Every year, in late October or early November, thousands of media, buyers, and companies converge on Las Vegas for the annual pilgrimage known as the SEMA Show. The trade show has grown from just under 100 exhibitors and 3000 visitors at L.A.'s Dodger Stadium in 1967 to more than 2000 exhibitors and more than 100,000 manufacturers, buyers, and media from around the world. For a first-timer, it's an overwhelming experience; and even for seasoned veterans of the show, it's an intimidating multiday gauntlet of trying to cover as much of the show as possible, and not overlook the hidden jewels within.
That's exactly what we tried to do with this year's Top 25 list. Of the more than 2000 display vehicles estimated to be at the show, we chose the Top 25 trucks, vans, and SUVs there. These vehicles stood out from the crowd for their uniqueness, attention to detail, or just sheer awesomeness. Here's our list.
1954 GMC COE Fermented Fruit
This one was just too cool and bizarre not to include. Besides its deliberately scruffy, patina finish, this COE has a 450-hp Cummins B-series diesel mounted behind the cab. Built in Bozeman, Montana, by the crew at Welderup led by Steve Darnell this truck is the perfect combination of vintage patina and hot-rod custom attitude. The company is well known for its vintage diesel swaps, and this model certainly turned its share of heads at the show. Incredibly, the truck was built in just 10 days, and a video documentary of the build will be featured on the Discovery Channel in early 2014.
Arc Audio 1968 Chevrolet El Camino
There are plenty of over-the-top customs at SEMA with 30-inch wheels, 24-inch lifts, and 20 TV monitors mounted on just about every flat surface and then some. But, often, it's the ones that show subtle restraint that stand out the most. This 1968 Chevrolet El Camino was among those. Sponsored by Arc Audio, this '68 is a custom we'd love to cruise in. Low-key 17-inch Intro polished aluminum wheels and SSBC disc brakes give it a purposeful, period-appropriate stance, while the sheetmetal bed painted in a red woodgrain finish looks classy without being too fussy, with polished metal strips and real wood. Under the hood is a fuel-injected Chevy 350 small-block V-8 with Trick Flow heads and a Lunati cam. At first glance, there are no taillights, but a closer look reveals horizontal LED strips smoothed into the rear bodywork.
Loveless 1968 Ford F-100 Dualie
What can we say? The photos of this truck speak for themselves. Built by Jay's Fine Line Rigs in Noonday, a small town in East Texas, this truck oozes raw, rockabilly Texas style. Sure, there's no bed, but when you're rockin' this much attitude, who needs one? The truck rolls on 24-inch Toyo tires and American Force wheels, and lays out thanks to a Viair dual-compressor air suspension. Underhood is a standard Ford 351 V-8 outfitted with a custom chrome air cleaner and painted valve covers. The interior is a simple red vinyl bench seat and flat-black-painted sheetmetal dash with a digital gauge display and floor shifter. An additional touch we like is the vintage microphone taillight setup.
1978 Chevrolet Stepside Pickup
This is one truck we'd love to take on a cruise. Why? Just look under the hood— 572 cubic inches of GM big-block V-8 glory. With well over 500 hp hauling probably just around 4000 pounds, the power-to-weight ratio on this rig is definitely favorable. Besides the beast of an engine, the interior is cleanly finished and upholstered, with a painted dash, performance gauges, and a two-spoke billet steering wheel. Another subtle feature we like is the full-width vertical sliding rear window, just like on the Toyota Tundra. We're surprised we don't see this more often on custom trucks, as it gives you an almost-convertible feel with the sun and weather protection of a hard top.
2014 Chevrolet Silverado Cheyenne Concept
This is a truck Chevrolet should put into production immediately. OK, we're realists, and we know the carbon-fiber bed and tailgate probably wouldn't make the cut to production, nor would the prohibitively expensive carbon-ceramic brakes off the Camaro Z/28. But even without those exotic items, the Cheyenne makes a compelling case for itself. The formula is simple and well proven: the biggest engine in the smallest body, in this case, the 6.2-liter EcoTec 3 direct-injected V-8 in the short-bed, regular-cab body. There's ample precedent for such a model. The 454 SS ruled the 1/2-ton performance scene before the F-150 Lightning crashed the party in the late '90s. Ford just came out with the Tremor combining the potent EcoBoost V-6 with a regular-cab, short-bed and 4.10 axle ratio. Chevy…your move.
Snake Bit 1956 Ford F-100
Ford has a reputation of making a big splash at the SEMA show, and this year was no different. Probably the most eye-catching truck in the Ford booth this year was the Snake-Bit 1956 F-100. Besides being eye-catching in its own right, Ford recruited KISS bassist Gene Simmons and his wife Shannon Tweed to help unveil the truck at SEMA . If this truck tickles your fancy, it could be yours, as it will be auctioned later in 2014 to raise money for the Children's Hospital of Saskatchewan. But don't expect it to go cheaply. This custom restomod is packed with Ford Racing high-performance hardware, including a 550-hp, 5.4-liter supercharged V-8, six-speed manual transmission, and styling inside and out inspired by the Ford Shelby GT 500.
buildAbronco 4-Door Ford Bronco
If you only stay indoors, and don't venture out to the outdoor displays of SEMA, you're missing out, as we found out when we stumbled across buildAbronco's stunning four-door custom Bronco. But this is no chopped and hacked 40-year-old chassis. It's an all-new chassis and body, with hardware that would make any off-road enthusiast drool. Under the hood is a high-compression 427-cubic-inch Ford small-block making an estimated 600 hp, a C4 automatic transmission, a twin-stick Dana 20 transfer case, a 5.5-inch lift from Wild Horses 4x4, ram assist steering, twin Bilstein shocks, 4.88 Yukon Gear axle ratios, and 36-inch Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ tires. Thanks to a 24-inch extension over a standard-length Bronco, there's room and fun for the whole family with a seven-passenger capacity and custom PRP seats. High-tech LED accent lighting and HID projector headlights make sure you can see and be seen, as if the roar from the high-po V-8 wouldn't be enough of a giveaway. This particular example is estimated to cost more than $200,000, but buildAbronco says it will offer a basic turn-key, short-wheelbase model with an off-the-shelf crate engine for a little over $40,000.
Let's Go Moto 2014 Toyota Tundra
If Toyota set out to build a truck that captures the action sports scene and community, the Let's Go Moto Tundra does it. Pro Comp tires mounted on Method Race wheels and a Camburg 12-inch lift give it an attitude-packed stance. The truck was envisioned as a rolling "pit lane" to keep the Motocross bikes running and in the action. To accommodate all the hardware, the frame was stretched to add the custom 8-ft utility bed, which was designed to hold a motocross bike, features three TV screens, a refrigerator, helmet dryer, power washer, hydrogen tanks, a built-in toolbox and gear storage.
The black, red, and gray paint scheme by The Collision Lab gives it the look of a motorsports helmet, and LED light bars on the bumper and roof make sure there's plenty of light when the sun goes down. When it's time for some virtual action, you can kick back with an Xbox 360 played through LG TVs.
Omix-Ada 1967 Jeep M715
There were plenty of Jeeps, old and new at this year's SEMA show. No disrespect to the original Ford GPs or Willys MBs, but this M715 from Omix-Ada really stood out. It wasn't radically modified or upgraded, but it was in remarkably good shape for its vintage. The fact that it's a lovable oddball powered by Kaiser's ill-fated "Tornado" overhead-cam I-6 earns it extra points in our book. The M715 also had a heavy-duty 24-volt power system more than 40 years ago, something that's common in military applications, but a rarity in civilian vehicles.
The pick-axe, shovel, jerry cans and other tools add additional authenticity to this example. If we were going to drive this one on a daily basis, we'd probably swap out the dicey Tornado for an LS1 or Hemi, but in terms of looks, we'd take this one just as it is.