Photographing Boyd Coddington's Garage - An Interview with Dennis Fugnetti
How did you meet Boyd Coddington?
D. Fugnetti - He had a facility that was located in Anaheim, right down the street from my business. I knocked on the door and introduced myself as a photographer. I saw the sign on his building, which read, Hot Rods by Boyd. I had been working with local car companies and developing our niche as a commercial automotive photographer. I wasn’t afraid to knock on doors and in the 80’s we got a lot of business that way. I would hound people and keep showing up until they’d throw me a little project and then we’d build on that.
At that time, his name was so big, magazines would contact Boyd and ask him what his latest project was so they could photograph it. He began to think about hiring a photographer in-house to do his own car photography the way he wanted to use in promotions and advertising. They wanted more control over and access to the photography, and so I provided that for him.
What kinds of photography did you do for him?
D. Fugnetti - Boyd used to come up with custom components for hotrods, like he invented the billet wheels. He came up with unique suspensions. The first project we did was photographing suspension parts for a brochure. From the first project, it developed into a contract to photograph all the cars that he produced. The first car that came to our studio under the new contract was the Led Zephyr.
He had deals with Dupont paints, and so when they wanted to develop a poster, they’d come to us since we had all the images. From that I would create posters and advertising materials that they wanted to buy from us. So, it developed from a contract to shoot the cars to develop posters, brochures, and advertising materials in conjunction with the companies that wanted to work with Boyd.
People would track us down because they liked the photography and they wanted to use the images in advertising. A good example of this is Mother’s Polish. They had a design agency that reached out to buy and use stock photography because they heard we had a large library of car images. Then that evolved to the design agencies shipping cars over to our studio and having us do photography on specific cars for their ads. Having a big studio led to a lot of business. We even photographed motorhomes (like Fleetwood) and limousines and tour buses. We had one of the largest studios in Orange County for over 40 years.
Did you get to drive the cars?
D. Fugnetti – Yes, I always had to drive the cars in and out of the studio and sometimes I drove them down the street to have a little extra fun. One day we photographed a Lamborghini for Lamborghini Orange County and I drove it around the block and the car started smoking. I had the passenger get the fire extinguisher and we ended up pushing the car. If it blew up, that was $250K! The cars were often incomplete since they were just created and we were their first stop. We had to push them, jump them, and fix them to get them into the shots without damaging them, but sometimes this was challenging. Driving so many unique hot rods and high-performance vehicles has been a huge highlight in my career.
What was Boyd’s favorite image?
D. Fugnetti - Boyd told me his favorite shot was the Ghetto Princess in the factory. Of all the shots and all the posters we did, he had that one mounted in his office.
D. Fugnetti - This was the first car we photographed. If I did a good job on the initial shots, I would get more work. The Led Zephyr is a good example of this. All kinds of doors opened-up after the initial shots. Since my wife was in the sign industry, we were able to make a can sign of the Led Zephyr that you could see in the daylight and would light up at night. This became their advertising sign outside their factory in La Habra. The sign was huge! It was 15 feet high by 25 feet wide, and double sided. If you were going east or west on Lambert Road you could see the sign. It was a landmark. When Boyd died, the sign was left up because the city wouldn’t let anyone take it down until it was replaced with another sign. People would come from all over the world to take a picture of it.
D. Fugnetti - This one came to our studio. The root beer colored paint looked so good in the early evening sun. It just popped, I was so excited about this paint color! When the sun went down, we pulled it into the studio to shoot details of all the car components. The interior was so gorgeous we had to make prints for Boyd to send to an upholsterer to get a color match. We ended up sending them the MIAD book to color match the hides.
D. Fugnetti - This car was painted green to celebrate the marine corps. It was going down to Camp Pendleton to be unveiled as a tribute car. I had to get the shots of the car quickly when it was completed and before it was shipped away. I got a call that the car was ready while I was cooking spaghetti at home on the weekend. I got dressed and went down to the factory to talk to Boyd. At that time, they were filming American Hot Rod, a Discovery Channel series chronicling Boyd and his team building hot rods. The show aired for four years, from 2004-2008, when Boyd passed away unexpectedly.
When I got there to photograph the car, Boyd’s wife said I couldn’t do the shots because filming was in progress and I wasn’t authorized to be on the show. I ended up leaving, but I photographed the car on the way out the door. From those shots we created Boyd’s favorite image, and it almost didn’t happen! They ended up finding the release paperwork and I was briefly on a couple episodes.
D. Fugnetti – These shots were produced for a promotion for Reese’s Pieces candy. The pink Cadillac was Elvis’s calling card. He used to give away pink Cadillacs to his fans, friends and family. He also loved peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and so would be the star of Reese’s new banana, chocolate, peanut butter flavor promotion campaign. With coordination of releasing the special flavor, the car was transported to Times Square for the unveiling as a raffle promotion. We were under tight deadlines to photograph the car before the unveiling. I think we had four hours to shoot. We got all the promotional pop-ups and Elvis cut-outs from the advertising agencies, and put it all together to create the shots.
D. Fugnetti – Brought to our studio for Nitto Tires and for Hot Rods By Boyd. Boyd loved this truck because it was all aluminum. He wanted to be photographed with it in our studio, which had never happened before. We ended up getting this great shot of Boyd and his sons.
D. Fugnetti - This one was shipped to us after Boyd was laid to rest and we were the official photographers to take all the images for the estate. It was bittersweet to complete this job, having started it with Boyd and losing him half-way through the job. He never saw this car completed, so I felt compelled to live up to his expectation and vision for this car. We were honored that after his passing, they would chose our studio to ship it to when all the magazines wanted it.
I always had to drive the cars in and out of the studio and sometimes I drove them down the street to have a little extra fun. One day we photographed a Lamborghini for Lamborghini Orange County and I drove it around the block and the car started smoking. I had the passenger get the fire extinguisher and we ended up pushing the car. If it blew up, that was $250K! The cars were often incomplete since they were just created and we were their first stop. We had to push them, jump them, and fix them to get them into the shots without damaging them, but sometimes this was challenging.