This is the P-32 1932 Ford designed by Foose. "The idea," Chip says of the car, "was that a fighter pilot came back from World War II, missed his warbird and made this hot rod as a tribute." (Photo courtesy of Foose Design)
"A "loose ideation sketch." Red felt tip pen in practiced hand, flames kindle between Chip Foose's fingertips, dancing back across the flank of the Foose Coupe, his latest $300,000, 500-horsepower hallucination, flames which have previously existed only in the mind of his client, a shaggy-haired, middle-aged East Coast pharmaceutical king and drag racer, who here at Gaffoglio Family Metalcrafters in Fountain Valley, California, is gazing at Foose's blossoming drawing with the rapt wonder of the terminally teenage hot-rod zombie he still so obviously is.
Chip Foose, whose reductive good taste is a perfect prism for hot-rodding's genetic outrageousness, does that: makes the car-crazy crazier. Legions of 10th-graders and retirees anchor the sky-wide horizon of the Foose fan base, fueled by his hit Learning Channel show Overhaulin' that reaches millions.
He is here this morning in a Southern California mouse's maze of super-tech, room after disjointed room of to-the-millimeter craftsmanship. Metalcrafters is a huge fabrication shop that seems somehow born from both the late 19th century and the early 21st — a 2,000-ton metal press designed according to one of Metalcrafters' owners, the affable Soprano-esque George Gaffoglio for "stamping full-size hoods, stainless-steel grilles and people you don't like," cheek by jowl with a CAD surgical theater for operating on solid billet to make upper and lower suspension A-arms. All in the never-ending quest to build the better, badder hot rod.
At a time when American cars have been lost in SUV, Japanese and Euro traffic (do you even know what the most recent Pontiac GTO looks like?) and Detroit is no longer a driving force in the domestic auto market, Foose has become a hot-car beacon.
Witness his client: a nice man, a New Age Daddy Warbucks dressed "get 'er done" in baggie jeans, scuffed running shoes and a sport coat that would not draw attention at Goodwill but whose pocket cradles a checkbook heavy enough to buy half-million-dollar coach-built cars by the six-pack. The core of the Chip Foose financial demographic.
The youngest person ever inducted into the Hot Rod Hall of Fame (at 31), Foose redesigns cars for Ford and Chrysler, does graphics for jets and even offers Chip Foose model cars and T-shirts. You can even, for $15, buy a Chip Foose beanie. Commercially, he is the center of hot-rod gravity for an aftermarket that depends on his ability to articulate new design trends. His style is so pervasive that Foose itself sometimes slips from a proper noun to an adjective or verb, as in "I Foosified my '32 Ford" or "This looks like Foosification."
The Los Angeles Times defined Foose as "legendary" (a hat trick at 41) and when Ford recently debuted the "Foose F-150" pickup, Ford executive Ben Poore trilled, "The marketing benefit of this truck is way beyond the volume it will bring. It's the buzz we'll get off working with a fabulous designer like Chip Foose."
A Beatle of modern American car style (other band mates might include J Mays, Larry Erickson and Nick Pugh) in a world that makes far less than it manufacturers, Foose is a champion of mechanical craft, known — among many other things — for working for days straight without sleep. A ruggedly boyish-looking guy whose corporate attire leans to jeans and cowboy boots, he is asked constantly for his autograph.
The hardest-working man in the showcar business, at Metalcrafters he had his picture taken with — individually — a half-dozen people in an hour's time. He is a famously good guy who travels in an entourage only because people — how else to say it? — follow him as if he were a car Jesus. Yet he seems to have no interest in yes men or adulation, and is known to spend less time at his corporation chairing formal meetings than sweeping floors.
The Foose Coupe began as a final term project while he was at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, where Chrysler sponsored students to design a car to "fit a niche market." (Ironically, the car was called Hemisfear until Chrysler squawked.) Instead, Chip decided to "create a niche market." To design a car that would appeal to an untapped consumer — the hot-rodder who would buy a new car from Detroit were it designed to pop from the assembly line as, well, a hot rod. The result was the Plymouth Prowler, which entered the marketplace sadly compromised and dumbed down. (A V6 in a hot rod? Come on!)
Basically, the Foose Coupe is the Prowler unmolested, a car designed for kings and cockroaches. From on high or deep beneath, it looks great almost no matter what your vantage point. A three-dimensional rendering of the Coupe floats around a video screen whose Catia version 5 software holds the Coupe's "master data." The body is a carbon-fiber eggshell as tough as a barnyard rooster, so light two people could probably pick it up and throw it across the room. Terminator Tech.
This is a road rocket that goes beyond engineering toward biology, a hot rod that is, at least in its gross anatomy, as complicated as you are. We are taken to where the Foose Coupe's windows are being made, to see curved glass as clear as swoops of nothing. If the devil is in the details, what a way to go to hell. This is a machine that invites you to simply stand and stare at the Swiss-clock intricacies of the inboard suspension geometry tucked behind the radiator shell in order, according to a Metalcrafters engineer, "to get the high drag points out of the airstream." Look into the engine bay at the steel tube birdcage structure as precise as the facets of a diamond.
Steel drama at its best. Eight gasser-era stacks stand above the Hilborn injection, each as big as a loving cup. Slip behind the wheel and greet a gauge display from beyond the pearly gates. What numerals. Elegant, classic, they appear as if hand-etched from metal. Foose gets into his creation, cranks it over, hits the gas and the Hemi head clears its metal throat. Zsa Zsa in her prime never packed such a wallop.
Imperfections? The Foose Coupe shows perfectly from the front; its low-profile Pirellis float on mirror silver A-arms gracefully outboard of the knifelike nose. From the side the Coupe is as bold as an arrow and Foose's melding of a 1990s fastback bubble top on a 1930s-era hot-rod silhouette is magically seamless. But the rear is an arranged marriage between a classic Studebaker Avanti ducktail (complete with Avanti-style cannon exhaust pipes) and the hot-rod staple of unfendered rear tires. Perhaps because the Avanti gesture is that of rear fenders and the tires stand away from those "fenders," the tires look a tad extruded. Like jug ears on Paris Hilton.
Father of Foose
But why pick nits? Foose has A-plus DNA. His father is Sam Foose, a brilliant hot-rod and movie car designer who resembles a healthier Nick Nolte and whose barn-big Santa Barbara garage morphed to a world-class hot-rod nursery school when Chip became a toddler shop rat at age 3. There Chip performed his first paint job — on a 356 Porsche — at age 12.
Father and son are nothing if not a study in contrasts. Sam really loves his boy, but once at Sam's shop I asked why he and Chip did not work together more often. Big, blond Sam, coffee cup in hand, took a last puff off a cigarette, dropped the butt to the garage floor, leaned over to carefully pour coffee on the dying embers and said, "The #%&$ kid's too messy."
Out of high school, Chip entered the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where he was influenced by Alex Tremulous, designer of the Tucker. The rest, as they say, is history. So let's return to the devil and his details.
"The idea," Chip says, "was that a fighter pilot came back from World War II, missed his warbird and made this hot rod as a tribute." The problem is that American custom cars, no matter in what genius hand, tend to err on the side of cartoon. To answer a question nobody would ever ask. Take his "P-32" '32 Ford. The fighter plane exhaust is trick, but the fighter plane nose looks uninvited.
"I'm not interested in the supercar world," Chip says. "There are a ton of guys doing that." What he is considering, however, is a limited-production version of his radically modern classic take on a 1937 Ford convertible, the "Impression."
It makes a strong one. If there is a more beautiful American coach-built car, please tell me what it is. The rap on Chip Foose, if there is one, is that A) It is his lot in life to put lipstick on the auto industry pig, that next to his elegantly simple 1956 Ford F100, the Foose Ford F-150 stands grossly big, Rosie O'Donnell beside Grace Kelly; B) He has become a hostage to bling — which has gone beyond pimp to biblical. Aftermarket gold and sparkle reaching Old Testament Eden and New Jerusalem levels.
Hot rods are, and have always been, the realm of the 100-decibel paint job, bronze/cathouse red, mile-deep green that does not just shine but shouts. King Midas-mobiles abound and, sure, you say, bling should stay where it belongs, on NBA basketball courts and at Donald Trump's house. But there is an old saying in the hot-rod business: It's tough to make money past the brake lines. The mortgage payments are in shiny wheels and tires.
And when in Rome. Profitable ideas must flow into corporate molds.
Chip Foose is the Van Halen of hot rods. Capable of improving even classics (how could anybody improve the Kinks' original "You Really Got Me"? Go ask Eddie), he creates unforgettable populist riffs and hooks. His best or at least most popular cars are like hit songs — they appeal to an audience that wants something new, but not entirely new, and inventive, but inventive within a realm that is not hard to understand. Even with the best, sometimes form trumps function. (Are there a few too many calories in "Panama"? Go ask Eddie.)
As for future Foose? A lot of time will be spent shepherding the custom manufacture of what will be 50 Foose Coupes, but — as for the long term? "I've thought about partnering with Metalcrafters," he says. Dream-car architect and dream-car maker. Art acquires infrastructure, a boon for an imagination for whom there are not in this moment enough hours in the day." ... http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Features/articleId=120729#33