With each passing year, this Top Five list seems to be more and more challenging to put together – which is honestly exactly what I hope to see. Many builders in our city are continually raising the bar with their projects and creating some truly impressive pieces of machinery.
This increase in time and effort required to compile this annual list however, seems to be met with an ever-increasing level of excitement around it. The inaugural list in 2017 was something I decided to put together as a fun year-end spotlight for our community and it was immediately a hit, therefore it became part of our annual schedule (save for 2019, the one year it was absent) and each list becomes one of the most anticipated, talked about, and well-received entries of the year. As it is stressed, these are never meant to be the ultimate final say on our community’s efforts; a lot of time and research go into not only selecting the cars but evaluating them for their ultimate positions however, and each year the winners have always seemed to be very appreciative and proud of the results.
This year, I do need to extend some thanks to a few other people (you know who you are) for their assistance in discreetly clarifying and fact-checking a few details on some of the vehicles so that I had the most accurate information possible given how close some of these were in initial rankings, as well as to Jason for letting me borrow a couple of his photos of one car in particular as I hadn’t been able to shoot it much myself. There were quite a few late nights spent trying to determine the final order and some of the cars moved around a bit, but ultimately I couldn’t be happier with the list you will see here today. It’s always an apples-to-oranges comparison at best with these given the different platforms, intentions, and amounts/type of work, but each vehicle represents a very complete and well thought-out undertaking by some very skilled individuals and is worthy of studying in person should you ever get the chance to.
As it is reiterated each year I don’t want to delve into it too much again, but in case this is the first Top Five list for anyone reading, the criteria for a car to be considered are fairly simple: the biggest is that the completed vehicle is either a fully new build that finally debuted in 2022, or a new and unique iteration of an existing build that – in this form – is instantly recognizable as the 2022 version. After that, considerations include the amount of work carried out (while recognizing that more isn’t always better if it doesn’t make sense for the style or purpose of the build), overall flow and execution, and importantly some intangibles like what it represents or signifies for the builder, platform, or community at large.
The final note before we begin with the formal countdown is going to be a new one this year, and that’s an “honorable mentions” of sorts for a few cars that were absolute standouts from the season but perhaps didn’t quite fit the criteria to be eligible for the Top Five, or just didn’t make the final cut as stacked up to the winners.
This year we got to see the debut of Shawn’s redone and now fully-built WRX, a car which immediately grabs your attention with the in-your-face pink wrap and polished Meisters but rewards continued examination with a well-rounded interior, heavy suspension work beyond just the bags, and a healthy amount of engine work as well. Jesse and the Infamous team meanwhile debuted their R32 widebody kit as they continue to expand what they are capable of and grow their reach. If there were an award for “achievement of the year” last season, the introduction of their A90 widebody kit would have been a clear contender, if not winner, and they’re not resting on their laurels but instead proving they’re just getting started. Many of us also had the chance to witness Steven’s incredibly clean and well-considered STI in person, an existing build (hence why it couldn’t count for this year’s list) that wowed us all no matter how closely we looked. And lastly, the Seeker-kitted CSX that seemingly came out of nowhere and blew us away, even taking home the Tuner Spirit award. Each of these projects left a real impression this year and also deserved one more shout-out before we move on to the main event.
So, the Top Five Local Builds of 2022. Many people sent in their predictions (either via our recent Instagram story or messaging us directly) and now everyone can see what the results are. These lists always go up at the tail end of January but there are typically people trying to pry a teaser or two out of us ahead of time, with this year being no exception. You’ve all been excited to see it, and I’ve been very excited to publish it and see what the response this time around is. Congratulations go to all of the winners for their amazing efforts and builds, starting with:
#5: Nick’s Integra Sedan (IG: @ch0wfun / @speedfactoryyc)
A Golden Era Honda, built as they used to be.
First on our list this year is Nick’s Integra sedan which I had the pleasure of finally seeing in person at Sunday School. A few of us had an unwelcome wakeup call/realization this year that certain cars many of us grew up with, idolizing as the cars to build, are getting rarer at events now as newer offerings replace them and as such, younger enthusiasts are even becoming unfamiliar with what they’re looking at when presented with one – and the ‘94-01 Integras are among them. Even the JDM front end conversion, which Nick’s wears, we have now witnessed as starting to be confused for a custom Accord headlight retrofit or something else. When I first got to see this sedan in person it was already a standout but even since just this summer my appreciation for it has only grown as it is, in some ways, a perfect showcase of how this platform used to be approached.
From that aforementioned JDM front end – for years, almost as basic of a requirement for a modified Integra as wheels and coilovers were – to the turbocharged B-series under the hood (remember when every magazine-featured Civic and Integra had that combo before Ks and ITBs took over?) to the classic red Recaros and some choice additions from Spoon and Mugen, this is a car that could forever stay as it is; a perfect showcase of what would have been a stunner 15-20 years ago and a build that still holds its own today.
Perhaps ironically, coming off of this praise for the turbo B specifically, as I understand it the sedan is set to see a powertrain makeover in the next little while to a more “modern” approach but it’s worth noting that it’s the only area of the car Nick hasn’t overhauled yet since it came into his ownership (and admittedly, the only reason this car took spot #5, since the turbo B and its related modifications were carried over from the prior owner).
That’s not to say that there wasn’t a lot of work put into it since purchase though, quite the opposite in fact as Nick took a car with a very solid powertrain and brought the other areas up to match. The OEM side mouldings were shaved for a bit of that iconic Type R look before the car was fully reprayed Championship White, electric power steering was fitted alongside the new suspension and brakes, and the interior was even stripped so the car could be fitted with Dynamat – maybe we really are all getting old. Haha
I actually considered keeping this car in reserve as a contender for 2023, assuming the powertrain makeover is complete by then, but the more I looked at and evaluated all of the candidates for this year’s list I just couldn’t ignore that as it sits – a combination of an extremely impressive engine setup with Nick’s refresh of the rest of the vehicle – it’s a brilliant example of the platform and a car that can be used as a textbook for those wanting to try their hand at building an Integra. This is one of the ones to study.
#4: RCTS’ Hellcat-swapped FD3S (IG: @rcts_autoworx)
And we thought Forza had some crazy engine swaps.
There are jokes that could be made about how this car came to be, involving a late night with friends, a few too many drinks, and a Mad Libs-style approach to figuring out what project should be embarked on next. “Wouldn’t it be funny if we put a [insert comically overpowered engine here] into a [lightweight chassis that has no right housing such an engine]?”. We’ve all daydreamed about doing ludicrous swaps before, but Mitchell and the team from RCTS actually went ahead and did it when they stuffed (well, mostly stuffed – we’ll ignore the fact that half of the hood is missing) the heart of a Dodge Hellcat into an FD3S RX-7.
This was a build that stopped many of us in our tracks when we first encountered it at Driven simply for being just so outrageous and unapologetically in-your-face. However, once that initial shock wore off and we could look beyond the transplant, the rest of the vehicle proved to be quite well sorted and thought out as well. We’ve all seen cars which bring a unique swap to the table but fall short in other areas, as if all of the attention or time was spent on the one area with none left to go around, but even if this car had retained a rotary powerplant it would still be a head-turner and a competitive vehicle with a full repaint (exterior and engine bay), new suspension and brakes, interior work, and tasteful aero including a Mazdaspeed bumper. However, we do need to come back to that swap because as it may be expected, one does not simply drop a Hellcat powertrain into an RX-7 and call it a day.
Unsurprisingly, there had to be a lot of work put in and a careful combination of parts selected to make this car actually usable – though the meaning of “usable” in this case may be open for debate as I can only imagine it must be a slight handful to drive. Along with the light trimming of the hood, getting the lump to even sit in the chassis in the first place required a custom front subframe. From there the next challenge was naturally to make sure that the power could actually make its way through to the rear tires and ultimately the ground; a custom driveshaft, IRS Ford rear end, and billet axles were all employed to help with this while massive – 345 section I believe – tires sit squarely under those rear flares. Hilariously however, all of these parts don’t have just the standard Hellcat power to contend with as the car has also been plumbed for Nitrous.
The real significance of this build should also be noted, in that – if I understand the timeline correctly – it’s the world’s first Hellcat-swapped FD. To my knowledge there is/was a second FD shell receiving the same swap elsewhere in the world but RCTS’ was completed first, with the car first running at the end of 2020. From there work continued and it ultimately came together in its finished state as we saw it at Driven in the spring of ‘22.
It’s all too easy for wild swap ideas like this to never see the light of day, get delayed time after time with engineering hurdles, or merely make it to the point of the car running and then proceed no further. RCTS not only got to the stage where this became a Hellcat-powered RX-7, but then saw it through to where it was a complete and presentable build that looked right at home on the show floor. The rest of the car may be relatively tame in comparison but that lets the powertrain still take the spotlight as the build’s USP, though when one does look beyond that Dodge heart the other areas don’t disappoint. It’s a very tidy and carefully-considered build and would be regardless of what could be found under the hood, but that world first, I-can’t-believe-they-did-this swap elevates it to a different level.
#3: Alex’s E46 M3 (IG: @silver_gsr)
From one of Honda’s greatest, to one of BMW’s.
As an amusing bit of contrast, we jump from arguably the most outrageous and least subtle build on the list to the one which possibly requires the most nuanced understanding of its chassis to fully appreciate. We also have the first-ever repeat winner on the list (though Shawn, an Honorable Mention this year was on the list in ‘20 as well) as Alex claimed the second spot on our 2017 countdown with his fully-restored Integra Type R. With the rate at which he turns out new projects though, I don’t think many will be surprised that we see him in the Top Five once again.
This E46 is a more recent addition to his ever-growing collection, being purchased in late 2021, and while it may not scream at you at first glance it has been very heavily reworked from top to bottom, bumper to bumper. The exterior has taken cues from the generational highlight that was the CSL – with Alex even going so far as to fit a replacement carbon fiber roof – while a similar touch can be found underhood in the form of the carbon airbox.
Also thrown at the car were a new header, engine mounts, an upgraded cooling system, and some related driveline upgrades, while the common E46 concerns of rod bearings and rear subframe mounts were addressed during the build for peace of mind. Unsurprisingly, the suspension and brake specs also impress with a Brembo big brake kit – the calipers from which were custom powdercoated and decaled – hiding behind those ZE40s, along with new bushings, arms, bracing, and Ohlins coilovers.
If there is one aspect of this car that shouts at all, it would have to be the interior which saw the biggest visual change during the build. Alex worked with a company out of Poland and the E46 received a custom, fully reupholstered interior – including Recaro Sportster CSs – in BMW’s stunning Cinnamon leather. It’s a perfect pairing with the Titanium Silver exterior and as seems to be a theme with this car, while being heavily reworked it doesn’t immediately scream “modified”.
With the high-end suspension hidden from sight, the calipers’ colour not being too outlandish, and the exterior a very OEM+ affair, nothing on this car is there to necessarily stand out – even that interior, given that it’s a factory leather option and the bucket seats were redone to match. If you know your E46s and understand the subtleties of this car you’ll greatly appreciate what Alex is presenting with it, otherwise it shows as a very tidy but relatively restrained example of a true modern classic with much of its work hiding in plain sight – and that’s what is so appealing about it. It’s one of BMW’s greatest hits, featuring some of the best parts available for it, and you need to really know what you’re looking at, to really know what you’re looking at.
#2: Punit’s K24 Integra (IG: @pdotpatel)
A staple of our community, back and even better than before.
This year’s runner-up is a car that was quite hard to rank against the others I will admit, because it is something we haven’t really seen before; it’s a new build but at the same time isn’t; it was a combined restoration and continuation of an existing project.
As our generation of cars continues to age and our segment of the automotive hobby progresses, we have witnessed the introduction of elements and approaches that traditionally had been relegated to ’60s/70s muscle cars and others. Initially it was the concept of restoring cars (see Alex’s aforementioned ITR from 2017’s countdown, for example) that finally started to trickle down, and since then more have entered the playbook as well: period correct builds, restomods, and now we’re starting to see the preservation/restoration of iconic projects from years past too.
Punit’s Integra somewhat combines elements of those last two specifically; this is a car that he has owned for quite some time now – 15 years? I don’t even know – and it had been through a number of revisions in that time, but has now been nearly completely redone even if it doesn’t appear as such at first glance.
I believe it was early in 2021 when the rebuild started, and this wasn’t some simple tidy up either. With the engine pulled and interior stripped, the car was basically just a shell with suspension and wheels when it went off to the paint shop for a full – and I mean full, even the bay was redone – repaint. Punit did ever so carefully update the exterior with the side mouldings being shaved and reverting to a factory hood and hatch in place of the previous carbon fiber items however, while new glass and trim were fitted following to further tidy up the appearance. One piece I’m very happy to see he retained was the Mugen Gen 1 wing out back, I must admit, which is now complemented by a shiny new set of Mugen M7s; or at least it is when he’s not running the new set of TEs he also picked up for it during the overhaul.
As for the engine, after paint the car was reunited with its K24 but only after it underwent a full rebuild with a forged bottom end, VTEC killer cams, and headwork from Blackbird. New ITBs up front bring in the air while a new exhaust expels it, and all together the car put down 270whp if I’m not mistaken, certainly a very healthy number and plenty to have fun with.
Elsewhere around the Integra some parts that were already in place prior to this overhaul can still be seen, which on paper should “hurt” its scoring as compared to other cars on this list, but in many cases a build can represent more than what its combination of parts would suggest and this is certainly one of those times. It still did make placing it quite tricky though, as at a glance this car wouldn’t seem to be all that different as compared to before. However, no one would ever dock a car that had been fully restored to OEM specification for being “the same” and equally Punit’s Integra can’t be, especially given the considered updates on top of the extensive restoration work. The engine has been so reworked it may as well be a new engine, the shell may be the same colour but all of the paint (and much of the trim) you see is brand new, and with the entire approach to its 2021/22 rebuild being something fairly new but fairly significant in our world, it’s a car that deserved all of the recognition it got this year and a spot on this list.
After owning this car for so long and having it evolve year after year, Punit spared no expense as the time and effort were put in to nearly take it all back to square one, building most of it again in one fell swoop. One of the longest-running and most recognizable projects in our city has now been restored and updated (a restomodded modified car?) resulting in a very well thought-out build that has been brought back to like-new condition and is ready to keep going for many years to come once again. It was and still is an impressive and well-curated example, and now has been raised in quality front to back with a fresh engine rebuild, restored exterior, and a few visible updates as the cherry on top. For those that had never seen it before, they witnessed an extremely solid and competitive Integra at this year’s events. For those of us that know it well and have seen it at shows for many years already, we saw a local icon refreshed and brought back better than ever.
The #1 build of 2022…
And finally, the winner for 2022…which we all saw coming. In fact, people were literally predicting this from the very start of the year when it became clear that ‘22 would be the season it finally debuted after its lengthy hiatus and rebuild, so I am certain that none of you will be surprised that this year’s top build is:
#1: Jackie’s NA1 NSX (IG: @j_tong / @balanceautogarage)
The most anticipated debut, ever.
I have never seen a car draw so much attention, be the topic of so many conversations, and have so much hype or anticipation surrounding its debut, as Jackie’s NSX did this past season. This is the car that everyone had been waiting to see and that everyone was blown away by. I really am not joking when I say that from the start of last year – before 2021’s list even went up – people were already calling this the Top Build of 2022. It certainly had high expectations to live up to but it did so with ease, in fact even surpassing the already high standards it was expected to meet.
A large part of the excitement surrounding this reveal came from the timeline of it, and the history of this vehicle. It was 2012 when Jackie first purchased this car, which at the time was already impressive enough as he was – all of us were in fact – fairly young and while NSX values certainly weren’t then what they are now, it was still a supercar and quite an achievement that he could be proud of. From there he started to put his own spin on it and greatly enjoyed it, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Given the current status and prices of NSXs it seems especially wild to think about what this car went through, but within the next couple of years it was turbocharged, blown up, and parked. And then stolen. And then recovered. And then parked again.
Its return in 2022 finally marked the end of an approximately eight-year hiatus, the last two of which had seen it stripped down to nothing for a full no-stone-unturned rebuild. It didn’t just finally return to the roads as it was, it came back almost unrecognizable from how we had last seen it all those years prior.
The extent of its modifications are also a shocking departure from how many NSXs are treated these days given their values and collectibility; Jackie could have kept it very OEM in terms of configuration but instead the paint code is about the only thing retained from its factory spec. All areas of the NSX were of course thoroughly reworked – you can find a brand new set of bright red Recaros, Volk CE28s, a Stoptech big brake kit (which is one of the only carried-over parts from before the rebuild, I believe), and Zeal coilovers with Umbrella air cups – but the two standouts are without a doubt the screaming engine that was assembled for it and the stunning exterior.
After the forced-induction adventures the car went back to a naturally-aspirated setup; the C30 was rebuilt into a high-compression 3.1 featuring Toda internals, a 1-of-1 6-1 exhaust system, and a gorgeous set of ITBs on top which also serve as eye candy through the rear glass. In person this thing is absolutely deafening, screaming like a vintage race car.
As for the body, the Spoon bumpers and mirrors – as well as the Voltex wing out back – steal the spotlight a bit but there were more parts fitted in the form of a hood and skirts from Downforce, an ‘02+ conversion, and even a handful of brand new OEM components such as both front fenders, a door, and one of the quarter panels.
Dare I say it, but it’s almost a bit anticlimactic for the NSX to be crowned the Top Build after it was predicted so far in advance, but by any and every measure this car deserved to be on top this year. The spec list of it reads like a wishlist of NSX parts, the quality front to back and details leave nothing to be desired, and the presence it has on the road is unlike anything else – I remember Errol even commenting how he was being inundated with thumbs-ups and cell phones pointed at him when he test drove it during the tuning process, and he was only gone for what seemed like a few minutes. Even with those factors alone it would wind up winning, but the sheer insanity that was the buzz surrounding it only served to elevate it to a level I don’t think we’ve seen before. Calgary has hosted RWB builds, the 400R that blew up the internet when it later hit the USA, and cars that many will never see in their lifetimes like the Regera and Sian, but we have never seen such a stir caused by, and so much excitement surrounding, a single car as we did with Jackie’s NSX.
It may have been predicted early on, but its win is indisputable. This was the build of 2022. Congratulations, Jackie!