Our Best of SEMA 2018

Each year something of an automotive pilgrimage happens in Las Vegas. Hundreds of cars built to the hilt, thousands of industry professionals, and the occasional stray enthusiast make their way to the halls of SEMA. This year, I traveled to the show for all four days. The experience is absolute sensory overload, with so much competing for your attention. After walking nearly 40 miles in the convention center halls alone, I found myself becoming steadily jaded. If you aren’t focusing in on specific things, you run the risk of missing the best of the show. On the drive back to Phoenix, AZ I found myself reflecting on the same three cars that really stood out as being quality.

Riley Stair's '70 Trans Am

In what was a complete surprise to me, I ended up leaving SEMA raving about an old muscle car. Well, sort of. Personally, I’m more of a BMW enthusiast, but I certainly have respect for all things well done. This Trans Am was the very definition of perfectly executed. I have followed Riley Stair for quite some time, and he has created a number of stunning cars over the years. However this Trans Am is an absolute piece of art.

Very little of the original car remains, a simple skin over the top of a race bred monster. Tubes intertwine the length of the chassis, wild suspension peaks out front under the hood, and a squid of exhaust tubing absolutely commands your attention. Every weld, every detail is precise. This is the result of two years of careful planning.

The V8 revs to a mind bending 10,000 RPM and makes 1,000hp naturally aspirated. These numbers alone would be jaw dropping, but when you attach them to a chassis of this level of craftsmanship, you have something truly special. This car was without a doubt my favorite car of SEMA. But also start a trend for the best takeaways for me. 

Mike Burrough’s ‘31 Ford 

Another build that ranked highly on the list for me was Mike Burrough’s ‘31 Ford. You may see a common theme between this car and the Trans Am, as very little remains from the original car. What struck me about this ‘31 was its wild departure from traditional hot rodding. Sure, the car is chopped, and powered by a big V8, but it is also unapologetically drawing inspiration from road racing legends.

The wheel choice alone was a welcome take. The car looks almost like a real-life render, mashing multiple disciplines of auto racing together in one evil package. The raw finish, the exposed suspension, and the Coyote swelling outside of the frame rails all take the familiar and create something new.

Auto Conduct’s Punk GT

Rounding out my top cars of SEMA was the Auto Conduct Punk GT, an MGB Coupe. I had watched the build of this car on Instagram for quite some time and was inspired by the execution of this vehicle. To me, it is a representation of the passion we put into our cars. The MG was stripped out, raw and looked like a track rat. It is purpose driven, and the Auto Conduct team note that it drew inspiration from a number of automotive styles to create this final look. In a way, this car is subtle, especially considering its booth-mates at the Toyo Tread Pass booth. It was parked next to a Tesla swapped RWB 911, and yet held its own. It took me forever to just get a shot of this car without someone in frame, someone was always poking around to learn a little more.

It may be obvious to you now, but there is a common theme in my favorites here. Each of these cars were hand built, whether it was in a home garage like the Trans Am, a private shop like the ‘31 or even a shared carport like the MG, these are enthusiasts pushing the envelope and building on their passion. And that is something I appreciate infinitely more than a parts catalog thrown at the latest tuner platform. Sure, that is cool and has its own place, but the blood, sweat and tears put into these specific cars drew me to them more. SEMA almost feels like an unfair place to unveil these creations, with the bright lights and constant drone of crowds, you could be forgiven for missing just how special these cars really are. And yet despite all the noise, people were still drawn to passion.

As enthusiasts, we can look to SEMA each year for inspiration. You have to pick through the show carefully, but if you take your time, there are some genuinely incredible builds. The three here represent the passion we have for building. None of these creations came from commercial shops, and they were not built hastily in a week. Instead, they were all handcrafted by passionate individuals, taking time to sweat the details and chase a dream. If that doesn’t make for the best cars of SEMA, I don’t know what does.

-Words and Photos by Oliver von Mizener (@benzintinte)