Brian Stupski is an ambassador to the custom car hobby. He is mainly an artist, but is someone who is familiar with all aspects of the automobile, whether it be mechanicals, design or history. Taking his inspiration from anywhere, he not only draws cool cars, but envisions finished vehicles that leave lasting impressions on car lovers everywhere. You can be sure that his posters are taped, tacked, or hammered to walls the world over. DriveKulture was able to sit down with Brian and find out what makes him tick, and what keeps him going in this multi-faceted car world.
I had no choice at all. I grew up in a house where my father was a mechanic, and eventually went into the service and parts side, and my mother was a huge car nut, too. I was constantly surrounded by it. Most kids get handed a baseball glove, I was handed a Hot Wheels car. Anything I could do to draw a car, or pull apart a car, that’s all I wanted to do.
Most of us had posters on our bedroom walls of dream cars. Which posters did you have?
It’s funny. We had a friend who ran a collision shop, and did custom work in the back. When I was young, I would go and hang out on the weekends. He had this huge collection of old little pages, like Car Craft, Hop Up Magazine, stuff like that from the 50’s and 60’s. He would let me take this stuff home, and I’d get a bunch of these, and I would photo copy stuff out of them. There was stuff like Alexander Brothers cars, and Barris cars, and those were the first things I ever hung on my wall. The first car that really got me going was the Aztec 55 Chevy. That car completely and utterly warped everything I thought I knew about cars. It started that way, and then obviously had the white Countach, which I think everybody had that poster.
Who were your heroes?
It started off with customizers, like Dean Jeffries and The Alexander Brothers. I also had a big thing for Barris’ stuff. It’s funny, because later in life, that kind of got all warped and jaded, but that was the first thing that really appealed to me. There was also Tom McEwen, drag racers like that. That was the other side of it. One of the first cars I fell in love with outside of Kustoms was the Jungle Jim Nova funny car. The fact that it was exaggerated sort of worked its way into everything I do with cars.
As an automotive artist, do you focus on body design, or do you feel it’s important to know how things work in all aspects of the car?
My actual work experience before I went into the art side was working in the automotive field. When I was a kid, I started off on weekends sweeping a shop, then went into finish bodywork, and that led to doing some collision work. Then all the way through college, I worked as a parts man. It became really important to know how everything worked. So, as I get into designing a car, I’m doing everything so it looks really cool, in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “What’s it gonna take to make that work?” Especially when you get into stuff like billable hours. I think “if I move this panel, what’s gotta be moved behind it?” I it’s almost a combination of form and function. If something looks cool, that’s great, but of something looks cool and works, even better.
Often times it’s the story behind a car that makes it interesting. How do you convey that in a piece?
Everyone who comes to me wanting to build a car has a passion for it, but that passion had to start some place. Even if it’s something like, “the first car I got hit with on my bicycle was a Polara,” and I’d try and find a way to fit that somewhere into the story somehow. Even if it means trying to find bicycle parts to put into the car somewhere.
And what story comes to mind?
A friend of mine, Zane Cullen, owns Cotati Speed Shop. Zane and I got working one time on a feature that was for Rod & Custom, and they wanted to take a couple of cars, work with a builder, and develop a car. So we sat down, and had a long talk, and the car we chose was a ’56 DeSoto. What was really cool about it was that this particular DeSoto was a car that Zane owns. His father actually bought it after it was used in “American Graffiti”. If you watch the movie, you see Richard Dreyfuss sitting on the hood right before he gets picked up by the guys in the Merc. He had this particular car with so much history in it, but being car guys, we gotta cut everything up anyway. So as we got into it, we had to pick an era. We decided that whatever part that was gonna go into this thing, had to have been made in 1956. So it became one of those really tough things to find parts for, since it was an off-body car to begin with. It was a fun story, to capture one period in time, kind of like the movie.
You’ve worked with some amazing builders, and helped create incredible cars. Is there one car that exceeded your expectations when it was complete?
I got to work with Tim Strange, and the car we worked on was a Buick called Resilience. What’s cool about this car is it was a father and son team that owned it. Erik and Paul Hansen. They’re no strangers to having really cool cars. These guys who owned the “Seduced” car, which is an outstanding one-off 32 Ford and it went on to win the AMBR award, etc. Well, Resilience definitely lived up to its name 100%. It started off with one client, they were building the car, and the guy was hiding it from his wife. So one day she finds out he’s got this car, and he’s dumped all this money into it, and it was just gonna sit. We figured it was either gonna get sold off, or it would just end up going some other direction. So Erik and Paul stepped up and said, “We want to be part of it,” and everything about that whole project was awesome. Everything came together. From the first meeting we had on that car, we started throwing ideas around, Tim had some great ideas he brought to the table, and Erik and Paul said they wanted a Motorama style car. It really opened up a whole world of really interesting design periods. There were periods where you look at it and think, “It’s never going to be done”. One day, things started to fall back into place. And the momentum built, and we had some really good friends working on the car. There was this thrash to get the car finished for the Grand National Roadster Show in 2009. There was so much into it, creatively, and friendship-wise, and that car went so far over the top of any project car I’ve ever been part of. And a few months back, the car wound up being donated to the Petersen Automotive Museum. That’s like, the pinnacle of everything. I had just been to the Petersen a few months prior to it going there. We were walking around, and my youngest son says, “Dad, wouldn’t it be cool to have one of your cars in here?”, and I said, “Yeah, one day, that’d be awesome” And sure enough, I got the call that it was gonna go. So, definitely far-exceeded anything I ever expected.
You do a lot of work that involves altering proportions of many different types of cars. What car, do you feel, cannot be improved?
Man, that’s a tough one! I have a soft spot for 1969 Chevelles. It’s a great looking car. It’s got the perfect balance of everything you want in a muscle car. Also, as goofy as it is, in its own way, I really like the Porsche 356. Those cars are so absolutely well-designed. Obviously, you throw Porsche in front of anything, and the first word anyone comes up with is “design”, but that’s a great looking little car.
In some ways, you are an ambassador of the “Kustom” car hobby. What would you say to someone who only likes new cars to open their eyes to classics or kustoms?
If I could put it into one word, it’d be “Inspiration”. Take for example, any car from the 50’s and 60’, that was a purely iconic time, design-wise in American history. There was stuff done then that will never be touched again, and to think that there were people out there had the vision to take it a step further. Just knowing your automotive history is a huge thing to have. I’m not expecting everyone to be a Steve Magnante, where he can give you every exacting figure on a car, but I think knowing your history really helps you to appreciate things more. There were great cars made in the 50’s and 60’s, and then all of a sudden these customizers came along and took it upon themselves to not only improve these designs, but figure out how to set the bar so that the next generation of cars would follow what they were doing. I think that says a lot. Nothing gets more inspiring than realizing it was the aftermarket that led the actual market.
I know this isn’t going to be easy, but What are you top 10 favorite cars?
1963 Corvette Stingray
Porsche 356 Coupe
1939 Lincoln Zephyr
1957 Chrysler 300
1936 Peugeot 402
1965 A/C Cobra
1957 Ferrari 625/250
There are some icons and some oddballs on Brian’s list, but that’s what makes this car hobby great. There’s something for everyone, and even if someone isn’t really into cars, they know a great one when they see it.
Brian Stupski is founder and owner of Problem Child Kustoms Studio, and has done some incredible renderings for a wide range of projects, as you can see here. To see more of his work, and get yourself a cool poster for your garage, visit Problem Child Kustoms