It's an interesting time to be a hot rodder, and a unique time in the industry. We're currently slowly recovering from the worst economic downturn since The Great Depression, which has put a brutal pinch on everyone's pockets-especially hot rod builders and parts suppliers who rely on gearheads like us to have some discretionary income we can afford to part with. Right now, that's still a rare thing to find.

The good news is that nothing stops hot rodders; sometimes they just rethink their direction or plans to compensate for the curves that life tosses. Matter of fact, hard times breed innovation and introspection that can combine to bring forth improved projects. Any way you look at it, hot cars will be built. But what we want to know is: What do we have to look forward to? What's going on out there right now, and what's on the horizon?

Trends are by nature a hard thing to predict; most prognosticators who try often end up missing the boat, which is why most builders will just shrug their shoulders if you ask them point blank. And contrary to the persistent rumor that enthusiast automotive magazines like PHR drive trends by promoting their own preferences or agendas, it just ain't so. Trust us; we'd love to say that we held that kind of sway within the hobby, but the truth is that we're often as surprised and impressed by the cars and concepts that roll out of the most creative shops as any other gearhead.

The reality is that it's popular opinion that drives automotive fashion, and if anyone has influence over that, it's the builders who repeatedly turn out lustworthy and inspirational rods. Of course you know what they say about opinions, so we also poked our noses inside a dozen of the most influential builders from various corners of the country. These guys have won awards and accolades for their pioneering visions; they see the next creations coming together, and already know where hot rodding is headed.

Builders at this level basically get carte blanche to build projects as they see fit, so what comes out of their fertile imaginations tends to set the stage for the next wave of automotive creations across the country. These trickle down to the general public and spawn countless garage projects. Regardless of your particular penchant or style, you'll definitely find your next inspiration to get back in the garage and create your own next big thing.