Meet the Builders at Car Craft Summer Nationals
This year's Car Craft Summer Nationals was a coming together of American car culture that really fostered the sharing of ideas and techniques from enthusiast to enthusiast. It was a celebration of the best-of-the-best in custom cars and restorations. In addition to the eight professional shops that were invited to go head-to-head to be this years Pro-Builder of choice, the show also hosts an “Undiscovered Builders” segment which brings attention to the home builders who want to break into the custom car building scene.
Car Craft Summer Nationals Pro-Builder of the Year
For the pro builders, it was Wisconsin-based Speedkore that walked away with the win for their 1970 Dodge Charger “Tantrum.” If you missed seeing it at last year’s SEMA Show, you’ll be able to get a glimpse of it next Spring when Fast and Furious 8 is released. The car is a stunning work of engineering powered by a twin-turbo 9-liter Mercury Racing V8 pushing over 1600hp. (You read that right, Mercury Racing – it’s a Mercury Marine Racing offshore inboard engine.) The laser-straight body features beautifully crafted carbon fiber for the front half, blended perfectly to the rear steel. Jimmy Shine described it perfectly when he said, "It’s a work of jewelry that will kick anyone's ass on the street!"
Five diverse finalists in the Undiscovered Builders segment were invited to share the stage with the pros. I was a fortunate one of the five, chosen for the work I’ve done on my 2009 370Z.
Undiscovered Builders Finalist - Nick Shultz & his 370Z
With an import joining what has traditionally been a domestic affair there was some expected criticism, but the reception was overwhelmingly positive. My car’s build is an experiment in progress that mixes bits and pieces from a variety of major players in car culture including: Von Dutch, Jesse James, Top Secret, all with a hint of GT3 track prep.
Carbon fiber molding, airbrushing/custom paint, and technology integration are all areas I’m specifically interested in and I wanted to use a platform that I could hone my skills on. The car needed to be showable and daily-drivable, but I also wanted it to be able to handle track days at regional venues such as nearby Road America. That being said, it features one-off carbon trim such as the roof, front and rear bumper inserts, carbon brake duct systems, and full interior trim. Under the hood lies a supercharged V6 with a valve job and port and polish. Due to the increased engine temps, the custom-engineered cooling systems help cool the transmission, oil, and supercharger plenum.
The paint is a water-borne chameleon faded to metallic black and complimented by a dark prism finish on 20” Rays wheels. Like the other builds in the group, the car is a reflection of self. I do a lot of pinup art for clients so some of that is featured on bits like the engine cover, seat backs and the 3D carbon fiber pinup in the trunk. While it’s import roots set it apart, its custom work made it feel right at home with the other hot rods.
Undiscovered Builder Finalist - Steve Grybel and his 1972 Corvette
Steve Grybel brought the family Corvette to the mix, and this '72 ‘Vette is something to behold. His dad bought it in 1973 and thoroughly abused it to the point of parking it to rot. Coming from the mini-truck scene, Steve Grybel had plenty of low-ride suspension background and decided to step in and rescue the ‘Vette. His background helped to create a unique vision for the car, as Steve puts it, "I imagined a street-scene stunner that is as shaved and sparkly as a Vegas stripper.” The end result fully embodies that vision.
Everything is shaved and smoothed, even the brake calipers. All of the air ride components are tucked away out of sight as are most electrical systems – even the interior was given the shaved and glassed approach, topped off with C5 pace car seats. It’s a clever mix of old school hot rod and new school tech. Every bit of the build has been massaged by Steve, including the custom yellow metallic pearl paint job that shimmers even when the car is still. His very proud dad is still blown away by how well the build turned out and they are looking forward to their next project, a '31 Model A aimed at taking the family on the Hotrod Power Tour and a Route 66 road trip.
Undiscovered Builder Finalist - Jason Vega and his 1978 Firebird
What do you do when you have a 1978 Firebird that is so rusted out you removed the rear driveline by hand? Most people would vote to scrap it, but not Smokey and the Bandit fan Jason Vega. He decided to take this rusted mess and transform it into a Pro-Street track monster. For almost 20 years he tinkered with it behind his mother's house until things got serious in 2000. He met a girl and they got a house together, meaning he finally had charge of a "2-car garage to build my toy in."
By the time Jason was finished with it, literally everything was scrapped except for the canopy and small sections of the front clip. He meticulously rebuilt the frame into a 2x3" boxed frame, braced by a cut-and-weld cage kit to withstand the launches on the strip. Over 90 percent of the sheet metal was replaced, some of it with hand-fabricated stainless. The motor is a nicely built 455, bored and stroked to a 495, purpose-built to take a beating on the track. It currently commands a 12-second timeslip but Jason hopes to shave that down to 10 with some fine tuning and drag radials.
Undiscovered Builder Finalist - Jim Ransom and his 1968 Chevy Nova
Jim Ransom is in the grey area between undiscovered and pro. An avid drag racer and chassis builder, he has built some of the Midwest's strongest Pro-Street builds. It isn’t uncommon to hear his '68 Nova launching from the stoplights in the small town of Oconomowoc, and if you’re perceptive you’ll see him giggling from behind the wheel at every take-off. Jim dreamt awhile about creating a Nova that would trump the one he used to drive during high school and four years ago he finally got his wish. Unfortunately that wish was an $800, rusted-out Wisconsin car. It took four painstaking years to build this 9-second monster.
An engineer by trade, it shows in every facet of Jim’s car. It is an old-school style build that features a 2" stretched tube frame tubbed out under a hand-made cage. Any body filling needed was done with lead rather than Bondo, just like O.G. hotrodders would’ve done.
I appreciated Jim’s creativity in the details – such as the air cleaner cage that’s machined from a shop rag hopper, but it’s so well engineered it looks like a GM Performance part. Jim even bead-rolled the aluminum interior panels and stainless headers by hand. It was a treat watching him thrash the daylights out of his Nova during Summer National’s Midnight Drags on Saturday night.
Learning from the Pros at 2016 Car Craft Summer Nationals
Being selected as the five Car Craft Undiscovered Builders was an honor, but being allowed to partake in the forum was the real reward. Each builder in either of the competitions had their own unique style and inspiration they draw on, and it was awesome to learn more about their build processes during the on-stage builder forum.
While we shared some of our own goals and experiences with the crowd, we were also allowed to ask questions of the pros - candidly interacting with industry leaders in a way that would have otherwise been impossible. Topics such as how the businesses were grown, and how customers' involvement has changed were discussed in depth. If there was one common denominator of their responses, it was that customers today are more informed than ever and have a much higher sensitivity to design details such as surface treatments and engineering elements. Techniques and the evolution of style was a lively conversation with Jimmy Shine. Even though it was only 90 minutes, the knowledge shared was immeasurable.
You can bet I’ll be returning next year, as the Car Craft Summer Nationals will be held in Milwaukee for at least the next two years - put it on your list for next July as well. I’m looking forward to putting some of this inspiration to practice in my own garage between now and then!