From what I can deduce, SEMA is a fashion show for cars. I’ve thought about it quite a lot over the years, so let me explain…
Cars are functional art put on display to vie for your attention. Just like fashion, trends come and go and come back around again. You have high-end (read: expensive) haute couture and much more wearable items too. You have breakthrough, edgy stuff and perennial design classics. To me it all stacks up.
What’s unique at SEMA however is you have all scopes of taste covered, all in one ‘room’. High-end fashion houses display next to the DIY designer, and stands are punctuated by left-field LED-lit ‘brodozers’. That’s not an attack on lifted trucks either, they are brilliant fun and I wouldn’t want to change them for the world. SEMA is an almighty assault on the senses.
Social media is ablaze during SEMA week. Heck, it’s a battleground for a good while on the lead up to the show too. It crescendos the night before the official opening, sometimes with a bang for those who forget to cover their cars resulting in them being unveiled early. There’s a lot riding on these SEMA builds, so I understand the stress levels. It’s a full-time job just to keep track of the hype-est cars. There’s some incredible craftsmanship and technology in them, and there is no denying the level of effort and skill.
But what about those cars that make it to SEMA aside from the yeezyhypeboostmegatron3000s? Was there anything ‘wearable’ for the real-world car enthusiast in 2019? Thankfully there was, and this post is here to spotlight some of them.
Strangely enough, I feel like the underground, understated cars are actually often the most stylish. Sure the Car-dashians of the automotive aftermarket have a certain look and it’s obviously popular with onlookers, but it’s not for me. I prefer my cars without pomp and façade; real people doing real things, fast cars being driven. If the owner is partial to a little left-of-the-law street action that’s always a bonus.
For me, the greatest joy with this type of car is that you can walk around a corner and trip over them with interest. You’re rewarded for looking because all the details are under the skin, because there are tons. You’re not being shouted at from 100 paces. They catch your eye and wait for you to engage, like the coolest cats at a house party. All of the cars in this post were new to me. That might actually say more about my IG clout avoidance than the cars themselves, but I’m running with it. I’ll meet you in the comments if you disagree.
Here’s a run down of six of the best:
This car stood out in the Toyo Treadpass among the be-winged monsters. The simplicity of the colour scheme and the culmination of super-rare components in a perfectly executed package is very refreshing. New old stock and period correct parts hold a special value to me. They are really not easy to get; it takes some serious commitment to search for them and above all, time. You can’t put this sort of car together in a few weeks before the show, and I think that’s why it hit differently. It still grabbed attention, but in a subtler and longer lasting way. This is the standout ‘did you see’ car from the show; so many people were talking about it in the evening pauses between show days.
I like gold. No really, I loved this gold AE86. What is there not to like about an N2-kitted AE86 with BEAMS power? This car was put together with just the right parts; it sat perfectly over the Work wheels and looked like something you could jump straight in and drive. That’s what really gets me going – seeing a car at a show that I want to drive, not just look at like an ornament. If you look at the picture of the engine bay you can almost hear it.
Scouring the outside areas at SEMA can harbour some interesting finds – both good and bad. Stumbling upon this white K20-swapped EF was like finding a diamond in the rough. The all-white, sticker-less bodywork stands out a country mile next to the sponsor-laden flanks of most of the show. Rywire motorsport electronics and meticulous prep inside and out make this build really refreshing. Sometimes less is more.
This car is totally a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, after all, it’s a candy pink Subaru Impreza. On paper, that’s not something I’d usually find appetising, but as you approach this one you can’t help but be drawn in by the details. It sat low on Air Lift Performance suspension, perfectly in proportion. The paint really pops and the engine bay is a work of art. It’s very much reminiscent of mid-2000s tuner builds in its style, but I think that’s a good thing. There’s so much work in the details of this car that I came back a few times to check it out.
Porsche ‘948 RS’
I was on the phone when walking past this one and let out an audible woah. First time around the bonnet was shut and I got to soak up the exterior and interior, which by themselves are pretty incredible. Second time around I saw the bonnet propped open and got the hit of the whole fruit. To go this far on a 944 is pretty inspired. It’s not a sensible base car, nor does it make a massive amount of sense, but that’s exactly why I like it.
I think I might have caught some sort of Honda fever at SEMA this year because this was another Civic that I couldn’t get enough of. Parked a few cars down from the white EF, this red EG was also doing the business. It was a little more extreme in appearance with a hell of a wing sprouting from the roofline, and if you looked closely you could see it was actually mounted to the cage, which is really cool. It was the perfect execution of small details that made this car a joy to look over. The swaging of panels under the bumper covers is awesome; for builders to spend this much time on parts that wouldn’t get seen at the show is awesome. It shows it is for the love, not for the clout.
Photos by Ryan Stewart