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UNITED STATES Arrow

Interview with Automobile Designer Chip Foose

This star of the reality television series Overhaulin' talks about cool cars, big dreams, and his favorite episode.

Interview with Automobile Designer Chip Foose | by Scott Tilley | Interview | USA

Posted 3/25/17 | © The Flash List

As a kid, I had plastic model kits and Hot Wheels of the cars I was watching my dad build. I feel like my career today is an extension of my father's. Chip Foose

TFL: As someone who has been instrumental in the disruptor world with the cars you have designed, how do you see CapitalOne's new Auto Navigator online car buying program benefiting consumers?


Foose: We are here at the DFW Auto Show in the Auto Navigator Garage to showcase the Auto Navigator website which is streamlining and simplifying the process of buying cars. The average person will be online at different websites for over nine hours. They can go to this one website and simplify. They can do everything with one stop: figure out what the finances are going to be and work with all the 1,000's of dealerships that are working with the website already. They are the ones updating and putting new cars on the website; so when the buyer wants to find out what they can buy, they can go by either make and model, VIN number, or they can punch in the price they have to pay monthly. They can see what the price of the car is and what their payments would be based on their down payment and what it will be based on the months they want to finance it. Simplified, get it done and be prequalified before they go into the dealership. But they don't have to use CapitalOne; they can use it as a buying process and finance it the way they want to.


TFL: What is your daily driver?


Foose: I went to the Ford dealership last year to buy a new Ford F150 and there was a 2010 Ford Platinum F150 on the lot that had 17,000 miles on it. I ended up getting it for 23 grand with my trade in. That is my daily driver, I have not touched it. It is bone stock; I can hide on the freeways with it.


TFL: I'm sure it's important for you to hide on the freeways.


Foose: I have other cars that stand out such as the green Hemisfear that is here in the Auto Navigator garage; so when I drive something like that, it kind of forces a bit of a traffic jam.



TFL: Not too many people know this, but a pony-tailed Richard Rawlings and beardless Aaron Kaufman made an appearance on Overhaulin'. What was the genesis of that?


Foose: I met Richard – didn't meet Aaron yet – but I met Richard at the Detroit Autorama downstairs. I saw his Gas Monkey garage trailer, and he was selling clothing. He told me a story about his printing company that he had sold, and that he and Aaron built cars, and that he was trying to develop a t-shirt line. I asked him if he wanted to be on the show; and he said. Yeah, I'll bring Aaron with me and we will come out and do the show. They got out there and Aaron was amazing; but Richard, when we started filming, was just standing there watching. I said, Aren't you going to work? He said, I don't touch the cars. Richard is a great personality; he is a lot of fun.


TFL: There was an episode of the Discovery show Fast N' Loud where you and Richard were swapping cars.


Foose: He actually bought a car that my father had rebodied (a De Tomaso Pantera) in 1975. We actually traded. I ended up trading him a ‘41 Lincoln convertible. It was a Zephyr convertible that I traded him for the Pantera that my father rebodied, and I just recently traded that and my 2006 Ford GT for a 69 Ferrari 330 GTC. I'm trying to step up. My goal is to get to a Duesenberg.


TFL: You worked for your dad from a very young age, correct?


Foose: I started sitting next to my father when I was 3 years old. He was quite a talented artist. I would draw next to him; and at the age of seven, I started going to the shop with him.


TFL: Project Design was your father's business. Was it a car shop?


Foose: Before he had his own shop, he actually worked for another famous customizer Gene Winfield. So my first memories are of my father working at Gene's shop. I would go in. The name of the shop was AMT which is AMT Model companies – you know, the plastic models you put together. So my father and the crew were building the real cars, and then they would scale down to the small cars I was actually getting because my dad was bringing them home. I was putting together the same car he was building the full size scale and also Hot Wheels was making diecast of the cars he was building. As a kid, I had plastic model kits and Hot Wheels of the cars I was watching my dad build. I feel like my career today is an extension of my father's.


TFL: Where do you get your inspiration for your cars?


Foose: Inspiration comes from everything I walk around and look at. It could even be architecture. You never know where an idea is ever going to come from. I'll just see something that is really cool; I just put it in the memory bank. And when I'm designing something else, I might draw from what I had seen somewhere. I remember when I worked for Boyd Coddington, I was designing all of his wheels. One of the places that I was really inspired by was the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. I was in the museum, and I went through the china department (china dishes). Dishes are all round with designs on them, and I probably got 40-50 different ideas for wheel designs based on plates I was looking at. So, like I say, you never know where a good idea comes from. Another place I have been that has really inspired me is in Europe for wheel design. A lot of the churches and chapels have big round stainless steel glass. I'll get inspiration from some of those.


TFL: You said your father had a big influence on your career, but you also talk about Alex Tremulis. How big was his impact on your career?


Foose: When I went to my father's shop and started hanging out there when I was seven, my father worked with Alex; and Alex was the Tucker designer who worked for Auburn Cord Duisenberg through the 30's. He was the head of the Thunderbird studio at Ford Motor Company through the 60's; and when I saw his work that he would bring into my dad's shop, I thought, Wow that's what I really want to do. He is the one that told me about Art Center College of Design. He (Alex) told me about Art Center from about the age of seven years old. So from the age of seven, I knew that was where I wanted to go.


TFL: How much of Alex's drawings had an influence on the Hemisfear build and on what you are doing today?


Foose: Where the Hemisfear came from was my senior project at Art Center. We had a Chrysler-sponsored project where they wanted us to design a niche-market vehicle. And the example they gave us was a guy that likes to work out on an exercise bike. Maybe he charges the battery, and then you put that battery in your car, and it gets you to and from work that day. And myself, I'm thinking, I don't know if that is ever going to happen. It might. I went ahead and did a whole proposal based on that as the example – did about five different proposals for them. But then, I did something else that was completely taboo at Art Center. If you were at Art Center and looked at hot rods and muscle cars of the past and were drawing those, you usually got in trouble because they wanted you to purely focus on the future of automotive design not what was done in the past. So I did a complete second presentation and put both of them up. Tom Gale (who was president of design for Chrysler) is who I was presenting to; and when he looked at my two presentations, he said, I know what you are doing here, but what are you doing here? I said, Well you asked us to create a niche-market vehicle which, in my mind, we are also trying to create a customer and that is what all of these proposals are. I said, Over here, what I'm doing is catering to a customer that already exists because there are thousands of guys out there that are in their garages and side yards or have a hot rod shop that are taking these older bodies and trying to put modern technology in them. This was purely taking a planned vehicle a 33 Plymouth and the side view of a 70 Cuda and I came up with the Hemisfear sketches. And he loved it so much, it actually inspired the Prowler. To say I designed the Prowler is a slap in the face to all the designers and engineers that actually produced the car, but my model was definitely was the influence.


TFL: Do you draw anything else?


Foose: I draw all kinds of stuff. I design products; I've done architecture. The biggest architectural project is the Detroit Motor City Casino and Hotel. I designed that project; it was an incredible project. I went back to an engineering meeting, and the engineers were asking if I could redesign the roof line (because what I had designed [was that] one of the roof lines was 280 feet long, 9 feet thick at one end and went through this lazy S-curve, and 3 feet thick at the other end tapering and doing these odd shapes). They said, We want to redesign it make it one arc and make it a constant thickness. I said, Why are we doing this? They said, Just to simplify it because it will be difficult to build. I said, Do you realize where we are at? This is the home of sheet metal stamping. I know people who can build this. So I called a friend of mine, Michael Chetcuti, who owns Quality Metal Craft in Detroit. I asked him to bring his number one designer and come to a meeting. So they were there in about 40 minutes. We had a model that was cut and my drawings. I asked him, Can you build this? He said, Yeah, we can build that. It was a 33½ million dollar project for his company, and he got the project. They built it the way I wanted it.


TFL: You do a lot of charity work; you are chairman of the Progeria Research Foundation and part of Victory Junction. Your involvement with the foundation is because of your sister Amy. Talk a little bit about that.


Foose: Amy was six years younger than I am, and she was born with Progeria. At the age of 16 she was 3 feet 2 inches tall weighed 26 pounds, but had a heart the size of America.  Everybody that met Amy fell in love with Amy. Her best friend was John Stamos and what he did for Amy means the world to me because he used to take her to Disney Land, Magic Mountain, take her to all of his tapings. It was amazing what he did with Amy, and he was a big inspiration for me to also help those who need help. The next big [charity event] I’m doing – I do several small ones – but the big one I do every year is YearOne in Brazelton Georgia. We put on a huge car show, and it’s actually a fund raiser poker tournament. We usually raise about $150,000 a year at that event the third weekend of September.


Note: The Braselton Bash is a monthly car show that YearOne Muscle Car Parts holds at its corporate offices in Georgia to support Hot Rodders Children’s Charities, a 501c(3) non-profit. It was started by YearOne to support various organizations which include the Progeria Research Foundation. In September, they hold a special show that Chip Foose and some of his friends attend. The show features a charity poker tournament and numerous car shows with the main show on Saturday. If you are interested in seeing Chip Foose and attending the YearOne Hot Rod Bash in Braselton, Georgia, view information from previous shows at: Weekend of Fun and Braselton Bash Chip Foose Edition.


TFL: It seems as though you try to include as many people in whatever you are doing. It appears you are scooping people up and bringing them along with you.


Foose: I wanted to show professionals coming together having a great time doing something special for someone who is deserving. It always reminded me of being at your best friend's house on a Sunday night with your buddies trying to get his car running so he could drive to school in the morning. That's what I wanted it to feel like. I never thought of Overhaulin' as a car show. To me, it was a people show; and the cars were the catalyst to tell their story. I get asked all the time. What was your favorite car you have ever done on Overhaulin'? It wasn't a car, it was a person that we did it for; and it was a '69 Plymouth Road Runner convertible we did for a guy named John. John was in his mid 40's, and he had bought this Road Runner when he was 15 years old. His dream was to put a Hemi in it; and when I read that the car came with a 440 he had out of the car (the car was in pieces in the garage when we took it) and when I read that, I called Mopar performance and they donated a Hemi for the car. We put a 5-speed manual transmission in it; and when we had the reveal – when he first looked at the car – we had stuck a Hemi badge on the side of it. And when he saw that Hemi badge, he started to cry. With a crack in his voice he said, Does it really have a Hemi in it? and Bud Brutsman the producer he says, Go ahead and look. So usually what we would do is introduce the A team, and whoever worked on the car would come out and show the owner what they had done on the car. Well, John walked over and opened the hood himself; and when he saw the Hemi in there, he dropped to his knees and started to cry. Because of editing on the show, you would have seen him get emotional for a few seconds and then saying thank you to all of us. In reality, he dropped to his knees and cried like a baby; and it took him over 25 minutes to compose himself enough to be able to say thank you. We can't show that on TV because we don't have that kind of time. That [car] was his lifelong dream; and he said to us, Sometimes you have a dream so long it becomes a fantasy; you just made my fantasy a reality. It's an amazing feeling when you can move somebody to that level with an inanimate object – an automobile. The car is one place a guy can get emotional about and still be cool.


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Chip Foose

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