Very few times in life will you get the chance to meet someone like Lyle Fisk.
While Fisk may appear to be of small stature, he’s a giant in the automotive world. Fisk has spent his life fixing and painting some of the finest cars in the world.
If you’re a car guy (or a car chick) you might realize just how important Fisk is to the custom car world. He has worked alongside those famous car guys like George Barris, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Bill Harrah and even Jay Leno.
In fact, if you look up “pinstriping” on Wikipedia, Fisk’s name is first on the list of the world’s best “stripers” in history.
“I’ve been in almost every magazine that has to do with custom cars. I’ve been on the TV shows. I do all the cosmetics – everything from gold leaf to airbrush, striping, lettering characters, whatever,” Fisk said.
After growing up in Yuma, Fisk, now 79, got into the custom car business in 1955.
“Yeah, I was born really young you know. I was born right there in Yuma, so I am an Arizona guy. I lived in San Diego for a hundred years. That is where I made my mark and I enjoyed every minute of it,” he said.
Fisk has been in such demand in the custom car world that a lot of people have paid to fly him to them and work on their car collections.
“They’ll fly you to kingdom come to get something on their car. It’s not your normal car. It’s usually Pebble Beach kind of stuff. You know, the real high-end million-dollar vehicles. That’s what I did a lot of. I don’t think there’s a car that exists that I haven’t worked on,” he said.
“Lyle was very instrumental in the ‘60s and ‘70s in the pinstriping in the street rod, hotrod and custom car industry,” said Alan Taylor, one of the nation’s leading car restoration experts from Escondido, California. “He was one of the pioneers. There were a couple other guys who had more fame and notoriety than Lyle, but they were all buddies. They all worked together. Lyle typically let them take the glory for things that he really created and helped them with.”
While most people are looking to retire at 79, Fisk isn’t one of them. He said he enjoys his work so much that he wishes someone would call him up right now so he can paint for them.
“I’m pushing 80 real hard, but I’m still doing what I do. I can still stoop over and walk backwards. A lot of these guys say, ‘Oh you gotta be careful around me; I’m 72 years old.’ Oh wow, how did you make it? I’m going to die with a brush in my hand. I don’t want to quit doing what I do, as long as I can do it,” Fisk said.
Longevity runs in Fisk’s family.
His father, who he described as a “full-blooded Indian,” not only lived past his 100th birthday, but he also played 18 holes of golf on the day he turned 100.
“He was raised on a reservation in Oklahoma. You couldn’t shoot pool with him. You couldn’t bowl with him. You couldn’t golf with him. He’d nail you. He was so online on everything,” he said.
Fisk is far from being just a car painter.
“It doesn’t always have to be a car. It can be anything. I’ve done some crazy stuff over the years. It could be an airplane or a guy’s special thing that he wants, and he loves. I am an embellisher basically – that’s an eight-cylinder word,” Fisk said.
He has embellished some very interesting things in this world including the Channel 10 news helicopter in San Diego, an enormous facade stage set for a musical, a famous mansion on Coronado Island in San Diego, the famous Fink Rat logo for car designer Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, an aquarium in La Jolla, California, and extensive work for the famous car collector Bill Evans. He even painted and restored a 22-foot tall fiberglass statue of Trigger for the roof of the original Roy Rogers Museum in Apple Valley, California.
“One day in San Diego, I get a call from Roy. What a great guy. He said, ‘Well I have a job and they told me you’re the guy to take care of it.’ Whatever you have, I’ll come over and take a look,” Fisk said, adding Roy Rogers’ first museum was a converted former bowling alley.
The fiberglass horse was vandalized with day-glow florescent spray paint and it was a perfect restoration project for him.
“Roy was so cool. He sent me a picture out of the newspaper and he wrote, ‘Lyle, Great job. Happy Trails, Roy Rogers and Trigger.’ Who’s ever got an autograph like that?”
Fisk is also famous as a faux painter.
“I can make things look like wood or marble or anything like that. That opens up a door from the car-thing. Anything that ain’t moving, I’ll do it,” he said.
Lyle has been married to Yolanda Fisk for 24 years, and they have lived in Maricopa for nearly three. Lyle said he has had some health and cognitive issues.
“Lyle Fisk is very real,” Taylor said. “There are a bunch of us in the automotive industry who are really concerned about him. We are trying to put together a project right now. In fact, I was just getting ready to call the Peterson Museum and talk to them about doing a project for Lyle. A tribute to Lyle.”
Taylor said Fisk is a person who is very genuine and an icon in the custom car and street rod industry.
“One of the best in the world right along with Big Daddy Roth and Von Dutch. They were contemporaries,” Taylor said. “Anything Lyle told you he did concerning cars and the auto industry I’m sure will be absolutely dead on. Lyle is actually way too modest and never has tooted his horn enough.”
This story appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.