Six Of The Best Cars You Didn’t See At SEMA 2019
Auto Fashion

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:


3rd-Gen Civic
Owner: bmerlots

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.


AE86 Beams
Owner: rikos_way

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.


EF Civic
Owner: higginsbuilt 

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.


Subaru Impreza
Owner: crollscustoms

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’
Owner: its_lobelt

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.


EG Civic
Owner: checkerdsports

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.

Yaheem Murph

Photos by Ryan Stewart
Instagram: 7.nth



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Bmerlots Civic was the biggest show stopper for me. I stopped and and looked at that car for about 20-mins and it was worth the 11-hour flight from London to Vegas just to see that car. Funnily enough it was Sean Klingelhoefer who told me a bit about this car, and your right Ryan, this was most definitely not thrown together for SEMA. Proper OG build that has clearly been a labour of love. In a sea of people desperate for attention, this build was a complete and utter breath of fresh air for me.


The owner's private IG account sealed the deal for me. Cast iron, locked and loaded OG. These are the sorts of car builders whose opinion I want to hear.


That N600 is the best version of that car that I have ever seen. Does anyone know who built it?


It's a revvy little number this one. It has captured lots of people's imagination and has been covered fairly well online. The fuel tank is the original tank from the bike, which is a brilliant nod to the engine origin.


That EF Civic is crazy clean. The engine bay is a work of art. How do you delete a brake master cylinder?!? Great article.


Tom is right ^, it's had the booster (or servo) removed and a pedal box put in place. If you head to the owner/builders IG you'll see a nice interior shot showing some more details.


You don't, assuming you still want to stop. Presumably they meant they deleted the brake servo / booster. Master cylinder(s) will now be pushed directly by the pedal with an aftermarket or modified pedal box.



Bloodthirsty Wookie

His biggest mistake was calling it "Outlaw". Haven't we heard that enough from the Porsche guys???

C'mon guys!!!


Pirate is too Johnny Depp, but i like reprobate and rapscallion!


D-Gen-R8 sounds like a great number plate


Thats the one car I need to see a feature of....


One of the standout cars of the show for me. Crazy that a lot of my favourite cars from this year were Hondas. I didn't include it in the final few because I didn't get a chance to check out the engine. It's a wonderful car though.


Feature on the AE86 with the rocket bunny kit in one of the side pics? Wanna say it has a HONDA motor it from a new civic type r.


Yes, this is Dai's car. It's not quite finished and running yet, but will be a hell of a handful once finished. Spoke to Dai very briefly about the engine choice and his reasoning was this; Natural choice would be a K20 (or F20C), but perhaps not enough power. So you'd turbo it. So why not skip that step and use the latest Honda turbo motor? Makes perfect sense to me.


I think it's daijiro yoshiharas (not sure on spelling) AE86 super cool build


Yeah that is Dai Yoshihara's car. It has been covered by a few people on the internet I believe.


The VW Saveiro was one of the best for me, nice truck


I love the simple builds that any average man can build in their garage . The over top builds are awesome because it's imagination to it's fullest but I prefer the average Joe builds cause they normally have the most character I find awesome coverage tho


These sorts of cars are so relatable. Irony is they are usually much more expensive to produce than they end up looking, so extra understated.


I think they cost more cause more authentic and period correct parts . It's very easy to replace a part with a modern equivalent but from my experience hunting for that one specific part is much more ardous and time costing but much much more worth it in terms of the build as a whole though that's just my opinion


Yes. This. From experience it does. Scouring Yahoo.jpn auctions, speaking to people over there and having a list and STICKING to it! All this I'm going through too and have been for 4+ years so far. Its getting difficult not to compromise. But no hurry. Use something else in the meantime and keep the project as a long term thing.
The biggest issue for "normal" people rather than sponsored builds or companies doing something for attention is time and money. Working 9-10 hour days, family time and an expensive project don't mix that well. For those out there doing this (note to self here too) keep at it as it will all be worthwhile in the end!!


I'm so sick of seeing that blue BMW 2002 "Project Car". That thing is all over social media. And beside that thing just being a Hillclimb-Style Widebody build (which the world has seen several times), it is not even finished, standing in SEMA Spotlite without a throttle cable and without most of its wiring. So yeah, nice project car - when it's going to be finished?


I hear you on this, but the reason why I included it is because I didn't actually realise it was 'that' car when I came across it. The owner has a reasonably low key SM presence so it was a joy to discover while walking the halls. That thrill of connecting the dots is sort of what I'm after these days... 'OHHHHH this is that car'. A lot of it is not to my taste but have to respect the ambition of stuffing an S55 in a 2002.


You're right it is kinda interesting and the goal with the engine in that chassis is nice. But I see the car everywhere and it just has "the engine in it". Like I said, no wiring, haven't seen the engine running nor the car driving anyhow. That feels like me throwing a used rotary engine in the frunk of a Porsche Cayman and call it a day. This ain't a swap, its luggage.

I don't want to say he doesn't deserve the media presence but it feels like it's a SEMA showcase car.


Some seriously cool cars there, good picks. Under the bonnet of an Impreza is usually a very ugly place so what they've done to this one is very impressive!


Hardcore Japanese car enthusiast here, but I gotta admit that the Porsche 948 RS is the standout build for me in this post. That thing is insane!


3 out of 6 cars are Civics? With the 100s of cars at SEMA 3 out of the 6 you choose were Civics?

Bloodthirsty Wookie

This group highlights the tendency of American builders to exemplify the concept of "hit or miss".

On one hand, you have builds that take risks and pull it off...yet on the other, there's those guys that have no sense of discretion in whoring-out their cars.

Overall, however, it's gotten way too easy to just throw money at a platform and call it a great build. Tucked harnesses and flares on tired platforms are not groundbreaking. It's formulaic.

You'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between the builds of 2019 and 2009.


I agree. I am SO tired of 'here's some overfenders, air and bla bla bla' - instant scroll away.

Show us builds in real detail and i'll be interested.


Here's all the cars our almost non existent coverage of sema didn't show you, basically the same stuff we did show you in different colors. Oh look, no carpet on old car with unscratched rims...super legit og do nothing.


Pleeeease track down that Datsun 1200/Sunny Coupe. That is just perfect.


Thank you , for stopping by to take a look at me 86. I’m glad You got the message I wanted to send. This SEMA was my first to build for. And it has been a great ride. This article keeps the ride going. Thanks speedhunters family.


That mustard colored that looks like a Kadett C with an Escort front is a stunning beauty!

And that 3rd gen Civic - how that intake must scream at the firewall and ultimately the driver like there's no tomorrow. What an aural experience that must be.


The Porsche - yep, definitely feeling that.

The Subaru, gorgeous but a, absolutely useless ride height (and looks stupid as a result) and b, running turbos with no filter looks unfinished.

SEMA needs to add a clause to their show.

You have to drive it there and drive it back. What's the point in dumping money into car porn if it spends its entire life stationary?


Less is more and each year at SEMA it becomes more and more apparent.


What kind of wheels are on a Mercedes?