Though it’s technically a trade event, the annual SEMA Show always brings out an incredible selection of modified cars and trucks to serve as attractions in manufacturers’ booths. It’s like a car show within a trade show. It’s a coming-out party for many new builds from some of the top shops in the nation, with highly anticipated and well-publicized unveilings adding an extra level of excitement to an already electrified event.

Among the thousands of specialty vehicles in attendance are hundreds of hot rods, customs, vintage trucks and muscle cars that fall squarely in the scope of the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association. And for the fifth year running, the Goodguys team has looked at all of those relevant rides and whittled them down to a top five to bestow as Goodguys Gold Award winners. It’s never an easy process. The intent is to showcase the latest trends in hot rodding, in addition to the superior craftsmanship and execution we expect from today’s cutting-edge builders. With those criteria in mind, we choose an elite field, and then debate and deliberate until we reach the final five. All five Goodguys Gold winners receive a special billet anodized gold bar trophy and will also be highlighted in the Goodguys Gazette magazine.

As we work our way through the 2017 SEMA Show, we can honestly say that selecting just five recipients for the Goodguys Gold Award has never been more challenging. Our industry’s builders just keep raising the bar, and there were many candidates that fit the Gold criteria. Only five can earn the title, though, and we present those to you here.

Mark and Dennis Mariani – Model A Sedan – Rad Rides by Troy

Troy Trepanier and his Rad Rides team rarely venture into prewar hot rod territory, but when they do, they chart radical new courses in both design and engineering. The Mariani Model A is no exception, with a hand-fabricated body that reimagines the popular Model A Tudor. Shorter, lower and more stylized, the sedan has a unique design with a split windshield and a distinctive wrap-under grille that borrows elements from several ’29-’35-era Fords. This one-of-a-kind body is covered in a rich bronze paint that blends gloss and satin elements, along with hand-painted pinstriping, for a true coachbuilt feel.

The one-off sedan body rides on a hand-crafted chassis with fully adjustable front and rear torsion bar suspensions located with custom-whittled wishbones. Power comes from an aluminum-block small-block Chevy with a tri-power-style EFI setup backed up by a Legends five-speed transmission from Bowler. It all rides on custom-machined 19- and 20-inch wheels with Coker tires. Finished off with a hand-built seat, custom upholstery and an incredible bowed headliner, the Mariani Model A gets an A-plus for ground-breaking vision.

 

Debbie Walls – ’40 Ford Convertible – Goolsby Customs

More than two decades in the making, Debbie Walls’ Goolsby-built ’40 Ford convertible, dubbed “Lucille,” blends classic custom and street rod elements in a rich and stunning package. Like many of the best customs, the modifications are so well designed and executed that the untrained eye might miss them. Like the ’48 Ford convertible top which, unlike a ’40, has rear quarter windows (it has also been chopped a subtle 2-inches). The car also has ’39 Deluxe fenders and grille, ’46 Chevy bumpers, and Studebaker taillights. It’s painted in a gorgeous merlot-colored BASF hue that, when combined with Advanced Plating brightwork, provides the perfect blend of grace and class.

Underneath the vintage-style body is a modern Roadster Shop chassis supporting a turquoise-painted small-block Chevy V8 with Borla injection and Speedway Motors Tru-Ram exhaust manifolds. The interior matches the class of the outside, with upholstery that combines mid-’50s Cadillac cloth with caramel-colored leather, a custom dash with a gorgeous one-off center waterfall feature, plus a custom steering wheel with an incredible cast horn button with an “L” for Lucille. This impressive custom was unveiled in the Lokar booth on Tuesday, and understandably brought Debbie to tears when she first laid eyes on it.

 

Vic Buraglio – ’69 Dodge Charger – BBT Fabrications

Second-generation Chargers seemed to be the cars of choice for many builders this year, with a surprising number of ’68-’70 models on the show floor. One of the most impressive was the great white wonder built by Troy Gudgel’s BBT Fabrications for Vic Buraglio. Though it retains the Charger’s popular profile, this B-body has had many subtle tweaks, including an extended wheelbase, re-skinned doors that removed the faux scoops, plus a custom aluminum hood and bumpers. There’s also a distinctive chin spoiler and rear deck spoiler. The understated white paint was done by Dutch Boys Hot Rods.

The Charger rides on a Roadster Shop chassis, with a Hilborn-injected 426c.i. Hemi and Bowler-prepped Tremec T56 delivering the ponies. The big-inch, one-off wheels were machined by Greening Auto Company, and come to a halt courtesy of Wilwood disc brakes. One of the coolest features of this Charger is the factory-inspired green interior by Catos Custom Upholstery, which blends many original elements with well-integrated updates like Dakota Digital instruments. Long, low and mean, this is one Dodge we’d love to put in our garage.

 

Tad Leach – ’58 Lincoln Continental Mark III Convertible – Kindig-It Design

There aren’t many builders who would tackle a ’58 Lincoln convertible project, but Dave Kindig has never been a typical builder. He applied his signature combination of flash, flair and refinement to Tad Leach’s Lincoln, smoothing the body, modifying the quarter panels to better mirror the front fenders, tucking the bumpers, and adding his trademark flush-fit door handles. There’s also a custom full-width taillight behind the rear grille, exhaust cutouts in rear bumper, and a custom hood with clear center scoop, all bathed in brilliant Teal Later AkzoNobel paint.

What’s under the skin of this Lincoln is equally radical. The Kindig team incorporated Art Morrison chassis components to the car’s unibody structure, and then powered this cruiser with a Ryan Falconer aluminum V12 engine topped with twin superchargers. The elegant-looking Kindig-designed wheels were custom carved by Evod and wrapped in wide whitewalls for a classic touch. Open the door to the cavernous cockpit and you’ll fine yards of supple, light-cream-colored leather stitched by JS Custom Upholstery in a vintage style with square-pleated inserts. Lincoln Continentals are the vehicles of dignitaries and royalty, and this custom version is certainly worthy of transporting upscale passengers in class and style.

 

Prestone – ’72 AMC Javelin AMX – Ringbrothers

Ringbrothers have been setting trends and dropping jaws with pro-touring builds for years, but their long-anticipated ’72 Javelin AMX build, dubbed Defiant!, takes their signature style and craftsmanship one step beyond. Built for Prestone, the Javelin is crafted for serious performance, with a Detroit Speed front subframe (designed for a Camaro) and a custom Ringbrothers rear four link planting massive Michelin-wrapped 20×11- and 20×13-inch HRE wheels on the ground. The power for a ride like this needed to be serious, so the Wenger Motorsports 6.2-liter Hellcat Hemi crate engine has a Whipple supercharger and Holley fuel management to push more than 1,000 ponies through the Bowler 4L80E transmission.

Coated in BASF Glasurit Jalop Gold paint, the body is equally radical, with a stretched wheelbase, carbon fiber front clip, a muscular custom hood and an aggressive one-off front spoiler. Extended rocker panels, exhaust cut-outs and custom taillights are just a few of the countless other refinements. Inside, Upholstery Unlimited stitched new performance seats, while Classic Instruments, Vintage Air and a Kicker sound system ensure all the amenities in this beast. AMCs like this were originally manufactured in Kenosha, just down the road from the Ringbrothers Wisconsin-based shop, but there’s no doubt that this Javelin is more Defiant than any that ever rolled off the assembly line.