The Top Five Local Builds of 2021

The Top Five Local Builds list remains as one of my favourite articles on the blog each year, as well as one of the most labour-intensive.

The criteria for being eligible has been run through each year but I’ll quickly touch on it again here for anyone who hasn’t read one of the prior lists. The important boxes that must be checked, so to speak, are that the build must be one I’m aware of, naturally (I try my best to be apprised of as many builds as possible through the various events I attend as well as social media), it has to be local to Calgary or the surrounding area, and it must be able to be considered a build that had a distinct and complete form in (in this case) 2021. It could have been a completely new undertaking that was finally completed or a build which already existed but was substantially updated and fleshed out; having had work performed previously wouldn’t disqualify it as long as its updates for 2021 were substantial enough and resulted in something unique when compared to the car’s prior state(s).

I try to keep the list as objective as I can when it comes to ranking despite the evaluation of the various builds always being an apples-to-oranges scenario at best. The sheer amount of work put into a car isn’t always the most important metric because more isn’t always better, and different styles of builds (VIP, track, restoration, etc.) will inherently require different levels of time and different types of parts and work to reach their respective completed states and to stand out in their fields. Importantly though, building cars is always a largely subjective exercise anyway and in many cases the impact a car has – or what it represents – can be far greater than a list of parts and work would suggest.

Aspects that are universally applicable though, are quality parts. Flow. Details. Any build can be let down if it falls short in any of these areas, just as it can be greatly elevated if they’re paid attention to. Of course not everyone has 6 figures to pour into a project, but a few authentic parts will do far more for a build than countless replicas. A consistent theme and parts that complement each other require nothing more than consideration, and a few small details waiting to be found not only reward the onlookers who are examining it closer, but keep a build’s impact from falling off after the initial look.

Having been watching all season and taking notes of the cars that were standing out, the resulting list that I am very excited to finally share with you all today is quite varied, I think you’ll find. In fact, it’s the most diverse Top Five Builds ever. There’s some German metal, a JDM/American mash-up, and even one that started as nothing more than a pencil and sheet of paper. What they naturally have in common though is that each is an outstanding resulting product of the time and care put in by each owner, and excellent display of the passion and care these individuals have.

And so, I present to you now officialTHREETWENTY’s Top Five Local Builds of 2021, beginning with:

#5: Gian’s E38 750iL (IG: @gianhonrade)

Taking the number 5 spot this year is a car that certainly made a name for itself in its first full season of competing at events: Gian’s E38.

VIP builds aren’t unheard of here but they certainly aren’t the most common, so not only did Gian take a road slightly less traveled but he chose quite a unique platform with which to do so. Even in factory form the E38 7 series is quite a beautiful car and any version would have been a great starting point but he went above and beyond by building the flagship 750iL specifically, which features an enormous V12 under the hood.

The project technically started last year with first getting the car running again, followed by some wheels, coilovers, and an Alpina lip (see here, as shot at the Custom Decals 2020 closer) but it was over the 20/21 winter that Gian really went to town and made the E38 into the repeat award winner that we know it as now.

A complete repaint into a gorgeous (and unique) brown was the obvious change, but that was just the start. That fresh paint was paired with brand new lighting all around to further refresh the 20-year-old vehicle, while the wheels were changed out again for some Work Gnosis GS1s. The imposing big-body sedan with its fresh rich paint dumped on the ground never failed to make its presence known, but my favourite part of the build was actually the attention to detail applied inside.

Gian really went above and beyond in this department and whenever I saw the car he’d either have his windows down and/or doors open to invite a closer look; it’s worth noting the car was always beautifully displayed. The interior not only featured theme-appropriate accessories like curtains and custom tables, but he actually took the time to set up additional – let’s call them – props in the form of food and drink! One look at the fully set up interior would make you want to climb in the back seat and ask to be chauffeured somewhere, in complete luxury. Possibly the coolest little detail was the correct, BMW-branded flip phone he sourced specifically for putting back in the center console to really pretend it’s 2001 again.

In the end it was not only the car’s well thought-out makeover but the time and care taken to include the extra display details inside that really made the E38 stand out this year, and I wasn’t the only one to think so. Gian didn’t hesitate to show the car off during the 2021 season and was rewarded handsomely for his efforts with five separate awards from different events: Judge’s choice at Touge Bash, Best in Class at Driven, Best Import Vehicle from Mudder’s Wash, Best Interior at Eurofest, and Best in Show Euro at the Season Closer. Being a brand new build that utilized a unique and impressive base platform, went the extra mile with its displays, was super active in the scene and made itself known as one to beat at events, meant there was no way it could not be considered as one of the top builds of 2021. Fellow VIP builders in Calgary: take notes if you want to compete against this.

#4: Frank’s LS3 Rocket Bunny FD3S (IG:

To be completely honest, when it came to rounding up candidates for the list this year it was with this car specifically that I had the most trouble as it could have been considered a “complete” build before its 2021 makeover. However, just because it had already received attention didn’t mean it wasn’t possible to take it further and that’s exactly what Frank did – in a big way. To take a quick glance at this car and only notice that it’s still a black, Rocket Bunny FD just as it was in 2020 would be doing it a huge disservice.

Yes, the body is more or less as it has been for a few years now but the exterior is basically the only area of the car that Frank didn’t at least mildly update or tidy up over the winter, if not fully redo. The centerpiece of the car’s rebuild is the very-obviously-not-a-rotary powerplant now sitting under the hood: an LS3. This will be the point where keyboard warriors will cry out but Frank had lived with the rotary for a while and decided – given some headaches – he wanted a change. However, he didn’t just drop the LS (backed by a T56 transmission) in and call it a day as he completely redid the engine bay while he was at it. Heck, he redid the entire front of the car pretty much. Under those carried-over body panels, I don’t think much remains from last year apart from the brakes and maybe coilovers.

As the first order of business Frank completely stripped the bay, replaced all of its seam sealer, and repainted it to match the exterior (in a DIY garage paint booth no less) as it was still wearing its original white. From there he then fit custom brake hard lines, gold heat shielding along the firewall, and even did all of the wiring for the swap himself. The wheel wells were redone with rock guard to both protect and freshen them up, and there are custom fabricated parts lurking underneath too, such as the crash bar. Your eyes may first be drawn to that dirty V8 (just saying what the angry internet people are thinking, I have no issue with it) but look around and you’ll see that everything has been refined and improved in some way here.

To know what the new powerplant was doing Frank also fitted a new Holley dash inside, and even slightly changed up the outward appearance of the car with some new black-on-black Works that perfectly filled out the arches.

As mentioned this was a tough one given the car was already fairly heavily reworked prior to 2021, but the amount of time spent building it up previously doesn’t negate the insane amount of effort that was put in over the winter, all of which was exceptionally well documented on 33ten’s pages. Take away the few pieces that carried over from its previous iteration, and just the work that was new for 2021 would be enough to have it in the running for this list; the new overall package however is one seriously impressive build that is only going to get better, because it’s once again under the knife with yet more revisions and improvements to come.

#3: Gerard’s K-Swapped EK (IG: @spoonfedfk)

Taking the third spot this year is a car that, like Frank’s FD, had some work carry over but to a much lesser extent. In fact, the car as you see it here is effectively unrecognizable as compared to how it was when first purchased. Gerard grabbed an EK that already had a K-swap (but almost nothing else) and not only proceeded to redo the swap’s mounts and wiring anyway, but then took the rest of the vehicle – inside and out – to a completely different level.

EKs don’t require much to really look the part, and Gerard kept the exterior modification list relatively short yet effective with some aero from the likes of J Blood, Chargespeed, and Spoon, with a few OEM JDM pieces fitted as well. However, the car was also resprayed (interior included) in BMW Sepang Bronze and then reassembled with various brand new OEM moldings and glass to keep everything to a high standard. It’s easy to forget how old EKs are getting to be now, so many of the original pieces need to be looked at with scrutiny to ensure that they don’t look tired against new parts or paint.

Under the car, the suspension had been completely run through as well to the point where I don’t believe anything original could be left; a 5-lug conversion, new arms, bushings, braces, a hybrid brake setup with parts from Spoon, Brembo, Project Mu, and more, and of course some coilovers. The powerplant that the suspension and brakes need to cope with is a K-series as mentioned, but specifically a refreshed K20Z1. It stayed naturally-aspirated but breathes well through a series of bolt-ons; no need to add forced induction to complicate things or clutter up the bay!

Of all of the work done to the car though, it was probably the interior’s overall package that stood out to me the most. Spoon buckets, Miracle bars, a bolt-in cage, more JDM and OEM+ parts scattered throughout – one look would take me back in time. Also, like the exterior, it was a careful selection of parts that made this work instead of just throwing everything at it.

Gerard’s EK stood out to me as it’s a thoroughly worked-though example of the chassis with a lot of amazing parts selected for it, but they all work together exceptionally well. A variety of brands’ products can be seen together yet nothing seems out of place or forced, or added just for the sake of having it. The colour was distinctive, the aero aggressive but not over the top, the engine had been well addressed to make it surely a lot of fun to rev out, and the chassis had been upgraded to handle it; and importantly, the entire car looked near-on factory-fresh.

There was a certain timelessness on display here in the parts selection and overall approach, and the awards it picked up this season were very well deserved. Honestly, had it debuted in any other year Gerard’s EK probably could have even taken the top spot but it just so happened to be completed in the same season as two cars featuring heavy amounts of custom fabrication which I just couldn’t ignore, and as it happens one of them is a slightly older relative to the EK platform…

#2: Jose’s AWD-Converted EG (IG: @malos.awd)

This year’s runner-up is a build that’s unique in this list in that it’s not actually a show car, but given the beautiful fabrication on display and attention paid to aesthetics and presentation as well as the pursuit of outright performance, it would surely do pretty well as one. Jose’s EG was built for drag racing first and foremost, but he put it together with such care that it might just have a backup career if or when it’s ever retired from race use.

In 2019 this was still a very tame, street-friendly RHD EG but as you can see not much of that original car remains now. The entirely-carbon fiber front end was hard to miss as were the massive slicks and gusseted cage, but the real insanity was naturally the mechanical side of the car. In case you happened to skip reading the full title for this car, please note that there are matching slicks on all four corners…

Along with repainting the engine bay, one of Jose’s first steps was to convert the EG to AWD, to better transfer the incoming power increase. Following that, the freshly-redone bay received a fully-built B18C paired with an absolutely monstrous turbo, indiscreetly positioned to feed from the front bumper’s opening and immediately send air into an also impressively-large intercooler.

Inside the car, a continued balance of form and function could be found with the factory dash and door panels having been replaced with carbon fiber, the latter of which also received upholstered inserts. A gorgeous K-Tuned shifter and staging brake combo could be found in the middle with a tidy switch pack created for the center of the dash, while a digital display took over the role of providing the needed information. It was all done for function (aside from perhaps the upholstery) yet all looked show-worthy as well. Additionally, not only is the car itself impressive, but so is the fact that Jose built just about all of it in his garage! Building a car in a shop should not be taken as negative since not everyone has the space to do so, but it’s worth noting when something this seriously reworked comes together in a home garage.

The only “negative” with this car has nothing to do with the car at all, and instead solely to do with my very limited time around it this year. The one and only time I had the opportunity to see this EG in person was at the Closer (where, incidentally, it took Best in Show Honda) so I only had a couple of photos of it on my own memory card. I checked with a few friends that I knew had been shooting at the event but unfortunately they didn’t have any of it. Shawn fortunately was able to come to the rescue with this additional photo (thank you again!) and the others, you will have noticed, I had to sneakily borrow from Jose’s Instagram.

I really hope that I’ll get the opportunity to see the EG out at another event so that I can take some time to better look over it in person and take in the work on display, as well as capture a few more photos of my own. A build this involved is one I definitely need to spend more time taking in for myself.

The #1 build of 2021… 

And now for something completely different. I don’t want to say that this year’s winner was a clear contender because that could be taken as saying the prior four cars were lacking in some way, and that is exactly the opposite of the truth. I hope my words have done justice in expressing just how amazing the other builds all are, but there is no getting away from the fact that the following vehicle is something different entirely. That’s because its builder did not start with a running and driving car that he then modified, nor did he even start with a bare shell that he then rebuilt into a complete vehicle. Aside from a few donor parts, he started with raw materials and hand built it.

There’s really no need to draw this reveal on any longer at this point, is there? Those two italicized words should immediately tell you exactly who the winner is:

#1: Brandon’s Ferrari 156 “Sharknose” Recreation (IG: @howisthatstreetlegal)

This is a project that sits in an entirely different playing field given the drastically different undertaking it represents. Fabrication, welding, wiring, bodywork, paint; this took it all.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Ferrari 156 “Sharknose” was a Formula 1 car that competed for a couple of years back in the early ‘60s. Brandon – who had built a few vehicles before – had been looking for a vintage race car he could recreate as his next project and ultimately found the 156, which met his criteria, and so he got to work.

The powertrain and a few other mechanical bits came from a 2003 Hayabusa but after acquiring those, basically everything else was made by hand, by Brandon. He built the entire frame, designed and built the suspension, made a styrofoam buck for the body from which he made a mold to then produce a carbon fiber shell, formed all of the plexiglass with custom jigs, and even scratch built the steering wheel. Is there a need to elaborate further? Point to nearly anything on this car and he could say “I built that”. He even went on to recreate a period-correct helmet to match, and wear while driving it. In fact, following the process on Instagram, Brandon noted that it wasn’t until the paintjob came about that something on the car had been done by someone other than himself.

The sheer amount of work on display here, encompassing so many different skills and types of making, really make this undertaking all the more impressive. The attention to detail to faithfully recreate the car is noteworthy too, not just in making sure the design is spot-on but even extending to its graphics. Reportedly (and not surprisingly) in the era the graphics would vary slightly from chassis to chassis and even race to race, so he went as far as to refer to a specific chassis, driver, and date when it came time for the final details. That level of care and precision is incredible.

All of the cars here represent outstanding builds for their respective platforms and styles, but this car joining the comparison is like bringing a nuke to a knife fight. To look at this and try to process that Brandon built it from raw materials (and a few parts of a Hayabusa) – in some cases learning as he went – is hard to believe. The quality of the finished product is exceptional and it has even earned some print features, including one in Road & Track (I made sure to grab a copy as soon as I saw it on the shelves). It steals the show wherever it goes – and deafens anyone around it as well – and without a doubt is the most impressive build of 2021. Perhaps the only thing in progress now that could beat this, is the next recreation that Brandon is working on.

I wish to extend a final congratulations to each of the cars and their owners shown here today, and if you ever have the opportunity to run into any of them at future events I highly encourage you to spend some time looking over them in detail. For Brandon’s 156 however, I’d also recommend bringing ear plugs as you won’t be able to get anywhere near it without them, if it’s running.


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