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SEMA 2012: Our Top 20 Favorite Rides

SEMA 2012 Top 20 Title

It’s taken about a fortnight, but we’ve finally made a full recovery from our SEMA Show hangover. So…now what? Well, after going through our notes and editing our pictures, we realized that there was an absolute glut of customized cars and trucks squeezed into the Las Vegas Convention Center. Such a glut, in fact, that we wouldn’t have any trouble compiling a list of the top 20 vehicles from the show.

So that’s exactly what we’ve done. And when our friends at Nitto Tire got wind that we were working on this, they decided to throw their support behind it. Thanks guys! Anyway, here, in no particular order, are our favorite dozen plus eight rides from SEMA 2012.

Toyota DragQuoia

Toyota DragQuoia Concept

For this year’s SEMA Show, Toyota asked four of its pro drivers to customize a new Toyota vehicle, with the winner of a fan vote getting $50,000 for the charity of his or her choice. This insane fat-tired, giant-winged, supercharged Sequoia, conceived by NHRA Top Fuel ace Antron Brown, did not win. But don’t feel sorry for Mr. Brown: This past weekend, at the NHRA Finals in Pomona, California, he became the first African-American champion of a major auto racing series. And having interviewed him a couple times in a previous journalistic life, we can confidently say it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Trans Am Depot Hurst Edition Trans Am

Trans Am Depot Hurst Edition Trans Am

Pontiac may be dead, but that hasn’t stopped the aftermarket from keeping the Firebird and Trans Am alive by restyling the current Chevrolet Camaro. Trans Am Depot, as its name suggests, specializes in doing exactly that, and the offering that had us staring the most longingly is the Hurst Edition Trans Am. Basically a love letter to the 1977 Special Edition Trans Am that starred alongside Burt Reynolds and ensemble in Smokey and the Bandit, it features that car’s immortal black and gold color scheme, giant “Screaming Chicken” hood decal, and t-tops. Alas, a trunk full of Coors and a CB radio are not included.

Bisimoto Hyundai Elantra GT

Bisimoto Hyundai Elantra GT

The Hyundai Elantra GT is a fine five-door compact, but it’s a little light on horsepower. Tuner Bisimoto fixed that problem, and then added a few hundred extra horsepower for good measure. The total output figure for this wildly decorated runabout? Six-hundred angry ponies. Yeah, yeah, we know, that’s way too much for front-wheel drive. But on a flat surface, with the steering wheel perfectly straight, we wouldn’t mind one attempt at uncorking that turbocharged fury.

Chevrolet Camaro Hot Wheels Edition

Chevrolet Camaro Hot Wheels Edition

Most of us car guys fell in love with cars thanks to Hot Wheels, and Chevrolet is no doubt banking on that to drive sales of the Camaro Hot Wheels Edition. The 21” redline wheels are a shoutout to the ones on the early Hot Wheels offerings, and there are numerous Camaro ZL1-inspired body add-ons, and a fat, matte black stripe across the hood, trunk and, in the case of coupes, the top. And if you can’t afford a new Camaro plus the $6,995 (*barf*) MSRP of the option package, you can buy a 1:64 scale Camaro Hot Wheels Edition from (duh) Hot Wheels.

Fatlace Nissan GT-R

Fatlace Nissan GT-R

SEMA was hardly short on modified Nissan GT-Rs, but this widebody number from Fatlace, in our opinion, was a cut above its peers. The restrained stripe scheme, fat wheels and tires, and a widebody kit that seems to be a modern take on the flared Hakosuka and Kenmeri Skylines of the early ‘70s all make a fantastic ensemble. We’d love to give this thing a workout, if you know what we mean. And we really do mean we’d like to give it a workout. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Toyota Rowdy Edition Camry

Toyota Rowdy Edition Camry

So if Antron’s DragQuoia didn’t win the Toyota Racing Dream Build Challenge, what did? That would be the Rowdy Edition Camry, the “Rowdy” being NASCAR star Kyle Busch. Based on the hot dog SE V6 version of America’s favorite transportation appliance, Kyle’s design adds oodles of black (with some red pinstriping), hood scoops, rear diffuser with integrated exhaust tips, and a NASCAR-style rear spoiler. It’s concrete proof that just about any car can be made cool.

Icon Dodge D200 Reformer Series

Icon Dodge D200

Icon 4×4, best known for crafting modernized Toyota Land Cruisers and Jeeps, wowed SEMA attendees with this big, white Dodge crew cab. In traditional Icon fashion, the styling may be classic, but what’s underneath is most certainly not. The frame is a modified late model Ram 3500 unit, and the engine is a 5.9L Cummins inline-six turbodiesel that’s been tweaked by Banks Power to make 975 lb.-ft of torque. It cost a pretty penny to put together, but every one of those pennies was well spent.

Chevrolet Malibu Turbo Performance Concept

Chevrolet Malibu Turbo Performance Concept

The new Chevrolet Malibu is a nice midsize sedan, but it doesn’t really set our tongues a-wagging, even in top-drawer Turbo form. This Malibu Turbo Performance Concept, on the other hand, is a rather tasty morsel. A handsome bodykit, big hoops and matte blue paint dominate the exterior, while blue suede interior trim and Recaro bucket seats spice up the interior. If you ask us, a production version would be a nice foil to the Camry SE.

Ford Mustang Cobra Jet Twin Turbo Concept

Ford Mustang Cobra Jet Twin Turbo Concept

The Ford Mustang Cobra Jet is the original 21st century turn-key drag car. And the latest version, with either a normally aspirated or supercharged 5.0L “Coyote” V8, is quite the quarter-mile monster. So what does that make this prototype turbocharged Cobra Jet? We’re going to go with quarter-mile Cthulhu. Where are your gods now, Camaro COPO and Challenger Drag Pak?

Fiat 500 Café Racer Concept

Fiat 500 Cafe Racer Concept

What happens when you chop the top and gut the interior of a Fiat 500 Abarth? You end up with something like the Fiat 500 Café Racer Concept. By itself it’s a cool ride, yes. But throw in the trailer and the matching, Abarth-scorpion-adorned custom motorcycle it carries? Well, then you have the hottest hoonage rig this side of the Adriatic Sea.

Pure Vision Ford Mustang T-5R

Pure Vision Ford Mustang T-5R

We’re big fans of alternate history. The science of the what-if, if you will. Pure Vision, a SoCal shop, wondered what would have happened if, in the mid-1960s, Ford executives had teamed up with an infant Martini Racing to help promote the Mustang and Martini spirits in Europe. Their best guess? The Martini Mustang T-5R. The distinctive red-and-blue stripes and Shelby GT350 aping body mods are certainly convincing, but the enlarged-to-300-cubic-inches version of the DOHC V8 that powered legends like Jim Clark, Graham Hill, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti to Indy 500 wins pushes the bounds of believability. Not that we’re complaining, mind you; in fact, we’re doing the exact opposite.

Ranz Motorsports Mercedes-Benz 280C

Ranz Motorsports Mercedes-Benz 280C

In 99.99% of cases, we aren’t fans of engines from one manufacturer transplanted into a car or truck from another manufacturer. But this black baroque beauty from Ranz Motorsports fits into the 0.01% of vehicles for which we’ll make an exception. The stock 2.8L SOHC straight-six has been replaced with a 3.0L DOHC turbocharged 2JZE inline-six from a Toyota Aristo (the Lexus GS300’s JDM cousin). The dashboard is a narrowed Lexus IS250 piece. And the stance is right on the money. Keep your peepers peeled for a feature on this malevolent Merc in the near future.

Eckerts Rod and Custom Ford Mustang Mach 40

Eckert Mustang Mach 40

Some time ago, someone must have asked what a 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 crossed with a Ford GT would look like. Thanks to the work of David Eckert and his team of craftsmen, the whole world now knows the answer. The Mustang Mach 40 features a GT engine and transaxle mounted in the middle of a squished and stretched ’69 Mustang body shell riding on C6 Corvette suspension. In case that’s not enough, the driver can dial up as much as 850hp from the supercharged 5.4L V8, and its overall victory in the annual Gran Turismo Awards means it will eventually appear in a Gran Turismo game.

Karlsson Holden8r

Karlsson Holden8r Ute

Australia, in addition to being crawling with animals that can kill you and mind-meltingly beautiful women, is also a sort of an automotive Land of the Lost. Ford and GM both build rear-wheel-drive sedans offered with either six- or eight-cylinder engines, which is cool. Even cooler is the fact that they build pickup trucks called utes based on those sedans. Bernt Karlsson not only imported the Holden Ute seen above, and converted it to lefthand-drive, he also grafted a Camaro nose onto it. Are you paying attention, Chevy product planners?

Underground Racing Audi R8 GT Stage 3

Underground Racing Audi R8 GT

The Audi R8 GT is fast. An Audi R8 GT with an Underground Racing twin-turbo kit is faster. And an Audi R8 GT with an Underground Racing Stage 3 kit, which offers up 1,000hp on pump gas? Hooooooo boy. Naturally, the Underground crew chooses to display this Teutonic terror sans rear fascia, so engine-porn addicts like us can ogle the team’s handywork. We’re told the car is cloaked in matte red, but all we saw was turbo plumbing. Twisty, sexy turbo plumbing…

Cartel Customs Scion FR-S Masterminded

Cartel Customs Scion FR-S Mastermind

Cartel Customs has built many custom Scions over the years, including an FR-S prior to this. It was a roadster that debuted at the Long Beach Formula Drift event, and was present at SEMA. But the FR-S making its debut at SEMA was this orange and black beast called Mastermind. The top has been chopped, and then mostly removed. The B-pillars have also been ditched, and the front and rear fenders have been pushed outward. Obviously the FR-S’s driving dynamics have been severely compromised, but for cruising or stationary showing, this baby is a work of genius.

Patrick Ng Toyota Corolla TE27

Patrick Ng Toyota Corolla TE27

We love old-school Japanese resto-mods as much as the next gaijin, but this orange Corolla is just right. The fender-mounted mirrors. The fender flares. The throwback Enkei wheels. And that so-early-‘70s orange paint. The Toyobaru siblings wish they could be this bitchin’.

Cosworth Ford Focus ST CS 330

Cosworth Ford Focus ST CS 330

Ford and Cosworth are basically the Simon and Garfunkel of the motorsports world. They haven’t been working together non-stop, but when they have been collaborating, the results (DFV Formula 1 engine, Sierra RS Cosworth, Escort RS Cosworth) have been amazing. Their latest project? The Cosworth Focus ST CS 300. The name drives one to assume two things: 1) It’s based on the new Focus ST, and 2) its 2.0L EcoBoost powerplant has been coaxed into making 330hp. Both assumptions are correct.

Tanom Motors Invader

Tanom Motors Invader

Trikes that are cruiser motorcycles that have been converted to dual rear wheels? Lame. Trikes that have car-like fronts pushed along by superbike rears? Rad. Thankfully, the Tanom Motors Invader (offered in roadster or semi-enclosed coupe versions) belongs to the latter group. With a beastly 1,300cc Suzuki Hayabusa four-banger shoving the crypto-Italian supercar cockpit and front wheels toward the horizon, the Invader is a refreshingly different way to scratch your performance driving itch.

Jeff Dunham UltraViolet Dodge Challenger

Jeff Dunham UltraViolet Dodge Challenger

Finally, it wouldn’t be SEMA without at least one celebrity-commissioned custom ride. This year the one getting most of the attention in that arena was comedian/ventriloquist/car nut Jeff Dunham’s powerfully purple Dodge Challenger. The grape-a-licious hue and functional hoodscoop add to the Challenger’s baked-in retro vibe, but the 22” HRE wheels and Mopar 426 cubic inch Generation 3 Hemi crate engine keep it firmly grounded in the 21st century. See parents, playing with puppets and being the class clown can pay off eventually.



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