Known for his exceptional skills in high-end automotive paintwork, Charley Hutton gained fame through the reality television series “American Hot Rods.” His projects were characterized by a perfect blend of artistic vision, discipline and skill, which earned him top honors in prestigious hot rod competitions. As his reputation soared, Charley had the opportunity to collaborate with the best auto builders, caught the attention of renowned paint brands, and eventually took the leap to establish his own paint shop. However, after leaving the automotive show, fans were left wondering about his whereabouts and the fate of his shop.

Meet Charley Hutton

His name became synonymous with excellence in automotive painting and fabrication due to his exceptional talent, but according to him, he was just fortunate enough to meet the right people at the right time.

Early years and first paint job

Charley Hutton’s interest in colors and paints emerged while he was growing up. Born and raised in Caldwell, Idaho, his path into the world of custom cars began at a young age, as he found joy in repainting and adding flames to his Hot Wheels, using nail polish stolen from his sister’s beauty kit. His natural talent was evident from the start, as recalled by those close to him. His journey to seriously taking his passion to another level started when he completed his first paint job at the tender age of 13, by repainting his brother’s 1955 Chevy pickup. He also did a Nova front sub clip and all the bodywork on it. This experience kick-started an obsession with painting vehicles, and he wasted no time pursuing it further.

Hired by a local body shop

His journey into the automotive world began when he was hired by a local body shop during his senior year of high school. At that time, his father was the chairman of the school board, and one of the members of the board had a body shop. Although initially hired to clean and sand unimportant parts, Charley relentlessly pursued the opportunity to paint. In his first week, he kept on hounding his boss to let him do the paintwork. He recalled that he kept on saying, ‘I want to paint. I want to paint. I want to paint.’ Eventually, he got his chance when an old farmer brought an old feed truck for repainting. It was his first professional paint job and his boss at that time didn’t have any high expectations from him. He sanded the whole thing down and sprayed it, and impressed by his work, his boss handed him all the paint tasks from that point on.

Opened his first shop

He continued to learn the art of mixing and applying automotive paint properly. Building on this experience, Charley opened his own shop, starting small but steadily building his reputation through word of mouth from fellow gearheads and hot rodders in the local automotive industry. They saw him as a young guy eager to learn, hardworking, innovative, and passionate about cars.

Working with Legendary Automotive Builders

The artistic talent was already there as most of the people around Charley believed that it was innate. However, the discipline and dedication to continue improving at his craft were developed over the years by collaborating with legendary automotive builders such as Boyd Coddington and Chip Foose – working alongside them provided the platform for Charley to turn his artistic visions into reality. They were the ones who truly shaped his career, and in return, he made sure that each project that he did for them was executed meticulously, which established him as a respected name in automotive painting. With his reputation for producing impeccable results, he also worked with other top automotive shops in the country.

Charley’s Journey with Boyd Coddington and “American Hot Rod”

The pinnacle of his early career came when Boyd Coddington himself reached out to the 24-year-old Charley to work on a project; he couldn’t believe that it was one of his heroes on the other end of the phone. He couldn’t forget that day because he thought, ‘I’m like, okay, I’m like who’s pulling the wool over my eyes, and it was actually Boyd and he told me he’d seen that ‘33.’, referring to the 1933 3-window coupe that Charley worked on. Charley was then asked if he’d be interested in doing a project for Boyd. It was a no-brainer for him, even if it was close to 1,000 miles away from home, as he could distinctly remember that his eyes were often drawn to Boyd’s creations, whenever he looked through automotive magazines. It was a huge plus that the popular automotive designer was also from Idaho, moved to California, and carved his name in the automotive customization industry.

Great masterpieces for six years with Hot Rods by Boyd

Charley immediately agreed to work for Hot Rods by Boyd located in California. It was supposed to be just a year-long project. but it kept extending with new work always coming in. He became an integral part of Boyd’s team, as he lent his expertise to a wide array of projects. From the breathtaking 1930 Delahaye “Whatthehaye” to the 1965 Mustang “Crazy Horse”, and from the 1956 Chevy “Junk Yard Dog” to Gil Losi’s “Boydster II,” Charley left an indelible mark on each creation. It was also at that time that he was given the chance to be a reality TV personality.

Left after two seasons with “American Hot Rod”

“American Hot Rod” landed on Charley’s lap only because he was already working for Boyd Coddington at the time Discovery Channel approached Boyd. It became a successful show that lasted for five seasons, and only ended when the main star died from surgery complications. However, Charley only appeared in the show for the first couple of seasons, and eventually resigned from his job as the resident painter and body shop supervisor after working for Boyd for six years. There was a high turnover rate among the employees in the shop, and most viewers believed that it had something to do with the fights and tension in the place. No one confirmed if those were scripted to attract more viewers to the series, or if it was for real. There was an episode in which Boyd was chiding some of his employees for working at their own pace when they were running out of time and even accused them of becoming overly confident. Charley said, ‘I’m trying to keep it level-headed.’ One of the criticisms that Boyd received was that he made his employees work 15 to 20 hours a day, and that they were always chasing a deadline.

Moving on with Chip Foose and “Overhaulin”

Charley left the not-so-good working environment in Boyd’s shop, and went on to work for Chip Foose, a renowned automotive designer who opened his shop Foose Designs, after working for Boyd.

A feud between Boyd Coddington and Chip Foose

A misunderstanding started between Boyd and Chip as the former accused the latter of taking some of his best workers – apparently, Charley wasn’t the only one who left Hot Rods by Boyd. Despite the controversial feud between the automotive designers, Chip always had good things to say about his former boss. He said that despite how Boyd was portrayed in his series, in actuality, Boyd was quite shy and most of what they heard in the show was purely scripted. Chip even believed that Boyd’s ranting of Charley leaving the shop ‘had an element of scriptwriting’ in it. Charley also only had nice things to say about Boyd, and would always tell everyone that if not for him, he would still be in a small shop in Idaho painting old trucks.

“Overhaulin” and Charley’s  first Ridler Award

Eventually, Chip had his own reality TV series called “Overhaulin,” which Charley appeared in  showcasing his own skills as well. Viewers then compared it to “American Hot Rod”, and most of them agreed that Chip’s show was more like a feel-good series, while Boyd’s show was more like a thriller. One of the great things that happened to Charley when he worked for Chip Foose was that it was where that he won his first Ridler Award in 2005, where he did the paint and the refinishing. It was for a 1936 Ford Roadster owned by Ken Reister of Littleton, Colorado, and designed by Chip Foose. The award validated his amazing paint and color ingenuity in the automotive industry.

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Establishing Charley Hutton’s Color Studio

Charley’s experience in working with these huge auto builders and designers carved a path for him to go out on his own, and the result was a small shop he established in 2009 called Charley Hutton’s Color Studio, located in Nampa, Idaho. Despite the fact that Idaho wasn’t a center for hot rods, his impeccable workmanship and reputation attracted the attention of the top gearheads and car aficionados in the automotive world.

Going back to his roots

Leaving California – the mecca of hot rods – was a crossroad for him. In one of his interviews, he became emotional as he talked about how supportive his wife, Teri, was about all his business decisions. He said that everything that happened to his career wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the encouragement of Teri. There was so much traveling for him over the years, and that took much of his time away from home, but working for Boyd and Chip was the best thing that happened in his career. He had this fear that if he went back to Idaho and establish his brand there, it wouldn’t take off. However, his family had always been important to him, and so he had no choice but to go home, be bold about setting up his own shop, and cut down on his traveling.

Charley Hutton Color Studio

In 2009, he did establish his own shop together with his wife, and called it Charley Hutton Color Studio. It actually worked out perfectly for him much more than he dreamed of, as hot rod shops would actually send him projects. Those shops would do the main build and fabrication and then would ship the vehicle for him to do the bodywork, finishing, paintwork, and assembly. He was grateful that the leap that he took was worth it, and said, ‘I mean, the Lord blessed us to be able to do it.’ Charley Hutton’s Color Studio was the embodiment of Charley’s vision and passion. It may have served as a hub for creativity, craftsmanship, and the realization of automotive dreams to others but for Charley, it was simply his playpen. He would always tell everyone that he was just fortunate that he found a career that didn’t seem like he was working, because he loved whatever he was doing, and that he got to do it at home was just a huge blessing.

Won numerous prestigious awards

Throughout his career, Charley has had the fortune of collaborating with numerous renowned shops in the industry, including CAL Automotive Creations, The Roadster Shop, Customs & Hot Rods of Andice, and Greening Auto Company. He continued to develop his skills and discover more ways to make a car look perfectly painted and polished in unique eye-catching colors.

From the prestigious Ridler Awards at Detroit Autorama, he took home the top prize four times. Aside from the first one he won with Chip Foose in 2005, he also won in 2007 with the 1936 Ford Coupe called “First Love” owned by Ross and Beth Myers. It was built by Rad Rides with Troy Trepanier. In 2013, he won again with a 1940 Ford Coupe called Checkered Past built by Cal Automotive Creations with Andy Leach. After three years, he collaborated with Harold Chapman of Customs & Hot Rods of Andice on a 1939 Oldsmobile convertible nicknamed “Olds Cool”, owned by Bill and Debbie Thomas and bagged the 2016 Ridler Award.

Charley was also a recipient of other distinguished awards such as Street Rod of the Year, Custom Rod of the Year, and America’s Most Beautiful Roadster. These accolades could have made him overly cocky, but he remained humble and easy to approach whenever people saw him at car events.

Charley’s relationship with PPG products

In October 2013, PPG Industries, one of the leading coatings and specialty product companies in the world, announced that they were launching the Charley Hutton Ridler Color Collection in time for the 2013 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. It was a collection of 15 distinctive automotive colors that Charley created exclusively for PPG, as a celebration of the many times he’d won the prestigious Ridler Award. It was also a testament to his excellence in paintwork and finishing. The master painter developed each of the unique hues at Charley Hutton’s Color Studio, saying, ‘These PPG colors give custom builders and painters the chance to let their ideas become realities.’ The names that he created for these colors were highly intriguing, such as Kalalau Line, Checkered Red, Madysen Gold, and Rum Point.

When Charley was asked why he favored PPG products so much, he shared that when he was starting the business in Idaho, the owner of the local PPG warehouse, Bill Williams, was quite helpful and encouraging. It didn’t matter if he came to buy products worth $500 or $1000, Bill was very accommodating as compared to other owners who would only assist those who were buying huge amounts on order. He would never forget the time when they had such confidence in him, and in return, he was loyal to them. Another reason that sparked his loyalty was that the company developed excellent products which made his job easier.

Where’s Waldo of Paint

Often referred to as the “Where’s Waldo” of the custom car world, Charley has a knack of surprising enthusiasts with his appearances. Whether it’s catching glimpses of him on past episodes of popular automotive TV series such as “American Hot Rod,” “Overhaulin,” and “Chasing Classic Cars”, or at car shows, one thing was certain – Charley’s presence resonated with car enthusiasts worldwide. When he’s not in the shop, you can find him traveling across the US and Australia, gracing shows and events with his infectious enthusiasm. His fans loved him for remaining humble and accommodating to them. On those rare occasions when he managed to find some downtime, spotting Charley in his trademark shorts and flip-flops was a sure sign that he was enjoying a tropical getaway with his beloved family, relishing moments of tranquility and togetherness.

Working alongside other craftsmen not only honed his skills, but also fostered lasting friendships and created a sense of extended family, which Charley deeply values. He definitely resides in the all-time greats club of automotive fabricators and painters. The young kid from Idaho who painted Hot Wheels as a hobby using nail polish while growing up, had come a long way in such a short time. Charley Hutton made a portfolio of awards and work that many might take an entire lifetime to achieve. He would always reiterate that everything boils down to passion. ‘This is such a passion-driven sport and for me, I love doing what I do.’  There were days that it didn’t go the way he wanted them to and it sometimes made him question himself, but working with the right people made all the difference in the world, as the common thread for them was passion in their work.

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