Every November the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association, or SEMA, converges on the sleepy little town of Las Vegas for a gigantic fireworks show. Well, all right, it’s an aftermarket accessories show, but the cars that aftermarket manufacturers bring to Vegas are so riotously awesome and outlandish, you might as well be staring up at a July 4th night sky.
Quite frankly, if Michael Bay had become a body shop manager instead of a suspension-of-disbelief salesman, SEMA would be a symposium of all his wildest dreams. We’re pretty convinced that they have a small threshold of cars that can get in without being completely over the top. If a large enough proportion of the US population is willing to drive the car, it doesn’t have much chance of making it onto the floor.
And we adore it. It’s a chance for the adult brain to slide back down into childhood, when its entire library of car design knowledge came from a heavy basket of Hot Wheels and a thorough viewing of Speed Racer. It’s a gallery, an exhibition of the most creative minds in the aftermarket. And if you sign a waiver at the door that you promise not to take it too seriously, it’s a tank of fun.
SEMA fairly brims with awesome, and there’s far too much to cover in a single blog post, so we’ve picked our top 11 favorite custom cars from the event, because 10 was only the top, and SEMA is all about going over it. Slide back and enjoy.
11. We gave the American Racing Tommy Ivo Front-engine Dragster last place, not because of a lack of awesome, but because it technically shouldn’t even be on this list, since it’s not really a new custom vehicle. But we loved it too much to let it slide. It reminds us of a Civil War cannon – clean, simple, beautiful, and ready to kill you.
Image courtesy American Racing.
10. S2 Carbon Works’ JDM-spec Honda Odyssey has been around for a couple of years, but it certainly caught our eye. Who slams and customizes a Honda minivan? Well, apparently a lot of people, but this is the first we’ve seen, and it’s stunning.
Image courtesy S2 Carbon Works.
9. We’ve seen 3-door Fiestas before, but all of them advertize flat-brimmed hats and energy drinks, and they’re usually covered in dirt from the Global Rallycross Championship (who held an event at SEMA this year). The race-kit Ford Fiesta at the Cooper Tires booth, conversely, was a stark off-white, making us wonder where they found it, since we don’t get them here in America. The wheels were properly flared and a nice spoiler crouched over the hatch.
Image courtesy Car Domain.
8. Have you ever wondered what you’d get if you combined a ’69 Mustang and a Ford GT40? Not since you were 11? Well, the brains at Eckert’s Rod Shop never grew up that way, and they wedged a Ford GT supercar power train into the middle of a ’69 Mach 1. Then they kept being 11-year-olds and bolted on a 4-liter Whipple supercharger. They called it the Mustang Mach 40, and it made up to 850 hp.
Image courtesy Eckert’s Rod Shop.
7. At first glance it looked like a flatbed Wrangler. Then we realized those are tube-caged cargo boxes, but the effect was still the same – a stripped out Wrangler Rock Crawler by Falken tire. A big, derpy crevasse bar and a Warn winch sealed the deal.
Image courtesy Falken Tire.
6. When we think about Australian cars, we think of utes, and how badly we want them here in the States. Sadly, we have none… except for custom builder Bernt Karlsson’s Holden8er, a Holden VE Ute with a Camaro nose, worked to fit perfectly and polished to a startling black and orange shine. Word has it Bernt tuned the Holden8er up to 500 hp. GM, we love it. Bring back the El Camino!
5. Between ICON 4×4 and Wyoming-based shop Legacy Power Wagon, resto-modded, or if we might coin a phrase, pro-trailing 4×4 classic trucks are becoming a real, actual thing, and we love it. LPW’s ’49 Dodge Power Wagon Crew Cab stole our hearts. Do what we’re doing and imagine blasting down a desert or mountain road in this beast, challenging rust and age to a duel.
Image courtesy Legacy Power Wagon.
4. The idea behind racing executive Ray Evernham’s “1964” Plymouth Belvedere ForPly was ridiculously simple – and simply ridiculous. Ray took the Belvedere’s body and interior and snapped them onto a Dodge Sprint Car setup, complete with a 750 hp 350 R5-P7 racing engine. It ends up being a street legal NASCAR racer with fewer safety features and less grip. Evernham will auction it off in January to support IGNITE, an organization that helps adults with Autism and Asperger Syndrome.
Image courtesy Sherwin Williams Automotive.
3. Despite their latest boost of testosterone with the long hood and rounded tail, the VW Beetle still wears something of a “girl’s car” stigma, with all the cuteness and such. The Teutonic madmen at VWVortex decided this would never do, and built an AWD Super Beetle. It pumps out an insanity of horsepower – 500 of them – to a Golf R drive train. This was probably the coolest little VW since their last insane swap: the W12 Golf GTI.
Image courtesy VWVortex.
2. Speaking of mad swaps, how about just swapping an entire body? ICON 4×4, builder of awesome pro-trailing (we used it again) trucks and SUVs, saw no problem with that at all, custom fitting a 1965 Dodge D200 crew cab into a 2006 Ram 3500 chassis and power train to form what they’re calling the Icon Power Wagon. It just works, and was designed as a work truck for a ranch owner.
1. But our favorite by far is the Thundertaker. Brian Fuller and his co-geniuses at Fuller Hot Rods started with a 1960 Cadillac hearse and ended up with a 22’ monster with the world’s longest sunroof and a custom chassis. It flies along on a ZZ 454 and a manual transmission, and every trim piece is a Cadillac original. The Thundertaker is basically all we’ve ever wanted in a cruiser.
Image courtesy Fuller Hot Rods.
Those are our top picks from SEMA this year. What are yours?
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.