Foose Design bringing back the Madam X Cadillac

Larry Edsall
Special to The Detroit News

We’re still a couple of months from the start of the 2016 SEMA Show, the annual showcase of automotive aftermarket equipment and customized vehicles that not only provides inspiration for driveway mechanics around the world, but also the parts and pieces drivers can use to personalize their vehicles.

There’s always anticipation about what sort of dream machines will be unveiled for the annual show of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), held early each November in the Las Vegas Convention Center.

This year, appetites are being whetted by none other than Chip Foose, who grew up in his father’s project design garage in Santa Barbara, California, where he painted his first car — a Porsche 356 — at age 12. Foose graduated from the prestigious ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena and had a brief stay in a Big Three design studio before focusing on custom cars.

At 31, Foose became the youngest person inducted into the Hot Rod Hall of Fame. He’s had a hand — or a pen — in eight of America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award winners and on four cars that have won the Riddler award at Detroit’s own Autorama.

Oh, and he’s also the star of television’s “Overhaulin’ ” show.

For SEMA 2016, and for his own 30th anniversary as a professional car designer, Foose is working on a 1939 Cadillac custom called the “Madam X Coupe, the car that never was …”

The original Madam X Cadillacs were special V16 Cadillacs of the early 1930s. Its coachwork had slender doors, petite windshield pillars, chromed window moldings, a steeply raked windshield and other features, including golden gauges and stainless-steel wheel spokes. The Madam X name came from Harley Earl, head of GM Styling, in honor of the lead character in the early 20th-century play, “Madame X.” So alluring is the story that at least a dozen film adaptations of the play have been produced.

According to a news release from Foose Design, a special Madam X was commissioned by auto dealer Wes Rydell and his wife, Vivian, but that one was never built. Foose used the proposed Rydell vehicle as his inspiration for his latest custom creation.

The Foose project started with a Cadillac 60 Special Sedan. It was shortened, lowered and fabricated a special coupe body with a removable hardtop.

“The Madam X Cadillac is turning out to be one of the most stylish cars I’ve ever built,” Foose said. “It’s a great combination of modern technology and old-school coach building tradition. I can’t wait to reveal it.”

In the meantime, he’s shared a sketch and some in-progress photos.

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at