West Coast Customs owner Ryan Friedlinghaus as part of "Pimp My Ride" in 2004, and now.
In 1993, with a sole investor in his grandfather, Ryan Friedlinghaus stretched $5,000 into a small car remodeling startup. Nearly 20 years later, his world-famous West Coast Customs is on the tongue of any celebrity looking to land anything from a slight alteration to a full-fledged, inside-out truck restructuring. And for a little while between WCC's first job and its most recent project, Friedlinghaus opened his shop's doors to MTV, and "Pimp My Ride" became a favorite way for a different type of client--the down-on-his-luck driver--to get an old, crap car transformed into a newly kitted-out whip.
Though the show has been off the air for five years, Friedlinghaus told Remote Control that things are as busy as ever at WCC, with its "Inside West Coast Customs," a docu-style production in its second season that speaks to the mechanical and artistic mania his staff sees every day. Take a look at what Friedlinghaus told us below, check out his company's website for the latest in mind-blowing projects and keep up with his Twitter account for lessons in self-made success.
How did you first get involved with "Pimp My Ride," and what was the state of West Coast Customs like at the time?
The producers first came to me at my shop in Inglewood. It was still a smaller shop, and it seemed like a good opportunity business-wise. I thought it could take us to the next level.
Did you have any reservations about taking on the project or working with camera crews?
I think I was worried about how the guys would handle becoming celebrities or people on TV. And, obviously, when you’re building car, you kind of get in a groove. Sometimes, with shooting, you’d have to stop for cameras--hold for this, re-do this--and I didn’t know how anyone would react to that. And the timeline's tough. In production, you only have a certain amount of time to get things done. It was a challenge, and there were a lot of late nights and lot of overnights.
How was a TV makeover different from any typical previous one?
That was one of my challenges, actually--the cars we normally built for celebrities were kind of high-end, crazy cars. For the show, it was more lower-end cars, and we put cartoon-y stuff in it. It was a little bit over the top on some of them.
Do you have a favorite project or client from the show? A least favorite?
All of them were so good because the reaction was so great. But, thinking back on that first season, there was a van--like a blue and silver little-style van. It was something that looked like it would have come from Japan. That one was cool because it was a unique car and we made it into a little gaming lounge. And the worst one was probably that van we built with the hot tub in the back. It was a little ridiculous, because everybody after that show aired was like, "Hey, can you put a hot tub in my car?" Realistically, it's not practical.
How did you handle increasingly wackier requests that came after the show?
It was tough, because you've gotta read between the lines and figure out what's smart and what’s safe to do. People would see something on the show and be like, "Oh, you can do that--you did it on 'Pimp My Ride.'" I mean, it was a challenge, and we still face it today.
How has WCC progressed since we saw you last, and what have you been up to?
The show definitely grew our brand. It became global where everybody knew who we were, and that definitely allowed us to grow and do many different things. We grew into a bigger shop, we got a chance to do a few other TV shows.
Tell us about "Inside West Coast Customs."
It's more about what we really do. Now that we had this humongous fan base after "Pimp My Ride," I wanted to show people what really went on. When you’re doing a half-hour program, it's hard to really give a how-to and really show how things get done. The new show focuses on how a project gets done, and who it's for, and there are a lot of backstories--we show how something's built.
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Photos: Lisa Marie Kurbikoff/MTV and courtesy of Scarlet X Marketing