DT Does SEMA 2012: Creativity Runs Rampant

Last week this DT editor traveled to the most wretched hive of scum and villainy known to man. Although the southern Nevada desert landscape does resemble the wastelands of Tatooine, we’re not referring to Mos Eisley Spaceport – no, the closest place on Earth is the seething mass known as Las Vegas. For one week every fall, Sin City turns into the epicenter of the biggest car show in the country and a festival of aftermarket excess, a force to recon with in the automotive industry and the debut venue for thousands of new products every year. We are referring of course to the SEMA Show, which is an assault on the senses and sensibilities of anyone who has the terrible luck fortune to walk its halls. Not only will you find hundreds of show cars, hot rods, drift machines, and booth babes, the show can be a great place to spot one-off creations that incite reactions of confusion, awe, appreciation, and regret (that you didn’t think of the idea first). With an eye towards the weirder and wackier side of the vehicles on display, we give you the best custom creations Daily Turismo could find at the 2012 SEMA Show.

First up is this Ford Falcon turned pool table, which started as a restoration project that went bad in all the right ways. Apparently the car (originally a Falcon Ranchero car/truck) was too far gone to viably restore so it was gutted, shortened and chopped to become the baddest-ass billiardmobile we’ve ever seen.

It was being shown in an airbrush booth, so naturally it was covered with all manner of custom painted flames and ghouls, not to mention the leopard print felt on the playing surface. Allegedly the car still rolls on its lowrider-inspired tiny chrome wire wheels with adjustable air-ride suspension, but we regret to inform you that we did not find out where the ball return is – it may just have simple mesh pockets. This whack-job was created by Count’s Kustoms in Vegas and apparently sold to the Pawn Stars guys.

Next up is the Drag’n Kaiser, a fresh take on the old lead sled formula that started life as a rusty ’51 Kaiser Dragon 4-door sedan owned by the builder’s Kaiser collecting stepfather. The old Willow Run steel was relieved of two of its doors, chopped, and dropped over a complete running Chevy Caprice police car chassis. The builder is Keith Charvonia of Phoenix, and the man responsible for the icy blue/white fade color scheme is none other than legendary custom painter Gene Winfield. Gene had just been photographed next to the car and noticed that we were trying to get a clear shot but couldn’t quite make it with all the foot traffic, and very graciously ran back to the Kaiser to give us the DT-exclusive image above. Guys like Gene are a huge asset to the automotive community – incredibly talented and well known but still very humble and accommodating – a genuine nice guy.

The Drag’n Kaiser has so many modifications we’d have to write a whole article to describe them all; thankfully we don’t have to since Speedhunters ran a 4-part build series…check it out here. Impressive worksmanship and awesome details on an uncommon donor vehicle makes it much cooler than any cookie-cutter ’49 Mercury kustom in our book. Low and slow is the way to roll in this incredible piece of artwork. The convention center show lights don’t do it justice.

Near the back of the main Racing & Performance hall, we inexplicably stumbled across this gargantuan customized Cadillac – or should we say, it drew us towards itself with its own gravitational field because of its unfathomable density and mass.

This sucker was built by Bryan Fuller and his crew at Fuller Hot Rods, and started life as a 1960 “Superior” Hearse. It has been customized beyond all recognition as a hearse, but looks as if it could have been released by GM or a coachbuilder at the time as a sort of limo/station wagon love child. The front windshield, roof, fins, and rear hatch section have all been either replaced or re-shaped, and the huge sliding sunroof was installed to give some fresh air to the occupants of this 8,000 lb beast.

Those passengers will be riding in the utmost of style in the full custom interior complete with facing bench seats and tuck-and-roll that matches the exterior. Maybe this is what the Ghostbusters’ own Ecto-1A ’59 Cad ambulance aspires to be when it retires from the parade circuit. We could certainly imagine pulling up to a drive-in for shakes and cheeseburgers in this retro barge, if it would fit in a parking space.

Jumping to the mechanical side of things, there are countless engine-swapped vehicles to behold every year at SEMA, and this time the engine of choice seemed to be Ford’s 5.0L “Coyote” as found in the Mustang GT since 2011. Dressed in various guises and bestowing the vehicles it rests in with its prodigious 400+ hp output in stock form, this 4-cam, 32-valve 5.0 liter is a compelling alternative to the ubiquitous LS-series GM pushrod V8s. Above is a Coyote wearing individual throttle bodies with velocity stacks in place of the factory plastic resin intake manifold, and installed in a ’40 Ford coupe. The engine looks just vintage enough to seem comfortable in all manner of classic cars but modern enough to cause a double take at a show – and lay down some serious rubber on the pavement with efficiency and a factory warranty.

Since this is DT after all, what would this feature article be without a Zombie-Proof conveyance? Hyundai had its own take on the current zombie craze with this armored Elantra, displayed outdoors and wearing a giant corpse-mowing cow catcher / plow / bash bar in the front, steel cages on the lights and glass, and at one point even a severed head impaled on a wheel-mounted spike. Unfortunately that head was not present when DT snapped the above shot. We’d like to point out how bored the Hyundai rep above looks given the number of loose zombies in his enclosure…although maybe he had already “turned” and was just starting to think about how refreshing a good brain would be in the blazing Nevada sun.

Next is another Zombie-Proof creation, but one that’s significantly more traditional in its undead-crushing abilities than a Korean FWD economy car would be. This is the ICON D200 Reformer, a classic crew-cab 1965 Dodge pickup body riding on a modern 2006 Dodge 3500 Cummins diesel powered 4×4 chassis. The details on this creation really made the package – not just the vintage body with modern running gear, but the aesthetic details like the chiaroscurist black on white color scheme, brushed nickel trim and emblems, and bison hide interior.

The 24-valve, 5.9L Cummins inline six has been heavily breathed on by Gale Banks and his crew, resulting in a reanimated skull-crushing 975 lb-ft of torque. Given enough traction (and with all of those zombie corpses underneath it shouldn’t be a problem) this classy crusher could crawl up any obstacle in its path at just a tick over idle.

As if all that wasn’t enough, we find this sweet little Triumph Bonneville based flat tracker in the bed, with no explanation. But hey, does a sweet little minimalist British twin motorcycle need any explanation? No! Steve McQueen would feel right at home on this bike and it was a nice surprise to find it in the (admittedly tall) bed of the ICON. Incidentally, ICON is a spin-off of Southern California Land Cruiser specialist shop TLC which has been building incredible custom Toyotas for years – they’ve just recently moved into the domestic 4×4 and hot rod scene and we’re always excited to see their next creation.

And now for something completely different. As opposed to the function-follows-form creations we’ve shared so far, the Lovefab NSX was created entirely for one purpose: destroying the clock at the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb. This manic one-off creation was the work of Cody Loveland from Traverse City, Michigan. It’s the flagship effort for his shop Lovefab, which is known for hand-fabricated turbo exhaust manifolds.

Cody’s co-driver, team manager and fiancee Tabitha was on hand to answer questions about the NSX from visitors at the Garrett Turbochargers booth. Perched atop the gargantuan carbon rear wing, many thought she was a hired booth model but were surprised with her encyclopedic knowledge of this monster.

There is not much NSX left under there, with custom front and rear tube frame sections and of course the dramatic bespoke aero devices. The original body shell and 3.0L V6 engine remain though, but it’s now boosted by a Garrett GTX4294R ball bearing turbocharger and makes upwards of 800 hp estimated at the flywheel. The chassis dyno couldn’t hold the beast without wheelspin past that mark, so Loveland doesn’t know the exact output.

Another angle on the car shows the relative scale of the giant rear wing and diffuser. The aero on this car develops thousands of pounds of downforce – so much that the beefy mounts and brackets started breaking when it was tested in denser air closer to sea level, down from the 9,000 to 14,000 foot climes of Pikes Peak for which it was designed. Cody & Tabitha finished 2nd in the Unlimited class this year despite several incidents, with an 11:39.766. Check out their build, test, and hillclimb video here. We wish Lovefab the best of luck for next year’s climb.

Take a look at this Mustang…seems like a slightly modified ’69 Mach 1, doesn’t it? We thought it was too, at first…it caught our eye because it seemed to be a beautifully finished, lowered and widened Mustang. The front end doesn’t give much away, but the huge custom wheels and giant extraction louvers in the hood are clues that this pony is packing something unusual.

Around back, things get a bit more interesting. Is that a pop-up spoiler where the trunk lid should be? Is the rear panel between the taillights ventilated with mesh inserts? Yes, and yes. Those are necessary because this isn’t really a ’69 Mustang at all.

It’s a Ford GT in Mach 1 clothing, and it’s cleverly named the Mach Forty in homage both to the Mach 1 and the original GT40 that inspired the more recent GT supercar. It’s powered by the GT’s 5.4L supercharged V8 mounted amidships, paired with its original Ricardo 6-speed manual transaxle behind the engine, powering the rear wheels. It was created by Eckert’s Rod & Custom in Oregon for an anonymous client and apparently took over three years and several million dollars to complete. It is not clear how much of the GT remains under the skin, but we do know it features C6 Corvette front and rear suspension. Perplexing but awesome.

Here’s another of Bryan Fuller’s mash-ups, a bit more compact and lightweight than the ’60 Caddy above. This bare metal bike is a combination of Indian frame and bodywork, and a Moto Guzzi longitudinal v-twin engine with shaft drive. This Italian-American is a natural hybrid and almost looks like an in-process restoration project vs. a one-off custom.

The flowing, skirted rear fender and wide tractor-style seat are classic Indian cues, but that Guzzi twin is turned the wrong direction from the original American iron lump. Purists may cringe but we loved the creativity involved and apparently the bike has been ridden for “over 800 trouble free miles” at the 2012 Sturgis rally. The fabrication efforts were highlighted by the unpainted finish and by being displayed in the Lincoln Electric welding booth.

In a nod towards the potential future of auto manufacturing, Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research brought out their CU-ICAR, a student-built hybrid car concept that marries a turbocharged Mazda inline four in front with electric drive in the rear, through a unique chassis made from folded aluminum using a process from Industrial Origami.

Before the DT faithful start deriding us for featuring a hybrid, take a look at this close-up of the folded chassis. The curlycue laser cut patterns along the folding lines are meant to reduce stress risers in the bend vs. traditional perforation, and as a result a beam made using this process will maintain 70% of the strength of a traditional extruded tube made from the same material with identical dimensions. Projects like this give the public a glimpse of technology to come, while giving engineering students real experience that can’t be learned in the classroom. DT will always be a proponent of bettering education for tomorrow’s engineers!

Back to the wacky side, we spotted this young lady waiting on a bench on the last day of the show and admired her customizing handiwork. The pink & green flamed mohawk look may be the next hot style – and remember, you saw it here on DT first.

We walked the halls of SEMA over the course of its four day run and undoubtedly missed a lot – but as anyone who has been can attest, it can be a challenge to move around the place, let alone get a clear picture without passersby stepping between the camera and the subject. These were some of the more unique creations that caught our attention this year – and we are veterans of the show so that can take a lot! We leave you with this, the original So-Cal Speed Shop Bellytanker, built from a P-38 fuel tank in 1948 by Alex Xydias as a Bonneville land speed racer. The tanker and Xydias were both on hand in the Ford booth, since the tanker is powered by a flathead Ford V8, the engine of choice for hot rodders until the mid ’50s. It was an honor and a privilege to see these legendary cars and their creators in person this year – and we hoped you enjoyed seeing the offbeat side of SEMA on DT’s pages.

Find a kookier creation you think should be featured on DT? Email us here: tips@dailyturismo.com