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.
CorteX Precision Racing Technology
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.
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
Trend: Off-the-radar platform set to steal the show
We probably push this point more than any other magazine; the best way to be noticed and remembered is to stand out from the masses with a unique body style that makes people rethink their next project. AMXess will be a full-on Pro Touring machine with one goal in mind: to be driven hard. The plan is to seamlessly combine the style, spirit, and heritage of ’60s AMC racing heritage with new state-of-the-art suspension and driveline technology, and create a car that’s accommodating on the street and at home on the track.
We know; everyone says that, right? Well, it’s true; AMXess’ debut will be at the Heidts Performance Car Challenge in Joliet, Illinois, followed by some fun at the Holley LSFest. The SEMA show is in the works, where D&Z hopes to receive an invitation to the Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge (OUSCI), followed by an assault on the Silver State Classic. That’s a pretty intense schedule for a fresh car, and we approve. Owner Jimi Day says it’ll keep coming too; many Goodguys autocross events, track days and at least one cross-country cruise lie on the horizon.
Engine: 550hp GMPP LS3 with COMP LS7 cam, Hooker headers, Holley LS swap oil pan
Trans: Kiesler RS 600 five-speed with Centerforce twin disc clutch
Rearend: Speedway Engineering 9-inch floater with Randy’s Ring & Pinion Yukon aluminum third member, Detroit TrueTrac with 3.60 gears
Suspension: Heidts Pro-G crossmembers and control arms up front, Heidts/D&Z Customs custom-built four-link in the rear
Brakes: Wilwood 14-inch floating rotors with six-piston calipers, front; 14-inch floating rotors four-piston calipers, rear
Wheels & Tires: 18x9 and 18x10 Rushforth Nighttrain with 275/35R18 and 295/35R18
Detroit Speed & Engineering
Trend: No-compromise chassis parts for Chevy II
The inspiration for this build came from a groundbreaking ’64 Nova SS Li’l John Buttera and his son Chris built in the mid ’80s called the Novette—a car some have called the first true Pro Touring car. Owner Gordon McGilton asked Detroit Speed & Engineering (DSE) to pay homage with a modern twist. While Li’l John grafted in a ’84 Corvette front and rear subframe, this ’63 will get the full DSE treatment with their recently released front subframe and suspension assembly, and rear Quadralink. That will address all the II’s infamous ills and should put handling well beyond the Novette’s respectable performance with a fraction of the effort.
Gordon does plan to use this car often for cruising and to turn some laps on track days, so it’ll also be getting a custom-built rollcage and DSE’s deep tubs in the rear to get more tire under the slim Chevy II quarters. No word yet on whether the paint scheme will be a similar two-tone as the Novette, but we do know that rather than a clean shave most of the factory trim will remain, with some unique finishes from Jet-Hot coatings instead of polishing.
Engine: 585hp Mast Motorsports 416ci L99 VVT with M-90 DBW ECM controller
Trans: Bowler-prepped Tremec TKO 500 five-speed
Rearend: DSE prepped 9-inch with a Moser-built centersection with 3.90 gears, Detroit TrueTrac diff and Moser axles, Dynatech driveshaft
Suspension: DSE subframe with Detroit Tuned coilovers, antiroll bar up front. DSE Quadralink with DSE’s no-bind Swivel-Link technology.
Brakes: Baer Extreme Plus 6R calipers front and rear with 14-inch rotors
Wheels & Tires: yet to be determined 18x9 and 19x10 with 255/35R18 and 295/35R19 BFGoodrich KDW
Trend: Vintage race car style meets modern race car performance
The first thing Troy Trepanier wants you to know about this ’69 Torino Talladega he’s creating for George Poteet is that it is first and foremost a hard-core race car. While it will be finished to the same level as Rad Rides’ show cars, end to end the construction and parts choice will be geared toward road racing. The interior, for example, will be as bare as they come with a competition rollcage and oval punched and riveted sheetmetal throughout. Check out those side windows; they look like standard Dzus-fastened lexan, but they actually still roll down. We love that innovation.
The overall feel of the Talladega will lean distinctly toward vintage NASCAR, but with lots of purpose-driven subtle alterations. For example, original Talladega Torinos used the rear bumper on the front along with a pinched grille area for improved aerodynamics; this one will have a slightly revised nose with handmade bumpers that tuck in tighter and save weight. Even harder to notice will be the 3.5-inch-shorter fenders and slightly flared quarters. The handmade front chin spoiler, rockers, and rear diffuser will also benefit from aerodynamic lessons learned from racing the Blowfish Barracuda on the salt. George is no stranger to racing, so expect to see this Talladega intimidating the competition at various events later this year.
Engine: 750hp Boss 429 with Hilborn injection
Rearend: Mark Williams 9-inch
Suspension: Art Morrison chassis with C5 Corvette front suspension and a custom four-link with Watt’s link rear by Rad Rides
Wheels & Tires: 18- and 19-inch Billet Specialties with BFG tires
Trend: Bolt-in spine style full frame with modern suspension for Camaros
Swapping out the subframe on first- and second-gen Camaros for a full frame isn’t a new idea, but the boys devised a unique and innovative approach for their soon-to-be-released chassis. Rather than the standard perimeter-style rails that run along the outward edge of the floorpan, the Dooley chassis uses a spine style that sends the rails down the middle of the tunnel alongside the driveshaft. Believe it or not, those smooth sweeps front to rear are accomplished with a one-piece rail per side.
Fortunately, right about the time they were ready to start development, a good customer walked in with a ’67 Camaro in need of some love. The previous owner had been doing pretty much everything wrong, but the body was perfect, so Dooley’s was able to strip it down and get all the data they needed.
There’s still a lot up in the air since the final rendering isn’t finished, but look for bright red paint with a Ferrari-inspired interior.
Engine: 700hp 454ci LSX, Hilborn EFI
Trans: Keisler T56 six-speed
Rearend: 9-inch, 3.90 gears
Suspension: Dooley & Sons full frame with tubular control arms, coilovers, and splined sway bar; triangulated four-bar rear with coilovers
Brakes: 14-inch Wilwood with six-piston calipers
Wheels & Tires: 20x9 22x11 Boze
Project name: Hell’s Charger
Trend: Ultimate top-speed muscle cars
There’s a reason Hot Rods To Hell chose to turn this ’70 Charger into a Superbird, and it has nothing to do with imposing looks and everything to do with function. In full NASCAR trim, the Superbird was by far the slipperiest muscle car to ever grace an oval with the best air control, so when a customer proclaimed his desire to obliterate the Unlimited Class record at the Silver State Classic in vintage American iron, it was the logical choice.
To be fair, this is no replica. Working with aerodynamic specialists at renowned Swift Engineering, all of the body alterations, including cutting the car down the middle and removing a few inches of width, were all designed with the expressed purpose of bringing the coefficient of drag as low as possible. To date, preliminary CFD testing has shown Hells’ Charger has a CD of .189. Original Daytonas clock in around .290 and even the famously slick GM EV1 only mustered .195. With the projected 870-plus horsepower, at 5,500 feet the potential top speed was shown to be 349 mph. Records will be falling indeed. Incidentally, we were offered a ride. Should we?
Engine: 1,100hp (sea level) 488ci Ray Barton Pro-Stock second-gen Hemi
Rearend: Speedway Engineering
Suspension: Hot Rods To Hell truck arm rear
Brakes: Alcon six-piston calipers on carbon rotors
Wheels & Tires: 15x10 Aero with Goodyear Cup Car tires
This may be the most radical take on the humble little Chevy II we’ve seen to date—yet somehow it still retains the classic look. Phil and Jeremy Gerber’s extensively modified and transformed ’67 has more extreme custom metalwork going on than we can possibly describe here, but we’ll give it a go.
While it’s not immediately obvious, the side of the II has been reshaped to eliminate the original molding that ran through the center of the car; the lower section of the fenders, doors, and quarters were also resculpted to create a ’69 Camaro-esque body line extending off the wheel arches.
The top is also chopped ¾ inch at the front to level the roofline, and the driprails were sliced off. That radically louvered hood actually funnels air into airboxes at the rear corners, and ducting brings the fresh air through the inner fenders to the throttle body. The front is full custom with handbuilt bumpers, a lower spoiler/splitter, rocker moldings, and one-off billet headlights and taillights by Greening Auto Company. There are also a bellypan, an air diffuser, and a custom trunk in the rear. That’s just a taste—we didn’t even get into the hand-fabbed interior!
Rearend: Ford 9-inch floater with 3.90 gears and Detroit TrueTrac diff
Suspension: Roadster Shop Fast Track chassis with Fast Track IFS and a custom three-link rear with Watts link
Brakes: Baer 14-inch front and 13-inch rear
Wheels & Tires: yet to be determined 18x10 and 20x12 one-off wheels with 275/30R18 and 335/30R20 Michelin PS2
Trend: Class meets performance
Paul Gilliam grew up around circle-track racing with his father in the ’50s and early ’60s before joining the Navy. The inspiration for this car, however, came from a ’53 Stude he saw at the Daytona flying mile race on the sands of the beach in the mid ’50s that stuck in his mind. Paul prefers his cars to be high-class drivers, so rather than a racer powered by a race-prepped Caddy V-8 with a crank-driven Potvin blower like the Daytona car, this Stude will run an easier-to-cruise (and likely much more powerful) GMPP 502.
Despite what appears to be a very shallow depth from the side, the ’60s-era, Indy-inspired wheels are actually 12 inches wide in the rear, and 10 inches in the front. Alan Johnson tells us it’ll need that rubber since the custom chassis and suspension have been designed from scratch to balance the Stude’s street manners nicely between grip and comfort.
So far, there are no specific events planned for the Stude beyond the debut at SEMA 2011, which, of course, could result in an invite to the Optima Challenge, but a good cross-country cruise may provide the shakedown run.
Rearend: 9-inch Ford with 3.70 gears
Suspension: custom Chris Fischer/JHRS chassis with Morrison C6 crossmember and suspension, front; custom coilover radius rod by JHRS in the rear
Brakes: 14-inch six-piston Wilwood all around
Wheels & Tires: 18x10 and 19x12 Evod with 255/45R18 and 345/35R19 Pirelli
Trend: Street rod builders trying their hand at muscle cars
Occasionally a customer just wants a nice clean muscle car, say a ’70 ’Cuda for example. And sometimes it’s your car they want. A customer who was looking for a new project and happened to see Steve Legens pull up in his stock daily driver ’70 340 ’Cuda. Boom. He had his next project, and Steve was left looking for a new car. Legens is best known for their award-winning street rods, but things are shifting quickly after the debut of George Poteet’s phenomenally subtle Chevelle (“Vanilla Spice,” Apr. ’11) that has gathered major attention for the shop.
And they’ve got big orders as well; this customer would like a Goodguys Street Machine of the Year award to his name. Legens says it’s a bit strange working on his old car, but he has been given cart blanche on the build so he does get to enjoy building it exactly as he would have done for himself.
Engine: 800hp 426ci third-gen Hemi with Kenne Bell blower and Mr. Norm’s heads
Rearend: narrowed Viper rear
Suspension: modified Art Morrison chassis with Art Morrison front suspension and modified Viper IRS
Brakes: Wilwood 13-inch with six-piston calipers
Wheels & Tires: 20x8 and 22x10 Savini with 245/35R20 and 305/40R22 BFG
Project name: ThunderBoss
Trend: Pro Touring trending backward in time
The car most rodders associate RPM with is the incredible ’70 Shelby built for the ’10 Goodguys giveaway that also graced our October ’10 cover. This year they have their hands full with a ’62 Chevy II and this unique ’49 Ford. We love shoeboxes, but typically they’re built with more of a traditional rod and custom flavor rather than performance. This one trends more toward handling and all-around performance, which is something we’re seeing more of. Handling is becoming part of all genres hot rodding.
His grandfather’s ’49 Ford was the first car owner Rocky Boler ever drove, and is what hooked him on cars. This one is in its third life; its first two being the stock phase, and the 502 BBC drag racer phase. Now for its final update, Rocky wants to maintain some vestiges of each of the Ford’s versions, vintage style with insane horsepower, but also add the element that it never had—the ability to cut corners quickly and comfortably.
Engine: 780hp 520ci Jon Kaase Boss 429 with individual runner EFI
Trans: Tremec Magnum six-speed
Rearend: 9-inch Ford, 3.90 gears
Suspension: Art Morrison chassis, Art Morrison front suspension, four-bar rear
Wheels & Tires: 18x8 and 20x12 Billet Specialties Bonneville G with 245/40R18 and 335/30R20 Michelin PS2
Trend: Traditional custom touches on muscle cars
We’ve been seeing a whole lot more roofline modifications to cars lately, though most have been subtle in nature. Nevertheless, subtlety was not the goal for this Charger project over at Performance Restoration. With the help of renderings by Murray Pfaff to determine the angle of attack, Brent Jarvis took a Sawzall to a ’68 Charger and removed the roof completely to create a custom roadster that’s somewhat reminiscent of the mid-’60s Thunderbird Speedsters.
Originally the owner wanted a true convertible, but the logistics of the folding roof became a nightmare, so the plan was switched to creating a true roadster with the look of a Chrysler design studio concept that might have been used for shows and promotions. To keep the theme true, the windshield frame and various moldings from a ’68 Belvedere were used with exaggerated head fairings to take up the real estate of the massive Charger decklid. Of course, custom 4x2 framerails tie into stock rails with very heavy torque boxes to keep the flimsy unibody from twisting—especially with the torque from the stroked gen III Hemi.
Engine: gen III 426ci Hemi, 627 hp
Trans: Chrysler with TCI paddle shifters
Suspension: AlterKation front suspension, four-link rear with Panhard bar rear, adjustable sway bars
Brakes: Wilwood, 13-inch with six-piston calipers
Wheels & Tires: 18x10 and 20x12, style TBD
Trend: Bolt-in IRS systems for muscle cars
Heidts Hot Rod and Muscle Car parts has been on a bender lately working to bring their well-known IRS and IFS suspensions to the muscle car market with several bolt-in designs debuting in the past few years. Solid axles have their place, but it’s hard to beat the smooth ride of IRS on rough surfaces. Looking to expand their application list, Heidts enlisted Route 66 Motorsports and their recently launched Pro Ride Performance Car series to build this Chevy II as the testing and development mule for their new Pro G front subframe. It’s a particularly interesting project for Route 66’s Bill Jelinek, since ’66-67 Novas have always been one of his favorites.
Though it’ll make the car show rounds at events like Goodguys and the Car Craft Summer Nationals, just like their ’70 Camaro that was used to test their bolt-in second-gen F-body IRS, Heidts plans on proving their Chevy II parts through autocross and SCCA events.
Rearend: Ford 9-inch with 3:50 gears and 31-spline axles
Suspension: Heidts Pro G front with four-link rear
Brakes: Wilwood 12-inch four-piston
Wheels & Tires: 18x8 and 18x10 Billet Specialties with 255/35R18 and 295/35R18
Trend: Vintage muscle returning to daily duties
Robert Turner came to Schwartz Performance with one thing in mind—he wanted a good driver. No really, he plans to take this SportsRoof on the Power Tour, autocross it at Goodguys events, and drive it to work every day. To make it livable as a ’11 Mustang, a new Coyote 302 complete with supercharger was ordered up from Ford Racing. Modern handling, braking, and structural rigidity were requisite, so a complete Schwartz Performance chassis was an easy decision for him. Tuner needs to arrive fresh and relaxed at the office, so a fresh interior with Vintage Air, a high-end sound/navigation system, and power windows are in the cards as well. When it’s finished it’ll have all the modern goodies we want from a new car, plus tons of power and slot-car handling—or as the guys at Schwartz like to say, “a good driver.”
Engine: 624hp Coyote 5.0 with FRPP blower
Trans: Tremec T56 Magnum six-speed
Rearend: full-floating 9-inch with 3.70 gears
Suspension: Schwartz Performance full frame dual-wishbone with coilovers
Rear suspension: triangulated four-link by Schwartz Performance
Brakes: Wilwood 13-inch with six-piston calipers
Wheels & Tires: 18x9 and 19x12.5 Forgelines with BFG KDWs
Project name: Black Widow
Trend: Paying homage without cloning
In February 1957, black-and-white fuel-injected Chevy 150 two-door sedans appeared at NASCAR’s National Speed Weeks in Daytona. Dubbed the “Black Widows,” these SEDCO (Southern Engineering and Development Co.) prepped cars were an instant hit with fans and racers. Buck Baker even drove one to win the national championship. Nevertheless, by June 6, 1957, SEDCO ceased operation due to a pending congressional resolution regarding manufacturers that supported “racing activities” that may lead to reckless street driving. No one seems to know for sure how many cars were built by SEDCO; if there were official records, they didn’t survive.
Christopher Sondles of Woody’s Hot Rodz and George Poteet got together and discussed the creation of a car that would pay tribute to the Widows, but with tons of very subtle deviations. Unfortunately, Sondles is keeping many of the subtle changes under wraps until completion, but he refers to it as a “1 incher,” since almost every panel has been massaged by an inch or so. The unveiling will be at the 2012 GNRS in Pomona, California, and afterward there’s talk that George may take this modern Widow for a lap or two on a banked oval just for the fun of it.
Engine: 550hp GMPP Limited Edition Aluminum 427, custom dual four-barrel intake by Bischoff Engine Services (BES)
Trans: Tremec TKO five-speed
Rearend: Ford 9-inch with 3.70 gears
Suspension: Art Morrison Tri-Five Chassis with Morrison IFS and triangulated four-bar rear
Wheels & Tires: 18x8.5 and 18x10.5 one-off Clay Cook Enterprises six-lug billet wheels with 245/40R18 and 275/40ZR 18 BFG g-Force Super Sports
Project name: The McQ-Ship
Trend: Subtle monster turbo horsepower in street cars
This project in YearOne’s Ghostworks Garage will pay homage to the Brewster Green TA that co-starred with John Wayne in the movie McQ. The idea is to build what appears to be a lightly modified ’73 Trans Am, Brewster Green with small nose bird like the movie car, but stuff it full of twin-turbo LS7 power. Hence, the McQ-Ship name.
The powerplant will be the star of the show on this car and will feature 427 cubes with twin Turbonetics GTK550 turbochargers. The package is estimated to make approximately 950 hp when the boost is turned up a bit. Backing the engine will be a thoroughly reworked 4L80E automatic and a Moser 9-inch rear. You won’t be able to tell from the outside though, since the body mods will be kept subtle to give the Trans Am a fresh look while still appearing like a stock car, with slightly revamped wheel flares and a front spoiler with integrated driving lights and brake ducts. In other words, you’d never see, or hear, this 950 hp coming.
Engine: 7.0L twin-turbo wet sump LS7 by Wegner Automotive, Manley crank and rods, Turbonetics GTK 550 turbos
Rearend: Moser 9-inch with 31-spline axles and Detroit TrueTrac diff
Suspension: tubular front subframe with Heim-jointed tubular upper and lower control arms and integrated subframe connectors, four-link rear suspension with adjustable coilovers front and rear
Brakes: Baer 14-inch with six-piston calipers and Hydro-Boost assist
Wheels & Tires: 18x10 and 18x12 YearOne Honeycomb with 275/35R18 and 315/35R18 BFG g-Force T/A KDW