a 3-speed transmission and a homemade drive shaft. Her front end was a late ‘40s period pickup. Put together from odds and ends, she was exactly what Bill had in mind all those years ago hanging out with his dad.
"[My friend] Mike said he just had to get rid of her because it was too wet in Washington and he wouldn’t be able to give her the attention she deserved, so of course, I took her off his hands," chuckled Bill.
Now, after his almost 30 years tattooing and playing in punk bands, Bill finally has his first obsession by his side. Bill takes Lydia out for a drive on his days off, and occasionally takes her up to the tattoo shop to show her off to his clients.
"It’s hard to look cool when you have a goofy grin on your face," Bill says a little sheepishly. But his life has come full-circle and he couldn’t be happier.
"It all goes together—tattoos, hot rods, punk rock," Bill says. "It’s my bliss. Do what you love, and stick with it ‘til you get what you desire out of it."
Bill Sr. also now works with Cuz’n Bill on Lydia, and even joins his son in taking her for a spin or two when he comes out for a visit.