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Top 10 at SEMA Duke It Out: Battle of the Builders

Top 10 at SEMA Duke It Out: Battle of the Builders

It’s the auto industry’s ultimate trade show, but SEMA’s annual event in Las Vegas may also have accidentally become the ultimate car show.

What started as in-situ displays of manufacturer’s goods 50 years ago has turned into a spectacle unto itself, a kind of "show within a show." Presumably with the understanding that all of the best builders bring cars to display in booths at the show, SEMA created a “Battle of the Builders” competition. In a nutshell, some 200 builders from around the world submit candidate vehicles for judging.

Here’s where it gets really cool. A day before the show's end, the 10 selected finalists get together for a kind of symposium. Each builder gets an opportunity to reveal the things that make their particular vehicle worthy, then each entrant judges every other entrant’s vehicle. Also noteworthy for this year’s competition is the Young Guns distinction recognizing builders younger than 35. 

Just prior to the Rollout, the formalized purging of show vehicles from the event, the top three of those 10 entrants ascend to lead the pack. Followed by a ceremony during the SEMA Ignited after-party, a winner gets crowned based exclusively upon the judgements of their peers. While everyone has their top picks from the SEMA Show, we wanted to give you a closer look at the cars selected during SEMA’s 2016 Battle of the Builders.

Winner: Cam Miller | Logan, Utah | 1969 Chevy Camaro

Don’t feel awkward if you don’t recognize the name; Cam’s shop, HS Customs, is far off the grid in Logan, Utah. You may credit that relative isolation for his team’s success, as the car they created commands attention in a fairly sophisticated way, at once standing out without making a scene.

Cam Miller 1969 Camaro 2016 SEMA Battle of the Builders

Painter Cam Miller added car building to his curriculum only half a dozen years ago, but his ascent has been rapid - he’s consistently qualified for some of the industry’s highest accolades. Though far from conservative, the Camaro his HS Customs shop built is far from radical. Rather, it’s the recipient of ceaseless refinement on an innovative angle. This is the first time Cam has exhibited a car at the SEMA Show.

Cam Miller 2016 SEMA Battle of the Builders

Congratulations to the HS Customs crew!

Runner-up: Jesse Greening | Cullman, Alabama | 1961 Chevy Two-Door Wagon

Jesse Greening represents the generation responsible for transforming the street rod into a sophisticated, all-around performance machine. This time he stretched the roof of a ’61 Impala to make a two-door wagon, a model that Chevrolet killed that year.

Jesse Greening 1961 Chevy Two-Door Wagon 2016 SEMA Battle of the Builders

Drawing on his hot rod roots he chopped the top, tucked the chassis into the body, and tapered the body from front to back. 

Jesse Greening Chevy Wagon 2016 SEMA Battle of the Builders

Third: Kyle Tucker | Mooresville, North Carolina | 1941 Willys 2-Door Coupe

Kyle Tucker and his wife Stacy drew upon their engineering backgrounds to create Detroit Speed Engineering, one of the preeminent suspension manufacturers in the muscle-car world. Recently Kyle broke with his own tradition by taking on a 1941 Willys. It may have been built like a street rod to look like a drag car, but underneath it’s every bit a muscle machine. Kyle won the inaugural Best of the Builders in 2014 with a ’69 Camaro.

Kyle Tucker 1941 Willys 1941 Willys

Jeremy and Phil Gerber (Young Gun) | Mundelein, IL | 1967 Chevy Chevelle

The Roadster Shop may have started as a street-rod business, but current owners Jeremy and Phil Gerber transformed it into one of the industry’s most significant G-machine chassis factories. The relatively stock-appearing body on their ’67 Chevelle belies an entirely new internal structure made with one of the company’s chassis.

Jeremy and Phil Gerber 1967 Chevelle 2016 SEMA Battle of the Builders

Mike and Jim Ring | Spring Green, Wisconsin | 1969 Chevy Camaro

The Ringbrothers bring to bear elements from various motorsports on their project vehicles. As a result, the finished products achieve a kind of watershed that seemingly transforms the industry.

Ringbrothers 1969 Camaro 2016 Battle of the Builders

The ’69 Camaro they submitted evokes elements of high-end European exotic cars, including a very OEM-inspired interior. The brothers also made “Top Three” at the inaugural Battle of the Builders and “Top 10” last year.

Ringbrothers 1969 Camaro Interior 2016 Battle of the Builders

Mike and Jim Ring | Spring Green, Wisconsin | 1948 Cadillac Sedanette

Evidently one amazing build isn’t enough, as the Ringbrothers were chosen for a second this year, a 1948 Cadillac Sedanette. When a prominent GM dealer asked for a Cadillac legend that handled legendarily, they literally extracted the body from a brand-new ATS-V and dropped the ’48 body in its place, no mean feat considering the new Cadillac doesn’t even have a frame.

Ringbrothers 1948 Cadillac Sedanette 2016 Battle of the Builders

It boasts every major component of the new car right down to its interior which includes all features except the side-curtain airbags.

Ringbrothers 1948 Cadillac detail 2016 Battle of the Builders

Gordon Ting | Irvine, California | 2016 Prius

Until now the words Prius and racing never appeared in the same sentence. Gordon Ting challenged the very image of Prius as a droll commuter car by visualizing one as a street version of the Prius GT300s that compete in the Okayama International Circuit. This isn’t Gordon’s first time transforming a mild car into a monster, he once headed the Scion xD team competing in Rally America.

Gordon Ting 2016 Prius 2016 Battle of the Builders

Big Mike | Garden Grove, California | 1992 Honda Prelude

Big Mike transformed Honda’s first sports coupe, the Prelude, for his build. This isn’t the car’s first pony show, it’s morphed to Mike’s will over the years.

Big Mike Honda Prelude 2016 Battle of the Builders

He distilled this version from his experience in various automotive motorsport cultures, drawing heavily upon European Grand Touring culture by invoking the Martini livery from the latter part of the last century.

Big Mike Honda Prelude Engine 2016 Battle of the Builders

Mark Turner | Phoenix, Arizona | 1958 Jeep FC170

When Daystar Products CEO unleashed this wild forward-control Jeep at SEMA two years ago, it rolled on tracks. He drew upon his experience building parts for OEM applications and applied it to something he could use personally. Though he deemed the project a lost cause, his employees offered to help after-hours to pull off this magnum opus.

Mark Turner 1958 Jeep FC170 Daystar 2016 Battle of the Builders

Brad DeBerti (Young Gun)| Arroyo Grande, California | 2017 Ford Raptor

Despite his years, Young Gun Brad DeBerti had something nobody else outside the Ford booth could claim, a 2017 Ford Raptor. Working under a punishing deadline of mere weeks, DeBerti’s crew stripped the truck to the cab, fabricated a full cage, widened the suspension three inches per side, and stretched the factory fenders four inches. It’s a true Prerunner work truck and a prototype for a production kit to come.'

Brad DeBerti 2017 Ford Raptor Prerunner 2016 Battle of the Builders

Want more from SEMA? See Driving Line's full 2016 SEMA Show coverage.

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