Pimp Your Ride: Designing Cars with Musa Tjahjono
If you grew up in the 2000’s chances are you saw Pimp My Ride on MTV. Basically, a college kid had a crappy car and was in desperate need of a refresh. MTV would take your car, let the car wizards at West Coast Customs (WCC) pimp your ride, and you would get an awesome new car.
Fast forward to 2017, West Coast Customs is still pimping people’s rides on a new show on Velocity (by Discovery) called Inside West Coast Customs. Musa Tjahjono, a 30 year old Indonesian Chinese American, is the head designer at WCC and creates custom cars for clients like Shaq and will.i.am. Musa’s unique take on giving old classic cars a modern twist put his designs on the map.
By George Ko
Photos and by George Ko
Like most kids, Musa was fascinated with Hot Wheels. In fact, at the age of 5 Musa started drawing toy cars onto paper. It was there that his love for drawing cars began.
“Some kids would get toys for birthdays, but I would ask for pencil and paper. I love to draw. And that’s how I started," says Musa.
Musa recalled that there weren’t many cars in Indonesia; people mostly rode around on mopeds or bicycles. When you saw a car on the street, it was like seeing a celebrity. He says, “Indonesia was not like California. There wasn’t this mecca car culture. The only way you could see luxury sports cars was through car magazines.”
Musa read Motors and Motor Trend regularly, usually getting them from small kiosks on the street. The magazines became a source of inspiration and he would draw cars. That’s where he first saw his favorite car, the Ferrari F40.
The F40 was the most expensive Ferrari sold in 1987. With a price tag of $400,000 (now worth $840,000) and painted in famous Ferrari red, it grabbed major headlines in the car world. It was also the last car that the founder, Enzo Ferrari, saw in production.
Musa recalls, “Back in the day it was a big deal. It was the first road legal race car. I remember I showed my parents that car in the magazine and they bought me a remote controlled F40 toy for Christmas.”
When Musa was 13 his parents had to relocate due to work. Suddenly, Musa found himself in the United States.
Adjusting to life in the United States had its ups and downs. Musa says, “We were just trying to find a better future for our family. My mom’s concern was school. School in the U.S. was great, so we moved here. It was a tough struggle in the beginning. We had limited resources. We had to carve out our own path.”
I went to Rowland High School. The first few weeks were weird. I got culture shock. I had a no English background, so just sitting in the classroom and not understanding what people were talking about was hard. The only subject I understood was math.”
My first friend was this Japanese guy named Ben. He was the one that kind of showed me the ropes, even simple things like how to go to class and what a locker was.”
Musa and his family were able to find an Indonesian Chinese community through their church. Unlike most ethnic communities in the U.S., there were not many Indonesian restaurants, so finding refuge in food was not an option. In fact, Musa’s aunt opened her own restaurant to eat Indonesian food in Rowland Heights (Merry’s House of Chicken).
Towards the end of his high school career, Musa’s art teacher introduced him to Art Center, the leading school in car design. That teacher looked at Musa’s portfolio and suggested he apply. However, ArtCenter turned him down.
Rejection did stop Musa: “I didn’t get in. So, I took their night classes and reapplied. In 2007, I went to ArtCenter.”
While at Art Center, Musa drew inspiration from Satoshi Wada. “I love how even though we’re going towards digital, Satoshi still does everything by hand with brush and paper. His drawing style is very technical. I love it,” says Musa.
Wada is the person responsible for Audi’s dramatic design transformation, starting with the 2006 Audi A6. He implemented Audi’s signature “Single Frame Grille” design. Wada played a large role in Will Smith's movie I-Robot where this design was featured.
After graduating from ArtCenter in 2011, life did not go according to plan. The car economy tanked and there were not many design jobs. Musa ended up working with his brother in a body kit company called Kie Wholesale. They did a lot of the cars in the Fast and the Furious franchise, including Johnny Tran’s Honda S2000 (played by Rick Yune).
When he wasn’t at his day job, Musa was acting as a contractor for cars built for the SEMA Show in Vegas. In 2014, he was commissioned to design a Camaro for a shop in Florida called Ultimate Auto. Ultimate Auto built Musa’s design and presented it at SEMA. It was called “Ultimate 67.”
The 1967 Camaro was parked next to the WCC booth at SEMA and it caught the attention of West Coast Customs’ owner Ryan Friedlinghaus. After the show, Ryan offered Musa contracting work. Soon after, Musa became the Head Designer at WCC.
Over his 3 year tenure at WCC, Musa has worked on cars from custom projects for celebrities to companies like Huy Fung Foods (the maker of the famous Sriracha sauce). He just finished working on a Rolls Royce Phantom for Justin Bieber.
When designing cars, Musa follows the footsteps of his role model, Satoshi. His favorite tools when drawing cars include brush pens and marker paper. Opting out of digital drawing allows “you to see the bold strokes. It’s not like pencil, where you can constantly go over it. It’s very graphic and straight to the point.”
Musa's goal is to bring attention to the old classics. His favorite projects involve modifying a classic car. More importantly, his designs reflect and strengthen old classic designs, not remodel them. Musa is currently working on this Porsche 356 Speedster. When fully restore, this 1957 model is worth well over $250,000.
While working on this build, Musa maintained the old Porsche style, but widened the body kit to give the Speedster a more aggressive stance and lower profile.