The Top Five Local Builds of 2017

At its core, the basic idea for this came from Stickydiljoe (Joey Lee) himself, who used to do similar lists on The Chronicles up until a few years ago. Seeing his countdown of the year’s top Honda builds was always something I looked forward to, as I always enjoyed reading his thoughts and comments on the builds to see how and why they were ranked as they were. A few months ago I started to consider doing something similar here on officialTHREETWENTY, and as we approached the end of the year I got to work, looking back over the last 12 months to figure out how I was going to narrow down an entire community to just five vehicles.

Obviously, the first step was to establish guidelines, or criteria of some sort. The point of this – obviously – was to not just arbitrarily pick cars, but compare them all and be able to measure them against one another, for lack of a better word.

To begin, I will clarify that I don’t aim to exclude any types or genres of vehicles, but at the end of the day my familiarity and knowledge of a car (and its platform) played a big part. This is to say that there could very well be cars that are more deserving of spots here, but if I don’t know their stories or details as well, then I wouldn’t have been able to ‘judge’ them as accurately as others. Everyone should know of my love for all things automotive but this list is also very much geared towards what I’ll call the “tuner” part of the automotive world as that is what I am most heavily involved in.

With that in mind, how then would I actually go about evaluating and ranking vehicles? As a start, to be considered a build had to be one that was either “finished” (in quotes because no car truly is) in 2017, or substantially changed from a previous iteration so that it was a new and distinctive version of an existing car; could you look at a photo of the vehicle in question and instantly recognize it as being taken in 2017? If the answer was yes, then it was in the running.

One thing that Joey Lee always took into consideration was exposure, and he placed a high value on how much cars toured or were shown off during a calendar year; I didn’t however. As compared to other locations we don’t get as many opportunities to show cars since we don’t have the wealth of events like California and elsewhere around the US for example. Don’t get me wrong, we do have a lot of meets and shows in our community but it’s a completely different scale to that of some other areas around the world. I still considered it important that a car be shown, but basically as long as it made it out to something in 2017, that box was ticked. This also meant that a car didn’t necessarily have to be debuted at the start of the season to be considered – it could show up later on and still be in the running.

I largely looked at the amount of work carried out as well as the quality of work and parts, but didn’t ignore the fact that some cars also had an intangible aspect to them that made them stand out. Sometimes it’s not just about the parts or work that make up a build, but something more important – what they represent or mean as a whole.

Now as a final note, while I do feel that I have a fairly good understanding of it, I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to building cars so likewise you shouldn’t be taking this as some sort of serious, above-all-else ranking system. This is my take on our scene and our builds, and nothing more than that. If making the list means something to the owners then I’ll be very pleased to hear it, but likewise I won’t mind if frankly, someone just doesn’t care. Haha

I will admit that this actually proved to be a lot of fun for me as a bit of a ‘thought experiment’, when I had to ask myself how I would go about ranking and objectifying what is a largely subjective matter. As I sat down and started to really look closer at and evaluate local builds, what list would result from that? I was curious to find out for myself, and hopefully you all enjoy reading on and seeing what the final five ended up being.

Given that this idea came about more towards the end of the year I may have shown my hand a bit ahead of time in terms of favouring cars and giving them repeated spotlights/mentions on the site, so I’m sure some of you will be expecting some of these cars already. Nevertheless, it’s going ahead and if this proves to be a fun and well-received addition to the site, it shall return in future years with some refining of the system. With the idea for such a list in place from the start of the year I will also be able to spend more time over the coming season, actively watching for candidates instead of looking back once it has ended, and making all of my evaluations then.

That all said, let’s start with the first (annual?) officialTHREETWENTY Top Five Local Builds list.

 #5. Benny’s Nismo 400R

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At the risk of being a bit contradictory almost immediately, this year’s list starts off with Benny’s Nismo 400R.

What I mean by that specifically is that I discussed how I’d be evaluating builds – and even called the list the Top Five Local Builds – but to be fair, this isn’t a build per say. It ticked the box of being new to us this year as it was imported last winter and debuted at Driven back in May, plus it was out and shown a lot this year, but with the smaller amount of work carried out I wouldn’t quite class it as a build, or at least not to the same extent as the other cars on this list.

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That’s not to say it’s stock, because it isn’t – Benny has been sympathetically modifying it, updating it slightly while being sure to preserve what it is to begin with, but the fact remains it hasn’t seen the same amount of work as the other cars here. However, the more I considered the candidates for the list, the more I realized I just couldn’t ignore this car for a spot.

The 400R ultimately lands on the list largely because of how it is being used, along with what it is. Being such a rare and special piece of Nissan’s history you might expect it to be sealed away in a private collection never to have a wheel or bolt be turned again, but you’d be wrong – very wrong. It is being cared for properly which is important, but it’s also being used quite frequently for what it is. Since landing in Canada several thousand kilometers have been added to the odometer in fact, and it only had 23,000 on it to begin with!

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Its frequent appearances at local events have allowed the Calgary community to witness this piece of Nissan gold up close and personal, and it’s almost easy to forget just how incredibly rare a 400R is with how often we got to see it this year. Keep in mind that there are only 44 of these in the entire world, and we got to see #29 show up to various events this season where we could get right up to it and look over it in detail.

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Its history and significance are being respected – which is vital – but without it winding up as a permanently static collection piece, and Benny is modernizing it a little bit with only the best parts but without undoing what makes it special in the first place; and that’s why it lands at number five this year. This is a truly great car to have within the Calgary community and we’re all very lucky that it’s as directly ‘involved’ in the community as it is.

#4. 2j_zilla’s Rocket Bunny S15

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Coming in at number four this year is the mustard-coloured Rocket Bunny S15, which was seen out at a number of events including Driven and Sunday School (and even picked up an award from each!). I’ll say it right now, the reason it’s not higher on this list is because frankly, I don’t know it as well as the other cars ahead of it. I don’t know the story behind it like I do some of the others, nor do I know the full extent of the modifications, but it was a real standout due to the obviously extensive work carried out and how well it all comes together as a cohesive package.

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Also, importantly, while it’s a Rocket Bunny car it’s not just a Rocket Bunny car. What I mean by that is the kit is not the defining feature of this S15; if it were switched out or omitted this would still be an impressive build due to the rest of the work that has gone into it. The kit is merely another component of the build instead of being the main component.

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The mechanical side of this car is actually the most impressive part as under the hood lies a single-turbo 2JZ swap. Not only is the SR no longer, but a Nissan heart in general! It has also been treated to a full respray inside and out, going with the two-tone scheme to have the engine bay and body contrast.

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A widebody, full repaint, wheels, suspension, seats, engine swap, turbo swap; the list goes on. Again, the reason this car falls to number four is that I simply don’t know it as well as some of the other cars in our community, but even so I knew it deserved a spot on this list. It was a real standout of 2017 and one that definitely caught my eye.  Job well done to the owner!

#3. Birdy’s “Bunnybacker” FR-S

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Number three this year is a car that I’m sure many will be familiar with. Birdy’s FR-S is very recognizable due to not only his large YouTube channel, but also its very distinctive appearance. I’ll say it straight up, it’s a bold car. Perhaps too bold for some (I’ll admit the vertical doors are a bit much for me, but it’s not my car!), but there’s no denying that in the sea of FR-S/BRZ builds, this manages to stand out like few others do.

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I’ll also say that this is a car I didn’t even get to see in person much this year, though it was definitely out and about at a lot of events! The last time I had the chance to see it in person in fact, was when it was still black! Thanks to YouTube and Instagram however I was able to follow its progression and so was able to evaluate it for this list. The fact that my own photos are out of date is just something that we’ll have to work around (Mental note for 2018 – get new shots of this car! Haha).

Like the S15 above, this is a car for which the widebody is not the main component. It doesn’t have as much work carried out mechanically as the S15 (given it doesn’t have an engine swap) but there is plenty more to the build than just the exterior.

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We do need to talk about the exterior though, as what I like about Birdy’s FR-S is that he mixed things up in the aero department. The car started off 2017 already being Rallybacker-kitted – which is already a much less-seen kit than many others – but additional aero was added to the mix (including a Rocket Bunny V2 front bumper) to really set it apart. New wheels, a new supercharger, new gauges and seat upholstery, and then the super-bright green vinyl wrap, not to mention other modifications; this is a car that kept evolving throughout 2017 and really stands out as mentioned in the very well-populated FR-S/BRZ community. Whether you like it or don’t, Birdy had a clear vision and followed through with it, plus stuck with a solid theme. Worth noting is that this car also brought home some hardware in 2017, including an award from Wekfest which is a huge accomplishment. Let’s see where it’ll go in 2018…(hopefully to a meet or show where I am so I can grab some new photos!)

 #2. Alex Markovic’s Integra Type R

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Now we find ourselves approaching the top of the list, with the runner-up this year being Alex Markovic’s restored Integra Type R. Truthfully, it could very well have been number one this year (and would have absolutely deserved it) but in the end I felt that another car had it beaten in one important aspect – I’ll touch more on that after revealing the winner so as to not give it away. Anyway, let’s get to Alex’s ITR.

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It makes this list not just because it’s an incredible build, but because it’s an excellent example of an important shift in our community that has been happening in the last few years. You’ve surely seen the appreciating values of many iconic Japanese sports cars, and so we’re seeing a larger emphasis on preservation and even restoration these days. It’s a natural and expected change of attitudes, and car’s like Alex’s are among the leading edge when it comes to this transition.

Alex not only restored this ITR, but did it his way which is to say, insanely well. There was probably no one better in our community to tackle this project given the combination of his eye for detail, strict adherence to quality parts, and frankly, his networks and ability to track down all of the brand-new OEM pieces that he did. Who knows how long it had been since someone had last ordered a brand new OEM door speaker for an ITR? Scratch that, who else would even think to order one?

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He also importantly kept the car numbers-matching during the rebuild, retaining all of the factory panels and other VIN-stamped components while going completely OCD on the rest of it by replacing pretty much everything else so that it looks as good as (if not better than) it did on day one.

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Lastly, perhaps as icing on the cake, as part of the restoration he even went and had the entire body wrapped in PPF so that he can drive it – and he has been – without having to worry about the pristine paint being damaged by rocks or debris. Similar to what the 400R is for Nissan (though obviously not as rare), this is a special piece of Honda’s history and could also easily be locked away in a private collection – especially now given its state – but Alex drives it, shows it, and allows us to frequently see what is a rather rare sight in the Honda world.

This ITR is perhaps a build of a different form to what most were expecting, given that the parts installed were OEM and not aftermarket, but it lands on the list at number two because of the massive amount of work that went into and because it’s a brilliant example to represent this important transition within our world.

The #1 Build of 2017…

As I had said at the start, with this idea coming to me later in the year I was aware that I may have shown my cards too early by making no secret of which cars I was a fan of and thought were some of the better builds of the year; it’s because of this that #1 is probably not going to be a surprise to a lot of you, but here we go regardless…

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#1. Gugliano’s M&M Civic

My decision to pick this car as the winner had as much to do with what the car represents, as what the car actually is. I even said as much in its feature back in September: “This is one of the most incredible local builds of the year without a doubt, not just for what it is but equally for how it came to be. It represents not giving up and also buckling down and just getting to work.” It’s that very aspect of it which pushed it above Alex’s ITR for the top spot this year.

If you missed that original feature, this was actually a reincarnation of sorts. Gugliano’s last EK was a very impressive build to say the least but sadly was totaled in a bad hail storm (the same summer it was completed) and so it sat for quite a while, looking pretty sorry for itself.

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Like I said Alex’s ITR could have been number one but it was the story behind this car that pushed it ahead and cemented its spot atop this list. I can’t imagine the heartache that would’ve come from seeing a long-term build be destroyed by Mother Nature so shortly after completion, and while he didn’t rebuild immediately, Gugliano didn’t let the incident defeat him either. With the purchase of a new shell in 2017 he not only rebuilt and picked up where he left off, but he and the guys from Blackbird did all of it in two and a half weeks – and even had one of the first M&M kits in the world for good measure! He and the rest of the team worked around the clock and made the deadline of Sunday School for the debut of this new EK, surprising show-goers with a new car that seemingly came out of nowhere. In terms of the car itself, it has no shortage of quality parts, is a complete build in that every area was touched, and comes together as a brilliant overall package – and like both the Rocket Bunny S15 and Bunnybacker FR-S, the widebody serves as a finishing touch instead of being the focal point of the build.

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One could surely argue that as there were a lot of components transferred over from the last EK (such as the complete engine) this wasn’t a complete, start-from-scratch build in a way but it was a completely new chassis, with no stone left unturned, and it received more work and attention than many projects will in several years. The guys could have transferred all of the parts from the last shell to this new one and built more or less a clone of it (sans the repaint and welded cage given the time constraints) but they took it a step further by somehow securing one of the world’s first M&M kits for the car and creating something that truly stands out as its own build as opposed to a strict recreation of a prior car.

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Equally, the guys would’ve had one of the best excuses in the world for cutting corners to get the car ready in time, but they didn’t. Yes, it was wrapped as opposed to being fully resprayed and the cage is a bolt-in unit instead of a custom welded-in piece, but both are perfectly valid options. It was put together quickly but it was not thrown together, and that’s an important distinction to understand.

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To reference what I wrote in its feature once again, the moment I saw the completed car at Sunday School I knew it’d be one of the best local builds of the year and sure enough, come year-end I simply couldn’t find another vehicle that I felt to be more deserving of that title. It had the work, the parts, and the presence to make it on the list, but also the story to push it to the top. Again, this list is not meant to be the above-all-else definitive ranking so take it how you will – either as something to recognize or something to ignore completely – but for what it’s worth I spent quite a lot of time looking back over the last season, considering plenty of cars and evaluating them to the best of my ability, and in the end Gugliano’s Civic stood out as the clear winner for 2017.


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