Compiled by John Stewart
2017 SEMA Battle of the Builders
Build Notes for the Top 12
For many in the custom-car industry, the SEMA Battle of the Builders is a chance to prove that they are among the best. The 2017 competition began with nearly 300 applications from builders representing an elite group of individuals who have demonstrated extreme talent, creativity and craftsmanship in modifying cars, trucks and SUVs. The field was not only the largest to date but was also deep in entries of exceptional quality. This year also saw the expansion of the Young Guns recognition, which shines the light on young, up-and-coming builders in the automotive industry.
Automotive YouTubers Michael Nguyen (SmurfinWRX) and David Patterson (ThatDudeinBlue) served as Young Guns judges, joining returning judges RJ DeVera of Meguiar’s, David Freiburger from The Enthusiast Network (TEN), and Fred Williams from Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road. Many hours of judging resulted in winnowing the field to 12 outstanding vehicles. At that point, the 12 builders themselves convened and scored each entry. Based on their insights, Troy Trepanier’s ’29 Ford Model A Tudor sedan edged out the amazing builds of fellow Top 3 finalists Alan Johnson (’32 Ford Tudor) and Troy Ladd (’36 Packard roadster) for the title.
|From left: Phil Gerber, Peter Nam, Jeremy Gerber, Jeremy Miranda, Alan Johnson, Troy Trepanier, Troy Ladd, Larry Griffey, Mike Markin, Andy Leach, Cris Payne, Scott Roth and Eddie Pettus.|
The three builders were featured along with many other SEMA Show builders in a new episode of the TV special “SEMA: Battle of the Builders,” which premiered on the Velocity Channel, January 2, 2018. If you missed it, visit www.sema.org/botb to find future air dates and times.
What follows are build notes from the Top 12.
|’29 Ford Model A Tudor|
Lead Builder: Troy Trepanier, Rad Rides by Troy, Manteno, Illinois
Displayed: Flowmaster booth
After an intensive inspection by his fellow Top 12 builders, Trepanier’s ’29 Model A was voted the top SEMA Battle of the Builders car for 2017. Information about the build and comments by Trepanier are part of the new “SEMA: Battle of the Builders” TV special now airing on the Velocity Channel, but we can share a few details here.
The engine is a 377ci small-block V8 with Offenhauser 3x2 induction. It’s mated to a magnesium Quartermaster bellhousing, a Legends five-speed transmission, and a modified Halibrand rearend fitted with 3.50 gears. The exhaust is by Flowmaster.
The Model A’s hand-built body, resplendent in custom-mixed Glasurit bronze paint and benefitting from many custom touches, rides on a boxed frame from a ’35 Ford, adapted by adding a custom crossmember. The suspension is via torsion bars damped by Ride Tech shocks, and the tires are Excelsior Stahl Sport radials from Coker. The flowing grille and grille shell were crafted from multiple ’30s Fords, yielding an impressive presence. The interior features a hand-built seat frame and cushions, a bowed headliner, and German square-weave carpet, and it’s finished in hand-tipped Italian leather.
Rad Rides by Troy was established in 1995 as a father-and-son business that has grown to become one of America’s top automotive shops over the past 18 years.
|’54 Chevrolet Corvette|
Lead Builder: Larry Griffey, Hot Rods & Restorations, Knoxville, Tennessee
Displayed: Hot Rod Industry Alliance booth
Griffey’s ’54 Corvette has been intensively customized with body modifications that permit the use of power roll-up windows, larger wheels and tires, wider doors, and a removable hardtop. The car’s fiberglass body was chopped and channeled to make it lower and wider than standard, and it was then painted Soul Red.
Most of the independent-suspension chassis components are from a C4 Corvette, matched with RideTech coilovers, Baer Brakes and a Speedway Engineering anti-sway bar. The tires are from BFG and are mounted on rear 20x10 and front 18x8 Billet Specialties wheels.
The LS1 V8’s output is enhanced by an Edelbrock supercharger and many upgraded internal components, and the engine compartment was custom designed to cleanly hide wiring and plumbing. The radiator was custom built to fit, and the transmission is a built 4L60E from Atkins & Son Transmission in Knoxville.
The interior was installed by Steve Holcomb of Pro Auto Custom Interiors and features a Lokar shifter, Vintage Air cooling, a Con2r steering wheel, and gauges by Classic Instruments.
Griffey’s shop, Hot Rods & Restorations, has been building and restoring cars since 1982 and has received numerous awards and recognitions from the industry.
|’69 Chevrolet Camaro|
Lead Builder: Phil and Jeremy Gerber, The Roadster Shop, Mundelein, Illinois
Displayed: Autometer booth
This first-generation Camaro streetfighter retains a classic Camaro look and feel but is upgraded with late-model features and was executed with exemplary attention to detail. The powertrain consists of a supercharged LT4 6.2L V8 crate engine backed by a T56 six-speed transmission. The Camaro rides on a Roadster Shop Fast Track chassis, and the custom bodywork includes a hand-built front spoiler and side skirts and a custom lower rear diffuser/valance.
The wheels are one-off designs, and there is a tremendous amount of metal fab all around the car, including the underhood sheetmetal. The interior is executed entirely in black and gray, with a clean array of gauges and a three-spoke, leather-wrapped wheel.
The Roadster Shop is known for its eye for design, craftsmanship and attention to detail and has earned many top awards and recognitions from the media.
|’32 Ford Tudor|
Lead Builder: Alan Johnson, Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop, Gadsden, Alabama
Displayed: Ford Motor Company booth
Alan Johnson’s ’32 Ford Tudor is the result of a four-year project, and as Johnson noted, “There’s not much on the car that we didn’t build from scratch.” The concept was to retain old-school looks but modernize when and where appropriate. Special attention was paid to an instrument design that offers depth and detail, for which Classic Instruments supplied gauges “with that Rolex-watch look.”
The powertrain features a ’57 Ford 312 Y-block V8 that was reworked by racing engine builder Keith Dorton at Automotive Specialists, resulting in an output of about 430 hp. An old Hilborn injector made into a plenum manifold disguises the engine’s electronics. The transmission is a Bowler five-speed, and power is transmitted to the wheels via a quick-change rear end. The suspension uses RideTech components, and the tires were sourced from Coker.
The build team collaborated with Borla when finalizing the intake and exhaust, and the radiator was sourced from Walker Radiator Works in Memphis, Tennessee. The ’32 Tudor runs Royal Purple fluids.
Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop, in business for more than 20 years, can handle full builds as well as provide maintenance and upgrade services, and the shop does most of its work in-house.
|’36 Packard Roadster|
Lead Builder: Troy Ladd, Hollywood Hot Rods, Burbank, California
Displayed: Clean Tools booth
Six years in the making, the Hollywood Hot Rods Packard roadster looks like it could be a restored classic, but it’s not. The frame is hand built, and the body is about 80% handmade from flat sheets of 18-gauge steel. The art-deco styling theme is dominated by the grille, which opens and closes based on temperature, and the car sports a power hardtop that folds down into the trunk, resulting in perfect-looking lines with the roof up or down.
The powertrain includes a supercharged 12-cylinder ’41 Lincoln Flathead with twin Winfield Double D carburetors, and the engine is backed by a Borg Warner T5 and a Winters rearend. The Firestone whitewall tires were sourced from Coker, and the four-wheel independent suspension is adjustable via a touchpad system. Elegance Auto Interiors of Upland, California, executed the tan leather interior, and Mick Jenkens at Mick’s Paint in Pomona, California, handled the Mulholland Merlot PPG paintwork. The audio hardware is from Rockford Fosgate.
Hollywood Hot Rods is a full-service hot-rod builder as well as a classic-car modification and restoration shop.
|'30 Ford Model A Coupe|
Lead Builder: Andy Leach, CAL Automotive Creations, Bennington, Nebraska
Displayed: Hot Rod Industry Alliance Booth
Leach’s Model A stands out for its art-deco finned suspension and chassis, cast-looking components, and a coach-built body. The result combines old-school hot-rod sensibilities with elegant machine work, achieved through 3D modeling and CAD design techniques. It’s powered by a blown aluminum Flathead V8 from Ford rebuilding specialists H&H Flatheads of La Crescenta, California. The engine is topped by twin Stromberg 97 carburetors and is backed by a Bowler C4 automatic.
The body is an original that was restyled with a 6-in. chop and judicious shave and section alterations to permit upgrades such as flush-fit doors, and it was painted by Charley Hutton’s Color Studio in Paleozoic Blue. It all fits on a custom 104-in.-wheelbase chassis. The interior is executed in distressed leather, highlighted by an instrument cluster from Classic Instruments and a one-off steering wheel.
Leach, owner of CAL Automotive Creations, is a previous Ridler winner, 2014 Trend Setter of the Year, Ford Design Award winner, Barrett-Jackson Cup winner, and Top 10 Battle of the Builders finalist in 2015. His 7,500-sq.-ft. shop has 10 employees.
|’38 Graham 97|
Lead Builder: Mike Markin, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Displayed: Meguiar’s booth
Over a period of four and half years, Mike Markin converted a four-door sedan into an award-winning art-deco two-door coupe. In the process, the car was shortened by 26 in., and the fat fenders were modified to emphasize its streamlined appearance. It features extensive chrome accent pieces, many from Advanced Plating, and was painted in PPG Bordeaux Reserve.
The billet wheels shod with Bridgestone Potenza radials were created by Evod Industries. Now referred to as Shark, the Graham is powered by a 600hp, 540ci Chevy big-block V8 that is backed by a 700-R4 automatic.
A dashboard from a ’37 Lincoln highlights the interior. Elegantly redone by Classic Instruments, it now houses the latest Bluetooth-enabled audio components.
Much of the work took place in Donn McFarlane’s shop in Altoona, Wisconsin. L’Cars Automotive Specialties, O’Meara’s Customs and Midwest Metalworks all contributed significantly to the build.
|’69 Chevrolet Camaro|
Lead Builder: Jeremy Miranda, Delray Beach, Florida
Displayed: Taylor/Vertex booth
Master fabricator Jeremy Miranda’s shop, Miranda Built, was founded in 2006 as a design and fab shop capable of correctly reinventing classic cars using modern technology. Miranda’s ’69 Camaro is a good example.
Based on a Roadster Shop Fast Track chassis, the car is powered by a 440ci LSX dry-sump, flex-fuel engine that is backed by a TR6060 transmission. The wheels are bronze ADV1 items, and the massive brake system uses Wilwood components. The front and rear valance and rocker extensions were fabricated from scratch. The drip rails were shaved, and the front and rear glass were flush-fitted.
The custom one-off interior is clean and uncluttered, with a custom Dakota Digital gauge cluster and custom interior lighting. Electrical power is distributed via an Infinity Wire intelligent multiplex wiring system, and the modern compound headlights include projector beams.
The finished product is a powerful modern musclecar, highly drivable and with classic lines.
Miranda’s work has earned numerous accolades, including the Ridler Award and the Goodguys Ultimate Street Machine award.
|’95 Porsche 911 Carrera|
Lead Builder: Peter Nam, Gunther Werks, Garden Grove, California
Displayed: Meguiar’s booth
This unique Porsche is a bespoke rebuild of the Porsche 993 (the last air-cooled 911) that has been modernized with lightweight carbon-fiber wide-body construction. This particular car, based on a modernized ’95 Porsche 911, is built to approximate the capability of the hardcore GT3 RS.
The 4.0L flat-six engine includes all new internals, including Mahle pistons, Camillo rods and a GT3 oil pump. Working with a 7,800-rpm redline, the water-cooled engine produces some 400 hp and 330 lb.-ft. of torque. Engine management is based on a Motec system, and the transmission is a six-speed manual, but with new gear ratios.
The exhaust system is valved to permit wide-open operation for track use and offer a more muffled sound for street use. The body and most interior panels are carbon fiber for lightness, so the car weighs in at just 2,670 lbs. It has LED headlights with 3D printed-aluminum housings.
Peter Nam is the founder and CEO of Vorsteiner, a company best known as a leader in providing advanced aerodynamics products for high-end exotic sports cars. Gunther Werks is a new company that specializes in using modern technology and is now developing the Porsche 400R Project.
|’95 Ford Bronco|
Lead Builder: Cris Payne, Truck Gurus, Taft, California
Displayed: Vision Wheel booth
To build this for-real prerunner, Cris Payne teamed with Dezert Lab Engineering, which handled fab work that included a full rollcage, custom bumpers and more. The Bronco is powered by a 5.0L Ford Coyote V8 with a Whipple supercharger and upgraded internals. Compression is set at 9.5:1, and the engine breathes through custom headers and exhaust, with dual UMP filters keeping out the dust and dirt. Dressed with custom billet valve covers, the engine reportedly yields 895 hp and is backed by an RKL 4L80 billet transmission.
The suspension is based on a twin I-beam front and a four-link rear, with custom King bypass shocks and coil-overs. The rear-end setup features Camburg 4-in. race-series 4130 parts, and Prismatic Powder did the powdercoating on the chassis.
The exterior incorporates McNeil Racing fiberglass pieces, a custom Royalty Core grille, a custom paint job, and a custom overhead light rack that holds Fenix AI lighting. The wheels are Vision Wheels forged bead-locks shod with BFGoodrich Baja T/A tires. The full luxury interior features custom Beard seats, M&M Fabwerx tin work, a Racepak dash and Bentley carpet.
Payne had participated in, built and designed more than 68 builds prior to the 2017 SEMA Show.
|’63 Chevy Corvette|
Lead Builder: Eddie Pettus, Eddie’s Rod and Custom, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Displayed: Billet Specialties, B-Forged booth
Pettus’ ’63 Corvette is one of three Corvettes to make the Top 12 and one of two C2 Corvettes recognized by the SEMA judges as outstanding. The award-winning restomod, 18 months in the building, is powered by a cross-ram fuel-injected 327 V8 small-block stuffed with upgraded parts and pieces from the likes of Pro Topline, COMP Cams, MSD, Hedman and others. The engine was assembled by Motorheads Manufacturing and is reportedly capable of 500 hp and 475 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s backed by a Tremec six-speed transmission and a Dana 60 rearend with 3.73:1 gears.
The chassis features an independent suspension setup from Art Morrison, with JRi coilovers. Braking is handled via 14.5-in. carbon-ceramic rotors with six-piston calipers, and the wheels are Billet Specialties items. The interior features an Infinitybox wireless system that enables control of the electrics, including dimming lighting, a one-button start, security and more, via an iPad seamlessly integrated into the console. The audio system is by Kicker, and the gauges are from Classic Instruments. The upholstery was executed in tan leather, and flush-mounted glass and relocated bumpers are among many touches that add to the modern appearance.
Eddie’s Rod and Custom is a family-owned hot-rod and custom shop committed to honest advice, dependable work and unsurpassed craftsmanship.
|’66 Chevrolet Corvette|
Lead Builder: Scott Roth, The Auto Shoppe, South Burlington, Vermont
Displayed: Classic Instruments booth
This SplitRay Corvette is powered by a supercharged 6.2L LS9 reportedly capable of 638 hp and 604 lb.-ft. of torque. The mill is nestled into an exquisitely detailed engine compartment and is backed by a T56 Magnum six-speed transmission.
The SplitRay is based on a ’66 split-window Corvette, cut down the middle and widened by 6¾ in. The car sports an egg-crate grille with relocated gills, and the aluminum bumpers were hand formed. The wheels were carved by Evod.
Multiple computers provide complete control of the car with a Bluetooth device, and the interior was done in Richmond leather in the manner of a Z06. Recognized as one of the Great 8 at the 2017 Detroit Autorama, the car reportedly took more than 20,000 hours to build, involving a crew of nine for more than 17 months.
The Auto Shoppe is a premier antique and classic-car restoration shop in the New England area that can restore classic cars of all types or handle complete builds of one-off customs.