The Art of Bryan Fuller
When Bryan Fuller’s dad pulled up to the family driveway with a 1965 Mustang and announced that he had just bought it and was going to restore it, soup up the engine and burn the rubber off, the younger Fuller didn’t believe it. Bryan admits, “I was a shit head 8th grader, jumping on the trampoline and just hanging out with my friends.”
Good thing he got past that, because that Mustang rebuild would open up the door to an eventual career customizing just about anything that moves, his own series Two Guys Garage, regular appearances on Overhaulin’ with Chip Foose and competing on shows like Biker Build Off andCafé RacerTV.
“I was the kid who always took things apart, then put them back together. I’d take my bicycle apart, paint it, put it back together then do it all over again.”
By the time Bryan hit high school, he took what he learned from helping his dad with that Mustang and built two cars of his own, including a souped-up 1930 Ford Model A with a custom Chevy engine.
Growing up he said he rode dirt bikes and ATVs, but mostly when he went hunting or fishing with his dad. Given Bryan’s predilection toward movement, he said he always liked riding more than the time spent on the hunt or the catch.
As Bryan prepared to go to college, he considered customizing a hobby not a vocation. His dad was a pharmacist and encouraged his son to do something similar. So Bryan decided to major in biology intent on becoming a chiropractor.
“I discovered that most of the classes were just memorization and very little application. I wanted to get in and dissect animals, put a tube down a rat’s throat…I wanted to see how it all worked. I wanted to apply what I was memorizing. But they didn’t make it easy for guys like me to do that.”
Bryan’s life would make an abrupt halt and hard left with the sudden death of his dad while Bryan was still in college. Had his dad lived to an older age, Bryan might have sucked it up and gotten his degree. He might have become a chiropractor and wondered what life could have been like if different decisions had been made. But that’s not what happened.
“When your dad dies at 40-something and you’re in your early 20s, it makes you think about what’s important. My dad was such a strong personality. He had a strong influence on my life. But neither of my parents did what they wanted to do in their life. My dad had the best intentions, but he probably didn’t necessarily go with what I was really passionate about.”
The reflection that followed the passing of Bryan’s dad led him to realize that customizing cars was what he was most passionate about. So he decided to turn that passion into a career. After earning his degree in biology from the University of North Texas, he enrolled at Wyoming Technical Institute and learned how to fabricate. Two years later he found himself in California and eventually in the vicinity of the legendary Chip Foose.
“I was working at a metal place called GMT near Chip’s place and he was a hero of mine. I used to go to lunch near their shop and when I’d see him, I’d tell him ‘I’m waiting around until you hire me.’ After a couple of years of this, Chip finally asked me if I still wanted to work for him, and I did.”
It turns out that Bryan learned a lot more from working with Chip than how to improve his fabrication skills.
“The whole shop was full of older craftsmen. He was a natural leader. I’d never been around someone like that who had that kind of gravitas, who was like a priest. One time, I billed like 600 hours in a month. I laughed and thought, ‘no one asked me to stay late. Chip never told me I had to be there. You just knew he’d get the work done. No one worked harder than him. No one was smarter than him.”
While working for Foose, Fuller not only helped the team win the Riddler Award for Best Car in Show at the Detroit Autorama in 2003 and 2005, he also began his TV career with appearances on 10 episodes of “Overhaulin’” and several episodes of “Rides”.
“I remember early on thinking that my voice sounded like fingernails on a chalk board. I thought, ‘what a redneck.’ But it didn’t take me long to get comfortable with being on camera. I think it was the second episode of Overhaulin’ and I was in the restroom. I just told myself, there’s really no point in being nervous anymore.”
After a few years of working with Foose, Bryan decided to set up his own shop and moved from LA to Atlanta in 2005. It wasn’t long before he took on his first custom bike build for his brother-in-law and as an homage to Bryan’s Texas roots it was appropriately named “Texas T”. It had a long, stretched frame and a big 280 tire on the rear. His own career took off from there.
That same year, he competed and placed 4th overall at the AMD World Championship of Bike Building for Freestyle. He went on to win the coveted GM Design Award in 2010 at The SEMA Car Show with the “Impaler” and the 2013 Birmingham World of Wheels Best in Show with a one-of-a-kind Cadillac hearse, named the “Thundertaker”. Bryan’s career as a custom builder of bikes and cars had taken off.
“Before I made the life change, I was kind of afraid to go for what I wanted and to go after something I really wanted so much. Now I always go for it. People who want to succeed and win, go for it. It doesn’t matter if you tell me I can’t. If I fail, I’ll get up and do it and try again. I think you have to have that kind of attitude to succeed.”
Over the last several years, Bryan has attracted a small team of builders to join him, and he’s built an eclectic array of motorcycles that defy description or categorization. There’s the Shogun Honda with its intricate detail work that took eight years to complete and one he’s particularly proud of. Then there’s the Dirty Duc, a bare bones little Ducati that also saw screen time in the recent Fate of the Furious. And the beefy 77 Special Harley Sportster.
The question is which does he prefer to build – cars or motorcycles?
“I like them both. It’s fun to take people with you in cars. But it’s hard to beat the exhilaration of a motorcycle. I think you feel more one with the machine. And they’re easier to work on. If you forget a tool, on one side of a bike it’s a lot easier to get to!”
When asked, some builders are reluctant to name anyone who might influence them or even admit that their inspiration isn’t solely their own. Bryan doesn’t have that pretext.
“There are so many people building incredible works at home and in professional shops. A lot of people don’t necessarily have to do it as a business. When I spend six to eight years on a build, it’s hard to compete against the guys who can do this in their garage.”
So if a guy who can build in his garage is competition, what affect does the sheer level of diversity relative to the kinds of bikes being built today have on builders today? Gone are the days when most buyers wanted either a chopper or a bobber. The closest thing to a raked bike you’ll see today and baggers with stretched out front ends and lowered and stretched backsides. Then there are café racers, trackers, scramblers and variations on all of them that are redefining the idea of a custom build.
Bryan has some insight into what’s driving the diversity.
“It’s kind of like fashion. When styles change so quick, I don’t think most people can keep up. I think customs have evolved faster than most people do. And builders are artists, so they’re influenced by trends and media and pop culture. They’re moving faster than the customers. I think people like me who had imports as kids are going to be attracted to what people are doing with those kinds of bikes.”
If the idea that fashion and custom motorcycle builds have similarities seems odd, a line that shows up on a video on Bryan’s website puts it into perspective — building usable works of art. Bryan said they did some work and soul searching to come up with that line, but it now defines the purpose of Fuller Customs. And he admits, that it is applicable to just about anything any customer might bring in the door for the Fuller touch.
“I’m not afraid of anything at this point. Customizing is a sacred art for me. It’s a real American art form and I want to honor that.”
Bryan, we think your dad would understand. That ’65 Mustang did its job.