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Goodguys Hot Rod of the Year has Turned up the Heat for 15 Years!

Hot rods are the cornerstone of our hobby, yet the term is still one of the most actively debated titles around. Ask any dozen gearheads to define a hot rod you’ll likely get twelve different answers – maybe more. For most of us, we know one when we see it.

When the Goodguys Hot Rod of the Year title was established back in 2005, it was a bit of a response to overly refined street rods that were being crafted for show points and big trophies. Goodguys founder Gary Meadors wanted an award for gnarly, loud, street-driven hot rods – the type that harkened back to the early days of rodding. Yes, style and build quality had to count, but the award would be about the spirit of hot rodding and proving your machine on the street and the track.

The basic guidelines have always been pretty simple. The award is open to 1948-and-earlier hot rods and the winner must meet the following criteria: It makes noise; it’s regularly street-driven, has a mean attitude, and screams the words “Hot Rod.” No cream puffs!

The honor was first presented in 2005 as a regional award in which six finalists from around the country were selected before the overall winner was determined at the end of the year. In 2006, it became an event-specific award. “We wanted to make it an annual award at our Hot Rod Nationals,” said Gary Meadors at the time. “It just seemed like a better fit to award the Goodguys Hot Rod of the Year at our Hot Rod Nationals.”


The move to Indy brought about other changes that are still used to determine Hot Rod of the Year winners. To better evaluate candidates, those competing must take part in a group reliability run and make a 1/8-mile drag strip pass after doing a burnout. The drag times are not used determine the winner, but style points do count. The spirit of the car’s owner and builder often come through during the Friday reliability run and drag strip outing.

Now sponsored by Tanks, Inc., the Goodguys Hot Rod of the Year award moved to the Nashville Nationals in 2016 and continues to be the most combustible ticket in hot rodding. The beauty of the competition is that it is truly anyone’s game. It’s as much about attitude as anything, which means the trophy doesn’t always go to the highest-dollar ride or most intricately crafted machine. That’s one of the reasons so many people like it.

Though it’s open to all 1948-and-earlier hot rods, the common thread among Tanks Inc. Hot Rod of the Year winners to date is that they’ve all been prewar Fords. Six are Deuces, five are Model As, with the newest winner being Amadeo Angelo’s ’36 Ford coupe last year. The mix of build styles has been impressive, as have the powerplants – everything from blown Ardun-head Flatheads, to vintage Olds Rockets and Hemis. Looking back through this retrospective, it’s refreshing to see the spirit, the noise, and the attitude of hot rodding alive and well in these incredible machines.


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Doug McLanders
1932 Ford Tudor

The Goodguys Hot Rod of the Year award started out as a regional honor, with finalists selected at multiple events and a winner determined at year’s end. Doug McClanders qualified with his bitchin’ Deuce Tudor and never looked back! Powered by a dual-quad ’57 Chrysler Hemi, the chopped and louvered highboy sedan had classic touches like a dropped and drilled axle located by hairpins, 15- and 17-inch American wheels, and deep black paint. Finished off with yards of gray leather tuck ’n roll upholstery and a three-spoke wheel inside, the British Columbia-based Deuce showed the other finalists what classic American hot rodding is all about.


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Greg Gilbertson
1933 Ford Coupe

The red, raked, and bad-to-the-bone ’33 Ford three-window coupe of Greg Gilbertson was a fitting recipient for the second Hot Rod of the Year title. Powered by a 502c.i. big-block Chevy backed by a TH400, the channeled coupe had plenty of muscle to back up its hot rod attitude. It rode on a custom Roadster Shop chassis with a Magnum dropped front axle, quick-change rearend, Wilwood brakes, and big ’n little American five-spoke wheels. Classic DuPont Guards Red paint covered the Rat’s Glass body, while Recaro seats and Stewart Warner dials were highlights inside. This was the first year for the reliability run and drag-strip passes, and Gilbertson’s coupe logged the fastest 1/8-mile (an 89mph blast) of all competitors.


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Larry Brunkala
1932 Ford Coupe

Even in 2007, it seemed unusual for a 36-year-old hot rodder to capture the Hot Rod of the Year title with a largely owner-built Deuce coupe. Larry Brunkala’s black Ohio-look hot rod, built with the help of friend and future Precision Hot Rods business partner Danny Tesar, had all the goods, though – a dropped and drilled Super Bell axle, So-Cal Speed Shop hairpins, and skinny Halibrand spindle-mount front wheels paired with massive ETIIIs out back. The stout small-block Chevy engine was fed by Enderle EFI and provided plenty of punch. Gazette editor Kirk Jones summed it up best when he said the coupe “sounds really wicked and scares kids.” Sounds like a hot rod to us!


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Cale & Bridgett Kern
1932 Ford Tudor

Cale Kern and his family finished a yearlong thrash on their ’32 Ford Tudor the night before it competed for Hot Rod of the Year. “The only thing we didn’t do as a family on this car was the upholstery,” Cale said. “My wife, Bridgett, did a lot of the design and chose the colors and look of the car. She also handled all the final sanding and prep of every panel on the car. My 7-year-old daughter, Carlee, was right there with me every day, building the engine. She lapped the valves!” Highlights on this cool sedan included a 1½-inch top chop, 1-inch channeled body, Winters quick-change rearend, 401c.i. Buick Nailhead V8, ’40 Zephyr dash, and red-and-cream pleated upholstery.


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Bill Steele
1930 Ford Model A Coupe

Multi-carb Hemi power in a chopped, low-slung Model A coupe? Sounds like a great hot rod recipe! Bill Steele’s ’30 Model A had the right combination of style and substance with a 331c.i. Chrysler Hemi fed by four carbs on a custom intake, breathing through handmade lakes-style headers, and connected to a six-speed transmission. It was nestled in a Roadster Shop chassis with Deuce rails with a big rear kickup and highly swept front rails mounting a Super Bell front axle, four bar rear suspension, and artillery-style wheels on Firestone rubber. Satin “Downtown Brown” paint with gloss black accents finished the body, while bomber-style seats, distressed black leather, and a ’38 Dodge dash highlighted the cabin.


Hit the Road!

Hot rods are even cooler when you can see them in motion and hear the rumble of their engines, which makes the annual Goodguys Hot Rod of the Year reliability run especially fun. The tradition began at the Hot Rod Nationals in Indianapolis, where different routes were mapped out each year to test the function and road manners of the contenders. The ritual has continued at the Nashville Nationals, where the Friday outing typically covers 100 miles or more through the city and down winding two-lane Tennessee highways.

We always include interesting stops along the way, plus a lunch where rodders can bench race and measure up the competition. The reliability run is so much fun that many rodders register for the Tanks Inc. Hot Rod of the Year competition not because they’re serious about winning, but for the sheer enjoyment of getting out on the road with a pack of cool hot rods!


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Floyd Williams
1932 Ford Roadster

Floyd Williams grew up drag racing in Southern California, so it was no surprise that his Deuce Roadster built by Dave Lane at FastLane Rod Shop had a distinctive ’60s-style street-and-strip vibe. Polished big-window Halibrand wheels wrapped in Hurst cheater slicks helped set the theme, along with skinny Real Wheels front wheels on a Magnum 5-inch dropped axle and So-Cal hairpins. The small-block Chevy engine was topped with Hilborn stack injection, fitted with a Joe Hunt magneto and Corvette valve covers, and connected to a Tremec five-speed sending power to a Winters quick-change rearend. DuPont Super Jet Black single-stage paint and diamond-pleated black upholstery carried the theme all the way through on this badass Deuce.


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Michael Tarquinio
1932 Ford Roadster

Michael Tarquinio’s original steel Deuce roadster was first built in the 1970s, then mothballed for nearly 40 years before Michael stumbled upon it in the rafters of an old Pennsylvania barn. Built with the help of G.I.S. Automotive, the classic-style hot rod was built on a So-Cal Speed Shop chassis with a six-carb ’57 Olds J2 engine fitted with aluminum heads and backed by a Tremec five-speed sending power to a Winters quick-change rear. A Pines Winterfront grille, Zephyr fog lights and taillights, and butternut yellow artillery wheels augmented the Washington Blue body, while a ’40 Lincoln steering wheel and dash highlighted the red leather interior on this beautiful roadster.


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Tom Gloy
1932 Ford Roadster

After racing Trans Am, Formula Atlantic, and IndyCar machines, Tom Gloy was looking for some street thrills and turned to Roy Brizio Street Rods to build this sleek, channeled, traditionally styled ’32 Ford roadster. The Brizio team narrowed the cowl and windshield, sectioned the grille shell, radically lowered the floor, and filled the rear quarters before Darryl Hollenbeck of Vintage Color Studio applied the Porsche blue paint. The body was supported by a custom chassis with a torsion bar suspension from Moal Coachbuilders, a Magnum front axle, and 16- and 18-inch ET knockoff wheels, with a Hilborn-injected 302c.i. Ford small-block and Tremec five-speed for power. Finished with red leather upholstery, it was a hot rod roadster with sports car sensibilities.


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George Poteet
1934 Ford Coupe

George Poteet doubled up in 2013, winning Goodguys Street Machine of the Year with his ’69 Torino and Goodguys Hot Rod of the Year with this incredible Hugger Orange ’34 Ford three-window coupe built by Dave Lane at FastLane Rod Shop. Lane started with a Steve’s Auto Restoration body, which was obsessively refined and finessed, in addition to having the top chopped 3½-inches. The hand-built chassis incorporated a Winters quick-change rearend, 4-inch dropped front axle, JRi shocks, So-Cal brakes, and 15- and 16-inch Real Rodders wheels that got rolling courtesy of a Hilborn-injected ’65 Buick Nailhead V8. The ’60s vibe was completed with black leather upholstery over narrowed Impala bucket seats and vintage Stewart Warner Green Line gauges in the dash.


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Tony Lombardi
1930 Ford Model A Coupe

Tony Lombardi builds potent powerplants at Ross Racing Engines and teamed up with Bobby Hilton at Hilton Hot Rods on this wicked maroon Model A coupe. The car had all the right traditional touches: 4½-inch chopped top, Deuce frame, black steel wheels, finned brake drums, and a healthy dropped axle. What really grabbed your attention was the blown 371c.i. Oldsmobile Rocket V8 built by Lombardi using a Dyer’s 4-71 supercharger, a quartet of 94 carbs, and a Tremec five-speed sending power to a Winters quick-change rearend. Black leather upholstery highlighted a back-to-basics cabin with a Pierce-Arrow instrument cluster and Stewart Warner gauges. Built to drive, the coupe saw many road miles both before and after its win.


Run ’Em!

Two dynamic elements of the Tanks Inc. Goodguys Hot Rod of the Year competition are the burnouts and drag race fun runs. Part of the Friday reliability run, these exercises provide these cars with a chance to put their power to use! Since moving to Nashville, these runs have taken place at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green and Music City Raceway near Nashville. Rodders love the chance to put the pedal down, burn a little rubber, and show off. And while the times and speeds posted during the 1/8-mile drag runs do not determine the overall winner, they can definitely help cars and owners earn bragging rights and style points!


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Keith Hill
1933 Ford Coupe

Inspired by classic hot rods like the Jim Ewing coupe and Tom Prufer’s “Cop Shop” ’37 Ford, Keith Hill’s “Federale Coupe” was a raked and righteous three-window built by Pinkee’s Rod Shop. The 4-inch top chop, laid-back wind¬shield, heavily massaged ’37 Ford truck grille, kicked-up frame, and Halibrand-inspired bigs ’n littles offered the perfect hot rod attitude, which was backed up by a Stromberg-fed 354c.i. Chrysler Hemi mated to a Tremec five-speed and Winters quick-change rearend. The coupe drove in bare metal on the 2013 Goodguys Hall of Fame Road Tour before receiving the Mark Warrick-applied paint and Sid Chavers leather upholstery that helped it earn Hot Rod of the Year honors.


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Brian George
1931 Ford Model A Roadster

Brian George’s ’31 Ford Model A roadster threaded the line between show-quality construction, hot rod tradition, and road-proven performance. Built by the talented team at Roseville Rod & Custom, the well-designed roadster sported an H&H-built Ardun-head Flathead with a SCoT blower, which was nicely nestled in a Deuce frame with a dropped and drilled front axle, split wishbones, and a Winters quick-change rear. A Winterfront-style grille in a chopped ’32 shell, E&J headlights, and a DuVall windshield highlighted the much-massaged body, which was painted a deep blue hue and complemented with rich leather upholstery, mahogany wood floors, and a distinctive ’29 Chandler gauge cluster beautifully updated by Classic Instruments.


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Ralph & Linda Miller
1930 Ford Model A Tudor

It’s hard to recall a more bitchin’ hot rod sedan than the Hemi-powered ’30 Model A Tudor belonging to Ralph and Linda Miller. Built by Hilton Hot Rods, the Model A had pearl teal blue fades and layered panels that screamed Larry Watson. The drilled axle, quick-change rearend, and smoothie caps on chrome wheels took us back to the ’60s. The blown four-carb Hemi by Ross Racing Engines woke the dead. The discolored stainless headers were proof of this car’s road miles. And the black leather interior with teal ’60s-vintage fabric inserts, pearl buttons, and Stewart Warner gauges was the icing on the cake for this rowdy, hard-charging Angry A.


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David Martin
1931 Ford Model A Roadster

David Martin’s Hot Rods & Hobbies-built roadster was the first car to capture both an America’s Most Beautiful Roadster and Goodguys Hot Rod of the Year title. That’s because it was more than a show queen – it was built to drive. A former lakes racer, the roadster had a Moal Coachbuilders torsion bar front suspension, Speedway Engineering quick-change rearend, and 16- and 17-inch EVOD wheels. Power came from an Ed Pink-built small-block Chevy with Borla EFI. The highly modified body had stretched ’34-style doors, louvers on the hood and deck, a shortened Deuce grille, and Alfa Romeo taillights. Prior to its AMBR and Goodguys wins, the roadster competed in bare steel at the Silver State Classic road race, where it averaged 101mph for more than 100 miles!


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Amadeo Angelo
1936 Ford Coupe

Amadeo Angelo’s ’36 Ford three-window coupe had the honor of being the first fat-fendered car to capture the Goodguys Hot Rod of the Year crown. Built by Roseville Rod & Custom, the coupe was essentially crafted around the Ardun-head Flathead topped with a SCoT blower, which was fit into a Roadster Shop chassis rolling on vintage-looking one-off EVOD wheels. Body mods were subtle, including a 1-inch top chop, custom hood sides, and reshaped front fenders under the PPG Cloud Mist Gray paint. The interior was both simple and elegant, with brown leather stitched over custom seats, Stewart Warner gauges, a ’35 Chevy wheel, and a ’39 Ford truck shifter adding appropriate hot rod flair.

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.

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