In November 2018, the custom car community lost one of its biggest legends, Sam Foose. While a lot of people primarily know him for being the father of “Overhaulin’” star, Chip Foose, his career accomplishments have put an undeniable mark on the car customization genre as we know it today, and it’s no surprise that he was Chip’s biggest inspiration.
A few years back, Aaron and I took Sam Foose for the ride of a lifetime when we found his original custom concept '72 Pantera Dia Kosa.Here's to you Sam, legends never die they live on forever.
Posted by Richard Rawlings on Friday, November 30, 2018
Sam Foose’s life and career
A California native, Sam was born in 1934 in Santa Barbara, California. Years later, when Sam’s father, Sam Sr. found another job, the entire family relocated to Los Angeles – but not Sam. At only 14 years old, he stayed in his hometown and started working as an apprentice car mechanic to make ends meet. During his high school years, Sam built his first hot rod, which ended up winning him a title at the Los Angeles Autorama car show.
In 1950, Sam’s career was temporarily side-tracked by Army deployment in the Korean War. During his time in service, he convinced the higher ups to put his skills to use by letting him repair Army vehicles. Upon returning to US, he married his high school girlfriend and a fellow car enthusiast, Terry, with whom he had four children – Chip, Lindi, Jodi and Amy. He also started building all types of custom cars, with the help of Gene Winfield. The duo notably created vehicles for movies and TV show, including “Star Trek”. This gig later granted Sam a position at Minicars, where he made car models intended to test various safety features – this program funded by the US government eventually yielded various safety standards we know today, such as air bags, crumple zones, as well as lower speed limits near schools.
Sam simultaneously continued working on his personal projects, opening his own car crafting shop in Santa Barbara in 1970. As noted by his son Chip, Sam’s commitment to his craft was extraordinary. At the time, he would be working for up to 100 hours a week, although this sometimes came at the expense of family life. Due to this, Sam’s wife Terry started bringing the kids to the shop to spend time with their father, which ultimately inspired Chip to pursue the same career.
Sam’s commitment wasn’t for nothing; his works were all over hot rod magazines and exhibitions at the time. One of his most notable builds was a ’49 Ford coupe, built in collaboration with the fabricator Donn Lowe and designer Harry Bradley. A more unconventional project of his was a version of the Alfa Romeo Carabo coupe – with its dramatically angular shape, the car looked like it belonged in a sci-fi movie, and spawned a number of valued replicas, some of which are being sold today. Sam sold the original soon after completing the project, but Chip managed to get a hold of it years later, and present it to his father on “Overhaulin’”. Sam had also built a number of custom cars for Goodguys Rod & Custom Association, including a fully customized ’32 For Tutor – the car featured on the company’s logo.
R.I.P #SamFoose 🙏🏼 Your craft & artistry in the automotive world will never be forgotten…along with your jolly & bellowing laugh! Thank you for always making us all laugh & smile on the #Overhaulin set! My condolences to @chipfoose & family during this sad time 😔 pic.twitter.com/uvMtneJIQX
— Adrienne Janic (@AdrienneJanic) November 29, 2018
Sam passed away on 18 November 2018, at the age of 84, but his legacy will continue to live on. ‘It is with a heavy heart that I announce my Dad, Sam Foose, passed away early today. He was my hero, my best friend. You’ll be missed forever.’, Chip wrote on his Facebook page. John Drummond, Sam’s former Goodguys colleague, also shared his feelings in remembrance of Sam, saying: ‘Sam Foose was one of a kind. Gregarious as well as cantankerous, he was always good for a belly laugh. His true genius was in his vision to move metal around and subtly change the proportions of classic American cars. While he wasn’t the first customizer to do this, he was at the forefront of the custom rod movement of the 1990s. In my opinion, Barnard’s ‘49 Ford was Sam’s Mona Lisa.’
Chip Foose is walking in his father’s footsteps
Given his father’s relentless dedication to his craft, it comes as no surprise that he was one of Chip’s biggest inspirations in his own car customization career. ‘I spent the weekends of the first three years of my life at AMT with my dad, who was building their show cars along with Gene Winfield’, Chip recalled in one of his interviews. He began helping his father in his workshop when just seven years old, quickly falling in love with all things car-related.
As he grew older, Chip learned basic drawing skills by copying his father’s work, and eventually started sketching out his own designs, which were later made into real projects. Even today, Chip produces his designs in a traditional way, with pen and paper before building physical models.
Working alongside Sam provided Chip with informal education in the field of car design, which he later expanded by attending the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, following the advice of Sam’s colleague and former Ford designer, Alex Tremullis. Unfortunately, due to financial difficulties, he had to drop out after two years, but Chip didn’t let this break his spirits. To make ends meet, he started freelancing and doing illustrations for various magazines.
He soon found a job at Stehrenberger-Clenet Design (later renamed to ASHA Corp.), where he stayed for another four years, after which he returned to college and finally finished his degree. While Chip initially wanted to focus on his career and had no intention of going back to college, his then-girlfriend Lynne threatened to leave him if he didn’t complete his studies, which gave him a final push to pick up where he left off.
After graduating in 1990, he started working for Boyd Coddington part-time, and also married Lyanne, who became his business partner. Chip’s skills didn’t go unnoticed in the industry, and he had even received an offer from Ford, however Coddington managed to convince him to stay with them full-time. This proved to be a good move for him, as a few years later, Chip became a president of Coddington’s sister company, Hot Rods by Boyd.
However, when the company faced bankruptcy in 1998, Chip and his wife Lynne launched their own product and car design business called Foose Design. This move wasn’t popular with Boyd management, in fact, his departure from the company permanently strained their former professional relationship. This bitterness was primarily caused by Chip taking the majority of Boyd’s most talented builders and employing them in his own company.
By the year 2000, Chip started contributing to the entertainment industry as well, by working as a hot rod consultant for the comedy drama series “Titus”, with a professional car mechanic as a central character.
In 2003, Chip was thrown into the spotlight himself with a TLC documentary on his design and creation of a custom 2002 Ford Thunderbird. As this documentary caught viewers’ attention, in the following year the network expanded it into a full series featuring Chip as the main star – “Overhaulin’”.
History of “Ovehaulin’”
“Overhaulin’” premiered on TLC on 13 April 2004, featuring Chip Foose with Chris Jacobs as his co-host. The show followed a popular premise – in each episode one unsuspecting ‘victim’ nominated by their family and friends would have their antique vehicle fully restored in only eight days. The owner would often be tricked into giving their car up while it was secretly being restored.
Of course, while being the mastermind of the whole operation, Chip wasn’t working alone. He was helped by other restoration experts, including Mark Oja, Andreas Somogyi, Ian Van Scoyk and others, dubbed the ‘A Team’. Behind the camera though, there were even more people working on these projects, sometimes up to 60.
All the work on these custom cars including all the extra parts needed was fully covered by the production company and their sponsors, while the owners only had to pay the taxes associated with having a restored vehicle. Unfortunately, as it was later revealed, the rise in ownership taxes of the restored cars featured on the show was too high to handle for some owners, forcing them to sell the vehicle.
In one of the most memorable episodes of “Overhaulin’”, Chip and his team remodeled a 1993 Hummer H1 used by CNN during the war in Iraq. In only a week, they made significant improvements to the vehicle, including replacing the engine, raising body, and airbrushing images of CNN journalists and US soldiers. The legendary vehicle, nicknamed ‘Warrior One’, was unveiled in front of CNN employees, media and a swarm of fans. In 2007, the car was sold in a charity auction for $1 million.
Despite its popularity among car enthusiasts around the world “Overhaulin’” has had a somewhat rocky history. The first cancellation of the series came in 2008. At the time, the show was at the peak of its popularity, and this move which seemed to come out of the blue surprised many viewers. Apparently, it was behind-the-scenes drama between Chip and the restoration company which worked with him on the show, that caused it to be put on hold. Chip officially severed ties with them in 2007, after the police uncovered the company’s illegal activities.
It took four years before the show was picked up by another network, Velocity, which had previously collaborated with Chip on two other automotive series, “American Iron: The Hot Rod” and “American Iron: The Muscle Car”. However, in October 2015 it was announced that season nine would be the last. In 2019, Discovery Channel picked up the show for another reboot, but which lasted for only a season. Right now, it appears that “Overhaulin’” won’t be returning to the screens again, but at this point anything is still possible.
Chip’s work outside the show
Aside from his work featured on “Overhaulin’”, Chip Foose has continued working on a number of other projects. One of his most recognized works is his 2009 original model called Hemisfear, also known as the Foose Coupe. This niche supercar combined engine power with a unique retro aesthetic, and was commissioned by Ford, based on Chip’s design from 1990. Chip has also worked as design consultant, tasked with helping architects come up with unique styling elements of Motor City Casino in Detroit, Michigan. A lesser-known fact about Chip is that he had been a design consultant on the 2006 Pixar animated movie “Cars”, for which he created the dynamic tattoo paint job on a character called Ramon designed after a 1959 Chevy.
After “Overhaulin’” was initially cancelled in 2008, Chip focused more of his time on his company Foose Design, which continues to operate to this day, while Chip himself offers consultations to other automotive companies, including Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.
In 1997, Chip became the youngest inductee of the Hot Rod Hall of Fame at only 31 years old, and has since won numerous awards for his custom car models, including four Ridler and seven Goodguys Street Rod of the Year Awards.
Chip is also known for his charity work, currently serving as the vice president of the Progeria Research Foundation’s chapter in California, which focuses primarily on developing treatments for progeria syndrome, a rare genetic illness Chip’s late sister suffered from, which causes children to age rapidly. Furthermore, he’s also taken part in many other children’s charities, including Victory Junction Gang Camp and Childhelp, and has received the title of grand marshal of SEMA’s Show N’ Shine public car show for children’s charities.
These days, Chip’s company Foose Designs is as busy as ever, and Chip frequently posts pictures and videos of their newest projects to social media. As of September 2022, his net worth has been estimated at more than $18 million.