SEMA 2017: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As the largest trade event for custom cars in the US, possibly the world, SEMA can serve as a showcase for innovation and creativity, sometimes giving a spotlight for bloody knuckled backyard builds to shine. The flip side, though, is that SEMA’s high profile pressures talented craftsmen into pouring cash into cars whose sole purpose is to clothesline your eyeballs into submission and collect clicks for some up and coming brand. Is there anything more depressing than a “SEMA build”?

Luckily, most of the JNCs at SEMA were built first, then discovered for display because they represented a passion for the car, not a passion for the show itself. Here are some highlights (and lowlights) of the big shindig in Vegas.

The idea of putting Jay Kho’s R30 Skyline at the Enkei booth could not have been more perfect. Red-on-black Skylines were the stars of Seibu Keisatsu, but Japan’s premiere police drama was also sponsored by Enkei Wheels. Though the original DR30 pursuit vehicles hunted down perps on Enkei 92s, gold RPF1s somehow look just as good, maybe even better. Some (not us) were surprised that Jay’s boxy 80s Nissan drew more looks than the brand new Civic Type R it shared booth space with. SEMA used to be full of Japanese companies you would recognize, but nowadays Enkei is one of only two JDM wheelmakers in the South Hall.

The other one, Colin Project, is a relative newcomer to SEMA but an old school brand responsible for classic designs like the Star Shark. Joel Tan’s Hakosuka Skyline caught the eyes of many showgoers thanks to it’s touring car livery, and if you notice the other side wore some of Colin’s newer offerings, like the Longchamp XR-4s. No matter the wheel, however, Colin’s representatives, speaking in better English than the Japanese we could muster, were adamant that “Only old school offsets!” would be offered.

Taking the cake in terms of sheer creativity was Miles Shinneman’s 1993 Isuzu NPR. Once you get past the cringeworthy name of Baller Hauler, the idea of a custom matching flatbed for your AE86 drift car is pretty ingenious. Miles didn’t just stop at an ordinary Isuzu, either. The truck has had tons of custom work done, including a wheelbase lengthened by 20 inches, custom cab work, a four link and lateral bar suspension swapped into the rear and, natch, airbags. Of course, this is how you leave a car show in Japan as well.

At the Zestino Tires booth was something of a celebrity, the R32 sedan of Abo-san, leader of the A-Bo-Moon drift team from Hiroshima. The team consists of all R32 sedans in the same purplish blue paint job. It was a pleasant and rare opportunity to see a machine of purely home-grown drift style hailing all the way from western Japan here in the States.

At Honda’s media dinner Tuesday night, PR man Davis Adams welcomed journalists with some shade thrown at its rival from Aichi. “We could have brought a bunch of tricked out Accords, but that’s not what our company is about.” Damn, shots fired.

Instead, Honda bragged about just how many different types of racing they’re involved in. The booth was a pantheon of competition machines, from motocross bikes to LMP prototypes, go-karts to Baja Ridgelines, and Civic rallycrossers to NSX GT3 racers. It was a testament to Soichiro Honda’s oft-repeated admonishment, “Without racing, there is no Honda.”

Perhaps we weren’t exactly fair to Toyota, though. They didn’t just bring a bunch of Camrys. There was also a trio of C-HR crossovers. The center blue one was said to be the world’s quickest CUV, having put in quicker lap times at Willow Springs International Raceway than a McLaren 650S Spyder, 911 GT3 RS, and Nissan GT-R NISMO. It’s far from stock, though. A turbocharged Camry 2.4-liter 2AZ-FE was swapped into it, putting out an estimated 600 horsepower at 30 psi.

Okay, so Toyota kind of redeemed itself with Lexus, which scattered the impressive LC 500 scattered throughout the convention center and the debut of a subtly modified LS F Sport. We had been hoping for the unveiling of the Lexus LS F at the Tokyo Motor Show, but like many dreams this year that too was shattered.

At the Coker Tire booth was a touch of true old school cool. Showing off their ultra-accurate replica vintage tires was a nostalgic funny car built from the body of a Plymouth Arrow, or Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste (read our in-depth history on JNCs in NHRA drag racing).

Coker also has a wide selection of tires for vintage bikes like the Honda CB750 and Trail 70.

At the House of Kolor booth was a 1986 Daihatsu HiJet turned into a drag truck called “1/4 Mile Towing.” Funny.

Liberty Walk, the Japanese tuning house that is perhaps most prolific in modern widebody kits, continues to find new models to convert into his neo-bosozoku style. We dare say the new NSX and old 360 Modena look pretty mean with Kato-san’s touch.

Has there ever in the history of time been a body kit that improved the lines of the FD3 Mazda RX-7? Please, for the children, save the FDs.

Mazda skipped SEMA altogether this year, and while it may seem odd for the most enthusiast-oriented Japanese marque to bow out of the tuner extravaganza, we can’t really blame them. The cars they are building these days are for driving, not bling. What they’ve created for SEMA in the past has been beautiful, purposeful and, above all, minimalist, and that seems to fly in the face of what SEMA is all about these days. As long as they keep on making cars like the ones we saw at the Tokyo Motor Show, we can forgive them the absence.

What remains then is a gallery of Nihon steel that we though you’d find interesting. In a show full of surprises, the selection ranges from an all-carbon fiber R33 to bagged minivans to a bewinged Supra that somehow manages to look tame compared to what populates its surroundings.

And then there was this elderly lady-owned manual transmission EF Civic sedan. Okay, it wasn’t technically wasn’t a “SEMA build” as it wasn’t located within the confines of the Las Vegas Convention Center grounds, but we were just as excited to spot this cream puff as half the cars inside the show.

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20 Responses to SEMA 2017: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  1. Nigel says:

    I think the RPF1 wheels look good on 80’s to 90’s Nihon steel.

  2. Tylenopants says:

    salt salt salt salt salt

  3. LTDScott says:

    It’s funny, for a long time I only saw RPF1s on modern cars, but lately I’ve seen them popping up on ’80s cars. I think the straight simple spokes work great on boxy cars like the R30.

    Of course I may be biased because I’m the only person deranged enough to put a set of them on my ’85 Ford LTD 🙂

  4. cesariojpn says:

    The sheer amount of stuff to see at SEMA is apparent in these posts here on JNC, as there are cars here I never saw a/or noticed. It’s just so massively big that it’s a good chance you can miss stuff. Likewise with JNC, cause unless they’re making some special feature stories, it appears they missed:

    * 1975 Datsun 280Z at the Valvoline Booth:
    * 1988 Chrysler Conquest TsI (aka Mitsubishi Starion) modified for the Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge:
    * Pennzoil’s 1994 Toyota Celica that raced up Pikes Peak in 1994 and set a few records at Pikes Peak:
    * This Acura NSX with a SDF Macross wrap around it’s body: & (owners Instagram with more pics of the car)
    * This FJ Company FJ by the Ford Out Front skid pad not in their booth in South Hall:

    Again, SEMA is massive. Some people have noted to see everything in every hall and nook and cranny is an 8 mile trip.

  5. Iwakuni91 says:

    “Without racing, there is no Honda.”
    I wouldn’t call what Honda is doing in F1 racing?
    That’s for you Toyota!

  6. M1abrams says:

    The House of Kolor Daihatsu HiJet has one crazy set of exhaust headers.

    (At first glance I thought the big dude in the background was up on the hook. LOL)

  7. Randy says:

    I like the custom vans… Granted, the grey one would be about useless in my ‘hood, sitting that low, but the overall vibe, I like.

  8. Jack says:

    FD lives matter

  9. renny says:

    “Has there ever in the history of time been a body kit that improved the lines of the FD3 Mazda RX-7?”

    Yes! Re-amemiya!

  10. Rob says:

    One day we’ll wake up and there will be no unmolested cars left..
    Scene presence and the dreaded internet buzz beloved of the emotionally needy are responsible for some of the worst wheeled atrocities, and SEMA is the place to show them.
    The ethos of the street racer, the noble outlaw has been buried beneath firework hamster body kits painted with all the hues of a technicolor yawn. Damn, even the restorers will have a hard time bringing these ladies back when our folly is realized!
    That R30 is SO right, a light in the darkness..

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