A Jalopy Journal Interview Exclusive…
After all the replies to my “3 Things” post about Chip Foose, I thought it was worthy to sit down with the man and ask him some point blank questions about his personal views on traditional hot rods and customs. We all know that he’s received Ridler awards for high dollar, ultra modern show rods, but how does feel about a working man’s ’29 A Roadster or a bare-bones Barris-inspired 49 Mercury? Read below and learn a bit more…
JW: Chip- Thanks for doing this interview with me. You’ve seen the Jalopy Journal before, and you know that these guys are into pre-war and post-war hot rods and customs, through sort of the “golden age” of the 1950s, and up till the early 60s when over-the-top show rods began to appear. Now, you are known as a modern builder, but they have a lot of classic touches to them. When you see a 100% authentic, traditional hot rod or custom with nothing modern on it, what is it that you like about that kind of a car? What is it that you can take away from it to inspire you?
CF: Well, I love the traditional rods. When the war ended and the military guys came home, they were just trying to make em’ fast. But then there were people like Doane Spencer who was also making them beautiful. And then there was Sam Barris who was doing customs looking at aesthetics, and to me that’s what it’s all about- When you make something more beautiful. When I build a car, I’m asking myself, ‘what would the original designer have loved to do if he could have?’, but because they were building these cars for the public and were mass-produced, they had certain limitations. The engineers were making them easy to assemble, but I’m looking at the 50s cars I’m building as if they were Motorama show cars, and trying to do things with ‘what if the factory had done this?’. I don’t ever want a viewer to look at a car and say, “Wow. Look at what they did there!” I want them to look and say, “I don’t remember that car looking that beautiful.” It should, in my mind, just look better than what the stock car looked like, but not necessarily advertise what you’ve done to it.
JW: So lets take customizing a stock ’55 Nomad for example, or really any car from that era. What makes you decide what you change on that car? How do you determine what is ‘pushing a rock uphill’, versus the way to go?
CF: Number one is proportions. So you look, and if one area just looks ‘heavy’ to you, what can you do to lighten that area up? And then of course, fit and finish is priority as well- How do the bumpers fit the car? Can we tuck those in? I like to think of all the fits as the door gaps on a car. When a door is fit properly on a car, you just have a simple cut line, but it looks like one whole form that just cut the doors out of. Every piece on the car should be the same way. A uniform gap, but also the surface is smooth from the fender to the bumper, and then that cut line is put in there. It’s like a clay model and you sculpted everything smooth and beautiful, and your cut lines are whats defining the bumper from the body. That cut line is just like a door gap. I don’t like the bumpers sticking way out from the body.
JW: What your taking about, those uniform gaps, is the hardest thing, is to get all those things tight- It takes a LOT of time, honestly that’s why the factory hung stuff so loose on the assembly line.
CF: Right. Whatever the longest station was on the line, whatever part took the longest to put on, that determined how long it took to build that car. So if a bumper was two inches wider than it needed to be to fit that car quickly, so they could just throw it up and not have to struggle with it or worry about dragging it on the body, or how close it was from left to right. Just throw the bolts on it, get it up and get it down.
JW: What are some of the Foose cars in your mind that have been successful at being modern, yet looking back and respecting that traditional era?
CF: Well I think every car that we’ve built, we’ve tried to make it a better looking car and not trying to be trendy. We don’t want to do things that everybody’s going to copy and want to look forward at. It’s so expensive to build a car, the last thing I want my customers to do is take one of my cars and 3 or 4 years from now, they are thinking ‘you know, I need to update this car’, or I don’t want people to think, “I remember when that was popular”. I want to design a beautiful car, and to me the ultimate compliment, to us, is 30 or 50 years from now, that that car is being restored by craftsmen, and they are restoring it back to the way we built it- Not to the way they want to build it or someone else. That means this car has intrinsic value and a timeless appeal. Something valued in the hot rod community that they would want to see it restored. Preserved.
JW: Yes. And I think what your talking about is exactly what appeals to traditional hot rod and custom guys. Like the Sam Barris green ’49 Merc that restored about 4 or 5 years back. John Mumford has that car, and it’s one of those things that you take it back to the exact way that Sam customized it, and it’s a beautiful car that holds up.
CF: Stunning. It’s like taking the Ala Kart and changing it. You don’t do that. These cars are a part of our history, and you preserve that history.
**That’s about half the interview, but I’m going to end it here for now. Hope you enjoyed!**