During the height of the rice mobile era, an ambiguous red "R" adorned the body panels of many a torqueless import. Rumor has it that these badges were meant to warn onlookers of a car's on-track racing prowess. Notwithstanding, considering their steadfast aversion to acceleration, a more likely explanation is that these red Rs were merely a product of ESL students expressing their enthusiasm for the Roman alphabet they'd just learned about in school. It seems rather peculiar, then, that this relic of a bygone period has recently resurfaced on grilles of some of the finest muscle cars ever assembled. Ringbrothers (www.Ringbrothers.com) is the responsible party, and this Wisconsin-based shop is transforming a scarlet letter that was once mired in ignominy into a red badge of courage.

Look a little bit closer and you'll notice a "B" growing out the side of that big red "R." In recent years, muscle cars affixed with the official Ringbrothers logo have racked up an impressive list of accolades. Brothers Jim and Mike Ring's first foray into the spotlight was with a '67 Mustang fastback called Reactor. Powered by a Roush 427 small-block, it took home the 2007 Goodguys Street Machine of the Year award, and both the Ford Design award and the Mothers Shine award at the 2006 SEMA show. Proving that the first go-round wasn't a fluke, Jim and Mike earned a second Street Machine of the Year award in 2008 with their 454-powered '69 Camaro named Razor. The Camaro wasn't just a looker, either; it laid down some impressive lap times on the autocross course before nabbing the Goodguys trophy.

The duo's next project turned out to be the most challenging to date, however, when customer Ken Smith commissioned the Ring boys to build a 1964 Ford Fairlane. While first-gen Camaros and fastback Mustangs are as mainstream as they get, Fairlanes never earned much street cred and many hot rodders don't even think of them as muscle cars. "To be honest, this car scared the hell out of us. We asked ourselves, 'What the hell are we going to do with a Fairlane?' " Jim says. "Not many people like them, and they're either built as stock restorations or as Thunderbolt clones. Trying to do something unique with a car like this really put our creative ability to the test."

It's been said that great craftsman do their best work in the wake of adversity, and the Ringbrothers' Fairlane is a testament to the shop's creativefortitude. Its skin is a harmonious blend of custom sheetmetal, carbon fiber, and machined billet aluminum trim pieces. Crisp, angular body lines effectively modernize the bulbous contours of FoMoCo's original design. It's an unmistakably aggressive yet minimalist look that very few shops can emulate, and it defines the very essence of every Ringbrothers creation. "I've always thought that the OEM prototypes that you see at car shows are the pinnacle of automotive design. They're the product of designers and engineers going crazy with their ideas before some bean counter gets the chance to mess everything up," Jim says. "That's the kind of unrestrained design philosophy that we try to integrate into each of our projects. We want them to look more like OEM prototypes than the typical hot rod. Sometimes this means you have to think outside the box and take a gamble by seeking out inspiration from unlikely places, and testing out new materials. In fact, I get a lot of ideas on what types of shapes and textures to use by walking through the aisles of Home Depot. A lot of high-end European cars, like Porsches and Lamborghinis, make industrial materials like machined aluminum and carbon fiber look really cool, so we try to incorporate these elements into our cars as well."