Now that gambling is available in such close proximity to so many different residential areas around the globe, the mainstay for Las Vegas’ income has changed. Conventions now generate the necessary revenue to keep on the lights, of which there are many in Vegas. If you’re involved in the automotive industry at all—or reading this article—you’ve no doubt heard of the SEMA Show.
Short for the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), the annual weeklong trade show for everything automotive aftermarket takes place during the first week of November each year at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Nevada. Showcasing the latest and greatest from the industry’s manufacturing, distribution, and retail leaders; this display encompasses the international automotive culture’s most innovative products, its biggest personalities, and wildest vehicle builds under one roof—well, under several roofs, and a few different surrounding parking lots.
Gathering an excess of 180,000 manufacturers, buyers, and other assorted industry personnel in one place, the 51st anniversary of the SEMA Show was the biggest and best yet. Combining massive outdoor exhibitions from Ford, Chevy, Continental Tire, and Kia, along with thousands of booth displays indoors, it takes the span of the entire week just to try to walk the distance of the event, and you’ll still miss out on a majority of the booths. Don’t fret though; my Vans and adidas traversed more than nine miles each day of the event to bring you the highlights.
I’m going to start with this iRacing.com booth because well, it was awesome. iRacing was developed as a centralized virtual racing and competition service. Utilizing the latest technology to recreate an ever-expanding lineup of cars and tracks, the company organizes, hosts, and officiates races on virtual tracks around the world. The idea of head-to-head racing competition from the comfort of your own home does sound nice. No more loading up the trailer at 5am in the rain, or worrying about stuffing your prized possession into the Armco of your local circuit. All you need is a computer, controller, and an Internet connection. This is the future! By the way, can we start a petition to make simulator setups the male engagement ring? Ladies, start saving those pennies…
In the search for a specific car, I ventured directly to the Toyo Tires Treadpass section of the event to find this Honda S2000 built by Ryan Basseri of Rywire Motorsport Electronics. Each year since 2015, Ryan has unveiled a new project car in the same class as his entry from the previous year. This S2000 wears a completely unique aero outfit, thanks to the careful touches of Casale Design. Using a clay molding technique popular with vehicle manufacturers for creating concept cars, Casale seamlessly widened the body of the car, while still keeping the all of the original bodylines intact. The authentic Mugen bumpers seen at the front and rear were also sliced up and resdesigned with clay, to blend into the now widened panels. All of these custom panels were then recreated using composite materials—true artwork. The paint-matched rollcage, Mugen Racing steering wheel, individual throttle body-equipped 2.5-liter F-series engine, titanium hardware, and StopTech Trophy Big Brake Kit are the perfect finishing touches to the stunning convertible.
Renowned customizer, Bulletproof Automotive also debuted their newest creation at SEMA. A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X wearing a wild red paint scheme and the newly-released Varis Version 3.0 widebody aero kit being their project for this year. However more alluring for me, was the Hyperlock wheel setup. A one-stop-shop to convert any car to a competition-oriented centerlock wheel setup (one lugnut), Hyperlock includes everything needed with the purchase of their HL-06S wheels. It would be worth it just to do mock F1 pitstops in the driveway.
Unique rat rods come out of the woodwork to make a statement at SEMA, however none as much as this one from Tinman II Kustoms. This 12V Cummins-powered rat rod named Wild-Torquey hails from Minnesota, and has been extremely well documented throughout its build. Over 4,500 hours of labor, and around 1,000 hours of video editing for the 25-year-old owner’s YouTube channel has resulted in this wild build. It all came together to create this wonderfully different, 800 hp, and 1,500 lb. ft. torque having vehicle. And yes, it tows the truck and trailer!
On the complete opposite spectrum of cleanliness lies another personal favorite of mine, the Gunther Werks 400R. Labeled as “An Icon Remastered”, this beautiful piece of machinery started life as an average 993-chassis Porsche Carrera 2, went through extreme changes, and is now available to order. Created by the founder of Vorsteiner, every inch of the car has been re-engineered to form a limited-production luxury sport package, which pays homage to the 911 name. Whether it is the hand-crafted clay-modeled bodylines finished in the highest grade carbon fiber, or the crown jewel 400 hp, 4.0-liter engine mounted in the rear, not a stone has been left unturned. The 25 individuals lucky enough to own one of these treasures will have to shell out approximately $525,000 to do so, but my goodness, does it look worth it!
In the Mackin Industries booth space—specifically RAYS wheels— was an extravagant Toyota 86 clad in the coveted Varis Kamikaze-86 kit. This elaborate dressing, rich in carbon fiber, covered nearly every panel of the car, to transform the basic looking sports coupe into a track day menace. The original design of the kit can be viewed in our Tokyo Auto Salon coverage from last year, but its hood incorporates ducting designed to release hot air from the radiator/intercooler directly into the atmosphere. Due to an array of conflicting modifications, the ductwork needed to be trimmed and removed from this particular example’s hood, although the ducts still function by unleashing unwanted heat from the Blitz turbocharger kit. The car also rides on a bespoke setup of RAYS/Moton collaborative dampers made specifically for this vehicle.
Placed behind the Kamikaze-86 was this new Volk Racing wheel design called the TE037, playing off the long-lasting success of the TE37 model. Utilizing the same distinct lightweight six-spoke design as its motorsport bred cousin, this forged wheel sheds extra ounces by fortifying the spokes more at the barrel, and incorporating carefully machined pockets throughout the vertical wall of the wheel face. This has proved to save over 300g per wheel, and that’s a massive amount when you consider that even the slightest drop in unsprung mass is noticeable.
Our friend Rob Ida has done it again! (We’re considered friends right, Rob?) If you recall our features of his past two SEMA debuts —the Porsche 930 Turbo, and Mercury Custom—you’ll remember that he has a definitive style, in that everything he touches seems to morph into a perfect blend of highly customized yet understated splendor. His execution no different this year, he took a commonly forgotten automobile manufacturer, and renovated it into a masterpiece that attracted a crowd all week long. In the Axalta booth was his Tucker Twin Turbo, perfectly enveloped in a fitting aqua metallic paint color. In an effort to both complement and contrast the lighter shade of paint, Ida and his team fitted conflicting style wheels onto different sides of the car. The driver’s side was equipped with period-correct elegant white wall tires accompanied by chrome hubcaps, while the passenger’s side donned a more modern, aggressive pair of gunmetal billet wheels with smaller tires. Which looked better is yet to be determined. We’re just hoping we can get our hands on this latest creation for another feature, so we can explore the details in-depth and showcase another standout from the New Jersey native.
This must be said; I’ve wanted an interesting Isuzu or Mitsubishi flatbed tow truck to haul my fun car around for years now, ever since I saw how track cars are hauled in Japan. While other attendees may have taken a glance at this and saw a funky old Corolla on a tow truck, I see an idea I’ve lusted after put into action. In this case, the Isuzu NPR is decked out in a matching wild livery and equipped with custom Air Lift Performance suspension to alter the ride height. The wheels, interior, and matching Corolla are just a plus. My friends all think I’m crazy, but hopefully I can complete what I’m looking for someday.
The Spyder Lighting booth is always filled with attractive eccentricities, however never as prevalent as this year. Sporting a rare Old&New slantnose kit from Japan, this 997-chassis was the main draw for their booth. With a striking red and blue livery draped across its white painted exterior, it certainly had a presence on their stage.
Elsewhere in the booth was a Porsche Cayman with more exterior whatchamacallits and do-dads than I’ve ever seen before. This car looks like it has never, and likely will never put any of them to use. For some that’s a complete loss, but I think this car mashes all of these different details into one solid package and pulls it all off quite well. It would be hard to keep a car looking so linear in ideals, while being plagued with so many different accessories—something I think this car does well. So while it might not be my exact cup of tea, I enjoy it for other reasons.
Rod Emory’s 356RSR at the Momo booth may not be a finished car, but its partial completion and initial concept were worthy enough of a spot in the massive event, and didn’t have a problem drawing a crowd. In an effort to have almost endless suspension, and wheel and tire options and technology, while retaining a classic look, this build took the ‘best of both worlds’ approach. Emory has done this by taking the iconic and simple—yet dated—body of a Porsche 356, and mating it to the more advanced bottom half of a 964-chassis Porsche 911.
For me, the crossroads where the two pieces meet is the coolest part of the build, and one of the main reasons I was glad the car was being displayed, although not yet completed. And who can argue with those super cool centerlock Momo Heritage wheels?
Let the engine swaps begin! Honda Racing/HPD recently announced their new K20C1 crate engine program. That’s right, the 306 hp turbocharged VTEC engine is now available for purchase without the $30,000 body of the Civic Type R it normally calls home. The engine can be had for the relatively small price of $6,000. With so many K-series Honda engine mount kits already in existence, I’d imagine these will be transplanted into their fair share of classic Civic models quite quickly.
Bearing one of the simplest yet most attractive vehicles on the whole grounds was KW Suspensions and their display including this stunning 911. While the exterior is very plain, as we’ve already learned this is something that causes me to take notice while at SEMA. The OEM exterior pulls off the perfect combination of black trim pieces and paint-matched paneling. The addition of the Recaro racing seats, roll cage, and contrasting black BBS wheels—with massive Nitto NT01 tires—complete the aggressive, yet subtle modifications. This car was a standout favorite for me mostly due to its efficient use of simplicity.
Okay, I needed someone to explain this to me. This 350Z’s graphics lit up intermittently on their own. No exterior booth lighting flashing on and off to cause reflective paint/vinyl to pop. No visible wires hooked up to a piece of electrified vinyl. The designs were apparently painted in LumiLor electroluminescent paint, a light emitting multi-layered coating that follows a principle similar to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in order to create light. By that I mean, there are two ends of a circuit as the bread (think each side of a battery), which pass current through a combination of luminescent layers (the peanut butter and jelly) producing an electric current, and voila! This paint gains the ability to illuminate like this. It’s such a simple concept that comes together for a wild display. It certainly caught my eye and forced me to dig deeper on how it works—although, if I’m honest I still don’t completely understand it. They do have a few videos to better explain it on their website.
Moving back outside, there is just as much ground to cover, and with endless crowds populating every direction it can be hard to get shots of everything at the show. Luckily if you’re organized and pick out everything you want to see, and create a list system, you can find enough time to see all of them without running yourself ragged.
At the risk of being Porsche heavy in this article I’m going to continue citing them, there were just too many excellent examples from the Stuttgart-native moniker to ignore. This perfect 356 specimen located outside the Central Hall doors was tough to capture vacant all week. Its subdued grey paint, one-off Rotiform wheels fit for the build, and the Accuair-assisted squatting ride height were a delight for passersby throughout the week. Truly a statement when a 57-year-old automobile can create this much buzz at an event centralized around innovation and modern technology.
Amongst the outdoor displays, I stumbled across this unique lifted Toyota Land Cruiser from CAtuned. Outfitted with huge Toyo Open Country tires, a mechanical winch system, roof racking and lighting, and select survival items, this all-terrain vehicle showed that the often-overlooked FJ60-chassis could handle its own in a rugged off-road setting.
TDemand’s booth housed two incredibly low Lexii (that’s the plural for Lexus, right?). The first a stunning black LC500 model, while the other a vaguely less stunning GS. The pair of black Lexii was modified using matching orange TDemand suspension and braking products, with SSR Executor CV04S wheels strapped to all four corners. The combination of exceptionally low matching black luxury cars made for one of my favorite setups of the event.
Even without the associated bias, the Evasive Motorsports/Turn 14 Distribution GT-R would still be one of my favorites of the entire show. Few can produce such a quality build, using an elite mixture of brands to culminate into such a stunning final product like Evasive can. They have a proven track record (no pun) of building visually outstanding vehicles that have proven their worth on the racetrack, too. Something that’s become a rarity recently in a sea of track-oriented builds. Subscribe, and stay tuned to Front Street because we have coverage coming of this machine at Super Lap Battle, along with the final installment of its Build Series article.
My final highlight from the SEMA Show comes from a hallway display car outside the Mackin Industries booth. I have followed the build of this EG-chassis Honda Civic for several years, and this is not only the most refined it has appeared on the exterior, but also the most track-prepared underneath. The owner has always maintained hours abusing this car on the racetrack, all while keeping it at the forefront of changing trends in Honda visuals. Now widened using the additions of the famous Pandem widebody kit, this particular car’s expanded panels house copious amounts of tire for better grip in corners—not to win a Best Stance award. Its barren interior is purpose built, with only one seat for the driver, a digital dash display, and a large shifter for the Quaife sequential gearbox located under the hood. Want to know the best part of the whole thing? Soon you can drive the car yourself—well, digitally at least. This Honda Civic won the Gran Turismo Best in Show award at SEMA, as voted by Kazunori Yamauchi, the illustrious video game series’ creator. As a byproduct, it will be scanned and immortalized into a future edition of the Gran Turismo series. What an honor, and I can’t think of a more deserving car to win.
Back at my hotel sat this gorgeous 991-chassis Porsche from Strassesport equipped with Moton suspension, centerlock BBS Motorsport wheels, and various Cup-spec aero pieces. It might not have been in the event display, but perched outside my hotel in this photogenic location all week sure made it a highlight of my trip.
I’ll leave you with a picture of the Las Vegas Monorail doing what it does best, and that’s carting convention attendees around various parts of Sin City. Something I regrettably didn’t use once, which could be the reason for my high walking mileage every day. Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed my look back at this magnificent spectacle. There was just too much material to choose from so take some time and go through the humongous gallery below for more greatness. Thanks for reading!