12 Trendsetting Builders Forecast The Future Of Hot Rodding - What's Next?
From the September, 2010 issue of Popular Hot Rodding
By Christopher Campbell
Photography by Christopher Campbell, Robert McGaffin, The Shops
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.
SportsRoof Mustangs look to...
SportsRoof Mustangs look to be the next big body style and Ringbrothers has their own Roush-powered '70 under construction. This one will have the same level of execution as their Street Machine of the Year-winning Razor '69 Camaro, but will be set up for open-track use.
They've never strived to create a unifying style to their projects, but there is no doubt that when given free reign to design, a Ringbrothers car has an easily recognizable feel. From the Reactor Mustang, the first major build that gained them international attention, to the innovative Afterburner Fairlane that graces the cover of this issue, there is a family resemblance. And to a degree, that's intentional. Both Jim and Mike Ring are heavily influenced by European designs, and while most builders strive for a harsher hot rod-style execution to their cars, Ringbrothers has always sought to bring an OEM level of finish to their car. In fact, due to the numerous details such as factory-like warning stickers underhood and the modern-retro style leather-clad interior, some people thought their Razor Camaro project was a GM concept for the yet-to-be-released (at the time) fifth-gen Camaro.
Though they've mostly earned a reputation based on their high-end, deep-pocket builds like Afterburner, Razor, and Kona, Ringbrothers actually handles everything from mild bolt-on builds, to repairs, and paintjobs. Plus, with a bargain shop rate of only $60 an hour, they remain within the reach of everyday rodders, and get to see a true cross section of the trends forming in the hobby. "People used to focus more on building cars specifically for the look, and we've certainly been guilty of that," Jim says. "But I really think the next big thing is people wanting to use their cars. They want to make them fast, but not just in a straight line-driving them around corners is the focus." Even the Ring brothers themselves aren't immune: "We're actually working on our own badass '66 fastback Mustang to take out and pound the crap out of on the track," Jim says.
They've built several for...
They've built several for customers, and now Jim and Mike say it's time for them to have their own toy. This '66 will be their in-house track toy and carry the banner for their shop.
Hand in hand with that, Ringbrothers has also seen an evolution in customer's expectation of resale value in their projects. Rather than building a car and hiding it away, racking up only a handful of miles in hopes that they will lose little to none of their monetary investment, most people have resigned themselves to the fact that nearly everything depreciates, and have decided to make the most out of it. "You're going to see a lot less 'lawn chair' cars out there at any given show," Jim says. To put it plainly, Ringbrothers is seeing a shift toward the mentality that hot rods aren't really intended to be investments; they're for enjoying.
To that point, Jim and Mike also hear their customers plan on keeping their cars for the foreseeable future, which is why you'll never see overly trendy or outlandish paint schemes or colors on a Ringbrothers car. "People don't want cars they get tired of looking at in a year or two," Jim says. "It needs to be something they always like and feel good about putting their money into."
Beyond the landscape in the next few years, Jim also likes to look decades down the road and ponder the distant future of hot rodding. "I can see alternative power hot rods in the future." He can even foresee builders getting engineering students at colleges involved, such as the students at Ohio State University, working on the cutting-edge Buckeye Bullet hydrogen fuel cell-powered streamliner that set an FIA land speed record of 303.025 mph at Bonneville. That kind of technology might be in a vintage Mustang or Camaro one day, and Ringbrothers would love to build it!
Often it's the subtle touches...
Often it's the subtle touches that make a car outstanding. Note the re-sculpted and tucked stock bumper with notches for the taillights and spoiler that grows out of the quarter.
Jim and Mike pull much of...
Jim and Mike pull much of their inspiration from European tuner styles and designs; the sketches for their current '70 Mustang show how they plan to integrate it into the classic lines.
Alloway's Hot Rod Shop
Stock is beautiful, Alloway...
Stock is beautiful, Alloway says. This stunning '62 Vette attracts a crowd of gawkers wherever it goes, yet it's almost all in the stance and the wheels.
The last few years have seen big changes afoot at Alloway's Hot Rod Shop. The rods are still rolling out with the massive rear wheels, slammed stance, and recognizable rake-all spring, no air, thank you-but the cars themselves have been evolving. Bobby Alloway will tell you straight out; he is first and foremost a street rod builder, and his place is a street rod shop where some of the most detailed and award-wining prewar rides are born. That's a reasonable claim since his cars have taken pretty much every top honor, including America's Most Beautiful Roadster, the Ridler Award, Street Rod of the Year, and Street Machine of the Year. Bobby himself has even been inducted into the Rod & Custom Hall of Fame. Lately, however, more often than ever before he's been applying all of those quintessential Alloway touches to late-model metal, meaning '60s muscle cars.
We've always had a thing for...
We've always had a thing for '66-67 Fairlanes and we predict this Boss-powered one will finally throw some light onto these oft overlooked rides. This bitchin stance isn't possible without massive chassis work, though.
That hasn't exactly been a stumbling block for Bobby though. Some of his most talked about cars in the past few years have been muscle cars: Ken Nestor's '70 Challenger, known as She-Devil, and George Lange's implausibly clean '67 Mustang fastback that practically defines the muscle rod movement, for example. More recently, he's recently wrapped up three autocross-ready first-gen Camaros and has moved on to a '67 Fairlane and a '70 Mustang, as well C1, C2, and C3 Corvettes.
Has interest shifted permanently? Not in Bobby's opinion: "I think it'll come back around; it did this once before in the '80s, then picked back up." The down economy may have a little bit to do with the current shift as well; Bobby reports that business is still doing well on the high-end builds with plenty of work coming in to keep the crew busy. Most of the current drop-off has been in the day-to-day restos and repairs.
Including the family in hot...
Including the family in hot rodding and keeping it usable is a great way to justify the expenditure. This '57 Ranch Wagon will be a cush road tripper or grocery getter.
Along with the top-shelf muscle, Bobby tells us that there's a much stronger demand for exotic engines underhood; standard fair small- and big-blocks are definitely off the list. The Fairlane and the Mustang will both be packing Boss 429s, and Bobby currently has three 427 Cammers and three ZL1s sitting in the shop waiting for future projects still on the drawing boards. We can really get into that trend: more eye-catching ways to make big horsepower. To house those big engines, Bobby's also been getting more inquiries about big cars and wagons to drop them in. One of the Cammers is slated for a '61 Galaxie convertible, and a '57 Ranch Wagon is waiting its turn in the shop, along with a '62 Impala. While none of those are all that unusual, Bobby feels that many rodders are looking for cars that a family fits in for cruising and car shows.
Nothing adds cool points like...
Nothing adds cool points like an exotic engine. Plus, with all the recent development and new parts production, massive power is within easy reach.
None of those are that out of line with Bobby's hot rod mantra; something a little out of the norm is the Alloway style. And just what is the Alloway style? Essentially it's a perfectly restored-looking classic sitting atop a custom chassis with Alloway wheels and rake. Although in many ways it requires more work to get the look right, and more restoration than he's accustomed to, Bobby's not against the movement. "I think the '63 split-window Vette we just finished might be the prettiest car we've ever done." That might sound surprising for a hot rod builder, but whatever he ends up building, one thing's for sure: Before they leave Bobby's shop, they'll be as shiny on the bottom as they are on top.
Alloway's Hot Rod Shop
Bodie Stroud prides himself...
Bodie Stroud prides himself on being able to cater to almost any style of build, from classic pickups, to stock restos, to full-on Pro Touring cars, and even traditional hot rods.
Variety is the spice of life, and Bodie Stroud of BS Industries says it's also the emerging landscape of hot rodding. Previously, Bodie was a pre-'64 kind of guy, then he moved it up to 1970, since customers were asking. Now he's embracing rods rolling well into the '70s. As such, Bodie has been able to work with a wide audience of customers and styles. That's ideal for a young shop in a down economy, and even during the worst months of 2008-2009, Bodie was able to keep his project calendar full and his employees busy. That broad-based approach also resulted in many complete builds over the past three years, two appearances on Hot Rod TV, and enough revenue to move to a larger location.
Even with builds as diverse as the Ford GT-powered '60 Starliner, a nuts-and-bolts Boss 429 restoration, and a traditional hot rod-inspired '31 Plymouth coupe to name a few, Bodie has been able to witness a few trends emerging. Perhaps most pervasive has been customers looking for trend-proof cars. Not because they're depreciation proof-because they're not-but in the sense that they maintain broad appeal. Styles come and go, but well-built cars that retain their original character have much greater staying power than ones that can be easily placed in a certain era. The recently completed Scarliner '60 Starliner is an excellent example; it features a well-sorted Art Morrison chassis with a Ford GT engine and Porsche GT3 carbon metallic brakes, and blends them with stone-stock bodylines and trim, effectively making it trend-proof. Tired of the current 18- and 20-inch billet wheels? The Scarliner would look just as killer with just about any rolling stock. If the owner were to ever be willing to part with those awesome brakes, we could even see steelies and Pro Street meats under the 'liner, or even wide whites and hubcaps. And since it's a body-on-frame car, it could even technically be returned to near stock appearance-all without altering the rest of the car.
The Scarliner's stock lines...
The Scarliner's stock lines and simple execution hides the incredible amount of custom work involved to integrate the modern drivetrain and chassis.
Tied to that is a renewed interest in stock and restored cars. Currently Bodie has three stock or mildly modified builds in the shop and has had inquires from other customers. Why is a hot rod shop restoring? "It doesn't matter what's currently 'cool,' a really nice stock car always has appeal," Bodie says. Think of it as a bit of a backlash against all the extremely modified, over-the-top show cars out of the past few years. It's just the natural ebb and flow. Maybe that's why Bodie's also seen a growing interest in stock Ford Model Ts and As among some fellow serious hot rod builders; they're seeking the simple purity of the early Ford. We have to admit we love that idea; we've been jonesing for a T pickup to tool around in ever since our friend Rick Stanton over at Performance Engine Building hauled one of his 700-plus horsepower Ford Clevelands to the dyno in the bed of his beautifully restored '16 T truck.
Perhaps most fascinating of all, however, is an apparent change of perception of certain cars' values. Bodie had to embrace cars all the way into the '70s because those more affordable cars are losing stigma and gaining appeal. There's really no such thing as "the wrong year" or body style anymore, and it's not necessarily about being different. Because the "Grade B" cars cost much less to buy, people can afford to sink more money and better parts into them and go have fun. "Those cars are another decade older now and guys remember riding in them when they were young," Bodie says. "Plus they can drive them without fear-there's less to lose."
At first glance you many think...
At first glance you many think it's just another blown mod motor, but this is actually the 5.4 from the Ford GT. The clean install belies the difficulty and time intensive fabrication and plumbing to install it.
This original Calypso Coral...
This original Calypso Coral Boss 429 is one of three cars at BS Industries currently undergoing a stock (or near stock) restoration.
This latest project is actually...
This latest project is actually top secret for now, but look for it to debut in PHR down the road. All we can tell you is that it will be a genre-bending muscle car with hints taken from traditional custom cars.
Detroit Speed and Engineering (DSE)
Though they're mostly known...
Though they're mostly known for creating well-engineered suspension parts, DSE also turns out a handful of cars per year as well. Notice the Novas? Those are the latest DSE suspension design mules.
While some of the cars that roll out of Detroit Speed and Engineering's shop are exceptionally detailed high-end show cars like Dale Jr's gorgeous '72 Camaro, it's no secret that their main focus is on serious performance and building cars intended to be driven hard and enjoyed without fear. "I want our customers to be able to do the same things with their cars as we do with ours," Kyle says. What he means more specifically is that he wants DSE customers to be able to run their cars as hard as he and his wife, Stacy, run their '69 and '70 test cars. The Camaros spend most of the year on the road attending shows, autocrosses, and track events racking up an amazing amount of seat time. The '69, for example, on one particularly aggressive outing racked up 320 miles on Carolina Motorsports Park's 2.2-mile course, and was driven back to the shop afterward.
To that point, Kyle has noticed a shift in where the money is being spent on cars in his shop-particularly in the area of paint. Whereas impeccable show finishes were always on a customer's list of must-haves, lately customers have been opting to divert their money into performance parts and stick with less pricey paint. Is it a sign of the weak economy? Kyle doesn't think so; he thinks many of his customers are tired of worrying excessively over every rock chip and scratch, and skipping driving events. In fact, a customer recently brought in a Camaro project to build a clone of DSE's '70 test car, with one exception: "Don't touch the paint."
Kyle and Stacy Tucker are...
Kyle and Stacy Tucker are happy to build showstoppers with flawless paint, like this blown '69 Camaro with polished HRE wheels, but they're just as enthusiastic over creating track rats with budget spray jobs.
The recent rise in autocross events like Goodguys and open-track days are, of course, a driving force, and Kyle thinks that it's caused a permanent shift in the hobby as a whole-even in the type of tech articles appearing in magazines like PHR. "It used to be that everything revolved around engine builds and tech. Now there are suspension tech articles popping up regularly. Ten years ago you never saw that. People's interests are changing."
Along with a refocus of where the money is spent, Kyle says there is likely going to be a change in the cars out on those courses. Later model, more affordable muscle cars are generating a lot of calls at DSE because, as Kyle put it: "You can take a $4,000 or $5,000 car, sink another four or five grand into the chassis, and go have as much fun as the guys in $100,000 Camaros." So what's next on DSE's radar for suspension packages? Right about the time you read this, DSE should be releasing their new lines of Chevy II and G-body kits, and late-'70s GM X-body packages are in the pipeline. Not only do those cars cost less, but thanks to better factory suspension geometry they could be hanging with the fully equipped earlier cars for less investment. Looking a little further down the line, Kyle has plans to cross over party lines and engineer packages for classic Mustangs, and if there's enough interest, third-gen Camaro and Fox-body Mustang kits could arrive as well.
Kyle says the most common...
Kyle says the most common inquiry he has is duplicating one of their DSE test cars; both have their as-bought paint with lots of well-earned rock chips and road rash. It's all track car character.
When they're not on the road...
When they're not on the road meeting customers and driving their own cars, Kyle and Stacy are hands on in the shop and looking for ways to implement possible improvements they learn through track testing.
Perfection is the name of...
Perfection is the name of the game in Foose's shop; every car has many levels of detail that will never be seen, but Chip knows it's there. Ask him about the phenomenal chassis under the P-32 if you ever happen to stop by the shop.
Chip Foose hates trends. For the most part, he avoids anything with a trendy flair like the plague. Despite that, it's really impossible to compile a list of trendsetting builders without acknowledging the impact he and his gang of metal beaters have exerted on the hobby from their headquarters in Huntington Beach, California.
"Never look at the trends or try to start a trend," Chip says. "If you do, your stuff will look old in two years. Just create good design." The key to the philosophy can be summed up as "no why'' design. "I never want someone to look at a finished project and be able to ask, 'Why did they do that?' Only, 'Why does this car look so much better than I remember?' " Chip says.
That philosophy is part of the driving force behind a trend Chip predicts may be on the way: freshening and reinventing older builds. You know those cars, the ones built at the height of a short-lived fad or style that didn't age well, or just happen to have too many of those "why" design choices. As those cars change hands at potentially bargain prices, the new owners will likely seek to make the car more their own and opt for a bit of a face-lift without major surgery. Little changes can reinvent a car. A good example is in Chip's shop right now, an already sultry Caddy built in Boyd Coddington's shop was brought in by its new owner for a redesign of the roofline and interior and a new set of one-off wheels to bring the styling more to his preference.
Foose is never too busy to...
Foose is never too busy to talk about hot rods with fans, despite his hectic schedule.
Chip also told us his customers appear to be more willing to explore atypical cars or combinations and create mash ups of generations and styles. Think of them as "what if" cars. Several months ago a couple came to Chip wanting to build a '65 Impala like the one they took on their honeymoon. Since they wanted this version to be a reliable driver with a modern drivetrain capable of long trips, they were open to reinterpretation.
Chip took the opportunity to sketch out an idea he'd been rolling around his head for a few years; what if the Corvette design studio in the mid-'60s had turned their attention to a fullsize hardtop? The '65 Impala is a good-looking car, no doubt, but its barge-like proportions would never have been acceptable. So for this concept car Foose decided to scale it down to somewhere between Camaro and Chevelle size by taking 14 inches out of the quarters. The roof was then shortened 8 inches, dropped a half inch, and the windshield was laid back 2 inches to compensate and create a much more aggressive roofline. But it's what's under all that sheetmetal modification that is a real revolution. The styling will be period inspired, but between the rockers will be the unmodified rolling chassis and drivetrain from an '08 Corvette. Not a single wire or connection was cut during disassembly of the donor car, so every function from the dash cluster to the power windows and seats, right down to OnStar will work like a new Corvette. Not to mention that it could be serviced by any GM dealer by plugging into the OBD jack.
It's not the first vintage body laid over a modern chassis, but it might be the most complete assimilation. Could this be the ultimate evolution of a Pro Touring car? If vintage style joined with modern luxury, performance, reliability, and serviceability are the goal, it's hard to argue against the idea.
These sketches Chip created...
These sketches Chip created show the planned overall effect of the Impala Sport coupe.
It almost looks like a camera...
It almost looks like a camera trick or odd angle, but this '65 Impala really is 14 inches shorter. The proportions are dramatically better in our opinion. What other cars can you think of that could use a nip and tuck?
They're worlds apart, but...
They're worlds apart, but when Chip is popping the hood on the Impala it will reveal an LS3 sitting in a GM service-friendly engine compartment. Note the intact Corvette framerails.
Grand Touring Garage
Grand Touring Garage's shop...
Grand Touring Garage's shop runs the full gamut of car building, from finely restored prewar classics to an IMSA Monza.
As a "builder of fine motorized contraptions," Philip Koenen's breadth of automotive building experience is impressive. He's pieced together everything from rare prewar classics at Pebble Beach-winning standards, to modern SCCA racers. His page of past projects showcases just a few of his builds from the 1900s through the 1970s. The latest contraption to roll out is the genre-bending Trans-Cammer. Inspired by vintage Trans-Am racers, but assembled like a high-end show car, the Trans-Cammer was a showstopper at SEMA where it was awarded the Sony PlayStation Gran Turismo Best of Show award. Those accolades mean that it'll soon join a very short list of real cars that have been digitally recreated to be playable in Gran Turismo. Look for it in version number five.
A few years ago, Pro Touring muscle cars were becoming more about the look and flash of expensive polished billet parts, and Trans-Am stands as the polar opposite of that. Now it appears that the two styles are intermingling to refocus the eye appeal: functional built to beautiful standards. The Trans-Cammer, for example, was built for high-speed open-track racing, but it still stuns car show judges despite its simplicity.
Philip Koenen has wide-ranging...
Philip Koenen has wide-ranging interests and loves a challenge. When he's not working on one of the varied cars in the shop, he's tinkering with vintage motorcycles.
Grand Touring Garage puts its full efforts into only a handful of full projects per year in addition to repairs, so Philip has been able to keep fairly busy with clients, however, he's noticed a change of tone in their decisions on the direction of their cars. "The trend I see emerging today is no matter whether it's a simple repair or a million dollar custom build, the customer wants the best their money can buy, so they can ultimately enjoy the benefits for a long time," Philip says. In other words, there's still a willingness to spend money to get the good stuff, but people are paying much more attention to the return on their investment both in terms of the car's value, and the return they'll see in use and enjoyment. "It is apparent that customers are paying much closer attention to what they are buying, and focusing more on the real intended use of their vehicle. They want to be able to drive their investment instead of just having another bubble car," he says. For example, a customer may decide that rather than the top-of-the-line, race-ready brake package they initially wanted, their plans really only necessitate a good street package. In a way, that's good news for builders and parts vendors; people who spend their money wisely tend to get projects wrapped up in sensible time frames and at sane budgets, leaving more money for additional purchases down the line. Or better yet, more money spent on getting out and enjoying their investment.
The same influence seems to be bleeding rearward as well. While prewar classics like Duesenbergs and Auburns are still treated like fine art and traded like gold bullion, Philip thinks that their postwar, but pre-muscle, brethren are evolving. Philip's current project, a '36 Cord 812 Westchester called Sledge Hammer, sits on a custom chassis with chromoly unequal-length front A-arms, Penske coilovers, 14-inch Baer brakes, and adjustable sway bars. The coffin nose will be a marriage of old-money elegance and Art Deco styling to modern touring car driveability, with a little bit of 6-71 Mooneyham-blown, Enderle EFI-injected, 383ci small-block Chevy thrown in for fun. Rather than a street rod, this one really will be the essence of Grand Touring; it's just looking for the right person with the same vision to slide behind the wheel.
Grand Touring Garage
The Sledge Hammer will endeavor...
The Sledge Hammer will endeavor to successfully blend two worlds we've never seen mix well: Art Deco style and touring car performance. We'd love to take it for a spin when it's finished.
This is the last thing you'd...
This is the last thing you'd expect to see underhood a '36 Cord, but Philip tells us it was the easiest way to power what he wanted at any altitude. Reportedly, it runs flawless enough for his wife to use it for groceries, thanks to a Mercedes-Benz ECU.
The Trans-Cammer is definitely...
The Trans-Cammer is definitely an example of a breed of muscle car we'd love to see propagate: elegantly simple, but brutally purposeful.
Johnson's Hot Rod Shop
Before you write in and ask...
Before you write in and ask us, whatever happened to the G-Force 'Cuda, Alan told us that it's "back in the family," and now under the stewardship of someone who plans to get back on track with testing the performance claims. We can't wait to see what that yields.
Alan Johnson established his stellar reputation building picture-perfect street rods, and much like other shops in that genre, he has noticed an increased interest in postwar projects. Nevertheless, to anyone who thinks the street rod market is circling the drain, Alan will be happy to introduce them to the classy '32 Ford B-400 that took the 2009 Ridler Award.
PHR readers likely know Alan's name because he painted our project g/28 Camaro, or perhaps because of the unforgettable G-Force 'Cuda that blended street rod aesthetics and execution with supercar performance aspirations. He definitely knows his way around a muscle car and how to make it his own. The 'Cuda may have been in a class all its own, but its basic mantra seems to be filtering down; everything is getting more aggressive. Even Alan's street rod and cruiser customers are looking into what the performance return is on the parts used in their cars. Rather than just looking and sounding cool and riding pleasantly, customers want a level of performance that approaches modern standards, but without giving up that slick street rod style. The '58 Buick Caballero wagon in his shop will be sporting a truck-arm rear suspension rather than the expected four-link in the rear, not only because it works well for getting the car low, but because it also works well for keeping the rearend under control in the big Buick. The same is true for the '71 Duster with the 6.1L Hemi Alan is just beginning on; it's planned to be a touring car that will take cues from the G-Force for enthusiastic driving. "The folks who aren't driving and enjoying their cars are really missing out," Alan says. For those inclined toward more doors, Alan's been floating the idea of a plush four-door sedan powered by a BMW M5 engine. Give him a call if that intrigues you.
It's been five years since...
It's been five years since the G-Force 'Cuda debuted, but we've still not seen its equal in over-the-top, no-compromise design.
But all that doesn't mean the direction is changing at Johnson's Hot Rod Shop; street rods are not only still alive and well, Alan has a good idea where the typically technologically stagnate industry is heading. Well, at least he knows where he's going to attempt to take it. Floating around in his mind and on a few sketches, Alan is formulating plans for a project to reinvent the way street rods are viewed. Inspired by the new Factory Five '33 Ford track car kit and Hollywood Hot Rods La Carrera Panamericana prepped '32 Ford RPU, Alan is ready to create a street rod that really handles. The key is that it has to retain a certain level of traditional street rod style, flash, and design, but performing far beyond any other in its genre. Think of it as a prewar version of G-Force mixed with the B-400.
Johnson's Hot Rod Shop
The humble Duster never looked...
The humble Duster never looked so good. This one will use a Morrison MaxG chassis with Ridetech's new Cool Ride double-adjustable coilovers to make it a comfortable cross-country cruiser that can also hold its own on a road course or autocross. Power will come via a 6.1 Hemi and six-speed.
Before anything is built at...
Before anything is built at Johnson's shop, it's sketched from every angle. This collection of doodles are from the G-Force 'Cuda buildup.
Steve often stays just as...
Steve often stays just as busy refining and updating older builds as he does with new ones; both the Challenger and the Charger are in for makeovers to Pure Vision standards.
It may be hard to believe when you contemplate creations, such as the 515GTB Charger, the Z/28 Nova, and the always-impressive Hammer Road Runner, but Steve Strope likes a simple muscle car. No matter the envisioned final appearance of the car or the amount of custom fabrication involved, his goal is always to integrate or hide much of the detail work, so that goes unnoticed. Purpose and simplicity are the keys, and as Steve puts it, "in the end, it still needs to look and feel like a real muscle car, because that's what people connect to."
Take the current '69 Mustang SportsRoof project going together for Anvil Auto for example. It'll host an extensive list of modifications and complete reinvention of the chassis to accommodate a remote-mounted coilover JME SLA-style front suspension with Flaming River electric steering and Maier Racing's innovative torque arm rear suspension, and, of course, Anvil's own carbon-fiber body panels. While it's obviously a high-end build that will get the typical Pure Vision details, such as sizing and tailoring the cockpit to the owner, the end result still needs to feel like sliding behind the wheel of '69 Mach 1 rather than a street rod.
The big build in the shop...
The big build in the shop right now is this '69 Mustang for Anvil Auto. It'll also serve as the introductory car for Anvil's new line of '69-70 Mustang carbon-fiber panels.
Along that same notion, Steve feels there is a distinct move in the hobby away from overly modified, overly showy cars. "And I'm happy to report that people are moving away from the out of proportion, oversized wheels. Twenty-something inch wheels are going away for the most part," he says. We're glad to hear that as well, since performance is our focus, and from that perspective bigger is definitely not always better.
But even more than that, perhaps due to the economic slump that has realigned many hot rodders' priorities of what they really want to spend their money on, Steve predicts a resurgence of "Day Two" style muscle cars, and what Steve likes to call "sweetheart cars."
Day Two-style revolves around simple, economical bolt-ons like those available in the '60s or '70s, paired with a hot OEM engine. Think 15-inch Cragars or Torq-Thrusts with white letter tires, slapper bars, Thrush glasspacks, and so on. You know those cars; they were the envy of every high school parking lot. Sweethearts are those mild near-stockers with an excellent blend of color choice, parts, and stance that make them timeless-they just couldn't be improved. By definition, neither is at the bleeding edge of style today, but they're also never uncool, and are always instantly accepted by anyone who digs cars. Building one also means you end up with a cool muscle car with a modest investment.
To accommodate the wide rear...
To accommodate the wide rear wheels, the quarter-panels have been cut and moved outward about 2 inches. Note the Maier Racing remote-mounted coilovers and their billet mounting plate.
For his part, Steve truly enjoys the innovative builds that challenge him to integrate the latest technology into vintage steel, but he'd love to put together more Day Two cars for customers, since it would allow him to create cars like the ones that originally inspired him. It all goes back to the '68 Road Runner that first turned on his love for muscle cars, and has been an underlying reflection in nearly every car he's built. Of course to really do it right and get that "second day on the street" feel requires a pristine survivor, or at least a mild restoration, but for any interested party, Steve already has a perfect stocker
sitting at the ready.
Taking a page from Aston Martin,...
Taking a page from Aston Martin, Steve likes to set up each car for its owner to ensure it's as ergonomic as a muscle car can be. Right now he's mocking up the Flaming River electric steering box before the owner arrives.
The Boss 429 underhood will...
The Boss 429 underhood will look vintage, but it'll be a thoroughly modern piece based on Kaase parts and an aluminum block.
Massive surgery is necessary...
Massive surgery is necessary for this build to make it appear like everything was a bolt-on. Note the mesh taillight panel inspired by Ferraris.
Rad Rides by Troy
On the clean side of Rad Rides,...
On the clean side of Rad Rides, there's a sampling of some of the biggest game-changing cars of the past few years. The second on the right is the notorious Chicane, and the first on the left is the land speed record-setting Blowfish.
Asking Troy Trepanier what he sees as emerging trends can be a bit of an involved conversation-in an enlightening way, not a bad one. Rad Rides has dabbled in nearly every facet of hot rodding from Ridler Award-winning show cars, to Bonneville record setters, traditional-style hot rods, and everything in between, so Troy sees several shifts happening, depending upon what type of car is being built.
Once upon a time, nearly every Rad Rides car had a certain formula to it that reflected Troy's personal preferences at the time-two-tone paint, airbrush touches, and shaved body. That's mostly gone by the wayside in the past few years, however, in favor of styling that seeks to accentuate the stock bodylines, especially in pre-muscle era cars. "They did a lot of beautiful stuff in the '40s and '50s, and sometimes if you start changing it, you wreck it," Troy says. Now much of the trim stays and revisions are designed to be subtle and factory appearing-sometimes even creating their own custom pieces to add to the factory bits. Even the interiors are refined versions of stock, such as with Roger and Nancy Ritzow's '56 Chrysler 300B, dubbed Passion, that combines fine tan leather with original Chrysler cloth inserts. Troy calls it the best car he's ever built and it's absolutely delicious in the amount of subterfuge involved. It rides on a custom chromoly chassis with Viper suspension, and power comes via a twin-turbocharged Dodge NASCAR engine. And while that's interesting, it's easily rivaled by the artistry of the car itself and all the custom touches. And yet, when you stand back, it still looks like an exceptionally nice '56 Chrysler on wire wheels. That's the future of customs, Troy says.
On the fabrication side of...
On the fabrication side of the shop is where all the metal magic happens.
Speaking of twin-turbo NASCAR engines, unusual and exotic powerplants are the order of the day at Rad Rides. Recent and current projects have been propelled by legit NASCAR engines, Boss 429s, twin-turbo 401 nailheads, Mercedes-Benz G-class, and Miller Indy, to name a few. Suffice it to say, bellybutton engines are passé and unique eye candy underhood is where most high-end rods are headed. Despite that, the reliability has to be just a good as a stock small-block. Roger and Nancy have logged nearly 6,000 miles on their 900-plus horsepower 300B. "It ain't written in stone that you'll get your money back when it's sold; they need to be built to be enjoyed," Troy says. "People want to keep these cars and use them instead of look at them."
It's not all about pricey vintage steel though. Perhaps the ultimate proof that acceptable fodder for high-end builds has moved forward in decades is the F87 Raptor '87 Camaro currently under construction. The number one thing holding most '80s era cars back from making that step forward has been the unfortunately large amount of low-quality plastic that makes up a good deal of the exterior, forever stigmatizing them. Troy and his team have the remedy though; everything in plastic on the F87 will be reformed by hand in aluminum and steel, including the IMSA-inspired flares in the body. Troy says the key to the mass acceptance of '80s-based builds will be finding ways to get the cheap out.
As for serious competition-capable cars like the Bonneville-bred and record-setting Blowfish '68 Barracuda, Troy says we'll be seeing more cars of that ilk from top builders seeking to prove their skills.
Rad Rides by Troy
Rather than a rendering, the...
Rather than a rendering, the concept for the F87 started with a scale third-gen Camaro plastic model body and some modeling clay.
Much like Blowfish, this '69...
Much like Blowfish, this '69 Torino will be another project destined for top speed record pursuits on the asphalt and salt.
Blowfish was Troy's first...
Blowfish was Troy's first full-out race car effort, and it remains one of the best-looking efforts by any builder to date. It's in for upgrades currently, but will be headed back to Bonneville with owner George Poteet for Speed Week.
Despite being 20-strong, the...
Despite being 20-strong, the roster of in-house project cars continues to grow at Ridetech.
Ridetech has an interesting position in the suspension marketplace, since their products run the gamut from pure comfort and aesthetic kits to autocross and road course packages. From that perch, they have a broad view of the shifts in the hobby.
While they unfortunately don't really build customer cars since business keeps them busy, Ridetech does maintain an extensive fleet of 20-some odd in-house project cars. That's significant because founder and President Bret Voekel prefers to treat them as rolling testbeds for product development, which means they need to reflect current market trends and customer interest. It also brings up another interesting point; rather than just show cars that showcase their parts, aftermarket companies such as Ridetech have had to begin conducting their own ongoing research and refinement just to keep up. Bret likes to call it "rounding the edges," and it's an ongoing process at Ridetech as new techniques and technologies emerge. No longer do part numbers necessarily reflect a static engineering design; improvement is constant. "Good enough just isn't good enough anymore," Bret says. "Parts have to be great."
Ridetech engineers and tests...
Ridetech engineers and tests their products in their shop in Jasper, Indiana. Note the new Mustang in the back of the shop; the '11 cars have different rear suspension pickup points. The new '33 Ford project is to the left in the photo.
Bret's own Velocity '68 Camaro is a perfect example. While it's a beautiful car with significant investment and tons of one-off touches, it's also a track car that's seen enough hard driving and 7,000-rpm shifts to go through a couple of engines and transmissions and 25 sets of tires in the past two years-and it's even had a dent or two hammered out of the steel. Granted, part of that is Bret's enthusiasm for throwing a muscle car through corners at high speed, but either way the result is firsthand data for his engineers that trickles down into Ridetech's products. "Rather than just artwork, people want to build something that works," Bret says.
That type of testing is what brought about the StrongArm control arms, AirBar rear suspension, MuscleBar sway bars, and Ridetech's new line of coilover shocks. While it may seem like a change of direction, Bret assures us it's not a sea change, but a response to shops and individuals who were ordering the full suspension package, minus the air system and grafting in their own coilovers. The opportunity was obvious and Ridetech engineered their own coilovers and made sure the suspension kits could accommodate either choice.
To take their testing to the next level, Ridetech's next project is a '33 Ford roadster based on a Factory Five Engineering kit that's been modified to take advantage of air suspension. Why? Other than the obvious fun factor, the '33 will only weigh about 2,000 pounds and sport a 620hp Brodix-headed small-block Ford, which will allow Bret to explore how his products function under the extreme speeds and g-loads the car should be capable of. Bret sees the surging interest in autocross and track day events to continue increasing into the foreseeable future, so the Ridetech product line needs to be ready and always competitive. Think of it as a hot rod builder's version of "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday."
Everything gets driven, and...
Everything gets driven, and often hard, so maintenance for the project cars is ongoing. The big Buick GSX is one of our favorites.
Note the redesigned control...
Note the redesigned control arms on the '33 Ford project to accommodate inboard ShockWaves. The infinitely adjustable air suspension paired with unlimited tire size should create a potent track car.
Along with air and coil spring...
Along with air and coil spring suspension innovations, Ridetech introduced the Tiger 'cage to stiffen flimsy unibody muscle cars and help them perform better. Here, a technician is working on a kit for '10-and-newer Mustangs.
The Roadster Shop
The showroom at The Roadster...
The showroom at The Roadster Shop houses a few past creations, including the phenomenal '70 Challenger featured in the July '10 issue of PHR.
It's called The Roadster Shop since that's what the company started with, and still directs a great deal of its business toward, but nowadays there's so much more than street rods rolling out of Phil and Jeremy Gerber's Mundelein, Illinois, shop. While a progression in the interest of customers toward muscle cars partially fueled the decision to expand their portfolio, it was also Phil and Jeremy's desire to build cars that integrated high-performance capability into vintage steel that blurs the line between show car and track car.
That's a claim that's been tossed around quite a bit, but The Roadster Shop backs it up by changing the way performance muscle cars are built. "Everything has gotten much more technologically advanced in the past few years. It used to be that generic suspension kits were good enough, but now we use suspension analysis software and Solid Works to design our own in-house parts and balance the suspension," Jeremy says. Ackerman, correct caster and camber range, instant center, and nearly every other facet of chassis design typically reserved for track cars are taken into account when adapting The Roadster Shop's suspension designs to a particular project. Of course, the look is still important, but, as Phil put it, "Customers now want their cars to be capable of more than they are." Those same guys, who might buy a Z06 Vette or Ford GT because of their performance potential even though they may never reach the limits, are beginning to expect comparable capabilities from their muscle cars.
Based on the successful outing...
Based on the successful outing with their Green Machine Chevelle at the Optima Challenge, this '66 Nova will be getting a similar treatment.
What's also surprising is that Phil and Jeremy are starting to hear those requests from their high-end customers. The guys who ask them to push the envelope in nearly all facets of the build, including custom-designed one-off parts in the name of jaw-dropping show car style are looking for more substance. Take the 2009 Goodguys Street Machine of the Year winner, the C1RS, for example. There's no question that this car redefined what it is to update a classic aesthetically, since its final manifestation was much more akin to a retro-inspired modern roadster than a modernized classic. This appears to be the ultimate evolution of a street machine, but the real kicker was that it was also a legitimate performer.
After completion, but before its delivery and debut, the C1RS spent two days at the Autobahn Country Club making laps and getting the shocks, springs, and sway bars adjusted or swapped out to get it dialed-in and balanced. That extra effort paid off in the Goodguys Street Machine of the Year competition, where the C1RS bested all comers on the autocross course. At the Optima Invitational in Pahrump, Nevada, the C1RS was run flat-out and at one point Phil entered a turn too hot and had to correct a severe oversteer situation that had him drifting toward a wall. They were pushing it that hard. Now that's refreshing, especially considering nearly every part of the car is handmade to Ridler Award standards, and exceptionally expensive to reproduce. Actually, Jeremy feels that's the direction many top-level builds will be moving toward: exceptional build quality and style coupled with exceptional driveability.
So what about street rods? The Roadster Shop still builds impressive projects on a regular basis, and they'd love to find a customer who would like to blend the performance ethos of the C1RS into a '30s body style.
The Roadster Shop
All other factors equal, this...
All other factors equal, this car has the potential to be a potent contender on the track, considering its weight advantage over the Chevelle. We're digging it already, and we like it as-is with the faded red paint and black hood.
Performance in three distinct...
Performance in three distinct flavors; the Street Machine of the Year winning C1RS sits in front, the Green Machine Chevelle that competed at the Optima Challenge is in the rear, and in the middle is a vintage-style track-nosed roadster.
Here's a tip for you home...
Here's a tip for you home builders: Setting up the stance is priority one. This '69 Mustang has no floors and no framerails, but the body is sitting at the planned ride height for initial planning.
Year One & Ghostworks Garage
Assembly of the Burt Reynolds'...
Assembly of the Burt Reynolds' Edition Trans Ams is continuing at Year One. These cars often start off as little more than shells rather than whole cars, since everything is replaced and upgraded anyways. Few stock parts make the cut.
As one of the largest sources of quality aftermarket and restoration parts for muscle cars, the crew at Year One can see trends coming just by watching what their customers are buying and asking about. That sort of litmus testing, plus near unlimited parts access, allows their in-house Ghostworks Garage to turn out innovative builds regularly.
One of the top things Phil Brewer of Year One sees is that no matter what kind of car or what style enthusiasts are building, the quality of execution across the board has gone up dramatically. "What guys considered acceptable 10 years ago isn't even in the game now," Phil says. Better parts availability and quality, coupled with the dramatic increase in tools and resources available to the average guy in his garage are a big driving force, but we'd be willing to bet that continual exposure to the endless stream of high-end cars out of top shops is as much a factor.
On the other hand, the styles that worked 10-plus years ago seem to be enjoying a renaissance. Phil says it's not so much a complete revisit as it is a backward glance with rose-colored glasses. The car may have retro flavor, but still take advantage of modern parts and technology to make them better than they ever could have been. Take the Cherry Bomb Camaro going together in Year One's Ghostworks Garage, for example. The premise is: "What would a '68 Camaro built in the '70s look like if modern parts were available?" It'll have slot mags, side pipes, and a blower sticking through the hood, but those slots are 18 inchers, and the intercooled and EFI'd BDS 8-71 will sit atop an LS engine. The exhaust is Cherry Bomb's side pipe system, but of course, even they've been refined for better quality over the originals. Look for the PHR-exclusive debut of the Cherry Bomb Camaro in the months ahead.
This is still one of our favorite...
This is still one of our favorite mid-'70s muscle cars of all time, and one of the first to truly bring '70s Trans Ams into the modern street machine era.
The product design staff at Year One is fully on board with this emerging trend, and plan on putting out new products to support it. For example, look for a dozen or so new vintage-inspired aluminum wheels from Year One in the next year. Designed along the same lines as their popular snowflake homage to '70s Pontiac Trans Am wheels, they'll be available in large diameters and fat widths to accommodate modern rubber and performance parts while still giving off the appropriate vintage vibe.
Along a different mindset, Phil is also seeing a strong drive toward serious open-track muscle cars. Sure, it's being driven by the amazing array of well-engineered suspension systems developed for muscle cars in the past few years and the recent surge in autocross events like the Goodguys course, but there's something else afoot: new production Mustang and Camaro bodies. While owners of real vintage cars often feel as much like caretakers of history as gearheads, those building a muscle car from one of Dyncorn's repopped shells don't have such hang-ups. "Sure, some cars deserve to be in museums, but these new bodies deserve to be driven hard," Phil says. And it could get much better soon; Phil has been hearing sincere rumblings of starting a spec race series based on the cars, similar to spec Cobra or the Miller Mustang Challenge. Just imagine 30 or 40 '67-70 Mustangs and '67-69 Camaros decked out in Trans-Am livery coming over that pucker-inducing big hill at Road Atlanta. It could be the rebirth of the golden era of Trans-Am racing.
The Cherry Bomb Camaro is...
The Cherry Bomb Camaro is a blend of genres we haven't seen before: '70s street machine with modern technology. The best part is that unlike its vintage counterparts, this Camaro will still handle, thanks to DSE suspension.
Under construction in Year...
Under construction in Year One's garage, it's easy to see that there will be much more than meets the eyes to those side pipes. Check out the custom headers that wrap down to greet them.
Following up their incredible...
Following up their incredible Superbird project, the next Mopar build at Year One is this '69 Charger, dubbed "Bigtime." Whereas the Surperbird's big-oval bred styling made it instantly noticeable, this Mopar will keep the supercharged Hemi subtle.
So What's Our Take?
The most refreshing thing we took away from nearly every builder was the evolving expectations of what a car should be. From mild to multimillion dollar, rods of every stripe are moving away from locked-away garages and enclosed trailers and onto the street. Whether that means occasional cruising, autocross, open track, or just driving it to work off and on, hot rods are expected to perform at a higher level than ever before.
That speaks close to our hearts, since PHR has always believed in building hot rods of any genre that are designed to be used and enjoyed. Insert your own definitions to that statement, but by all means, don't restore a muscle car or build a hot rod and ferret it away in the hope that it ages like a fine wine and goes up in value. What are you going to do, save your car for its next owner to enjoy? We're sure they'll appreciate getting a near new turnkey hot rod for much less than it could be built for, but what was in it for you?
Perhaps the most important thing we took away is to remember to ignore the trends and just build something that brings a smile to your face and never makes you regret or overanalyze the dollar value involved. That's not what matters in the end anyways; it's the enjoyment that it brought. Now that's timelessly cool.