The West Coast Customs vehicle repair and customization shop in Burbank, California, has been the inspiration for three reality television shows – “Pimp My Ride” (2004), “Street Customs” (2007), and (Inside) “West Coast Customs” (2010). For many years, it has been one of the top auto shops in the US, and has opened international franchises in Dubai, Shanghai, and Berlin. As the shop’s customization business became successful, so did the shows, constructing cars on TV for about 15 years. In 2018, the TV show officially ended following a series of controversial issues the auto shop had, including unfair treatment of the workforce, sub-standard quality of work, and missed deadlines.
- 1 How did West Coast Customs start?
- 2 West Coast Customs’ Reality-TV shows through the years
- 3 Popular car customization projects done by West Coast Customs
- 4 Rumors and legal issues about West Coast Customs
- 5 How is West Coast Customs faring now?
How did West Coast Customs start?
Multiple generations watched how they turned regular-looking vehicles into insanely-designed rides, to make the owners happy.
There are conflicting reports about the date West Coast Customs started – two daily broadsheets, Los Angeles Times and USA Today, published articles with different years on the historic foundation date of the automotive business. The former wrote that it was back in 1994, and the latter that it was in 1997. Based on its legal papers, it was incorporated in October 2000 as West Coast International, LLC, founded by Ryan Friedlinghaus and Quinton Dodson, however, according to their official website, CEO and Founder Ryan started it all in 1993, with a loan of $5000 from his grandfather, Edward Cifranic, establishing his first auto shop in Orange County, California. He soon realized that he needed a bigger space, so he transferred to Inglewood. By March 2004, West Coast Customs had become one of the top auto-customization shops in the US, and its name was able to break into pop culture through a reality-TV show via MTV channel.
West Coast Customs’ Reality-TV shows through the years
By word of mouth, car enthusiasts in California learned of the quality of customization work done by West Coast Customs. Soon, celebrities dropped by with their prized cars, and asked for modifications. According to Ryan, it was the basketball legend, Shaquille O’Neal, one of his first customers in the area, who helped him get the shop’s name out there. Shaq had his Chevrolet Suburban modified, and was extremely satisfied with the work. In return, he gave Ryan a network of celebrity contacts who needed car customization at that time.
MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” (2004 – 2007)
When MTV heard about the shop, the cable network offered Ryan a reality-TV show called “Pimp My Ride”, with his co-founder Quinton as the main stars, along with rapper Xzibit as its main host. Just like other auto-related TV shows, the premise was that the TV producers would choose car owners with not-so-good-looking cars, to have them pimped by West Coast Customs.
It premiered on 4 March 2004 and it didn’t take long for “Pimp My Ride” to become one of the favorite TV series in its timeslot. West Coast became huge in the auto-customization business, however, after four seasons, Ryan decided to part ways with MTV. One of his employees said that they were constructing cars for TV, even if they didn’t like what they were doing. Ryan claimed that while the TV show was a huge part of their success, it was also the reason why he wasn’t able to take care of his other clients.
Discovery Channel’s and TLC’s “Street Customs” (2007 – 2009)
There were rumors that the main reason WCC left MTV was that they had another TV show in the works, with another network. Sure enough, months after he left MTV in 2007, a new show called “Street Customs” premiered via Discovery Channel, later aired on The Learning Channel or TLC. It was produced by Pilgrim Films & Television, and fans knew immediately why Ryan inked a deal with Discovery. Instead of the TV producers telling him what to do each episode, the production crew just documented the customization projects that WCC had. He said, ‘I want to build cars on TV, not for TV.’
It seemed that his crew was quite frustrated in the format of their former show, and welcomed the change with open arms.
Discovery HD Theater’s “Inside West Coast Customs” (2010 – 2012)
In 2010, Discovery Channel was expanding and exploring different programming possibilities in their network. The TV show was renamed “Inside West Coast Customs”, but the format remained the same. It premiered on 20 February 2011 and this time, Ryan and Discovery were credited as its producers; he gained more control over the content they showed every season. Instead of being aired on Discovery Channel, the TV series became part of one of its subsidiaries, Discovery HD Theater. WCC left Discovery after airing only five episodes during the first quarter of 2013; fans were surprised that they inked a deal with another network for the following season.
Fox Sports Network’s “West Coast Customs” (2013 – 2016)
By the fourth season, the word ‘Inside’ had been dropped from the title of the TV show; it was simply called “West Coast Customs” and aired on Fox Sports Network for its next three seasons.
More stars and huge companies descended on the shop, including Chris Brown, Sam Schmidt, DC Entertainment, and Warner Brothers. In 2015, they opened up a new 60,000 square foot auto facility located in Burbank, California, which also served as its global headquarters. WCC finished its contract with Fox Sports, and aired its last episode in January 2016.
Velocity’s “Inside West Coast Customs” (2017 – 2018)
When West Coast Customs moved back to Discovery HD Theater, now renamed Velocity, the TV show restored its previous name, “Inside West Coast Customs.” For two seasons, they were part of the turbo-charged male lifestyle network, with the seventh and eighth seasons just like their past seasons, full of huge celebrities such as singer Joe Jonas and hip-hop artists Post Malone and Travis Scott, along with NBA player Jordan Clarkson. The shop was also visited by successful companies including Kmart, Mitsubishi, Continental Tires, and Lexus. The TV show made its final bow on 10 April 2018, with social media star turned professional boxer, Paul Logan, as the last celebrity to have his bus customized.
Popular car customization projects done by West Coast Customs
Ryan Friedlinghaus and his West Coast Customs have been turning car owner’s dreams into reality for the past three decades. They may have changed the name of their TV show several times, but their drive and passion to create something new when customizing vehicles hasn’t change over the years. Here are some of the most projects done by WCC:
Shaquille O’Neal’s Polaris Slingshot
Most vehicles were created not to fit the large frame of the 7ft 1in and 325lbs former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal. He wanted to drive a Polaris Slingshot, a three-wheeled bike, and so went to West Coast Customs. Ryan knew what he had, and so made some modifications to fit the owner, such as widening the frame and putting 20ins alloy wheels on the front, and 22ins at the back. They also replaced the red paint with deep burgundy to make it more elegant, and fitted it with a Kicker Audio system at the back of the seat as the iconic baller loved to listen to music while out for a ride.
Justin Bieber’s Futuristic Customized Rolls-Royce Wraith
The pop superstar had been frequenting West Coast Customs for quite some time for his modification needs, but not all his customized cars gained appreciation from the fans. However, many people drooled over his $330,000 Rolls-Royce Wraith transformation. It was inspired by Rolls-Royce 103EX Vision 100 concept car that hadn’t pushed through. It had concealed wheels to make the car look as if it was floating, impressive lighting at the lower part of the body that gave it a mysterious illumination in the dark, sculpted fenders, and an upgrade on its sound system. Unlike his other cars, this customization was a bit low-key, but it was highly appreciated by gearheads, except for the concealed wheels as it could be uncomfortable when there were bumps along the road.
Sylvester Stallone’s 1955 Ford Pickup used in “Expendables”
One of the coolest pick-up trucks ever used in a movie set was in Sylvester Stallone’s box-office star-studded hit, “The Expendables,” released in 2010.
Just when everyone thought that Sly couldn’t squeeze in one more iconic badass figure in the movie, he used a 1955 Ford F-100 customized by West Coast Customs. It was fitted with so many upgrades, including March Performance pulley setup, MSD Ignition products, Gibson exhaust system, and a B&M transmission, so that it could strike fear yet looked incredibly stunning with a matte finish inside and out. They also incorporated two secret compartments that could hold weapons. One located under the dash, and the other one could house an MP9 submachine gun. While it was a fun and challenging project to do, the WCC crew had a difficult time doing those customizations. since they had to create two more identical Ford trucks in three weeks; of course, the finished product was quite worth the time and effort spent on the project.
Rumors and legal issues about West Coast Customs
Most successful auto-related shops with Hollywood connections that became huge reality-TV series, were oftentimes embroiled in rumors and lawsuits.
Having pop culture fame – or notoriety – made West Coast Customs more susceptible to rumors, and there were a few incidents and allegations that ended in lawsuits. Here’s a list of some of the most significant controversial issues surrounding Ryan Friedlinghaus and his shop:
The use of illegal immigrants for work
No one came forward to officially accuse Ryan of hiring illegal immigrants, but the story was shared by one of his former employees, Mauricio Hernandez, when interviewed by Daniel Alarcon of Radio Ambulante. Ryan hired Mauricio who crossed the border illegally back in the early years of West Coast Customs. He started as a sweeper, then was eventually trained as a mechanic over the years he stayed with them.
When a Mexican businessman offered to open a WCC franchise back in Mexico, he was included in the package as Mauricio had extensive knowledge not only with the garage but also on how to do a reality-TV series.
He claimed that there were 11 more illegal immigrants just like him who worked in the auto shop for many years. He even found it funny that he had to drive over the customized car of Arnold Schwarzenegger without a driver’s license. The former governor vetoed a law that would have allowed people like him to acquire a driver’s license and the irony wasn’t lost on him. MTV allegedly knew about it but they didn’t really care as the undocumented people were employees of WCC.
Overworked and underpaid employees until 2014
To meet the deadlines of the car being customized at the auto shop, the staff and crew followed an insane and sometimes toxic work schedule. In 2008, USA Today reported that most of the crew worked for 10 to 12 hours each day, six days a week. Initially, there were no complaints, as some of them were undocumented people from Mexico, but eventually there were grumbles about American employees who weren’t paid the required minimum wage, or for the overtime work they did.
An investigation ensued, conducted by the US Department of Labor, and it was revealed that the owner violated many laws under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In 2014, Ryan paid the fines instead of going to court, reportedly over $150,000 for back wages, along with amounts for civil penalties.
Missed deadlines, vehicles stayed in the shop indefinitely
West Coast Customs was so popular that there was a time when they had taken on 20 car projects at the same time. With that many clients but not enough people, it wasn’t a surprise that they suffered backlogs. The reality-TV show was his priority, and so some of the cars were just sitting in the garage, accumulating dust. This kind of practice damaged Ryan’s business relationships with some of his loyal clients; he wasn’t able to manage the time well, and had the habit of saying yes to a client without having enough workforce to back it up.
Misquoted price disputes with clients
One of the most common problems during the car restoration or customization process was the computation of the billing hours, and misquotation of the price of car parts. For instance, a lawsuit was filed against WCC by Malik Jackson, a defensive lineman of the National Football League, at that time still playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, and who in 2020 had hired Ryan’s services to customize two vehicles, a Chevy Cruiser and a Chevy Gasser. Malik sued them for breach of contract; after a year of being in the shop, WCC was asking for over $180,000 as payment for the two vehicles. It was way more than the initial quote, and he couldn’t believe that they overcharged him that much.
Fake and useless parts included
The allegations that WCC used fake parts in their customization builds happened during the “Pimp My Car” era – this was probably one of the reasons why Ryan said that he no longer wanted to work with MTV. Fake parts were allegedly used because MTV producers wanted to make the finished product looked cooler on TV, even if the parts were mostly useless.
Apparently, the moment filming was finished, all those parts were taken down as well. Most of the MTV production crew didn’t know anything about cars; all they wanted was high ratings.
How is West Coast Customs faring now?
For almost three decades of customizing vehicles, WCC has successfully launched its brand globally. While there were unsuccessful franchises, there were those auto shops in other parts of the world that thrived using the WCC brand. They amassed a network of rich and popular clients from different industries, including sports, entertainment and politics. Ryan also made one of his ultimate dreams come true, unveiling a West Coast Customs-inspired rollercoaster at Six Flags.
Today, he’s little by little passing on the torch to his eldest son, Ryan Jr., who has been helping him run his business.
Sometimes they would butt heads creatively, as they didn’t share the same wavelength or vision. To avoid a simple argument between father and son from escalating, Ryan Sr. willingly stepped back, as he realized where his son was coming from. He was still doing everything old school, while his son took a newer approach on how to tackle each project. Sometimes their disagreements would continue around the dining table, but not further than that.
While West Coast Customs do not have the luxury of working on a TV series aired on mainstream or cable TV, they took advantage of the benefits of building a YouTube Channel. They’ve aired a series of videos, not only about customization for entertainment purposes, but also tutorials, as Ryan wanted to give back to the industry that helped him accumulate a net worth of $15 million. They may have lost their spot on TV, but it hasn’t stopped them from continuing to construct cars, and stay a relevant force in the industry, by making their loyal gearheads around the world well entertained.