One of the coolest things about PHR’s annual readers’ rides issue (otherwise known as the photo contest issue) is that anybody can get in. In fact, when we announced the photo contest in the Aug. ’12 issue, we promised we’d do our best to print all of them—and that’s exactly what we’re doing. If you sent in photos of your car by our August 1 deadline and provided all the technical stuff we asked for, your car is right here. The only exception is that we’re going to run our PHR ladies in a later issue. (If your car isn’t in here and you sent us an entry, send a short email to with the subject line “Photo Contest,” and we will answer your questions.)

Every time we do the annual readers’ rides issue, it’s a reality check—and not only for the readers, but also for the PHR staff. Magazines are often guilty of making it look like the streets are crawling with six-figure Pro Touring machines, 8-second street/strip cars, rat rods, rare barn finds, and gassers. The reality, however, is closer to what you’ll find in the pages of this story. These are the real-world cars that you sweat over, dream about, drive to the mall in, blow your 401(k) on, experiment with, and spend your free time on. And if your car isn’t in here, one similar to it probably is.

The guys and gals who own these 44 cars have had to make difficult choices and big sacrifices to get where they are. (Think building a Mustang is hard? Try building a Rambler.) Each owner has gone through his or her version of mechanical and financial boot camp, which is alternately frustrating and rewarding. As you read through the various vehicle descriptions, it’s interesting to see where the attention and the dollars have been spent, and where the unexplored opportunities lie. All 44 of them, however, are finished, running muscle cars—not imaginary bogeys. Love ’em or despise ’em, they’re running unfettered on the street, and their owners took the time to take some great photos and send them to us. Moreover, their many stories resonate with us all. They reveal the regret of long lost cars, the exhilarating memories of misspent youth, the sacrifice and frustration of restoration, the priceless moments spent with family and friends, and the final triumph of success. Each of our 44 cars has captured that lightning in a bottle. And so have you. It’s sitting right there in your garage.

And The Winner Is...

1965 Chevy Malibu
Bryan Goff, Petaluma, CA

We can make a darned good argument that Bryan Goff is perhaps the quintessential DIY hot rodder. His story is one of hard work and perseverance; not only is this the first car he ever owned (he bought it in 1994), he also built it almost entirely himself. A 15-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, Bryan traveled extensively with his Malibu, moving cross-country twice with his classic Chevy, not to mention the length of both the East and West Coasts. “The car was my daily driver until I put over a hundred thousand miles on it,” Bryan writes. When he had the opportunity to be stationed in San Diego, Bryan was able to move the A-body to the nearby safe haven of his parent’s garage in Petaluma, California, which gave him the chance to perform the complete restoration he always wanted. “I started the teardown in July of 2005,” writes Bryan. “I thought it was going to be easy to restore. It wasn’t! I just began by taking it all apart. Once I had it all apart, I started to build the engine.” Bryan continues: “I just dug my brain into the magazines and the web researching parts and prices. Once the engine was done, I started to buy all the parts for the car. I’d save my money up, and buy a part, or two, or three per month.”

With a garage full of killer parts, Bryan would hang out and stare at them, reading all the directions. Once the car was painted (the only part Bryan didn’t do), it was time to dive into the wrenching. “I started to realize what I was building,” Bryan writes. “This was the part where all of my reading and watching the videos would come into play. Little did I know that putting a car back together was a lot tougher than taking it apart. It was one of the most difficult, challenging, and rewarding things I have done in my life.” In March of 2012, it was finally finished. All that was left was for Bryan to cherish the moment. “When I fired up the car and drove it 20 feet onto my driveway, it was surreal. Even though no one was around to see it, the sense of pride and accomplishment that I had was unbelievable.”

Building the car was hard enough, but entering the Popular Hot Rodding photo contest brings with it another level of difficulty. Perhaps it was reading all those magazines, but the imperative of taking good pictures had also soaked into Bryan’s brain somewhere in between reading all those tech articles and instructions. Bryan shot his pride and joy with just a $400 Canon S100 point-and-shoot digital camera—not some high-end pro setup. The key to winning was paying attention to our photo tips on lighting, composition, and location. And, of course, having a bitchin car worth all the trouble!

By The Numbers

Engine: 8:1 compression 383ci small-block Chevy with Edelbrock Performer RPM heads, Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake, Edelbrock hydraulic roller cam, and Demon carb

Trans: Turbo 350 three-speed automatic

Rearend: original 10-bolt rearend

Suspension: stock rebuilt suspension with heavy-duty springs and Lakewood “slapper” bars

Brakes: manual front disc brakes, rear drums

Wheels & Tires: ARE Torq-Thrust with BFG radials

Cool Factoid: The first letter of all the fourth-gen X-bodies (Nova, Omega, Ventura, Apollo) spell out the word “Nova,” the least expensive of the quartet.