Custom car guru Chip Foose talks shop on his legendary 30 year career

chip foose custom car designer interview mmdbyfoose 8

Chip Foose has collected a truckload of trophies for his custom designs over the last 30 years, including four Ridler awards, eight times with America’s Most Beautiful Roadster, and seven times with the Good Guys Street Rod of the Year. Additionally, Foose hosted the TV show Overhaulin for five years.

Now Foose, President and Founder of Foose Design, Inc., is celebrating his 30th year in the automobile design and customization business. Digital Trends caught up with him to talk about the state of the customized car scene and how technology is changing the hot rod and custom business.

The good ol’ days

“These are the good old days,” Foose told Digital Trends. “We’re taking advantage of technology that will keep people going forward.”

I’ve always said there’s no rules or laws in customizing or personalizing cars.

Computer-aided design (CAD) is a big part of the technology story in customs.

“You can design a hot rod in your chair, then the parts are made and you just bring it together. You can test something on the computer and build things that could never be built before. Then it’s how you hand-finish those parts that makes it stand out from another car,” Foose said.

Next-gen hot-rodders

The hot rod and custom car community where Foose made his name is facing serious challenges as an entire generation of enthusiasts ages out. Owners of custom performance cars that may have cost well over $100,000 to build often struggle to find a market where they can recoup their investment.

“You can get them so cheap now, because collectors are at an age where they don’t want to build new cars and they don’t need 15 cars in the garage,” Foose explained. “They’re looking at getting a smaller house and downsizing to keep two cars. There’s so many of them on the market, and you’ll see it at auctions where there’s just one after another of these cars coming up. If it’s not a historically important car, there’s not a lot of value to it.”

It takes quite a bit of money to buy and customize a classic car, which means that a generation of enthusiasts has be close to middle-aged before large numbers of them have the disposable cash to spend on custom cars.

“Now the age group is where they’re wanting to collect the ‘60s and ‘70s cars,” Foose related. “It’s interesting to me that the Trans-Am is so popular today. When we were younger it wasn’t the car of dreams. They weren’t sought after as something you wanted to build and keep forever. Only a few people built them and kept them nice. That’s why the value of some of those cars is so high.”

Power is cheap

In an era when you can walk onto any Dodge dealer showroom and buy a Hellcat with over 700 horsepower, the business of customizing cars is changing from a focus on increasing performance into intense attention to design.

If I knew what I was going to be doing in ten years, I’d be doing it right now.

“I’ve always said there’s no rules or laws in customizing or personalizing cars,” Foose stated. “You get to do what you want to do. You can get a car like a Hellcat, and it comes with a warranty. But the guy who wants to build his own car, he’s buying cars like that and then modifying them.”

But as the world is seeing with cars like the new Acura NSX, the BMW i8, and the LaFerrari, there’s more to performance than big displacement and forced induction. Hybrid engines are motivating some of the world’s top sports cars, and that technology is making its way into the custom world.

“The way it [hybrids] affects my work is when somebody wants to take that technology into customization,” Foose said. “I’ve been talking to a customer recently and he’s asking what if we do a hybrid or an electric car? I’d love to do something different – so far it’s just conversation but you’re going to see that technology. Because when technology is available, it gets brought into the aftermarket world.”

What dreams my come

When it comes to inspiration, Foose has ideas that both look ahead and back to the great designers of the past. The project on his mind today is a customized Cadillac concept car that was drawn decades ago, but never built.

“Art Ross was the designer for Cadillac in the ‘30s, and he had done a drawing of this really cool convertible. Wes Rydell had seen the sketch, I had seen the sketch, and we both started talking about it.”

Rydell owns one of the largest GM dealership chains in the country, with showrooms in 14 different states. Additionally, he’s a collector and custom enthusiast.

Chip-Foose_

“We found a Cadillac and started cutting it apart,” Foose explained. “It was a four-door sedan, and we’ve turned it into a two-door with what will look like a convertible folding top, but it’s a lift-off aluminum top that will be wrapped in canvas. When it’s finished, it’s going to look like an old car from outside, but underneath is a brand new 2015 Corvette power plant. It’s got a 2015 Suburban eight-speed automatic transmission, it’s got a 2015 Camaro center section. It’s all original GM parts.”

Foose’s goal is a perfect blend of classic design sense with modern equipment.

“It will look like a concept car from Cadillac in the ‘30s,” Foose said. “Everything is brand-new technology, but when you step back it will look like an old car. We’re having a lot of fun with this car.”

Asked to look to the future, Foose is adamant that he’s focused on today’s work, while offering a few clues about where his imagination is taking him next.

“If I knew what I was going to be doing in ten years, I’d be doing it right now,” Foose exclaimed. “The main project I hope to be working on within ten years, or even sooner, is I would like to be working on a Duesenberg.”

The appeal of the full classic Duesenberg to a designer is easy to explain.

“When you bought a Duesenberg, you bought a chassis, and then you went to a designer to design a body, and then a coachbuilder to build that body for you. I’d like to find a chassis that I can design and build my own body on. But I want it to look like it was done back then. That’s my future goal.”

But as eagerly as he talks about the next project, Foose then pivots back to the present.

“Right now what I’m doing is focusing on the projects that we have,” he insisted. “I like to stay busy but I also like to be free enough to take advantage of good opportunities. It’s the opportunities that will drive you towards where you’re gonna be in the future.”

Cars

Driving a prototype 2020 Passat at Volkswagen’s Arizona Proving Ground

Volkswagen’s Arizona Proving Ground is where new cars are tested to the breaking point, including the 2020 Passat midsize sedan. Ride along as the new Passat completes testing ahead of its 2019 launch.
Digital Trends Live

Cryptocurrency investor Ian Balina sees a comeback for cryptocurrency in 2019

We chatted with crypto investor Ian Balina on what the future is for cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin. He also gave us three things to look for when we are investing our own money.
Emerging Tech

With this robotic garage, retrieving your car is like using a vending machine

Remembering where we parked our cars can be a real pain. But what if our cars came to find us, rather than the other way around? A new automated robot parking valet system aims to help.
Product Review

Meet Z6, the breakout star in Nikon's new mirrorless lineup

The Nikon Z6 is the sibling to the new mirrorless Z7 -- but for some photographers, the cheaper Z6 may be the better option. Read where the $2,000 camera beats the $3,400 one (and where it doesn’t) in our Nikon Z6 review.
Cars

Thinking of opting for a car with a diesel engine? Here's what you need to know

Modern diesel-powered models prove that it is possible to build a clean, efficient diesel engine without sacrificing performance. Here's what you need to know about diesel cars, and how they differ from gasoline-powered models.
Cars

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Cars

NYC mandates minimum wage for Uber, Lyft, other app-based rideshare drivers

New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission approved a rule that drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft must be paid at least minimum wage, even though they are independent contractors. The new pay rate includes operating costs.
Cars

These winter-warrior cars will never leave you out in the cold

Snow can be an absolute pain if your vehicle isn't optimized to handle that sort of terrain. If brutal snowstorms are an annual part of your life, we recommend you pick up one of these winter-ready vehicles.
Cars

2020 Toyota Supra caught hiding in a trailer without a shred of camouflage

Toyota's plan to once again lure enthusiasts into showrooms involves bringing back the Supra, one of its most emblematic nameplates. Here's what we know so far about the upcoming coupe, which Toyota is developing jointly with BMW.
Cars

LM Industries’ autonomous shuttles head to Phoenix, Sacramento campuses

LM Industries will deploy Olli low-speed autonomous shuttles at school campuses in Arizona and California as part of its ongoing "fleet challenge," which asks local groups to propose uses for autonomous vehicles.
Cars

Bosch’s CES-bound shuttle concept takes us on a trip to a not-too-distant future

Bosch envisions a future in which driverless shuttles occupy their own market segment. The German firm won't build the shuttles, but it wants to provide everything else, ranging from the drive system to the apps used to hail them.
Emerging Tech

A lidar-equipped truck knows exactly how much de-icer to apply on roads

Lidar is best known as the laser-based technology that helps self-driving cars sense their surroundings. But the city of Knoxville has another, more seasonal use for it: De-icing roads.
Product Review

Boring takes a back seat as 2019 Corolla Hatchback mixes fun with practicality

We drive the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback, the latest hatchback to bear the Corolla name. As the best-selling nameplate in automotive history, Toyota has high expectations to meet. This model mostly lives up to the legacy.
Cars

Hertz speeds up car rentals with biometric scan technology

Biometric security technology that uses face, fingerprint, and voice recognition is gaining traction, with Hertz emerging as the latest company to incorporate it into its daily operations.