From the Archives - My Favorite Cars from SEMA 2019
What’s this? A back to back feature? You’re absolutely right. There was so much I wanted to write about SEMA 2019, I had to make two features to cover it all. Last week’s was a teaser, and this week, is the big one. Hope you are ready.
If you asked the general population of car enthusiasts (50% in the real world, 50% internet comments) what comes to mind when they hear ‘SEMA’, it’s a no brainer on what they collectively think of: the builds. The cars that make their way from all over the United States, and for some, the world, to the Las Vegas Convention Center, to be displayed prominently at a product booth.
As you may have read on last week’s feature (link here in case you missed it), SEMA is not a car show for your average Instabuilds and to brag about who can get the most ‘clout’: its primary function is for the aftermarket industry to conduct business and prepare for the quarter ahead. The cars have been invited to attend with one primary purpose in mind: to serve as the marketing tool for the latest products manufacturers are aiming to sell in the upcoming year or so.
Sure, some SEMA builds have built up a memetic-reputation once you look underneath all the glitz and glamour: questionable welding, hastily done wraps, or the running joke for lifted-truck builds in 2019, Bluetooth driveshafts (it’s a real thing, look it up).
You can imagine how it was for me, a novice to the entire thing, to take it all in; admiring each and every car, from the North to South Halls, not to mention the areas in between each hall too. As much as I would like to say every car that was there that year was my favorite, ultimately, I would write endlessly about every car on this page.
So to make things easier for both of us, I’m focusing on the top 12 cars from SEMA 2019 that caught my eye, or at least I remembered to take photos of. (10 was too little, 20 would be too many, 15 pushing it, so 12 was a fair compromise in my head.)
Tavarish’s 2003 Lamborghini Murcielago (from Fate of the Furious/Furious 7)
Steven Nadaskai’s Volkswagen Golf GTI MK6
Part of the SEMA ‘Young Guns’ section this year, the ‘Young Guns’ is a separate ‘Battle of the Builders’ competition, facing against cars built by builders aged 17-29 years old. Away from the bigger event, the Young Guns aim to provide inspiration and give new and emerging talent a moment in the spotlight at SEMA, whilst getting tips & pointers from some of the biggest names in the industry.
One of this year's entrants happens to be a build I've been following for awhile: Steven Nadaskai, and his Volkswagen MK6 Golf GTI. What used to be his very first car, has become a different kind of machine now.
I happened to first encounter Steven’s VW while at a separate car event: South OC Cars and Coffee, a time when the Golf was in its blue wrap days and rocking roof racks. The only thing that has remained the same since last encountering it a year ago, has to be those Rotiform wheels on the already-meaty fitment, along with those widebody fenders.
Speaking of, while its easy to knock off on widebody being overdone in the modification crowd, it takes a dedicated few to pull off quality - well done, widebody kits and stance setups. You bet Steven's is in that minority.
I’ve followed Steven since then. I might not have been at the beginning; but I have seen him and his car transform overtime. It's primarily gone through subtle changes to improve on the existing mods: much like the Golf has changed with each generation. Small changes, to perfect an already perfect hatchback.
And you got to love exposed aluminum shifters, right? The perfect balance of street, race, and show. Which this car has done.
Steven didn’t make it to the top 10 finalists that year, but he still took home the title as regional champion (Southern California). The fact his build made it to the final round in Vegas is an achievement worth celebrating itself.
Even outside of his SEMA journey, bit by bit, month after month. I love seeing each and every stage he has been with his build. Which is why I feel he and his MK6 deserve a moment in the spotlight. Take note of Steven and his VW, he's got big things in store.
Bisimoto’s Porsche 935 'K3' (EV Conversion)
Looking into the future has also inspired the styling of this unique 935: with the widebody K3 kit and the Brixton Forged BM01 wheels sporting turbofan designs made specially for this car, it looks like it drove out of the world of Cyberpunk 2077.
Lars Wolfe’s Nissan Juke ‘Multi-Purpose Racer’
7LTHY Customs Mercedes Benz 190E W201 ‘Evil Evo’
Dean Pang’s 2020 Toyota Supra (A90)
Quintin Brothers Performance 2019 Dodge Challenger Hellcat
They decided to bring the car anyway.
Evident by the crime scene tape still on the bodywork, along with the assortment of trash left inside, they got it released from the police impound right before the show opened its doors.To add the cherry on top of this wild story, they even invited the Highway Patrol officer involved in the hit and run, to do a meet and greet at the booth.
If you asked me for a memorable ‘life gives you lemons’ story, this is probably one of the best examples.
River City Rods' 1983 Chevrolet C30 ‘Brown Sugar’ Motorhome
I caught wind of this retro-styled truck through one of the Facebook car groups I am part of, ‘Radwood’. In the first few photos learning about it, I was drawn to the unique pattern on the side, and the fact it was brown was somewhat eye catching for me.
It just spoke pure 1980s, when brown was the trending color, and seemingly went with everything. You just needed to be wearing a knitted cardigan with pull-up trousers, and you’d instantly fit in.
This camper is based on a 1983 Chevrolet C30, built out of Davenport, Iowa by River City Rods. While they have only been operating since 2016, they have gotten a good start already, specializing in 'dump' [extremely low-riding] truck builds. This one, the 'Brown Sugar', may be powered by a typical American muscle powerplant: a 5.3 litre LS V8 to be precise, but it turns heads in more than just power (and it isn't clearly meant for full performance).
The outside is only part of the story: step inside and the interior is a time machine to the 1980s. A sound system hidden behind some booze barrels, a sink made out of the surface of a Coke cooler, and other finite details in the metal/woodwork that highlight the craftsmanship gone into this retro-styled camper.
A feature on HiddenPalmTree is that will go more into Radwood is in the works, and will explore more upon why the 'old days' are suddenly trending now. There is good reason why: after all, who wouldn't want to go camping in this?
Best part is: right after SEMA, this build was put up for auction online. Whoever won this Chevy Camper (that is fully functional for the countryside getaway or aspiring Heisenberg), is hopefully living their nostalgic dreams of the 80s.
Foose Design 1974 Jaguar E Type Roadster
As a young car enthusiast in the 2000s, most would have grown up watching episodes of ‘Pimp My Ride’ on MTV, but growing up in the Asia Pacific region, meant we didn’t get MTV. So instead, I made do with Discovery Real Time (Turbo), and reruns of a show called Overhaulin’. Which I’m glad I grew up with instead, considering Overhaulin’ was like the latter, except they ‘pimped’ the cars under the hood, as well as with the exterior/interior.
The show notably introduced me to one of my many childhood heroes: Chip Foose. The points in the show where he sketches out what the client’s car will eventually look like resonated with me. Thanks to him, I was keen to get into automotive design, but that route suffice to say, ended up not working out (thanks to my poor artistic skills).
Despite going down a route to express myself through the art of English, I still dreamt of seeing one of Foose’s builds in person. Luckily, I had a chance: in the form of this Jaguar E-Type.
Over the course of two and a half years, Foose and his team transformed this E-Type. The English powerplant under the hood was exchanged with an all-American LS crate motor, capable of 525 horses. Modernisation mods such as upgraded brakes and suspension, along with a four-speed automatic gearbox were also done to the Jag.
Being one of the most renowned car designers out there, trying to improve on an already perfect design was difficult enough. Yet Foose's team still found ways to make a mark: the sloping hood now has a scoop, the rear trunk lid extended & tapered; even minor details were requested by the client to be customized. Hence, the badge less front grille, headlight inserts handmade from brass, and larger one-off wheels (still sporting a similar design to the original smaller ones).
But as I learned through one of his SEMA panels that week, to Foose, the E-Type is an important car to him: being the last build his late father got to see before he passed away from cancer.
When one of the most iconic automotive designs in the world gets improved upon by one of the world's famous designers, you bet Foose is proud of this build.
Daniel Wu’s 1968 ‘Restomod’ Honda S800
Hailing from the city, I have to support Hong Kong culture, or a fellow HKer no matter where they may be. Especially when they are someone with a passion for cars. Daniel Wu, actor known recently for ‘Into the Badlands’, shares his passion for cars along with being a family man, actor, director, and musician.
While he was no stranger to SEMA, having entered a Datsun build that was part of SEMA 2017, surprisingly, he was still relatively new to the Honda scene in his thirty years of car ownership. Yet his break into Hondas, in the form of this S800, is an awe-inspiring work of art for someone unfamiliar with the platform.
Built in response to a near- death experience, and an urge to 'get out and do it', Wu enlisted Kei Mura from widebody specialist Pandem; penning the custom fender flares and decklid spoiler made especially for this car, and only this car. All were designed in his home country of Japan before being sent off to the West Coast to be installed. Internally, aside from a custom GReddy stainless-steel exhaust system, the factory engine has been kept untouched. For a classic car as compact and light as this, more power is unnecessary.
The details and shape will gather more than enough attention, especially the fenders that give off European sportscar vibes. Hence, why Wu has called this the "Chinpira"; a Japanese term to refer to an aspiring Yakuza member or troublemaker. Which as he describes it, "aims" to be like a mainstream sports car.
Just admire the lines of the S800’s body, combined with the upholstery work done by DJ Designs inside upon closer inspection, and you’ll see why this was a highly conversed build at SEMA 2019. Daniel not only has good taste, he knows how to pull off a quality restomod.
And as I wrote earlier about how some builds ‘do more with less’, Wu’s S800 sets a good example in that: a nice break away from show builds that have a liberal amount of spoilers and have a need to 'shout' their presence. The sedate, subtle route for an old car like his, proves less is still enough to turn heads.
Ally Pierce’s 2017 Toyota Tundra (The Pandra)
An old saying goes: “No matter how much you throw at it, you can’t kill a Toyota.” Just look at Top Gear and their efforts to ‘kill’ a Toyota Hilux. Not the seaside, not fire, nor even a controlled demolition could make it give up.
It seems that has carried on to the modern day Toyota trucks, as this 2017 Tundra can attest to.
Pierce, an ICU nurse working at Feather River Hospital in the town of Paradise, California, was one of the first responders to report to the Camp Fire wildfires in 2018, that raged through the Northern California region. 240 square miles, all in flames; 19,000 buildings in Butte County all gone, and an estimated $10 billion dollars in damage from the fires alone.
Notably, he made headlines of his heroic actions shuttling patients out of the hospital to safety while the fires raged. Twice. All thanks to his truck, this very 2017 Toyota Tundra SR5.
Despite the extreme heat and at one point being blocked in by abandoned vehicles on the route out to the safe zone in neighboring Chico, the Tundra never skipped a beat.
And it lived to tell the tale. Despite the fact it might have lost a headlight or two in the blistering heat.
The battle scars are still evident in the comfort of the climate-controlled Las Vegas Convention Centre: the heat having melted the plastic trim, door mirrors, rear tail lights, and formed the burnt ‘Marshmallow’ effect on the passenger side doors.
Pierce’s story gathered so much attention that Toyota themselves gifted him a new Tundra TRD Pro to replace his heroic truck. Along with some overland/off-road parts, Pierce even carried over the burn prints from the forest fire onto the doors of ‘Pandra 2.0’. He plans to still bring out the original ‘Pandra’ out on the rare occasion, SEMA being one of many public appearances it will make.
From the North Pole to demolished buildings, the saying still holds true sixteen years on: “You can’t kill a Toyota.” No doubt Pierce and the patients he brought to safety, can attest to that firsthand.
And that's just a sample of what was around SEMA 2019. There are still plenty more cars I wish I could cover, or have even seen briefly throughout all three days. I'm still angry at myself I missed out on Rob Dahm's RX7 for one.