Just as a company's fiscal year can run on whatever arbitrary 12-month cycle they deem appropriate to their line of business, many hot rod shops also do not follow the traditional Gregorian calendar as the rest of us. Instead, they tend to run their high-level projects on their own time line that concludes somewhere around the SEMA Show. Sometimes the night before. That means they'll typically turn their attention to the next big project right after they touch down back at the shop. That's why as soon as the dust settled after SEMA, we immediately started touching base with major shops all around the country to find out what they had brewing for their top projects in 2013.

While we found plenty of the usually suspect car models like Camaros and Mustangs, we were pleasantly surprised to see some off-the-radar unique platforms slated for high-end builds. How does a '71 Pantera, '57 Saratoga, '70 240Z, or a '72 Gremlin sound to you? Sounds like the kind of creativity we live for!

Unfortunately another theme we run across perennially is shady shops delivering shoddy workmanship while billing top dollar. There are plenty of shops that want your money and will make all the promises under the sun to get it, so it's more important than ever to do your homework before entrusting a shop with your car. If you're on the hunt for a good shop for your next project, any one of these shops is a safe bet. There's a reason that these guys have been doing this for a long time, and it's because they're at the top of their game. Of course you can always dispense with the trouble of paying a shop altogether by just building it yourself, and you'll have a head start on your own creation by mining ideas from these cutting-edge pro projects already underway!

1969 Corvette
Alloway's Hot Rod Shop

Think back to your high school days; there was always that one dude who had the hottest car in the parking lot that every other guy drooled over and dreamed about. Maybe you were lucky enough to be that guy, but most us just had to live with our envy. For Doyle Thomas, the car belonged to a friend of his: a triple-black '69 Corvette convertible. And you know how they always say a hot car can get you hot girls? Apparently that Vette was the last bit of persuasion Thomas' friend needed to get a date with one of the best looking girls at school that he'd been pursuing. Yeah, Thomas was in love with that Vette and swore that he would have one just like it one day.

Apparently that impression ruined him for life; Thomas currently has 14 Corvettes in his fleet, but until recently there was a glaring gap in the roll call. Finally, about three years back Thomas decided it was time to build that first love. Like most Corvette guys, Thomas had been much into factory-correct restos, but after seeing the '62 Corvette Bobby Alloway built a couple of years back, his mind was switched. That car set the Vette world on notice by basically being a perfected vision of a stock-style Corvette on the outside, but with a modern chassis, suspension, and drivetrain. Thomas had never seen a third-gen Vette taken to that level, so he decided his first dream car would be the one to set the bar.

The cool thing about third-gen Corvettes is that they are still relatively inexpensive in small-block form, plus they represented cutting-edge styling and performance for their day. C3 Vette street machines are a growing trend, and fortunately the prices on decent starter cars are still on the ground floor. Thomas' '69, however, will be putting them in the spotlight very soon!

By The Numbers

1969 Corvette
Engine: undetermined big-block Chevy with throttle body–style EFI
Trans: Tremec TKO five-speed
Rearend: undetermined aftermarket 9-inch rear
Suspension: custom Art Morrison chassis with C6 front and rear suspension
Brakes: 13-inch Wilwood brakes
Wheels & Tires: one-off Alloway 17x7 & 20x10 wheels
Contact: Alloway's Hot Rod Shop; www.AllowaysRodShop.com

1969 Camaro
D&Z Customs

D&Z Customs

Back in 1967 while he was in college, Ray Norlin walked into a Chevy dealership and laid eyes on the very first Z/28 Camaro he'd ever seen. His jaw dropped, he turned to a salesman, and asked, "What's that?" The salesman replied, "That's Chevy's new hot rod." Indeed it was, and Ray knew he had to have one. Not that day though—college came first. Matter of fact, a lot of things came first: career, marriage, kids, and all those other important parts of life. Though he had a few Camaros in the meantime, it wasn't until 28 years later that Ray got the first-gen he really wanted. Rather than a '67, he went for a '69, since the revised body lines had replaced the '67's in his mind.

Originally he wasn't quite sure what direction to take with it. Ray had always been a drag racing fan, but after he saw some friends autocrossing, that looked like the fun he wanted. Of course to be even remotely competitive, he needed to upgrade the drivetrain and suspension. "I'm not a serious racer," Ray says, "but I don't want to come in last either." In a perfect world, he would have loved to build the car himself, but life was still too busy. "I realized if I ever wanted to finish and enjoy this car, I needed some help." Randy Johnson at D&Z Customs has a reputation of building no-nonsense Pro Touring cars that handle; he's a hard-core track rat, and has spent just as much time on the high speed turns of a road course as he has behind a welder. That's why Ray chose him to be his guiding hand in transforming the '69 into a Pro Touring car, which includes a slew of Anvil Auto's carbon-fiber body parts, some Cerullo seats, a Detroit Speed & Engineering dash insert, Auto Meter gauges, Phantom Works Touch-N-Go system, a Vintage Air Gen IV Magnum A/C system, an ididit tilt steering column, and a RideTech TigerCage.

By The Numbers

1969 Camaro

Engine: Wegner Automotive-built 441ci LS7 with 849 hp/804 lb-ft Magnuson 2300 supercharger, Hedman Hustler 2-inch primary long-tube headers, Champ oil pan, Canton Accusump, Wegner Automotive accessory drive, Speartech wire harness, computer tuning by West Bend Dyno Tuning
Trans: Tremec T56 Magnum six-speed with Quick Time bell housing, Centerforce DYAD twin-disc clutch
Rearend: undecided
Suspension: Heidts Pro-G frame with splined sway bar up front, Heidts Pro-G IRS in the rear
Brakes: Wilwood 13-inch 6-piston front brakes, Wilwood 10.25-inch 4-piston in the rear
Wheels & Tires: 18x9 & 19x12 Forgeline FS3P wheels with 275/35R18 & 335/30R19 Nitto NT05 tires
Contact: D&Z Customs; 262-347-9741; www.DandZCustoms.com