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.
Icon 1953 Chevrolet 3100 Thriftmaster
We actually got a chance to drive the Icon Thriftmaster before its display at SEMA, and the workmanship and attention to detail are impeccable, as we've come to expect from Icon's products. Just because we got a sneak peek and drive before the show doesn't mean we like it any less. The "Thriftmaster" was originally sold in the 1950s with an economy-oriented inline-six. This one is definitely more slanted toward power with a supercharged 5.3-liter GM Vortec V-8 engine, producing an estimated 435 hp and 458 lb-ft of torque. Ironically, the modern, electronically managed V-8 probably gets better fuel economy than the old straight-six, if driven with restraint. The copious horsepower and torque output might tempt you to do smoky burnouts from each stop, but considering the Thriftmaster's Ferrari-like $220,000-plus price tag, you might want to keep a leash on your right foot.
Pro Comp 2012 Toyota Hilux
We make no secret or apologies for our fondness of global-market midsize trucks, as our constant pleading for Ford to bring over the T6 Ranger and Volkswagen to begin selling the Amarok in the U.S. will attest. Another model we'd like to see stateside is the Toyota Hilux. Although fundamentally similar to the U.S.-market Tacoma, the Hilux is available in global markets with a 3.0-liter I-4 turbodiesel. We have no complaints about the Tacoma's power with the 4.0-liter V-6, but its fuel economy of 16 city and 21 highway leaves something to be desired. The turbodiesel nearly matches the V-6 for torque, but with vastly improved fuel economy. Besides what's under the hood, other goodies on Pro Comp's Hilux include a 6-inch lift, Smittybilt front and rear XRC bumpers, HID off-road lights, and Pro Comp 35-inch tires.
WyoTech 1964 Ford F-100 Roadster
Like the four-door Bronco, this jewel is another one we would've missed had we written off the North Hall, which is usually the domain of tool makers and service providers. WyoTech is one of the best-known vocational trade schools for the automotive industry, and the handiwork of this truck is testament to the students' and staff's skill and craftsmanship. Built at WyoTech's Blairsville, Pennsylvania, campus, the truck features a rebuilt Ford 390 FE V-8 utilizing parts from Crane Cams, Edelbrock, Canton Racing Products, and ARP exhaling through a Magnaflow exhaust. The chassis was upgraded with parts from Heidt's Hot Rod Shop rolling on Mickey Thompson tires. LMC Truck was a major contributor to the body and trim pieces. Other modifications include a 1956 Ford grille, Ididit steering column, custom-upholstered interior featuring Katzkin leather, Jamey Jordan Handmade door panels, a chopped windshield, smoothed body. WyoTech students also custom-fabricated an aluminum fuel tank for the truck. Part of the build was featured on the TV show "Trucks!" where students from the Laramie and Blairsville campuses worked on the engine and suspension. The total list of modifications and contributors is too long to enumerate here, but you can visit Wyotech's Facebook page for more details on this build.
Teraflex Right-Hand-Drive Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited
At first glance, this looked like yet another Wrangler with a custom paint job. But what turned our heads was this Wrangler's right-hand-drive steering wheel. Right-hand-drive Wranglers are not totally unknown, being offered for more than a decade from the factory for rural mail carriers and export markets. But rarely do you see one modified, even at custom-crazy SEMA. To add to the down-under legitimacy, the Teraflex Wrangler features a surfboard in the back, as well as a woody-themed paint job. The vehicle was a showcase for some of the company's right-hand-drive-specific components, most notably its Monster front track bar specifically for right-hand-drive models.
Mobsteel FedEx Delivery Van
There was no way we couldn't include MobSteel's awesome custom FedEx delivery van in our Top 25 list. It doesn't look like your normal FedEx truck, because it's not. The front end is off a 1981 Freightliner cabover truck, and power comes from a heavily modified Cummins B-series diesel making in the neighborhood of 500 hp and probably 1000-plus lb-ft of torque. The interior, although basic and functional, is well done, with a quilted vinyl "doghouse" cover, and a wood panel floor. Also part of the permanent payload is an onboard air compressor to pressurize the AccuAir suspension, allowing the truck to lay low when it's not running down the quarter mile, which it does as an exhibition vehicle for FedEx.
Yukon Gear 1950 Willys Pickup
Yukon Gear, best-known among off-road enthusiasts for its beefy drivetrain components for Jeeps and 4x4s, this year featured a built 1950 Willys pickup in its booth. Although we wouldn't go quite as far as calling it a sleeper, with its blower stack sticking out of the hood and the tubbed and channeled rear frame and axle, we've seen far more visually outlandish and provocative vehicles that probably can't deliver on their promise of performance. Still, with this small body, skinny front and steamroller rear tires, along with the blown small-block, we'd safely wager this would be one heck of a fun ride.
Austin Hatcher Foundation 1971 Chevrolet C10
Like the Snakebit F-100, this 1971 Chevy C10 was built to benefit children with special health and care needs. The truck was built by Chimera Customs, and donated to the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer by Jim and Amy Jo Osborn. The C10 has an LS3 E-Rod crate motor and 4L65-E automatic transmission, a Ridetech air ride suspension, Baer brakes, and features a custom dash and gauge cluster with Autometer gauges and Goodmark replacement fenders and sheetmetal. The truck is scheduled to go on the block at Barrett-Jackson's Scottsdale auction in 2014. We're guessing the winning bid for this truck will go well into the six figures, not only because it's for a good cause, but because it's a legitimately clean and desirable restomod build.
Napa Auto Parts 1940 Ford Pickup
Another reason we're glad we ventured into North Hall: Napa Auto parts showcased this stunning 1940 Ford built by Chaotic Customs in Mulvane, Kansas. Almost no part of this truck was left untouched in its transformation from a straight but bare barn find to an immaculate custom, starting with a vertically and horizontally chopped and stretched cab mounted on a TCI Engineering chassis. The blue Martin Senour/Napa paint is gives the truck a rich, glossy luster. Typical for a custom build, but heresy to the Ford faithful, it's powered by a GM LS1 motor. Among our favorite touches are the custom dash with center-mounted V-shaped gauge cluster and quad "bullet" taillights on pontoon rear fenders. Those brown low-back bucket seats look mighty comfortable for some cruise-ins.
Bay One Customs 1958 Chevrolet Cameo
This stunner was featured in the Heat Shield Products booth and caught our eye immediately, but drew us in even more the closer we looked at its details. In addition to its candy red paint job that looks about a foot thick, the truck features exotic South African Bubinga wood that lines the bed, headliner, and door panels. Powering this beauty is a 383 stroker small-block V-8 with a Turbo 350 transmission and 3.55 rear axle. The build of this truck is documented in a series of YouTube videos on Bay One Custom's web site.
Hellion Power Systems Twin-Turbo Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
Some may feel Ford's off-road hero may be a little played out, but judging by the number of models we saw at this year's show, we'd say it's still as popular as ever. Even four years after its debut, there are new parts and accessories coming out for the Raptor every day, and we came across Hellion Power System's Raptor outside the show. Although Hellion is not the first company to strap a couple of snails to the Raptor's V-8, we like the artistic, yet straightforward underhood appearance of the kit, with twin turbos with a K&N filter on the intake end of each. We can imagine at full throttle, the combination of the air intake noise combined with the V-8 rumble is an awesome sound to behold.
Banks Power/Mike Ryan Freightliner Truck
We've covered a lot of the buildup and the competition of Mike Ryan's super-turbocharged Freightliner truck. In short, it's a massively powerful, massively large semi-truck with a twin-turbocharged and supercharged Detroit 60-series diesel engine. This truck is simply impossible to ignore. Its imposing size aside, it makes a deafening shriek at full throttle, combining the whine of the supercharger, the whistle of the turbos, and clatter of the diesel. Mike Ryan came ever so close to finishing the 2013 Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, but Mother Nature conspired against him, causing a spinout just short of the finish line, resulting in a minor wreck and causing a 30-second delay. Despite that setback, Ryan still managed to beat his own record from 2006 by 5 seconds. You can bet he'll be back next year, and we hope the weather will be more cooperative.
Chrome Gypsy Tattoo 1964 Ford Econoline
We're closet (or not so closet) van fans here at Truck Trend, so when we saw this sweet Econoline, we just had to include it. Built by Cleen Rock One customs, it channels a little bit of that '60s and '70s Mystery Machine vibe with some rockabilly attitude with the big-flake metallic accents and flames, side-pipe exhausts, and whitewall tires. The knockoff spinner wheels also add a classy retro touch. Even the roof wore impressive metal flake and custom pattern detail. Inside, the van had diamond-pattern quilted vinyl seats with an orange and green painted dashboard, and spray-coated lower console and doghouse. Chrome Gypsy Tattoo is a tattoo parlor in the Las Vegas area. Cleen Rock One happens to be both a custom car builder, tattoo artist, and owner of Chrome Gypsy.
PPG Finishes 1950 Chevrolet Kurbmaster
It may seem ironic that a company best known for its automotive paints would sponsor a mostly unpainted vehicle, but the company is represented with a clear expoxy finish and clearcoat that gives this vintage van its mirror-like shine. Representing PPG's more mainstream automotive finishes is a white painted roof. The van's utter simplicity is what makes this vehicle a show-stopper. The polished finish, chopper-style dual exhaust tips, and riveted body panels make a minimalist statement on customization. Based on a late-model GM half-ton chassis, the van is powered by a 5.3-liter Vortec V-8 backed by a GM four-speed automatic transmission.
TorqStorm Superchargers 1964 Chevrolet Corvair Van
Chevrolet Corvair vans are undeniably unique and cool, but with the stock air-cooled flat-six engines, they don't exactly rock you back in your seat with sheer power. But this one will. As if a 540-cubic-inch big-block Chevy V-8 doesn't give you enough power, the monster engine is fitted with two TorqStorm centrifugal superchargers. Feeding the beast is a FAST fuel injection system with a Holley fuel pump and MSD ignition system. Obviously, producing an estimated 1000 hp, air cooling won't cut it anymore, so a U.S. Radiator radiator and custom fan keep the monster engine cool. With the engine taking up the front third of the cargo bay, we don't know how useful this van is for hauling packages, but we're sure it's plenty useful for hauling tail.
Delta Lights 1934 Ford Pickup
This pickup is both crazy and subtle. As it was on display, with its scissor-lift bed extended to full height, theDelta Lights 1934 Ford got its fair share of attention. But with the bed lowered in driving position, and the hood down, it just looks like a clean, restomod hot-rod truck, complete with teal-painted wire wheels. The bed scissor lift is hydraulic, but the suspension is AirRide with a four-link rear suspension and a Ford 9-inch rear axle built by Hoppos Suspension of Ontario, California. Underhood is a B&M-supercharged small-block Chevy. If you look closer, you can see the halo LED surrounds on the vintage-style sealed-beam headlights, giving the rod and custom crowd this option that's become popular among the import and truck enthusiast segments. We'd never thought flat black and teal would go together, but the combination somehow works on this truck.
Reyna Bros. 2014 Chevrolet Silverado
We've featured a lot of vintage models on our list so far, but we can definitely appreciate a well-done late-model truck. This 2014 Chevrolet Silverado by Reyna Bros Designs of Georgetown, Texas, turned our head for its low-key custom details. One of the first things we noticed was the console shifter, something common in newer F-150s and Titans, but not offered from the factory on any GM truck. Looking at the interior of this truck, you'd think it was a factory install. Nearly every square inch of the interior is wrapped in Longhorns burnt-orange leather. Ironically accentuating the factory-like cleanliness of the interior is the airbag warning tag still hanging off the glovebox door. Any doubts the 2014 Silverado could make the basis of a bold, eye-catching custom are answered with this build.
Lewis Milinich 1967 GMC Pickup
Once again, cleanliness and simplicity make a statement. This 1967 GMC is the definition of a clean, classic custom truck. Although it tucks big, deep-dish rims, there are no hood cut-outs for clearance, and the bed is properly raised and finished with wood and polished metal. The interior is simple but clean with a painted dash and round gauges, a billet steering wheel and column, twin bucket seats, and a custom upholstered center console with the audio head unit and suspension switches. The truck's relatively understated appearance belies what are probably countless hours of fabrication and finish work that went into making this masterpiece. Lewis Milinich Auto Body of Hanford, California, is responsible for most of the body and paint work on this beauty.
Bestop 1995 Jeep Wrangler YJ
There were dozens, if not hundreds of JK Wranglers at this year's SEMA show in various stages of customization and modification, and even a few TJs, a favorite of off-roaders for its four-wheel coil spring suspension. But rarely anymore do you see much attention paid to the tweener Wrangler YJ. Besides its controversial (at the time) rectangular headlights, the YJ was halfway between the aging CJ and the retro-looking, but modern-chassis TJ. Even though the YJ may not get much love from the Jeep faithful, Bestop showcased one of the best examples of a YJ we've seen in a while. This model has plenty of tasty off-road goodies, including a NP-241 transfer case from a TJ Rubicon, Motive Gear 4.56 ring and pinions in Dana 44 axles, ARB air lockers, an an on-board compressor for the lockers and for tire inflation. Bestop pitched in the front and rear bumpers, mirrors, Trailmax II seats, floor liners, and a limited-edition blue soft top.