This article on Sean 'Fat Lucky' Johnstun was originally published in the January 2014 issue of Street Machine magazine
SEAN Johnstun’s name and face may not mean much to most people watching the US rod and custom scene, but work coming out of his shop Fat Lucky’s is achieving cult status. His interiors are instantly recognisable, and even though they have a traditional look and feel about them, there wasn’t anyone doing stuff like this ‘back in the day’. After a time establishing his reputation as a part of the Austin Speed Shop, Sean moved to LA, where we caught up with him to find out how he comes up with those way-out interiors. And in case you’re wondering, Lucky was the name of Sean’s dog, and the dog was not slim.
Sean's shop truck is a '42 Dodge with a Chevy S-10 chassis & 262 V6. True to form, one of the most exciting trimmers in the US has a ratty interior in his truck!
You’re not a motor trimmer by trade, so how did this all come about?
I grew up in Vegas. When I was in high school, I learnt how to make my own clothes and started selling stuff at skateboard and snowboard shops, then went to fashion school in San Francisco after I graduated. The more I got into the whole fashion industry, the more I realised I wasn’t really cut out for it.
Was it the people or the industry that turned you off?
Everything was too cut throat for me. I was a pretty mellow kid and there was so much gossiping and back-stabbing. It was tough for me because Vegas was a pretty conservative place — besides all the sin and gambling. I was only 17 when I moved and it was a bit of a culture shock. I was the only straight guy in my school and it was hard to make friends.
When did you start doing trim jobs on cars?
I moved back to Vegas and, in the time I’d been gone, all my friends got into lowriders. They all knew I could sew, so they started bringing their cars over to me. I started doing it because it was something I could do without getting a real job and I still don’t have a real job!
Were the first trim jobs you did as wild as the stuff you do now?
It was kind of half-and-half. A lot of those guys wanted an original style interior but all white vinyl, it was always white vinyl in all those cars. The other half was the crazy crushed velour.
So what’s the craziest interior you did in that lowrider style?
I did one where I made swivel buckets and a big wrap-around couch in the back, it was all velour, button tufted, wrinkles. All the panels had two inch-thick foam on them.”
Was it tough to keep those interiors clean?
Back then all those cars had problems with the hydraulics and there was always fluid everywhere and all those white interiors got ruined. All the guys just kept trading cars, so I’d do an Impala and it would get traded to another guy four months later and he would bring it back and get me to do it all over again because it was just destroyed. I ended up doing the same cars three or four times.
You made a name for yourself at the Austin Speed Shop, how did that all come about?
When we started there was five of us and we all owned 20 per cent of the business. There was me and Mercury Charlie, John Joyo, Dan [Peterson] with the ’55 and Cory Moore.
How did you guys all come together?
When I first moved to Austin, it was a really small scene. There was Gary Howard, Steve Wertheimer, Mercury Charlie, just a handful of guys. Charlie, he was the first guy I met when I moved there, I didn’t know any car guys and Mercury Charlie lived right down the street from me. I stopped by there and made friends with him, so I had known him a long time before we started the Speed Shop. Dan was one of Charlie’s customers as was John Joyo, and Cory was in the music world (as manager of blues legend and car nut, Jimmie Vaughan).
Then you ended up in LA sharing a workshop with a guy that builds old Mercedes?
We both grew up in Vegas and had been friends for 20-something years. Since setting up shop here in LA, my business has been kind of slow and I’ve just been getting the word out that I’m still here. I get emails and phone calls all the time from people in Texas that want to bring their car over, but they don’t know I’ve moved to LA. I talk to people here all the time that tell me: ‘Oh, I didn’t know you lived here.’ The Mercedes business is just booming, so he’s got more work than he can handle, so I’ve been working on his cars a lot, but my stuff’s really been picking up now.
As nice as those trim jobs are in all those Mercs, it’s the custom stuff that really interests you.
The thing with doing the Mercs is that it’s all just easy, I don’t have to think about it. When I do custom cars, I just sit inside them forever, just staring at it thinking, how am I going to do this?
Do you just sit there, waiting for it to come to you?
I spend a lot of time just trying to figure out how I’m going to build it, how does it work and eventually I get to a point and it just happens. It seems like they’re all the same, but every one of these cars is so different.
How much guidance do you get from the owners?
I don’t really ever get that much guidance. Somewhere down the line, I kind of made a reputation for myself — take it to Sean and he’ll figure it out, it’ll be perfect, just let him do it. Now I get people come over and say: ‘Here, do whatever, just do what you’re gonna do.’ That’s a lot of pressure. The people that know me kind of know my style, might not know exactly what I’m going to do, but they know it’s not going to look like a late-model car.
What are the thought processes behind the patterns that you do, because it’s not just your standard tuck and roll, is it?
A lot of the time I’ll sketch it up, but a lot the design depends upon — I’ll have a door handle here, window cranks, speakers have to go here. It’s whatever I have to work around a lot of the times.
What would be your dream build?
I’m all over the place. One day I want some early 30s, patina’d, bare-bones, minimal car, then a week later I want a full-on 60s show car. I like everything.
Out of all of the cars you’ve done, which are your favourites?
Dan’s ’55, I really liked that one. And Jeff Myers’s Cadillac, the one that all lights up. Stuff like that is my favourite just because of the creativity I can put into it. I like a lot of the more simple stuff too, but to just be able to go wild and do whatever I want is great. Those cars were pretty challenging, just figuring out how to do it all is pretty satisfying.
STEVE ERNST'S TEXAS PLAYBOY
Steve Ernst’s Texas Playboy, constructed by Bass Customs in Texas, is one of the most acclaimed ’32s built in recent years.
“I’ve worked with some pretty amazing people in my relatively brief career so far,” says Brian Bass, “but Sean is one of a kind. I’d used Sean in the past for custom-upholstered solo seats for several motorcycles that I’d built, and I always knew that when the right car came along, Sean would be my first choice.”
DR DAN'S '55 CHEV
The car that most shows how far ahead of the curve Sean is, has to be Dan Peterson’s ’55 Chev, which we featured in the 2012 SM Kustom Annual.
Rather than a regulation white tuck ’n’ roll job, Sean applied a wild 60s showcar-style job in two shades of black, with contrasting gold piping and roof lining.
The black Trinidad carpet also has a gold fleck running through it, which ties in with the Chev’s over-the-top paint scheme.