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The Garage: Focus on Autos

Ford's next big attraction

The automaker hopes a special-edition F-150 pickup truck styled bt hot rod designer Chip Foose will draw buyers into its showrooms.

March 31, 2007|John O'Dell | Times Staff Writer

Ford's latest big truck is aimed at the fast -- and the curious.

Teaming with legendary hot rod designer Chip Foose to pump up the styling inside and out -- and dropping a monster 450-horsepower V-8 from its own Special Vehicles Team under the hood -- Ford Motor Co. will roll out a limited-edition F-150 pickup next week at the New York Auto Show.

The F-150 Foose edition will muscle into showrooms by year-end, plastered with a sticker that certainly won't fit every wallet. (Ford will say only that pricing will be "premium" -- industry lingo for "If you need to ask, you probably can't afford it.")

But the automaker does expect the truck to draw plenty of everyday working motorists to dealer lots, the kind of buyers who need to haul more than, ahem, their own posteriors and will be primed to buy a more conventional F-150.

"There's a hell of a pickup truck war going on, and Ford needs some excitement," said Jim Hossack, an analyst with market research firm AutoPacific in Tustin.

Ford won't bring out an all-new version of its bread-andbutter F-150 until 2009. In the meantime, it is hoping that boutique models such as the Foose can provide some sales muscle against redesigned pickups from General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., not to mention steep discounting by DaimlerChrysler's Dodge.

GM's Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra have been hits, but Toyota has rolled out incentives to light a fire under sales of its redesigned Tundra.

The Foose F-150 is certainly built Ford buff.

The pickup, which started life as a black-on-black FX-2 model, features a Foose-designed custom grille, 22-inch alloy wheels, exhaust pipes and pinstriping. The designer also came up with a "ground-effects" kit: carbon-fiber lower body panels that fit under the front and rear bumpers and along the side rocker panels, narrowing the gap between the street and the bottom of the truck to make it look even lower than it is.

The interior features custom head restraints and floor mats, embroidered with Foose's signature, a custom leather center console and a polished identification plate engraved with the vehicle identification, build sequence and Foose edition serial numbers.

To all of that, Ford's Special Vehicles Team performance unit has added that supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 engine, which pumps out 500 pound-feet of torque.

With the demise last year of Dodge's 500-horsepower SRT-10, the Foose F-150 will be the most powerful production pickup in the market, said Ben Poore, Ford's truck group marketing manager.

Customized, high-performance pickups aren't big volume models for any automaker, but they serve as image enhancers that help draw people to dealers' showrooms, Hossack said.

"Most people can't afford them, but a good salesman can get you into a regular F-150 after you've seen" the Foose, he said.

That's what Poore is banking on. "The marketing benefit from this truck is way beyond the volume it will bring," he said. "It's the buzz we'll get off of working with a designer like Chip, who has such a fabulous eye, to bring out a truck with such hot appeal."

This is the first "signature" model production vehicle for Foose, who started building hot rods in his dad's shop in Santa Barbara before he hit puberty.

Foose, 43, was a designer for Santa Barbara-based custom auto builder Alain Clenet and a student at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in the 1980s. He gained national renown as the chief designer for custom car builder Boyd Coddington in the 1990s.

Foose designed several of the Coddington cars honored as the nation's most beautiful hot rods at the prestigious Grand National Roadster Show.

When Coddington's original business folded in 1998, Foose reactivated Foose Design, a company he had started in 1984.

Since then, he has become a TV star; he and his Huntington Beach-based crew are featured on the Learning Channel series "Overhaulin'." He has launched a $300,000-plus limited-series production car, the Foose Coupe, and has done design and consulting work for most major automakers.

Foose's association with Ford goes back to his 16th birthday, when he took over the keys to the 1956 Ford F-100 that his dad, hot rod builder Sam Foose, had been driving.

"I customized it two times over the years, and it was done a third time on 'Overhaulin',' " he said of the truck, which he still owns.

Foose's daily driver is a new F-150 -- a fact that wasn't lost on Ford's truck division as it looked around for a noted designer to do a fancy version of the truck.

As a student at Art Center, Foose did a project for Chrysler that served as inspiration for the Plymouth Prowler, a mass-market hot rod sold from 1997 to 2002. He also became friends with classmate J Mays, now Ford's chief creative officer and group vice president for design.

Late last year, Ford approached Foose about creating a special-edition F-150. A few weeks later, at an industry show in Las Vegas, "he sketched out the truck right there," recalled Ford truck exec Poore.

There have been several tweaks since that original design was inked -- unlike many designers, Foose doesn't use a computer for his drawings -- and the prototype to be shown in New York won't be the final version.

"But it will be close," Foose said.

Close enough, Poore hopes, to start the buzz building.

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john.odell@latimes.com

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