Artist. Designer. Influencer: Cole Foster

Words: Craig Metros Photography: Sean Klingelhoefer

As an admirer of Cole Foster and The Salinas Boyz style of customs, I’ve been following Cole’s work for many years now. I recently had the privilege of discussing a few of my favourite Salinas Boyz builds with Cole, his keen eye, and why I should hire him as my interior decorator. He is one of the coolest most talented builders in the business. Cole’s talent is not only his precise skills in fabrication, but it’s his keen eye for aesthetic purity and balance that make each one of his projects timeless. “I think it’s my biggest asset. There are great metal guys that have the worst eye in the world,” Cole explains after I mentioned his eye for aesthetics. “I always sort of had it. I just had to learn all this shit to catch up to my eye,” Cole explains. “I’ve always been really good with colours and textures for houses too. I could design your living room,” Cole points out with a chuckle. At one point, Cole did think about pursuing fine art. “I was always good at drawing and painting in school. Although, the older I got, I realised some really talented kids could make four lines on paper look amazing! They had it and I wasn't that guy,” explains Cole.

Since then, Cole has found his own art in customising bikes, cars, and trucks. He started The Salinas Boyz Customs with four friends over 25 years ago. It has grown from friends working on cars together, to a rotating support team who have established a world renown reputation for building award winning customs with Cole leading the charge.

In the late ‘80s, Cole decided to customise a 1954 Chevrolet Hardtop for his personal driver. After it was finished in the early ‘90s, the chopped, midnight blue ’54 showcased Cole’s keen design eye and stunning craftsmanship. More on the ’54 later in this section of the magazine.

By the late ‘90s, Cole had a few nice builds under his belt but was still in need of a greater customer demand. That is about the time he was approached by a customer who wanted a ’56 Ford F-100 pick-up custom built from the ground up. “To be honest, I don’t really like those trucks very much, but I made this one bitchin,” Cole points out with confidence. “The lines on the fenders and on the bed are completely different than the roof line so I ended up modifying everything,” Cole explains. Every corner, radius, and angle on the body was reworked. The box and both bumpers were completely rebuilt from scratch. And like most of Cole’s builds, all of the exterior trim was shaved. “I finally had the body and box all working together when the client made two requests I didn't agree with,” Cole remembers. The client requested reversed chrome steel wheels on the truck and to leave the large factory FORD badged taillight lenses. “The chrome steels would have been awful and I hated the factory taillight lenses,” Cole rants! Cole stuck with his gut and made the wheels and taillights to his original vision. After showing both items to the client, he loved them both and Cole got his way. “It was the right way to go. That thing looks pretty mean with the black wheels,” Cole points out.

Upon completion, the truck won its fair share of awards including the Chip Foose Design Excellence Award at the 2001 Grand National Roadster Show. “The 56 F-100 is probably the nicest thing I have done. It looks great, sounds great, drives great, and you can shut the doors with one finger,” according to Cole. That build opened the door for Cole and put the Salinas Boyz Customs shop on the map as a full service custom builder.

After the F-100 was finished, Cole was ready and even more confident to take on his next project. Only this time, Cole was interested to explore the world of custom motorcycles. He wanted to build a bike for the V-twin aftermarket company, Custom Chrome. The Custom Chrome company enlisted famous custom bike builders who at the time were building outrageous and ill-proportioned choppers. The builders would create a bike using motors, transmissions, and other parts from the Custom Chrome catalog. When the bike was complete, Custom Chrome would tour it for a season on a show circuit, along with the builder's name. At the end of the season, Custom Chrome would give the bike back to the builder.

At first, Custom Chrome saw Cole as a car guy and wasn't interested. After some persistence from Cole, a deal was struck and a custom bike would soon take shape in the Salinas Boyz Shop. Cole applied the same thinking to the bike as he had been doing with his cars. Nail the stance and proportion, and visually reduce, not add. In Cole’s words, “get rid of the bullshit”. I was amazed at how thin and lightweight the bike looked after seeing it in person for the first time. The direct influence by the early top fuel cars that Cole grew up with was also quite obvious. The Blue Bike became extremely popular amongst enthusiasts and was another successful hit for The Salinas Boyz shop. Not only did it make the popular and overdone choppers of the time look silly, it is still influencing bike builds today. The blue ’54 Chevy and the Custom Chrome bike became synonymous with Cole Foster and the Salinas Boyz Customs.

I cannot write about Cole and the Salinas Boyz shop without mentioning two of my all time favourite Salinas Boyz builds; the Kirk Hammett ’36 Ford coupe and the Moon Rocket bike.

Metallica’s Kirk Hammett approached Cole about building him a custom. Cole steered him toward a ’36 Ford three window coupe. He started with a five window coupe and converted it to a chopped three window car. Not quite happy with the first chop, Cole chopped the car a second time to achieve the exact roof profile that he envisioned. Cole executed all his signature sheet metal mods such as the shaving of all exterior trim and handles. Like most people, I remember seeing the car fully assembled in raw sheet metal for the first time in The Rodder's Journal and being so captivated. To my eyes, Cole went beyond a custom or hot rod and took a beautiful car and simply made it even more beautiful and better crafted with an edge. It’s very reminiscent of the handful of rare and gorgeous ‘one-off’ coach built bodies for early Bugatti and Duesenberg chassis from a bygone era.

My other personal favourite is the Moon Rocket bike. I have always been a fan of drag bikes. It’s the lower and longer proportions, dropped grips, and typically an exposed massive engine that appeals to me visually. Needless to say, I was blown away the first time I saw an image of the Moon Rocket bike. “That was a fun project. I first remember telling my buddies I’m going to put a road faring on the front of a drag bike and they all thought I was high,” Cole reminisces with a laugh. “A stock fairing would have never fit so I bought a Honda fibreglass road faring and just used the factory windscreen to start the shape of the full aluminium fairing. I made the fuel tank, oil tank and the fender out of aluminium as well,” Cole explains. The bike was bought while it was on show at the Yokohama Hot Rod and Custom show in Japan, not too long after the bike was completed. “I just saw that bike in Japan two years ago and it still looks great. I saw a detail on the bike that I forgot I built and thought, wow that looks really cool!”, Cole says with a chuckle.

That was just a few highlights in a long list of Salinas Boyz projects. As you can tell, Cole is very comfortable and confident shifting from two wheels to four, across multiple makes and genres. “I’m not tied to just one thing,” Cole explains. “One day I would like to do a muscle car, like a ‘70s Trans Am... now that would be bitchin. I’m just waiting for someone to ask me,” Cole remarks with enthusiasm in his voice.

Though it is not a Trans Am, Cole is stoked over his current Salinas Boyz project. He is building a ’32 Ford roadster for a client from Minnesota. “I have never built a ’32 Ford before so that will be different for me,” Cole confesses. “I’m not trying to change the world with this one since ’32s  are pretty played out. Everything you can do to one has pretty much been done so I’m going to just make a really nice car this time around. It has an Ardun Flathead motor, a quick-change rear end, and the right wheels. It’s going to be a bitchin car,” Cole declares with confidence. “It seems like the ’32 guys finally got the formula. There are a lot of nice ’32s out there now. About ten years ago there was some funky shit going on! But now there is a formula that gets repeated,” Cole explains. We are looking forward to the finished build. I’m sure it will be as close to perfection as it gets. Hopefully, someday soon we will be featuring it in FM. Until we meet again Mr. Foster.

This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 20.

Follow Cole: @thesalinasboy.