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SEMA Awards: EV Datsun Z Features Revolutionary Design and Full Carbon Body
BY Sam Du //
November 29, 2023
@duspeed
Photography: Brandon Cody
@bcody_formative
  • The Pit+Paddock SEMA Awards returned for its third consecutive year with presenting partner AST Suspension and guest judges Ryan Basseri of Rywire Motorsports Electronics, Mike Burroughs of Stanceworks, and Coen de Korte of AST.
  • The celebrity judging panel along with the Pit+Paddock staff honored two car builders who demonstrated an elite level of originality, creativity, and execution in the aftermarket performance world. 
  • This year’s trophies took the form of Pelican Air Travel Cases hand-painted with Pit+Paddock and AST Suspension logos.
  • The 2023 Pit+Paddock x AST Suspension winners are Dom Tucci with his 1989 Mercedes-Benz 190E and Tim Hicks with his 1977 Datsun 280Z.
  • In this article, we interview Tim Hicks of Industry Garage to learn about his custom carbon-bodied, EV-powered Z that debuted at the CSF Radiators booth.

If you’ve ever traveled to the SEMA Show, then you’ll certainly know what we mean when we say it’s “pure sensory overload”. 2023 was a historic year in that 2,200 companies exhibited with a whopping 160,000 attendees walking the show that takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center. To see everything the SEMA Show has to offer in four days is pretty much impossible (unless you’re not human), but due to the massive number of awesome project car debuts, SEMA is the one place where you’ll get a chance to see America’s top builds all under one roof. This is also why SEMA created a competition called Battle of the Builders (BOTB) to recognize the best of the best; however, not without some stipulations.

As one of the original judges of BOTB and someone who’s reported on SEMA for two decades, I found that the coolest cars that you and I care about often go unnoticed at BOTB. It’s quite unfair for grassroots and street-tuned performance cars to go up against the likes of million-dollar hot rods. This is why in 2021, we launched the Pit+Paddock SEMA Awards, and for our third edition, we were ecstatic to bring it back with presenting partner AST Suspension.

WINNERS CIRCLE

To give you an idea of some of the extraordinary vehicles that have received the Pit+Paddock SEMA award, look no further than the creativity and presence of last year’s winners. 

Sam Morris of Gooichi Motors was easily one of the biggest crowd favorites of 2022 with his “Pistachio” Mazda RX-7. The previously LS-powered FD has been to SEMA before, but Version Two redefined what a showstopper was with an absurd 7.3-liter V12 engine swap and Kyza-designed widebody kit. 

Also receiving our top honors was Mike Burroughs of Stanceworks who hasn’t just made a name for himself as a skilled builder but also a bona fide YouTube host thanks to his thorough documentary of his K24-swapped Ferrari 308. It was Mike’s incredible ingenuity, raw talent, and knowledge, that made it an easy decision for us to award him a Pit+Paddock SEMA Award, and also elect him to be one of this year’s esteemed judges along with Ryan Basseri of Rywire Motorsports Electronics and Coen de Korte of AST.

THE MOST RUGGED TROPHIES 

Growing up, I can vividly remember my brother and car club friends taking home extravagant trophies from shows. They certainly looked cool at the time, but eventually collected enough dust to be tossed in the trash years later. Since we started Pit+Paddock, we’ve been getting as creative by not giving out useless trophies but transforming them into functional pieces. From coffee tables to coolers, wallets to bags, we’re continuing to evolve our award offerings, and for 2023’s Pit+Paddock x AST Suspension SEMA Awards, we collaborated with protective case specialist Pelican. 

Since 1976, they’ve made a name for themselves by manufacturing the most durable cases on the planet that are regularly used by police, firefighters, military, photographers, medical workers, and more. Our award winners received one of their most popular pieces, the 1535TRVL Air Travel Case, which is a maximum carry-on size case that can be used to air travel with ease. To personalize the cases, we contracted artist Eric Ramirez to hand paint the Pit+Paddock and AST logos.

DATSUN DEFIES THE ODDS

In our first SEMA Awards article, we showcased Dom Tucci and his Ford Ecoboost-powered Mercedes 190E. It was a well-polished build that landed him in the Top 12 of Battle of the Builders. As for our other Best of Show winner from SEMA 2023, it was a unanimous judge’s choice that Tim Hicks and his 1977 Datsun 280Z would take the crown. 

While Dom’s 190E has taken him several years, Tim on the other hand, started out with a $500 rusted shell and dedicated the last six months to converting the S30 into something spectacular. The futuristic design is a concept by Make Haste Corp, then the bespoke carbon fiber pieces are all done by Tim himself through his company Industry Garage. The real kicker is this Z isn’t powered by an LS, RB, or K-Series. Under the gorgeous carbon hides a Tesla Model S drive unit that’s capable of making over 400hp. Nicknamed the “Legacy Z”, Tim’s creation is surely one of the best EV-converted projects we’ve seen in the last decade, and a clear winner in the Pit+Paddock x AST Suspension 2023 SEMA Awards.

INTERVIEW WITH TIM HICKS

Can you tell us a little bit about what Industry Garage is and what your gig is like there? 
Industry Garage is a Composites company that focuses on hand-built carbon panels made here in the USA. We build full bespoke projects like our Carbon Z, as well as composite parts for S30, S13, Lotus Exgie/Elise, and S2000 chassis to list a few. We aim to educate our audience in the art of making your own composites and breaking down the barriers to entry with our step-by-step guides on YouTube and our DIY carbon kits that we offer. Nothing glamorous or glossed over, just plain and simple.

It took me a second but now I remember seeing your original 240Z project car at one of our meets, right? 
Yes, Turn 14 Distribution and Pit+Paddock actually played a big role in the journey to arriving here at this build. I debuted my previous Carbon Z project at the T14 Car Meet two years ago. I met Larry Chen there and recorded a YouTube feature with him, which is where Ash Thorp and Carlos Colorsponge first heard about me. It’s funny how the universe pushes the right people together. I’m just glad to be along for the ride!

What about the previous project helped you build this crazier Z, especially given you only had six months to do it?
My first Carbon Z project was a leap of faith. Many of my first carbon panels I made were part of that build. That car taught me so much. It is a true track focused car, ultra-light being 1,800lbs, loud, uncomfortable, and ridiculously quick, which is what you want in a track car, but that’s where this new Z comes in. I have built plenty of project cars in my 17 years in this industry. In doing so I have finally narrowed down what I am looking for in a weekend cruiser. Something to go to Cars+Coffee in and not be dreading the ride home. It doesn’t wake the neighbors, it has adjustable power steering, A/C, a plush interior, a hidden stereo system. All while looking like it should be in a Bladerunner x Batman movie mashup. 

Well, we hope you can make it to our next Cars+Coffee event this coming Spring! What prompted you to decide to go electric for this build?
The electric conversion field is something that has interested me for years, and I have wanted to get hands-on and learn as much about it as possible. The decision to make this Z electric was the very first decision when designing this project with Ash and Carlos. The rest of the car has been designed around highlighting what makes an electric car different, such as the huge pass through in the hood, hinting at the lack of an engine under the hood and the cutouts in the rear that allow air to pass through the quarters and through the twin CSF radiators. 

If three things stood out about the Z, I would say it’s the powertrain, its custom design, and the amount of carbon fiber used. Can you break down why these three particular things are special to you?
The Tesla powertrain is a great platform to start with, especially when using AEM’s EV line of controllers and components. You can get in deep and learn how the components all work together without needing to be a software engineer. 

The design of the body is the real star of the show. Ash and Carlos worked in tandem to carve out every detail of the body. With every iteration, the design language grew sharper and more defined. It has been a wild ride working with these two. They really pushed me past my comfort zone to make this happen in such a short time, but I am so glad they did. They are both accomplished artists, but together as a team, there is nothing like them! 

Building this Z completely out of carbon fiber, while not my first time, has been the hardest aspect of the build. Leaving the raw carbon exposed and using a V-weave down the center of every panel leaves little room for mistakes. When you make a small mistake with large composite projects like this, they can be expensive, both in time and resources. Luckily, we have great partners like Fibre Glast, who supplied us with the carbon materials for this project, proudly made in the USA.


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