SEMA 2015, Day 02: Old School Japan wins Best of Show

Nissan Datsun Fairlady Roadster 2000 02

In Day 01 of our 2015 SEMA coverage, we noticed a marked increase in JNCs on the show floor. Unlike past years, these weren’t just museum cars trotted out by the automakers but builds that prove our little niche is moving into the mainstream. 

Nissan Datsun 521 01

Yesterday we showed you builds that were featured in the OS Giken and Tokico booths. While it was expected that Japanese companies would be the first to feature some old school J-tin, we were glad to see even some of the notoriously muscle car-centric American car companies of the Central Hall embrace them as well.

Nissan Datsun 521 05Nissan Datsun 521 02

Immediately following the conclusion of SEMA this Friday, Bob Boileau’s Datsun 520 will compete in the Optima Batteries 2015 Ultimate Street Car Invitational in Las Vegas. Can a pickup with a Miata engine go head to head against V8s and modified GT-Rs? Luckily, Boileau is no stranger to making giant killers out of small displacement engines, as he did with a 1200cc Honda Civic that hit 146 mph at Talladega.

Nissan Titan XD Desert Runner 01

Continuing on the race truck theme, Nissan was heavily pushing the new Titan XD and its compound turbo Cummins diesel V8. One of their show trucks was decked out in the classic Nissan tricolor livery. Nissan representatives said the scheme was inspired by the special edition 1988 Hardbody Desert Runner.

Nissan Titan XD Land Speed Record 01

Over at the official booth sat two more Titan XDs, using a setup very similar to that of their JCCS display from earlier this year. Instead of a tiny VG223, however, the 12,000-pound towing capacity was pulling another Titan XD, which is in the process of being built into a land speed record truck. Back in the mid-90s, a Nissan Hardbody pickup set a 142.9 mph class record at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Nissan Titan XD Land Speed Record 03

This new truck is eligible to compete in two categories, D/DT and FIA class A-III-9, whose records stand at 191 and 115 mph respectively. Nissan engineers — all working on a volunteer basis — hope to recreate that magic with what they’ve dubbed “Project Triple Nickel” for its 555 lb-ft of torque.

We love the use of Nissan’s traditional racing number, 23 (read as “ni san” in Japanese), which appears below the driver’s side headlight but not the passenger side’s. Because of the way the booth was set up, we had to squeeze against the wall to catch it.

Nissan GTR R35 NISMO N Attack 03

Also at the Nissan booth was the new GT-R NISMO N Attack package an even more potent collection of go-fast bits that currently holds the Nürburgring production car lap time record.

Nissan GTR R35 NISMO N Attack 04

From hard core LSDs to stabilizer bars the parts that make the N Attack what it is hung from a wall behind the car, but visually the package is easily identifiable by the winged fender flares over the front wheels and a giant carbon wing. Can the GT-R get any more insane?

Nissan GTR R35 HKS 02

The answer is yes. At the HKS booth, a daily driven R35 that also serves as a weekend track car generated an “easy” 1,200 horsepower at the wheels, according to a company spokesman. The purpose of the car was to have 1,200 reliable horsepower, rather than go for ultimate speed. It was good to see references to the 1990s with the old HKS livery over a coat of R34 Bayside Blue and gold wheels.

Ring Brothers

Speaking of GT-Rs, the Ring Brothers’ logo looked rather familiar. The shop has a history of building some truly impressive muscle cars, but the logo is somewhat misleading when you have an all-carbon fiber Mustang in the booth instead of a GT-R.

Nissan Datsun 240Z Sung Kang GReddy 02

Naturally, one of the most talked-about cars a the show was Sung Kang’s Fugu Z. The kitted S30 was given one of the most prominent spots of the entire show, right in front of the official SEMA lounge area. Han himself was lurking around the Las Vegas Convention Center all week, signing autographs and enduring selfies with adoring fans.

Nissan Datsun 240Z Sung Kang GReddy 05

While everyone last person even remotely aware of the import world knew exactly what this car was, we suspect that SEMA’s other half — old dudes who are there for the hot rods and muscle cars — had absolutely no idea what a “FuguZ” was or why everyone with skinny pants on was drooling over it.

Honda Acura Legend Ludacris 03

Believe it or not, Kang’s Z wasn’t even the only car at SEMA owned by a veteran of the Fast & Furious franchise. At Half of the attendees wondered aloud, “Why do they have a 20-year-old family car here?” The other half flipped their ish and were all like, “This is Luda’s whip!”

Honda Acura Legend Ludacris 08

The rise of hip-hop in the 1990s was inexorably tied to the rise of Japanese luxury sedans. The Wu-Tang had their Infiniti Q45, Jay-Z had his off-white Lexus, and Ludacris had his “Ninety-Three Ack,” finished in the most 90s shade of gold you can possibly imagine.

Honda Acura Legend Ludacris 01

Despite his ascent to prominence as a multi-platinum Grammy winner and actor, Chris Bridges kept his first car and regularly drove it, logging 283,000 miles and counting before it was involved in an accident. When Honda caught word of his story, they brought it into their design studio and “restored” it for him.

Honda Acura Legend Ludacris 16

It’s not a true restoration, in that its brake calipers are a bit more pistony (6 and 4-pot calipers front and rear), seats a bit more leathery, and the paint a lot more pearly than the original Cashmere Metallic. That’s all okay, but the aspect we really wish they’d kept were the original flat-faced rims. Surely the Rays G12s are the better wheel, but those Acura alloys were iconic, man.

The car is not RHD, in case you’re wondering. I took the liberty of flipping the photo in a lame attempt at re-creating the Ludaversal album cover with a new NSX in place of Bridges’ private jet.

Shelby De Tomaso P70 01 Shelby De Tomaso P70 02

The 1965 De Tomaso P70 is clearly not Japanese, but it was designed by Pete Brock of BRE fame. Though the Can-Am racer is open-top, you can see some similarities between it and the BRE Hino Samurai.

Toyota Land Cruiser 200

We covered the classic Crowns, Corollas and Supras that Toyota had on display in our Day 01 coverage. The main booth was all about trucks, including this right-hand-drive turbo-diesel LC200 Land Cruiser, which is in the midst of a 28,500-mile, around-the-world expedition taken on by Toyota engineers to test the resiliency of its off-roaders.

Toyota 4Runner Tonka 01

Though the trucks themselves weren’t necessarily nostalgic, the themes they evoked certainly were. A Tonka 4Runner looked exactly like the type of toy we would’ve gone gaga over as a kid, but in real life form. There’s even a tent on the roof to live out your childhood treehouse fantasies.

Toyota Tacoma BTTF 05Toyota Slot Cars 02

Toyota also reprised their recent Back to the Future Tacoma display, wrapping Marty McFly’s truck in a giant toy box. Nearby, a slot car track provided respite from the SEMA insanity.

Nissan Datsun Fairlady Roadster 2000 01

Last but not least was the incredible Datsun Fairlady Roadster at the Garrett Turbos booth. Built by Kevin Desirello, the SPL311 was another unexpected choice by a thoroughly American aftermarket company. Kevin says he was just as shocked as anyone when his friend Jon Frampton was contacted by Garrett and asked if the car would be their official booth vehicle.

Nissan Datsun Fairlady Roadster 2000 04-2

Not only that, but the roadster was selected, from the thousands of cars at SEMA, as one of the Top 21 in the Battle of the Builders. “When I saw that guys like Chip Foose on the list, I couldn’t believe it,” says Kevin, who built the roadster in his California garage.

Nissan Datsun Fairlady Roadster 2000 06

Powered by an Silvia S15’s SR20DET stroked to 2.2 liters and fitted with a variable valve timing head, the engine is estimated to generate 300-350 horsopwer at 10 psi of boost. The ultimate goal is 400-450 in a sub-2000 pound car. Kevin also says that very few people have been able to guess what it was. “Is that a Sunbeam? They think that Datsun began with the Z.”

Nissan Datsun Fairlady Roadster 2000 03

The Garrett booth was pretty roadster heavy, in fact, with the pairing of the Datsun roadster with Mad Mike Whiddett’s 4-rotor Miata drift car.

Mazda MX5 NC Miata 4-rotor 02Mazda MX5 NC Miata 4-rotor 05

Fresh from New Zealand, Project RADBUL runs what is basically a custom-built recreation of the 26B motor that powered a number of Mazda race cars, including the Le Mans-winning 787B. With up to 1,500 horsepower spitting flames from four exhaust pipes protruding from the hood, it will have a better power-to-weight ratio than almost any professional drift car out there while staying true to its Mazda roots (ie, no V8).

Nissan Skyline C10 Hakotora 04

Also on the list of Top 21 was Dominic Le’s Hakotora truck that we covered yesterday. Funnily enough, it was n the “Off Road” category and listed simply as “Datsun Truck.” I guess a 1973 Sunny Ute wasn’t in the menu.

Nissan Datsun 240Z Sung Kang GReddy 03

Then late yesterday, we heard the announcement that the Fugu Z was selected as the 2015 SEMA Gran Turismo Best in Show. This is a huge victory for JNCs in a show filled with everything from all-out drift machines to million-dollar muscle cars, a show that attracts the best builders in the world.

Nissan Skyline C110 Kenmeri 03

As we leave Las Vegas, we cannot help but feel excited about the newfound interest in Japanese classics in the wider automotive world. While vintage Mustangs, Chevelles and Challengers still vastly outnumber nostalgic Datsuns and Toyotas, the signs are encouraging. We’ll take it one year at a time.

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12 Responses to SEMA 2015, Day 02: Old School Japan wins Best of Show

  1. Kane said:

    Those are Australian number plates on that LC200 land cruiser, thats cool. Nice coverage on both days of the event so many beautiful cars, keep it up.

  2. indy510 said:

    That Datsun truck has more than just a Miata engine swap. It has all of the NA Miata suspension welded to it’s frame too. Google: MX520 for more info/pics.

  3. Cesariojpn said:

    I’m more surprised that there wasn’t too many specialty JDM restoration firms there.

    • Eric said:

      That’s probably due to the fact that even a small booth at SEMA can start at 30- 40K. It’s also the same reason that although we made it into the show, we were placed on the back row outside (JDM Legends Kenmeri Skyline) which is why we get very limited coverage compared to some of the other more show oriented builds there.

      • cesariojpn said:

        30-40K for a small booth? Wait, there was like, TONS of Chinese Sellers Booths. No way even some of them would’ve even made that money back with a big contract to say, Walmart or Tire Rack!!

  4. Jim Daniels said:

    Beatiful Roadster, tastefully done.

  5. Robbie said:

    Bob Boileau’s dad is the one who set the record, Bob Sr.

  6. Michael said:

    Love that Fairlady Roadster, but that carbon coating on the cam cover really cheapens the engine bay. A+ everywhere else though.

    Also, what a Mazda RB26? Don’t you mean 26B?

    Sunny truck is awesome too!

  7. Kyle Smith said:

    The SR20VET was never was never used in a factory RWD application. What the owner of the Fairlady Roadster most likely has done is use an S15 SR20DET block and fitted a FWD SR20VE head to it. The SR-VE series engines used Nissan’s Neo VVL variable valve timing similar to Honda’s VTEC.

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