There are many stars of the hot rod world but few shine as brightly as Chip Foose. Most fans know him intimately from his frequent tear shedding episodes on Overhaulin’ to the shared memories with his father and, of course, his artistic prowess.
As a fellow fan, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet the great man on a number of occasions and can confirm he’s everything you expect – he greets you with a warm smile, takes time to listen, and shares his valuable time. He’s a rare commodity in what can be a cutthroat business, and somebody who has shared his talents with all of us for the past 30 years.
While he’s always very diplomatic about his time with Boyd Coddington, Chip started as a successful product designer and has become one of the most prolific automotive designers of our time. Working for both major manufacturers and individual enthusiasts, the Petersen Museum wanted to honor his achievements with a very special day for Foose fans.
Held on a Saturday in July at the newly overhauled Petersen Museum in Los Angeles, the day started early with a Cruise In. While this was rather sparsely attended, it gave fans the opportunity to meet Chip, swap stories and pose for photos.
As always, Chip was very attentive to his fans, taking extra time to hear each owner’s story and relate to them personally. He then made a selection of the car that most needed an ‘overhaul’. It went to a Plymouth Barracuda in need of his personalized TLC.
In addition to a People’s Choice and Petersen award, the prize ceremony was conducted on a stage in the museum lobby. It was surrounded by several of Chip’s greatest achievements, including one of his latest creations.
The display included Hemisfear—a car that’s part supercar/part hot rod. It was the culmination of a 16-year dream for Chip to build the unique design, which would subsequently become the inspiration for the Plymouth Prowler.
Another fan favorite was the ’56 F-100. It famously appeared on Overhaulin’ in 2005 and belonged to Chip. It was “stolen” by his dad Sam, who led a team of builders to reform the ’56 into the truck it is today, using Chip’s own drawings as inspiration. It was one of the more emotional episodes and endeared the man to many people during the course of the show.
His newest project, taking center stage, was Imposter, a ’65 Chevy Impala that had been grafted over a C6 Corvette chassis. This state-of-the-art build was commissioned by Don and Elma Voth. Chip was justifiably proud of the build and we met him as he was showing it to his father before the main event began.
We had a few moments to speak to Chip about the Petersen event, his career and the cars on display.
Inevitably, we had a lot more questions for the great man, but he was whisked away to participate in a discussion panel with Jay Ward from Pixar Animation Studios, Don Voth (owner of the Imposter) and Stewart Reed (Instructor at Pasadena Art Center and owner of the Foose Firebird parked in front of the museum).
There were hundreds of fans who trekked out to the Petersen early that Saturday morning to enjoy the discussion and learn more about Mr. Foose and his fascinating career. The lobby was packed to overflowing as Chip held court with his peers, giving insights into his design inspiration and build secrets.
While celebrating 30 years in the industry, we’re all looking forward to another 30 from the prolific mind and imagination of one of the nicest people in the business.
Drive!: Is it possible to identify the highlights of the last 30 years?
Chip Foose: I’ve been so lucky because I’ve met so many people and done so many things. I’ve been blessed because the custom car world has been both a career and a lifestyle for me. It’s a living, breathing industry that is always evolving, and I’m able to meet people who are still driving cars I built 30 years ago.
D!: What does it mean to have the Petersen museum honor you?
CF: It probably means I’m getting old, or people like my work! (laughs). It’s been an honor to have made a career from something that my father always used to remind me is 100% unnecessary, and yet here I am celebrating 30 years of doing it.
I was friends with Bob Petersen and even came to the opening of this museum. I loved his vision then and I’m still a fan now. It’s incredible what they’ve done with the building and I’m proud to say there are a few of my cars in the vault. So it’s a huge honor to find myself here today.
D!: Do you have a favorite build from the past 30 years?
CF: Grandmaster from 2002 was one of my personal favorites. It was a Ridler Memorial Award winner and building it wasn’t about time or money. It was just about getting it right and making it the best it could be.
The owner, Wes Rydell, gave me a totally free hand in the build and design of the 1935 Chevrolet Master two-door sedan, which was a huge honor. We built the car from top to bottom – there was as much work on the underside as the body. Cars I’d built before that now seem incomplete because none of them got the same kind of attention. Grandmaster really was a very special build.
In fact, this new car, Impostor—it also has as much work underneath as on top—it’s another very complete build that I’m very proud of.
D!: What are some other highlights?
CF: Impression took things to a new level. It’s one of the few cars to win both America’s Most Beautiful Roadster and the Detroit Autorama Ridler Award. It was totally shaped by hand for Ken Reister, and was my first public opportunity to work from scratch at Foose Designs (previous hand-shaped vehicles had been completed at Coddington and for automakers).
Hemisfear was another highlight because, not only was it my design, but we got to build five of them. This was wonderful affirmation of my work because other people also wanted to own it.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the November 2016 print issue of the Drive Magazine.