Each year as the level and quality of cars built in the hot rodding community continues to reach ever upward, it becomes more difficult to create something that really captures the imagination. After all, we all love cars, but it’s hard not to become at least a little bit jaded and forget how much hard work goes into every high-end build.

The tonic for automotive ennui is continuous innovation and refinement. Simply stated: If you’re not looking for perspective, platform, or performance that isn’t pushing limits, you’re not in the game. For some shops the focus is on exploring ways to aesthetically reimagine common cars, and for others it’s more about ever blurring the lines among the touring car, race car, supercar, and muscle car. Either way, all of them are working to create something that will fuel hot rodders’ passions.

So what are some of the top shops in the industry building right now? For this year’s Trendsetting Builders special, we pulled 15 shops that are creating cars that we think showcase emerging ideas, parts, and styles likely to cast their influence on the next generation of rods.

As for the hot platforms in 2011, tastes still run the breadth of the automotive landscape, but there is one that rises to the top: The “it” car for this year appears to be the early Chevy II. We’ll chalk the sudden fever up to a bevy of new chassis and suspension options from DSE, Heidts, Art Morrison, and The Roadster Shop, who are releasing long pent-up demand among loyal fans for a package that can put the pedestrian early II in the same performance class as it’s later X-body brethren.

1966 Ford Mustang

CorteX Precision Racing Technology

Project name: Xecution

Trend: Vintage muscle that outruns modern race cars on the track

The name of this project pretty much says it all; this Mustang is a zero-compromise track car that takes no prisoners. Filip Trojanek of CorteX is a lifelong car guy and also an engineer specializing in structural mechanics. Combine that background with a penchant for SolidWorks, Finite Element Analysis (FEA), and road racing, and muscle cars become supercars.

Besides serving as a rolling testbed for parts development for CorteX, the stated goal for Xecution is performance on par with NASA AIX, ALMS, and SCCA World Challenge cars while still maintaining street driveability. The crazy part is it’s no exaggeration; Xecution clocks in at 4.15 pounds per horsepower, can generate cornering forces of 1.6g static and 2.2g jerk, and has been driven over 200 miles to events where it outran full race-prepped modern cars costing many times more. In full road-course setup with borrowed drag radials it has also posted 10.70 at 128 mph with a 1.55 60-foot at Infineon’s dragstrip. Yeah, it’s fast.

If this stuff sounds a bit familiar to regular readers, that’s because Xecution is the inspiration behind our Max Effort project, and CorteX is the shop making it a reality.

By The Numbers

Engine: 600hp GM LS7, Callies crank and rods, Wiseco pistons, GMPP Grand-Am cam, ported heads and intake

Trans: Tremec T56, modified for road racing, McLeod Magnum Force Twin 8.5-inch disc clutch

Rearend: CorteX Racing cambered full-floating 9-inch with 3.89:1 gears and a TrueTrac diff in a Moser aluminum case, ACPT 3.25-inch carbon-fiber driveshaft

Suspension: CorteX Racing SLA front, tubular K-member with GM LS7 engine mounts, severe duty lower control arms, CorteX ARB, CorteX Radial X spindles, CorteX Racing Watt’s link and adjustable torque arm

Brakes: four-piston Sierra GN billet calipers on 13.5-inch Coleman rotors front, four-piston Sierra XL billet calipers on 12.2-inch Coleman rotors rear

Wheels & Tires: 18x12 Jongbloed 305 Aero with 335/35R18 Hoosier R6

Contact: CorteX Precision Racing Technology; 415-886-7223; www.CorteXRacing.com

1969 AMX

D&Z Customs

Project name: AMXess

Trend: Off-the-radar platform set to steal the show