Still Pimpin’

By Paul Rogers

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Posted August 12, 2010 in Feature Story

When 18-year old Ryan Friedlinghaus started West Coast Customs with a five-grand loan from his granddad in 1993, perhaps only he knew that it would grow into global brand and the subject of no less than three TV shows. WCC has built wild rides for everyone—from NBA great Shaquille O’Neal (around 40 to date) to porn star Tera Patrick (a Smart Fortwo cabriolet)—and is currently working on cars for the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am (a severely updated DeLorean–the DeLor.i.am) and Angels pitcher Ervin Santana (a Dodge Charger converted from 4- to a 2-door).

In 2005, Friedlinghaus moved his custom shop from L.A. to a $4 million facility in Corona. Formerly the focus of MTV’s Pimp My Ride and TLC/Discovery Channel’s Street Customs, WCC is currently being filmed for yet another small-screen show. The Weekly sat down with the chatty, tatted-out Friedlinghaus to find out what’s new in his ever-expanding empire.

You’ve been filming for a new TV show for Discovery HD Theater—what’s it all about?

We just wanted to come out with a show that was called West Coast Customs, since everybody watches this show all over the place and West Coast Customs is the brand. This season we’re going to call it Inside West Coast Customs, where we’re giving everybody an inside look at what goes on here . . . we call it “info-tainment!” If anything, it’s a third series of Street Customs with a new name.

What has been the role of TV in building your brand?

It’s all from the help of TV . . . [But after Pimp My Ride], I always said that if I’m going to be back on TV, I’m going to build cars on TV, not for TV.

What is the tie-in with WCC and the new Sylvester Stallone movie The Expendables?

Last season on Street Customs we did an episode with Sylvester Stallone . . . I built a vehicle for him [based on a 1955 Ford truck]. Last night, I actually got to go to the premiere and to see the truck in the movie and it was pretty fun for me . . . Stallone is probably one of my biggest idols.

Why did you move West Coast Customs from L.A. to Corona?

I’ve lived in Corona for the last 10 years, so personally I wanted to be closer to home. I have three little kids—I wanted to make sure I was there to take them to school, pick them up. For the business side of it, I wanted to buy a building that was my building, that I could fix up the way I wanted to fix it up . . . Property out here is obviously more cost-efficient.

How would you describe the Inland Empire’s custom car scene?

It’s definitely a different clientele for me. I’m used to a lot of the celebrities, a lot of the ball players, a lot of the people from L.A. . . . The style of the cars are different [in the IE]—a lot of off-road trucks. But we’ve built this brand so strong that people come to us no matter where we’re at.

You now have shops all over the world—what new locations are in your sights?

We have Mexico City, Dubai, Malaysia, Japan, Germany and Russia. I want to do something in Australia really bad . . . South Africa has become really hot . . . Hopefully in the next year we can get 10 more franchises open.

What are some of your latest projects?

We just finished the computer gaming truck for Dell Computers and Alienware, which was a Hummer that had eight gaming stations on it and we unveiled it at Comic-Con. We did a build right before that for Virgin Gaming—that we unveiled at E3—that was an armored truck . . . I guess the gaming vehicles are pretty popular: we have Sony on-deck; we also have EA games. We just talked to Cirque du Soleil about a mobile ticketing truck, because they’ve seen one we did for the Dodgers that was very successful. We’re doing an RV right now for Juiceblendz . . . Pinkberry is actually on-deck; HP is on-deck; we have a Monster Cable and Beats By Dr. Dre build that we’re going to do. We’re staying busy with this corporate stuff and for me it’s fun because what they want me to do is make a vehicle that’s going to get people interested in their brand and I think that’s what I’m really, really good at.

Custom trends change so rapidly—what’s hot right now?

Since the money’s been down with everyone . . . I’m seeing a lot of people fixing up their older cars rather than going out and buying brand-new cars and doing wheels and doing paint. So we’re doing a lot of complete paint jobs; we’re doing a lot of complete interiors; and upgraded wheels and tires of course. It’s going almost back to the “normal” stuff that we were doing 5 or 6 years ago.

For more on the West Coast Customs empire, check out www.westcoastcustoms.com.


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