custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12

Three Decades of Goodguys Custom, Kustom, and Custom Rod of the Year

When Gary Meadors launched Goodguys, he was very deliberate about calling it a Rod & Custom Association. The inclusion of customs and ’50s vehicles differentiated Goodguys in the early years and brought variety to those early events that was seldom seen at other national hot rod and classic car gatherings.

Meadors’ formative years as a car enthusiast reinforced the fact that rods and customs belonged together. Much like the cruising scenes in American Graffiti, Meadors recalled ’55 Chevys, ’58 Impalas, and other “later” cruisers sharing the boulevards with Deuce coupes and ’40 Fords back in the day. It seemed only natural to include them at Goodguys events. Cutoff years for participating vehicles varied in those early years, but by the ’90s most Goodguys national events welcomed cars and trucks through early-’60s vintage.

Many of the participating post-’48 vehicles at Goodguys events were indeed customs, but there were also plenty of cars that did not fall into that traditional whitewall-and-fender-skirt category. A growing number of enthusiasts were building ’50s cruisers with modernized and detailed chassis, performance drivetrains, and other “street rod” elements – even modern wheels and tires. The term “custom rod” emerged from this style of build and was promoted by the fledgling magazine Custom Rodder, a companion title to Street Rodder magazine.

Goodguys saw the value in promoting this style of build and introduced the Custom Rod of the Year award starting in 1993. For more than a decade, the award was a highlight of the Heartland Nationals in Des Moines, where finalists were identified and a winner was crowned at that event. More recently, the Vintage Air Custom Rod of the Year title has become one of Goodguys’ regional Top 12 honors – we identify finalists at a variety of events across the country, and then select an overall winner at the end of the season. Open to vehicles from 1949-72 vintage, the current Vintage Air Custom Rod of the Year award criteria say that the title is bestowed upon a car that “tastefully blends customizing techniques or factory stock bodies with modern day performance, engineering, components and styling.”

Through the years, Goodguys has also developed awards to celebrate more traditional custom cars. This has culminated in the Street Rod Headquarters Custom of the Year honor, another Goodguys Top 12 that is bestowed annually at the All American Get-Together in Pleasanton. Open to custom cars from 1936-72 vintage, this award is designed to honor an exceptional custom car and is open to all styles and genres of customs (from traditional, to radical, to modern). For a few years, Goodguys also had the Kustom of the Year award, as well as the West Coast Custom of the Year award, as part of its slate of elite national honors.

Labels and naming conventions aside, we thought it would be fun to look back at nearly three decades of custom rods, customs, kustoms, and just plain-cool cruisers by showcasing winners in these categories through the years. We’ll touch briefly on the Custom d’Elegance award, too, but will save a closer look at that for the future. Like any such retrospective, it’s interesting to see the various trends that have emerged through the years, not to mention the evolution in craftsmanship. Some of these award winners have probably stood the test of time a little better than others, but all of them showcase the creativity and style inherent in the custom corner of our hobby.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Ray and Myrna Bozarth
1951 Buick

The first Custom Rod of the Year winner was more custom than rod, with a decidedly traditional style. The big news on the Bozarth Buick was that it started life as a four-door sedan! It was originally owned by Ray’s grandmother, and ably transformed into a stunning low-slung custom by the talented Merlin Berg. It had all the tricks – a chopped, Carson-style lift-off top, frenched headlights, ’53 Chevy grille, ’53 Buick side trim, custom quarter panel scoops, ’55 Packard taillights, and beautiful Wild Plum paint. Even cooler is the fact that Ray and his wife Myrna still own the Buick – they had it on display at the 2018 Heartland Nationals, where these photos were taken.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Dave Auten Jr. and Sr.
1950 Buick

The father-and-son Auten team from Michigan helped push custom cars in a contemporary direction in the late-’80s and early-’90s with a series of monochrome machines that borrowed dramatic, angular influence from Cadzzilla-style cruisers. This ’50 Buick smoothie rode on an ’84 LeSabre chassis with 455c.i. Buick power and three-spoke directional wheels. The radically reshaped body had a 4-inch hardtop-style chop, 2.5-inch section job, frenched headlights, floating grille bar, and radically reshaped rear quarters that integrated custom acrylic taillights. With sculpted tweed upholstery inside, brushed aluminum touches, and painted bumpers, it captured the cutting-edge custom rod style of the early-’90s.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Don Kober
1949 Buick

Make it three-for-three for Buicks! Don Kober’s ’49 Buick convertible was one of the first to tastefully bridge the traditional/contemporary custom divide, combining classic style elements with modern details and drivetrain. Built by Merle Berg (who also built the Bozarths’ 1993 winner), the beautiful blue Buick sported a long list of body mods that included a chopped top, custom front bumper, ’51 grille, pie-cut hood, hooded and frenched headlights, reshaped wheel openings, custom skirts, frenched ’54 Mercury taillights, and a split rear bumper. A supercharged small-block Chevy provided ample power, while contemporary sculpted gray leather upholstery gave the cockpit a little modern flair.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Chris & Judi Dixon
1956 Ford Thunderbird

Chris Dixon gave Buicks the bird and captured the 1996 Custom Rod crown with this ’56 Thunderbird he built for his wife Judi at his shop, Ohio’s Wounded Knee Motors. The frame-off rebuild incorporated chassis upgrades like front disc brakes, a GM steering box, and a fuel-injected ’95 5.0-liter Ford V8 dressed with plenty of polish and backed with an AOD. He shaved the trim and handles from the body, built a custom aluminum grille, and covered everything with dark purple paint highlighted by subtle graphics. Finished with 17-inch Colorado Custom wheels and purple leather upholstery, this was a modern purple people pleaser.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Wes & Vivian Rydell
1950 Chevrolet

Wes Rydell’s name has become synonymous with award winners, but he was lesser known back in 1997 when he had Hot Rods by Boyd build this sleek Chevy four-door fastback. The subtle Chevy had its roof slightly sectioned above the doorline and was lengthened to use longer two-door front doors. Shaved emblems, a sectioned hood, frenched headlights, and flush-fit taillights were also part of the well-designed modifications. An S10 front suspension, RideTech assisted rear suspension, and Boyds 17-inch wheels got rolling courtesy of ’96 Corvette LT1 power, while Gabe’s Custom Upholstery stitched classy gray and black leather upholstery inside. The black Dennis Rickleffs paint was updated with a silver two-tone a few years later, but this Chevy still looks just as sleek today.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
George Poteet
1954 Plymouth

Every genre has its game-changers and Sniper was just that for customs and custom rods. Like Cadzzilla nearly a decade before, the ’54 Plymouth built for George Poteet by the Rad Rides team was essentially a clean-sheet design penned by Chip Foose. It had a custom-built roof, Mercedes headlights, and one-off sheet metal mods nearly everywhere under the PPG two-tone green finish. The scratch-built chassis incorporated Dodge Viper front and rear suspensions, 18- and 20-inch Boyds wheels, and a 488c.i. Viper V10 backed by a Borg-Warner six-speed. It was equally custom inside, with a one-off dash and console, Viper gauges, and green leather over modified Recaro seats. Finished in 13 months and driven on the Hot Rod Power Tour, Sniper most definitely raised the bar on this style of car.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Gene & Gail Ray
1952 Plymouth Suburban

Custom wagons hit their stride in the late-’90s and this tri-tone ’52 Plymouth Suburban belonging to Gene and Gail Ray of Washington was a spectacular example. Finished by Kevin’s Restoration, it had a chopped top, leaned B-pillars, sectioned hood, frenched lights, a floating grille bar, rolled rear pan, and tons of other mods under that brilliant PPG finish. A Nova subframe supported the fully detailed 440c.i. Mopar big block and got the 17- and 18-inch Weld wheels rolling. With gray leather upholstery, Cyberdyne digital gauges, and Vintage Air inside, this Mayflower made for one comfortable, high-impact suburban cruiser.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
George Poteet
1957 Ford Ranch Wagon

Just two years after Sniper, George Poteet had Rad Rides craft Intruder, this trick two-tone ’57 Ford Ranch Wagon. Built on a custom tubular chassis with a Heidts IFS, custom four-link rear, RideTech air springs, and Baer brakes, the wagon sported fuel-injected small-block Ford power and 17- and 20-inch Billet Specialties wheels. Jaguar headlights and a custom grille and bumper highlighted the host of body mods, which included shaved drip rails, trim-free side glass, and custom frenched taillights. Finished with a custom tan leather cabin, Intruder kicked off the new Millennium in style and even tackled the Hot Rod Power Tour.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Dave & Barbara Hall
1955 Chevy Nomad

The wagon train just kept rollin’ in the early-2000s with Newmad, a reimagined ’55 Nomad penned by designer Chris Ito and crafted by the team at Steve’s Auto Restorations. Built on a custom frame with C5 Corvette front and rear suspensions and a fuel-injected Arias big block Chevy, Newmad’s myriad body mods included a chopped top (both through and above the windows), ’64 Mercury windshield, relocated wheel openings, extended fenders, fabricated bumpers, flush-fit custom taillights, handcrafted trim, and much more. It was a new-century ’55 Nomad, right down to the leather-covered Lexus seats and hand-built double-hump dash inside.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Jim Fynes
1951 Ford Wagon

How about another wagon? Jim Fynes’ Ford was a phantom, though, as Ford only built woodie wagons in 1951. Eric Peratt and the Pinkee’s Rod Shop team actually started with a ’49 Ford sedan (the front clip is from a ’51) and hand-built the rear roof and tail section to create this one-off woodless wagon. An Art Morrison frame provided a new foundation, with a monster 510c.i. Ford big block (based on a Boss 429) serving to get the 18- and 20-inch Coddington wheels turning. The inside got a ’56 Ford dash, beautiful brown leather upholstery, and a woodie-inspired headliner built from basswood slats.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
John & Judy Pazik
1950 Oldsmobile

Minnesota has always been fertile ground for customs, so it was not a surprise to see John and Judy Pazik’s fastback Olds come from the land of 10,000 lakes. The car was already sectioned when John bought it, but he had Unique Body and Paint refine it, chop the top, lean the windshield, round the corners, and build a new floor to accommodate the ’84 Olds Cutlass frame. A ’90 Corvette small block and Billet Specialties front and ETIII rear wheels added some hot rod attitude, while tan leather upholstery and Dakota Digital instrumentation provided updates inside.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Doug Hoppe
1955 Chevy Bel Air

Tri-five Chevys are among the most commonly modified ’50s cars, making them strong custom rod candidates. This is especially true for Tri-fives with body mods, like Doug Hoppe’s drop-top ’55 built by Roger Burman’s Lakeside Rods & Rides. Shaved trim, Jeep Liberty headlights, custom taillights, and a wild custom dash all highlighted this bright orange and black beauty. The slammed stance came courtesy of an Art Morrison chassis with Colorado Custom wheels and 502c.i. RamJet power. With beautiful black leather upholstery by Recovery Room stitched in the cockpit, this ’55 covered all the bases.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Tom Wahl
1951 Ford Woodie

Longtime rodder Tom Wahl from Minnesota rolled out this slick ’51 Ford woodie in 2005 and wowed just about everyone. Built by Dennis Wothe, the wagon had a 2-inch top chop, a Ford Expolorer windshield, one-piece quarter glass, and subtle Cypress Green paint complemented by natural-colored maple and birch wood. A Scott’s Hot Rods IFS and air springs helped lower the woodie over 18- and 20-inch Intro wheels, while an LS1 provided power. Finished with stellar leather stitch work by Jim McFall over Tea’s seats inside, this first-rate woodie would still fit right into the rodding scene today.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Richard Ruiter
1955 Chevy Convertible

Richard Ruiter’s platinum ’55 Chevy convertible was one of those cars that revealed more the more you studied it. The smoothed body had subtle tricks like a flipped front bumper, flush-fitting headlights and taillights, and a custom grille, yet retained hallmarks like the Bel Air side trim. The tube chassis used C5 Corvette suspension components and a ’90 LT5 ZR1 32-valve Corvette engine, with a T56 six-speed helping to get 19- and 20-inch Budnik wheels rolling. An ivory-colored leather interior with four bucket seats and a full-length console meant this drop-top was as comfortable inside as it was clean outside.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Kustom of the Year
Bob Benn
1936 Ford

Goodguys renamed the Custom d’Elegance award to Kustom of the Year in 2006 and made it a national award with regional finalists and a winner selected at season’s end. The winner was Bob Benn’s Tennessee-based ’36 Ford built by Oregon’s Donn Lowe. It showcased classic custom style with a 3-inch top chop, Cadillac LaSalle grille, ’40 Chevy headlights, ’37 DeSoto bumpers, and beautiful candy cranberry paint. A partially channeled body helped achieve the taildragger stance, while a well-dressed Flathead got the Hollywood hubcaps and wide whites turning. With maroon vinyl and white rolls and pleats inside, this was a classy period-style cruiser.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Wes & Vivian Rydell
1954 Chevy Bel Air

After teaming up with Chip Foose to build Grand Master and win the Ridler Award and Goodguys Street Rod of the Year, Wes Rydell went back to Chip for design guidance and build help on this ’54 Bel Air. Countless subtle mods included a de-crowned roof, wedge-cut hood and trunk, ’55 Chevy headlight eyebrows, a modified ’56 Chevy front bumper, custom rear bumper, frenched taillights, and much more under the Charley Hutton-applied copper finish. The 19- and 20-inch wheels were modeled after original ’54 hubcaps and connected to an Art Morrison chassis with power coming from a 427c.i. LS1. Like all Rydell rides, this one has seen thousands of road miles since completion.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Kustom of the Year
Kirk Hammett
1936 Ford

One benefit of being a wildly successful rock guitarist, as Kirk Hammett is with the band Metallica, is being able to fulfill a young dream of having a smooth vintage custom. Billy Gibbons introduced Hammett to customizer Cole Foster, who converted a five-window ’36 Ford coupe into this chopped three-window for Hammett. Custom louvered hood sides, ’36 Chevy headlights, flush fender skirts, and a host of other flowing metal mods were buried under deep black paint by Jesse Cruz. A modified TCI chassis with small-block Ford power was supported by Coker wide whites surrounding custom 16-inch wheel discs, while ’56 Olds gauges and brown leather upholstery by Jimmy Z. rocked the inside of this cool coupe.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Gordon Peters
1956 Chevy Handyman

Gordon Peters’ ’56 Chevy started life as a low-level 150 Handyman wagon but looked a lot more like a Nomad when the team at Rods & Restos got done with it. Besides the sliced and de-crowned top and angled B-pillar, the car’s body was wedge sectioned, the fender tops re-arched, and the quarter panels extended. Custom bumpers and grille complemented the DuPont copper and cinnamon paint. Under the much-modified body was a custom chassis with C5 Corvette suspensions, RideTech Shockwaves, and 18- and 20-inch Budnik wheels taking direction from an LS1 engine. Finished with a Paul Atkins interior, this wagon was not just handy, it was stunning!

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Kustom of the Year
Kevin Gallagher
1951 Ford Victoria

While radically redesigned custom cars often capture the most attention, milder rides like Kevin Gallagher’s ’51 Ford Victoria have always made up the largest percentage of the custom scene. The fine Ford was treated to many classic touches like frenched headlights and taillights, a ’54 Pontiac grille bar in a molded opening, shaved trim, and deep black cherry paint with a metallic red top. A Fatman IFS and RideTech rear four link dropped the suspension low over the whitewall-wrapped Cadillac hubcaps, with power coming from a small-block Chevy. A ’46 Ford dash and maroon rolls and pleats inside brought the theme together on this mild sensation.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12West Coast Custom of the Year
J.F. Launier
1955 Chrysler Wagon

J.F. Launier’s phantom ’55 Chrysler two-door wagon captured the attention of the rodding industry back in 2008. Launier and his team started with a coupe and grafted on the rear top section and other pieces from a wagon, chopping the top and shortening the quarters in the process. Other one-off features included custom bumpers, a 300-style grille whittled by Curtis Speed, and a complete aluminum belly pan to finish off the underside. Under the DuPont Revolution Yellow skin was a custom chassis built using Art Morrison rails, a Gen III Hemi engine, and custom-designed 22- and 24-inch Foose wheels. Inside, wood was used on the headliner, cargo floor, and other key areas to lend a vintage vibe to this modern machine.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Brian Vanzant
1950 Chevy Wagon

Brian Vanzant’s ’50 Chevy tin woodie hit all the right notes for a custom rod wagon in 2009. Build by Brad Starks Rod & Custom, the car was converted into a two door by adding 7-inches to the front door length, eliminating the rear doors, and then angling the B-pillars and chopping the top. Lots of additional smoothing and refining took place before the Cappuccino Craze paint and beautiful woodgrain accents were applied. The updated chassis included a polished stainless IFS, RideTech Shockwaves, and 19- and 22-inch Budnik wheels propelled by detailed and polished 502c.i. Chevy big block. Classic Instruments dials and leather upholstery by Recovery Room were highlights of the equally impressive cabin.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Kustom of the Year
Jon & Kali Budda
1957 Chevy Bel Air

Jon and Kali Budda’s brilliant green ’57 Chevy was originally customized in the early-’60s with period touches like canted quad headlights, a ’57 DeSoto grille bar, and ’59 Chevy taillights turned on end and integrated into the fins. The car resurfaced decades later and was eventually restored to its kustom roots by Claude and Russ Freund (Russ would go on to establish River City Speed & Kustom). The Chevy was traditional to the core, from the Jeff Allison-designed scallops, to the dual-quad ’59 Corvette 283c.i. small block, to period upholstery by George Frank covering Impala bucket seats and a wrap-around ’62 T-bird rear seat.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12West Coast Custom of the Year
Ted Stevens
1940 Mercury

Ted Stevens had always dreamed of having a traditional custom ’40 Mercury and was fortunate to buy this one at auction around 2007. Originally built in the late-’80s by John D’Agostino and Bill Reasoner as a tribute to the Nick Matranga ’40 Merc, the car had the classic custom look with a heavy hardtop-style chop, molded fenders, teardrop skirs, and beautiful brandywine paint. After buying the car at auction, Stevens had Roy Brizio Street Rods freshen it up with a rebuilt Flathead and updated suspension and mechanical mods, with new paint by Darryl Hollenbeck’s Vintage Color Studio and maroon and white leather upholstery by Sid Chavers.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Kenneth Davis
1955 Chevy Nomad

It was a decade of wagons as Kenneth Davis’s ’55 Nomad becoming the seventh longroof to win Custom Rod of the Year since the turn of the century. Built by Kenneth’s son, well-known car builder Kenny Davis, the smooth Kosmos Red Nomad had shaved emblems, tuced bumpers, and a billet grille highlighting the cosmetic updates, with 18- and 20-inch Billet Specialties wheels adding to the attitude. A pewter-colored engine compartment complemented the bright exterior and set off the healthy 454c.i. Chevy big block, while saddle brown leather upholstery kept the interior on point.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Kustom of the Year
Pascal “Bugs” Jarrion
1935 Ford

Renowned Hollywood tattoo artist “Bugs” Jarrion had Troy Ladd and his team at Hollywood Hot Rods craft this incredibly sleek ’35 Ford custom. The car started life as a humpback sedan but was transformed into a chopped three-window coupe reminiscent of the classic Westergard custom style. Stretched and skirted rear fenders, molded Chevy headlights, and a distinctive grille from a White truck all contributed to the appeal of this ruby brown metallic beauty. It rode on a custom frame with RideTech air suspension and a 350/350 drivetrain combo. The Art Deco theme was carried through the interior with an Imperial gauge cluster, ’46 Pontiac steering wheel, custom knobs, and beautiful upholstery stitched by Dave Martinez.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12West Coast Custom of the Year
James Hetfield
1936 Auburn

Metallica frontman James Hetfield teamed up with Rick Dore to create Slow Burn, an incredible concours-style custom built from a Glenn Pray ’36 Auburn boat tail speedster. Modifications included a sectioned body, lengthened fenders, flush fender skirts, and custom side trim, all complemented by beautiful House of Color root beer paint by Darryl Hollenbeck’s Vintage Color Studio. Keith Dean built the chopped Carson-style top that covered a cockpit with custom leather upholstery by Bob Divine and Classic Instruments. With a ZZ4 small-block crate engine under the hood, this sleek speedster had no problems getting the one-off Colorado Custom wheels turning.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Bruce & Judy Ricks
1956 Ford Sunliner

Bruce and Judy Ricks’ ’56 Ford Sunliner was dubbed the Sun Cammer thanks to the monster 600hp 427ci S.O.H.C. Ford Cammer engine under the hood. It was supported by an Art Morrison chassis and backed by a Tremec five-speed in this Ridler Award-winning beauty built by Steve Cook Creations. The much-modified body was wedge sectioned and channeled, the hood was pancaked, the front fenders re-contoured and re-peaked, all four wheel openings were reshaped, and custom bumpers built front and rear. Inside, a handmade dash was complemented by Thunderbird seats artfully trimmed by Gabe Lopez. “It’s a game changer,” we said at the time, “a trendsetting custom rod which blends state of the art technology with old world class and refinement.”

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Kustom of the Year
Ken & Jan Wall
1936 Ford Roadster

A decade in the making, Ken and Jan Wall’s Iceberg Blue ’36 Ford roadster began life as a five-window coupe and was transformed into a custom roadster with the help of a custom two-piece windshield, a Carson-style top, and suicide-style roadster doors. Numerous body modifications included molded ’37 Ford headlights, a redesigned grille, tapered running boards, flush skirts, smoothed hood sides, and ribbed Desoto bumpers. The interior sported a ’40 Ford dash with Stewart Warner gauges, a banjo wheel and pleated white upholstery by Jasper Upholstery. Under the skin, a small-block Ford was nestled in a modified Art Morrison chassis rolling on Coker wide whites dressed with ’53 Caddy hubcaps.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12West Coast Custom of the Year
Joe Proski
1950 Mercury

Joe Proski’s merlot Merc was originally built as a more contemporary custom with purple paint and billet wheels but was redone by Doug Jerger and the team at Squeeg’s Customs into a classy, classic-style cruiser with beautiful wine-colored PPG paint over the smooth body, which wore a chopped top, frenched headlights and taillights, rounded corners, a modified stock grille, custom side trim, and chrome bumpers. The Olds chassis and drivetrain from the Merc’s earlier iteration remained but got wide whites and Cadillac caps rolling instead of billet wheels. With an interior finished in eggnog-colored leather, “Mer Low” was one tasty custom!


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Dwayne Peace
1955 Ford Thunderbird

Texan Dwayne Peace first took his ’55 Thunderbird to the Detroit Autorama and captured the Ridler Award in 2012, then he followed up with the Goodguys Vintage Air Custom Rod of the Year crown. Designed by Dwayne’s sons, Jonathan and Matthew, who started the build, Greening Auto Company finished the brilliant red beauty that was powered by a twin-turbo LS engine from Gale Banks pumping out 1150hp! Custom bumpers and a one-off grille and side trim were just a few tricks on this two-seat ’Bird, which rolled on one-off Greening wheels and sported a European-influenced cockpit with tan leather Paul Atkins upholstery and a trick waterfall steering wheel.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Kustom of the Year/West Coast Custom of the Year
James Hetfield
1937 Lincoln Zephyr

Rocker James Hetfield of Metallica has collaborated with Rick Dore on a number of custom builds and he doubled up in 2012 – winning both Kustom of the Year and West Coast Custom of the Year with the VooDoo Priest ’37 Zephyr. The Zephyr featured a chopped top, sectioned and lowered trunk area, one-off skirts, molded fenders, leaned back headlights, custom side trim, and lengthened rear fenders from a ’38 Zephyr. Darryl Hollenbeck of Vintage Color Studio did the beautiful bodywork and paint. Power came from an H&H-built Lincoln V12 flathead, while the modified chassis used air springs to deliver a low stance. Interior highlights included mohair upholstery and a smaller-diameter ’41 Lincoln steering wheel.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Mark & Ellen Willman
1956 Buick Special

Troy Trepanier and his Rad Rides team returned to the custom rod fold with Mark and Ellen Willman’s incredible ’56 Buick Special. A Great 8 finalist in Detroit, the Buick rode on an Art Morrison chassis with RideTech coil-overs and packed the power of an 800hp twin-turbo Buick Nailhead backed by a Bowler 4L80E transmission. The gunmetal gray body wore subtle mods like tucked bumpers, shaved turn signals, and a modified grille, along with brushed stainless and black nickel finishes by Advanced Plating. One-off 20-inch Billet Specialties wheels contributed to the distinctive look, while distressed leather upholstery was complemented by Classic Instruments dials inside.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom of the Year
Nick Rogers
1951 Mercury

Built by Bill Ganahl and his team at South City Rod & Custom, Nick Rogers’ ’51 Mercury was a picture-perfect traditional Merc. It had all the classic hallmarks – 4-inch top chop, angled B-pillars, ’50 Merc rear window, ’53 DeSoto grille teeth in a molded surround, frenched headlights, flush-fit skirts, ’55 Ford side trim with Packard front spears, and gorgeous mile-deep candy blue House of Kolor paint by Joe Compani. The bias ply wide whites and Cadillac-capped wheels were connected to a full Art Morrison chassis that gave this classic Merc modern manners, with power coming from a small-block Chevy with custom-crafted Cadillac valve covers. With period-perfect blue and white tuck ’n roll upholstery adorning the inside, this classy Merc has timeless appeal.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Bill Raper
1954 Pontiac Star Chief

Bill Raper’s ’54 Pontiac Star Chief is indicative of what we see in a lot of ’50s cruisers these days. It’s essentially stock-bodied aside from its meticulous fit and finish and gorgeous PPG pearl yellow paint by Showtime Customs, but is mechanically modified for trouble-free highway cruising. The frame was updated with a TCI front suspension, four-link rear, RideTech shocks and Wilwood brakes behind the Budnik wheels. A 496c.i. big block provided plenty of power, with a 4L80E transmission aiding in low freeway rpms. With leather and suede upholstery stitched by the masterful Ron Mangus, this is a true highway cruiser that has made multiple Hall of Fame Road Tour trips.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom of the Year
James Hetfield
Black Pearl

Chalk up another win for James Hetfield and Rick Dore, who teamed up on the coach-built custom known as Black Pearl. Inspired by European classics, the sleek, flowing aluminum body was hand crafted by Southern California metal masters Marcel and Luc DeLay, before being finished in a deep, black PPG hue by Darryl Hollenbeck at Vintage Color Studio. Brass trim augmented the finish and added an extra touch of luxury and distinction. The car rode on a ’48 Jaguar chassis with air springs on a Mustang II-style IFS and a 302c.i. Ford small-block for power. White leather upholstery by Ron Mangus was accented with more brass trim for an equally elegant feel inside.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Gil & Janet Losi
1956 Plymouth

Gil Losi had wanted to build a ’56 Plymouth convertible for years, but it took a long time to locate a suitable candidate for Steve Cook Creations to build. This one was made all the more sleek with a wedge-sectioned body, custom hood, ’55 Plymouth grille, Chrysler 300 headlights, and custom side trim over beautiful burgundy paint. The car was all new under the skin, with a custom Art Morrison chassis providing the foundation for a modern 6.1-liter SRT Hemi engine and five-speed automatic transmission. The car rolls on custom 18×8- and 20×10-inch Curtis Speed wheels and had an incredible interior with T-bird bucket seats stitched by Gabe Lopez in two-tone brown leather, a custom console, and custom instruments by Dakota Digital.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom of the Year
Dave Hoekstra
1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II

Built by Scott Laitinen of Arizona’s SIC Chops, David Hoekstra’s ’56 Lincoln Continental Mark II blended classic ’50s elegance with modern quality, performance, and precision. A custom Roadster Shop chassis provided updated road manners, with power coming from a 520c.i. Ford V8. The body received plenty of attention, with a 2.5-inch top chop, filled rain gutters, custom rocker panels, and many more tucks and tweaks under the glass-like black finish. The Continental’s luxury heritage was maintained inside with power Lexus seats wrapped in black and white leather, one-off Dakota Digital instruments, and a Kicker audio system keeping the music playing.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Paul & Betty Gilliam
1953 Studebaker

Builder Alan Johnson used three cars to bring Paul and Betty Gilliam’s sleek Studebaker to life, refining the already-streamlined body with a wedge-chopped roof, widened rear quarters, relocated wheel openings, handmade bumpers and trim, and much more before coating the sheet metal in mile-deep black paint. The custom-built frame employed an Art Morrison IFS, Currie 9-inch rearend, and adjustable RideTech shocks to firmly plant the one-off 18- and 19-inch EVOD wheels. A 502c.i. big block Chevy built by Keith Dorton was stuffed under the car’s hood, while Paul Atkins handled the custom leather upholstery and Johnson whittled a steering wheel and one-off moldings for the modified dash that housed Classic Instruments gauges.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom of the Year
Scott Roberts
1954 Mercury

Scott Roberts’ ’54 Mercury simple oozed classic custom style, thanks on large part to the talents of Brandon Penserini of Altissimo Restoration. Penserini treated the Merc to a tasteful 3-inch top chop, shaved emblems, frenched headlights, recessed taillights, and other classy refinements before laying down a beautiful Spies Hecker Chile Verde finish. The Merc rode on a chassis modified by Noble Fabrication with a three-link rear suspension, dropped front uprights, air springs, and a freshened 292c.i. Y-block backed by a later-model overdrive automatic. With a color-matched, period-appropriate interior by Chris Plante, this Mercury was one tasty traditional custom.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Bruce Leven
1951 Ford

Bruce Leven’s ’51 Ford was another one of those game-changing vehicles, blending traditional custom elements with classic European touring car flair and modern craftsmanship. Built by Wicked Fabrication, the low-slung Ford was wedge-sectioned, had a pancaked roof, rolled pans front and rear, and recontoured wheel openings framing the Novi-style wheels. A modified Art Morrison frame supported a coil-over front suspension and hand-fabbed IRS, while the race-themed interior incorporated a wide array of rivet-attached custom panels and hand-crafted details. The spectacular engine bay house a 372c.i. Lincoln Y-block V8 with modified Hilborn-style EFI and amazing vintage-style components, bringing the whole theme together and leaving most observers speechless.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom of the Year
Ron Maier
1957 Chevy Nomad

Maier’s golden Nomad showcased a wealth of modifications and expert craftsmanship by the team at A&M Deluxe Customs. The long list of refinements included a tasteful 2-inch top chop, raised wheel openings, a custom hood with a hand-crafted center scoop, modified front bumper, and narrowed rear bumper, all of which glowed under the beautiful House of Kolor gold paint sprayed by Ben Conley. The Nomad rode on an Art Morrison chassis with a Dutchman independent rear suspension, RideTech Shockwaves, and 18- and 20-inch Coddington wheels, with an incredibly detailed 427c.i. LS mill in the pristine engine bay. Finished off with a quartet of bucket seats stitched in two-tone leather by Gabe Lopez and his team, this wagon lived up to its Shomad moniker.


custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom Rod of the Year
Johnny Martin
1957 Chevy

A collaboration between Greg Hrehovcsik and Johnny’s Auto Trim and Rod Shop, this highly stylized ’57 Chevy had a long build history before being completed in early 2018 and winning the Ridler Award prior to Vintage Air Custom Rod of the Year honors. No panel was left untouched or unaltered, with a chopped top, one-off windshield, custom hood, and wedge-sectioned main body under stunning silver paint. Underneath all that massaged metal was a tubular chassis with a custom IRS and IFS and one-off 19- and 20-inch EVOD wheels borrowing design elements from ’57 Bel Air hubcaps. A twin-turbo 515c.i. big block Chevy powered the custom Chevy while the incredible terracotta-colored leather interior was handled in-house at Johnny’s Auto Trim.

custom car, kustom, custom rod, goodguys top 12Custom of the Year
Bruce & Cheryl Conwell
1949 Cadillac

Bruce and Cheryl Conwell’s Kansas-based Cadillac custom was built by Chris Carlson Hot Rods and restyled with a radical amount of metalwork, including a chopped top, angled B-pillars, pancakes hood, ’56 Olds headlight rings, modified ’55 Cadillac front bumper pieces, extended rocker panels, flush-fit taillights, a lowered rear bumper, and much more, all topped with a custom-mixed candy red finish. This Caddy could handle thanks to a Roadster Shop chassis rolling on 18-inch Circle Racing wheels and supporting an LSA engine fed by an Edelbrock EFI intake with Holley controls. Finished off with a custom dash filled with Dakota Digital instruments, Mustang seats stitched in leather, and a CON2R steering wheel with a Cadillac horn button, this Kansas Caddy was one spectacular cruiser.

A Little d’Elegance

In addition to the Custom Rod, Kustom, and Custom of the Year winners highlighted in this retrospective, Goodguys also bestowed a Custom d’Elegance award for a number of years, too. This award was aimed at more traditional-style customs and had a distinctly West Coast focus. The award was traditionally bestowed at the All American Get-Together, where the current Street Rod Headquarters Custom of the Year honor is currently determined.

NorCal custom luminaries like John D’Agostino and Richard Zocchi regularly vied for the Custom d’Elegance title, as both of them routinely debuted new cars each year in the ’90s and early-2000s. We recall Marcos Garcia’s custom Riviera winning in the late-’90s, as well. A who’s who of the bustling NorCal custom car scene regularly participated.

While it’s easy to get confused looking back on so many different award names, Goodguys is happy to have helped keep the custom tradition alive through the past three decades.

Editor, Goodguys Gazette

Damon Lee began snapping photos at car shows when he was 10, tagging along with his father to events throughout the Midwest. He has combined his passion for cars and knack for writing and imagery into a 20-year career in the automotive aftermarket, writing for titles like Super Chevy and Rod & Custom and, more recently, working for respected industry leaders Speedway Motors and Goodguys Rod & Custom Association.