Some have argued 2009 is the year the automotive world changed. Companies like Toyota, Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler have had a huge wakeup call this year, but at the enthusiast level, things are surprisingly the business as usual. Guys loved cars and trucks before new-vehicle sales fell off a cliff, and they seem to love them today. Enthusiasts still want the biggest bang for their buck, car guys still love their hobby, and some of the most creative people on the planet go to the SEMA show each year to show off their newest project trucks. Sure, crowds and exhibitor numbers seemed down this year, but automotive inspiration and creativity was everywhere. Here were a few favorites.

1. Recession? What recession. Nothing says "creative truck building" like a custom six-door Monster Limo in the guise of a Chevy Kodiak medium-duty XXL SUV. Kelderman has been making heavy-duty agricultural suspensions since 1970 and heavy-duty truck suspension since 1990, and each year it typically has something special for SEMA. These types of small companies can get big attention from other U.S. shops as well as the media.

2. Here's a little-known fact: Most suspension "lifts" are actually suspension "drops"; the only thing lifted is what sits above the suspension, moving the body from the ground--axle and suspension parts are typically no higher than before. The most common way to get more clearance is with taller tires. That gets you farther from the dangerous rocks and nasty stuff wanting to scrape, crack, or break your vehicle. The Lower Forty concept from Jeep left the stock suspension just as the engineers designed it, but fitted 40-inch-tall tires under the heavily modified fenders. This gives the Lower Forty a supple ride with more than 10 extra inches of ground clearance. Well done.

3. By far one of the most outrageous vehicles on the show floor, this Subaru WRX STi five-door with four separate tank tracks is reported to put out about 400 horsepower. The body was stripped so that several reinforced panels could be welded for added strength. The Mattracks conversion system required the drivetrain be dropped three inches, and the stock transmission was swapped out for a bulletproof KAPS five-speed close-ratio dog-engagement gearbox. Maybe you've seen Ken Block's other gymkhana videos and commercials, but if you haven't, do the search and be impressed. Search it under Ken Block's Trax STi.

4. Reportedly found in the back of an old barn, this '64 D100 isn't much different from the day it was built, as long as you don't count the custom-modified suspension and the fact it now has a big-block 526 Hemi. Still, with the original exterior paint and interior, this D-Series pickup is probably the closest thing to a "real" truck this show has ever seen. We especially like the white sidewall rear slicks and retro five-spoke chromed rims. This is the type of restoration we should put on the cover of Truck Trend Classic.

5. Clearly, this is not the most modified vehicle at SEMA; however, it did give the guys at Ford (Custom Accessories) a chance to stuff the new 6.2-liter V-8 from into an F-150. And it gave a few observant journalists a chance, as well, to see, for the very first time, what the power ratings on the new 6.2-liter engine would be. Slated for the 2011 Super Dutys (with a modified version for the Raptor XT), factory rated power for the new engine is 411 horsepower with 438 pound-feet of torque. No announcement if this FX2 package will become the new Lightning at least we know the 6.2 fit without any problems.

6. Big trucks and SEMA go together like some of the greatest duos and Rolling Big Performance has been bringing interesting vehicles to Las Vegas for several years. This monster modified Freightliner has a one-ton eight-foot bed and camper shell and a stance that almost dares a passer-by not to stare. The matching paint job and graphics close the deal. If you want to get attention at a place like SEMA you have to go big or go home, and this is about as big as it gets.

7. Call me sentimental (or just mental), but I have a huge soft spot for the Turtle Expedition vehicles. This previous-gen F-550 has been around for a few years, and considering how miles it has on it, and where those miles have come from (in some of the most remote areas of Mexico, Newfoundland, Canada, etc.), the rig still looks pretty good. This husband and wife team found a way to turn their passion into a business, where they show up at corporate events, take caravans of extreme enthusiasts into remote areas, and simply explore—all with their custom built Turtle Expedition Ford.

8. When Richard Remington started the restoration of his '67 FJ45 his plans were modest…but one thing led to another, and then another, and then another. Still, the finished product is impressive. The interior and exterior is flawless. Where it starts to get interesting is under the hood. Richard chose an L92 donated from a Cadillac Escalade and mated it with a heavy-duty 4L80-E and an Advanced Adapters Atlas II transfer case for ultra-ultra-low-range crawling ability. Add to that high-pinion axles with lockers front and rear and a BTB suspension lift and 33-inch Toyo Open Country M/Ts and we're guessing nothing stops this in the backcountry.

9. This custom '57 Chevy pickup truck sat in Hot Rod Jim's booth, off the beaten path, but still getting a lot of attention. Modeled after a World War II P-40 Warhawk fighter plane (including the exterior panels and rivets), this project sports one of Jim's modified Corvette chassis, setup to hold a built GM 6.0-liter V-8 donated from a Silverado HD. STS donated two turbo that are housed just behind the IRS and the bed was left open so we could appreciate all the detail work Hot Rod Jim put into the chassis.

10. Although its designers officially designate this a car, this Local Motors Rally Fighter has all the makings of an amazing desert racer. With a custom chassis, suspension, and a BMW 3.0-liter I-6 turbodiesel (with 282 horses and 410 pound-feet) for motivation, the buggy will be like nothing else on the road or trail. It might be a little tricky to get it ready to drive on the streets, but Local Motors is will to help you through the process. It's an interestingly new type of car manufacturer that hopes to use its new business model to create more excitement in the years to come. In the last year, they've sold 42 Rally Fighters and you can be next.

11. This '47 Diamond T sees most of its work duty outside of Billings, Montana, where its owner has spent quite a bit of garage time building this hauler. The frame and chassis is from a Dodge Ram HD and the engine is a Cummins B-motor. The bed is equipped with a hydraulic ram that allows it to tilt and load just about anything. The owner rates the trucks GVW somewhere over 20,000 pounds. We especially like the custom five-inch exhaust tubes that slip right into the big-rig stacks mounted on the dump bed.

12. Hidden in the back of the Subaru display, this little microvan got quite a bit of attention. About 10 feet long, the microvan is hugely popular in Asia in both the van and pickup truck configurations. This second-generation Subaru Sambar is well preserved and likely bought originally in the late 1960s or early ‘70s. These vehicle do have a top speed around 60 mph and with their ultra-mini four-cylinder engines, they're also getting around 40 mpg. But don't expect any of them over here anytime soon. As any physics professor will tell you, these vehicles won't do so well in front, side, or rear side impact testing.

13. We can never get enough military vehicles, even if they're in stock configuration. There's a probably a 6.5-liter Detroit Diesel V-8 under the hood of this emergency personnel carrier, but what caught our eye was the fact that its tires don't use air. These Non-Pneumatic Technology tires seem to have plenty of functionality in the military, where bullets and IEDs can stop vehicles in their tracks. Likewise, think of all the fuel saving and cost issues if you only had to buy one set of tires for the life of your vehicle. The people at the Army Research Laboratory tell us they're even working on a system that can modulate the honeycomb's rigidity whenever needed.

14. Pretty sure ever since the new Tundra came out two years ago, Toyota has highlighted a regular cab hot-rod-style truck. Last year, TRD had a little red 500 horsepower supercharged Tundra. This year, Toyota made a "real" hot rod by using the flat black and red flames, diamond-tuck bench seats, old-school maple bed inserts and moon-eyes wheel caps. Nothing special under the hood; just a stock 5.7-liter V-8 but we did like the Cherry Bomb red tailpipes. It's a shame we couldn't start it up in the convention center.

15. Ever since the first generation XB came out in 2004, customizers have been playing with a sub-compact pickup concept ever since, but this one by Brandon Leung is one of our favorites. And we're sure it took a while to finish. The body and chassis have gone through major reconstructive surgery, stretching the frame by almost two feet and stuffing a bigger and more powerful engine under the hood. The bed is just long enough to accommodate a cool BOWLS "minibike." No plans from Scion that they'll make a pickup truck but we're keeping our fingers crossed for the A-BAT.

16. Part of the reason Las Vegas becomes the center of the automotive world are cars like this. If SEMA is nothing else it is the canvas that some of the most creative car and truck builders in the world display their creativity. Who knows what this is but that doesn't matter. All they need is one guy from Ford or GM or Toyota or the military to walk by and ask a few questions, and this could mean a huge payday. Show'm what you've got (making sure you don't leave anything behind the curtain) and you'll be rewarded.

17. GM called this its Silverado ZR2 (I thought ZR2 was the compact truck off road package some years back). What about Z71? Anyway, this half-ton was loaded with carbon fiber in the hood, tailgate, and bumpers, as well as a sporting a Corvette motor, two-inch lift, and big wheel and tires. Not exactly a Raptor fighter, but what is. Still, it sure would be nice if Chevy could bring back a serious Z71 or ZR2 off road package (like this concept) that had more punch than posture.

18. Of course, there are racing trucks all over the SEMA show, but this was the only semi-truck racer we saw. Super Truck racing is a huge spectator sport in Europe and there have been a few exhibitions over the years in the U.S., but the only place you can see big trucks like this one going flat out on paved and dirt sections of the Pikes Peak run in Colorado. Everyone knows turbodiesels have a huge advantage when racing at high altitudes but it's worth going to to see these trucks doing long power slides over deathly drop-offs.

19. We don't have much information on this yellow beauty, but it stopped up dead in our tracks. Maybe we should make this truck photo some kind of contest where we'll send the winner all sorts of old, broken furniture we now have from moving the palatial Truck Trend headquarters closer to the ocean. Worth noting is how the photo is sort of like those back-lit beach-babe shots where the rays of sun are shooting through long-flowing blonde hair. I've definitely been on the road too much.

20. This '51 Ford rebuild was part of a Make A Wish foundation project and looks to have come out perfect. Not a speck of dust on the truck with tons of deep coats of lacquer and wax. If you look real close in the front fender and curvature of the hood, you'll be able to see our long-legged photographer in the rich reflection. This one's almost too nice to drive. We'll look for this one again out on the show circuit.

21. Alright, I admit it. This isn't the most tricked-out truck on the planet but it used to be the best desert-blasting 4x4 around before the Ford Raptor showed up. This H3T Alpha has all the accessories, along with the 285/65/20 BF Goodrich All-Terrain tires. Sure, Hummer is about to be bought by a huge Chinese company, but all indications are they seem to get it. Once the sale goes through (beginning of 2010), we're guessing we'll see a few hardcore GM Hummer people make the switch to the new Hummer Michigan headquarters.

22. Any time you put race trucks in the middle of Las Vegas, about 30 feet above an onlooking crowd, you have to be impressed. A whole group of Trophy Trucks set up shop at the Toyota Proving Grounds outside the Las Vegas Convention Center and ran over a big jump to thrill the crowds. Trophy Trucks are the top of the unlimited class of race trucks in the SCORE Desert Racing Series. Some of these vehicles can swallow rocks and ruts at 70 mph like they aren't even there.

23. I know, I know. It's probably a crime not to put the 500-horsepower Raptor XT on this list, but I don't think anything looked better than this '34 Ford three-window coupe. Not surprisingly, it was selected as the Vehicle of Show this year by a fairly impressive panel of judges. Under the hood is completely reconstructed 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost engine that is likely to get around 35 mpg around town. The builder said it spent four months on the interior alone. Gorgeous.

24. What was your favorite truck from SEMA '09? Need help in picking one out? Check out our full 2009 SEMA coverage and tell you what vehicles where your top picks in the comment box below!

2009 SEMA: More Project Trucks & SUVs!
2009 SEMA: Trophy Truck Roundup
2009 SEMA: Toyota and Scion Concepts
2009 SEMA: Powered by Ford and Lincoln
2009 SEMA: Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep Trucks & SUVs
2009 SEMA: Hummer's Four Dedicated Off-Road Machines
2009 SEMA: The Great Jeep Wrangler Roundup

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