Here are some of the wildest builds from the 2023 SEMA show
From road-legal GT3 cars to slammed estates and everything in between, SEMA never disappoints
Carbon Aston Martin Vantage S
Kicking off our list is this unhinged wide-body Vantage S with an exterior now clad in carbon fibre, including the bumpers, arches, bonnet, and even the tail light insert. Sporting the customary green racing headlights and a set of bronzed Volk TE37 alloys, you must now be wondering if what’s under the bonnet is just as impressive - and yes, we can confirm it is.
Much of the work has been provided by Canadian tuning brand Velocity Automotive Performance, and includes modified air filters, headers, and a reworked ECU to turn this once-elegant British sports car into an all-out road racer. It’s safe to assume that the Vantage’s original 430bhp has significantly risen since owner Daniel Song took on this project.
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Ferrari 612TR by SKLUB
What makes SEMA so great is the spectrum of creativity on show, and in that regard, this Ferrari 612 Scaligetti built by LA-based S-KLUB is right up there. The story behind its creation is fascinating: the body is actually a replica of the legendary 1957 Ferrari 250 Testarossa, and required the team to trim the 612’s dimensions down significantly to merge the two together.
Speaking to TopGear.com, Pyrun Men of S-KLUB, said: “The theme was Formula 1, so we hand-made the rear spoiler, rear diffuser, front lip, and side skirts as one-offs. We decided that this car would be very controversial, so we needed to go all out on every aspect of the car.”
To bring this Modenese Frankenstein to life required the labour of 12 talented professionals across a four-month period, and love it or hate it, you can’t deny that it’s pure pantomime.
Image: Pyrun Men
Mercedes-AMG G-Wagon convertible
Keeping up the lusus naturae theme is this electric Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon two-door convertible. Built by Canada-based Trick Factory Customs, the humble G320 was stripped down to its bare frame before a number of aftermarket parts were added to create one of SEMA 2023’s wildest cars.
It boasts a tubular 4x4 square-style suspension to give it the height, and a custom-made body kit to give it the bombastic looks. Trick Factory claims an output of 460bhp and over 960lb ft of torque, courtesy of the CR43 motor provided by Revolt Systems, and the consortium of Tesla battery modules spread across the vehicle. Nice.
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Tesla-powered Datsun 240Z
It’s not uncommon to see classic Japanese cars gaining plenty of attention at car shows around the world, and SEMA 2023 has once again been no different. Of the many great builds on show, we were particularly attracted to this Tesla-powered 1977 Datsun 240Z, nicknamed “The Legacy”.
Using multiple 3D printers for certain sections and a secondary 240Z for extra materials, The Legacy has been given the full carbon fibre treatment by using fibreglass to form and shape the panels. Its creator, Timothy Hicks from Industry Garage, says he plans to continue tinkering with The Legacy’s performance moving forward while adding smaller quality-of-life updates such as cameras to the side mirrors.
Image: Timothy Hicks
Toyota Chaser in 'Midnight Purple 3'
Another Japanese car which caught our attention was this Toyota Chaser, finished in a gorgeous coat of 'Midnight Purple 3'. Built over the last two years by automotive social media personality Joshua Freeman, this 1996 JZX100 example has a highly-modified 2JZ engine under the bonnet.
We’re big fans of the Vertex Japan body kit and the OEM roof spoiler, but the paint job is the pick of the bunch. The coat has actually had more pearl mixed into it so the shift under certain lighting is more dramatic. Joshua has also mentioned that he has a scaled-down Diecast version of this very car sat atop his computer desk from many years ago, and used that as the inspiration behind this build. Doesn’t that just make your heart melt?
Image: Bailey Neal
Iron Man-inspired Mustang GT
Next up on our list is this eye-catching 2018 Mustang GT, which brings together four different hand-fitted wraps and is dubbed the “IronManGT” for its resemblance to one of Marvel’s greatest heroes - if not the most sarcastic. The Mustang itself has got an aura of flamboyance to it, with the exterior modifications really set off by the orange neon underglow.
Brought to life by Katrina Drazdova, the performance enhancements range from a catalytic converter delete and new headers to chunkier Brembo brakes. A new suspension kit from Airlift Performance is also fitted, which we suspect brings out the best in the Recaro seating. Tony Stark would be proud.
Image: Katrina Drazdova
Lightweight racing 1967 Mustang Fastback
Meanwhile, a very different type of Mustang was also present at SEMA 2023, and has been constructed purely for track pleasure and little else. Speaking to TopGear.com, its creator Chris Ashton said: “This car is a love letter to the Shelby Cobra. We were especially inspired by the FIA variant, which raced in Europe and predated the better-known 427 cars. These cars are simple, light, fast and fun.”
And fun it must be, given that it weighs in at just 1,315kg and is powered by an aluminium small-block Shelby motor. The cabin plays host to an exposed transmission tunnel, which continues the bronze theme applied to the six-point cage. Just six switches are located inside, too, acting as an ode to Chris and his team’s ethos of simplicity.
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1964 Ford Galaxie 500 track car
Along with the racing Mustang, Chris has woven his magic on a street-legal track-focused Ford Galaxie 500 from 1964. Though, from looking at the imagery, it’s difficult to see just how this thing is allowed to share the same tarmac as a humble Toyota Corolla.
Powered once more by a Shelby aluminium block that's mated to a six-speed manual transmission, the Galaxie is even equipped with a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s to neutralise the brute force. We love the design of the Galaxie, too, with the low-slung body and WW2 battleship-inspired paint scheme surely a sight to behold on track.
Image: Jens Lurking
Street-legal BMW Z4 GT3
GT3 cars deserve a lot of appreciation given just how much time and work goes into turning them into some of the finest racing cars of their generation. But even more praise should go to those who put blood, sweat and tears into legalising said racing cars, and the perfect example of just that was present at SEMA this year by way of Gooichi Motor’s Z4 GT3.
Powered by a supercharged Mercedes-AMG V12 (!) and paired with a sequential gearbox, the result is simple: this Z4 GT3 stakes a claim for being not only the fastest car on this list around a track, but the fastest car at SEMA 2023 outright.
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S54 single-turbo BMW E30 323i
This one may ruffle the feathers of a few BMW purists, but isn’t that the whole point of SEMA? What we have here is an E30 BMW 323i that’s been given a thorough makeover, consisting of a gorgeous gloss brown paint that combines with the tan leather interior to cut a properly imposing figure.
The bonnet has also been removed to expose the crown jewel of this build: a single-turbo six-cylinder engine. The car has also been allowed to work up a sweat at various drift meets, and we can think of no better way for someone to truly show off their pride and joy after six months of labour to bring the car together.
Image: Eliv Solis
1997 BMW E36 Touring
It would’ve been a sacrilege to put together a SEMA round-up and not have at least one estate present, and this E36 Touring finished in Avus Blau with yellow accents takes our pick. Not only has it been dropped to within a centimetre of its wheel well by owner Marvin Fonacier, but a sweet spot has been found with the amount of negative camber applied.
The upgrades are plentiful too, including an S54 engine swap and Prazis air suspension. The changes all come together to provide a sense of occasion to a timeless classic that, thanks to its new engine, now goes like the clappers.
Image: Marvin Fonacier
BMW 2002 with 600bhp
Rounding off our orchestra of favourite Munich-born builds is this BMW 2002. Powered by an E36 M3 drivetrain to provide around 600bhp, the driveshaft and a host of other internals have also been given a thorough rework so very little from the original car still remains.
But let’s face it, the real appeal here isn’t so much about the astonishing performance as the looks. The arches and front spoiler are built in-house and are slightly bigger than the factory parts. Equally, the half-roll cage has also been put together by owner Manuel Agulian, who says that the racetrack will be the 2002's next destination.
Image: Manuel Agulian
Nissan Z Safari Concept
The seventh-generation Z has been a pretty divisive car since its release, particularly because of Nissan's refusal to bring it to our shores. To add further insult to injury, Nissan has teased a Safari-esque concept to pay homage to 1971 East African Rally winner Hans Schüller and his triumphant 240Z.
Packing over 400bhp from its 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 and raised by two inches to accommodate the new 17-inch Nismo wheels, Nissan has even given it a manual transmission to make it as engaging as possible off the beaten track. Jealousy aside, we really do hope this makes it to the production line.
Candy red carbon Camaro
The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro is one of the classic American muscle car world’s most desirable contributions to society, but when it’s been given a candy red finish and a 650bhp LT4 crate engine from General Motors the appeal goes through the roof. It has been put together by Oklahoma-based Finale Speed, which specialises in carbon fibre restorations of classic muscle cars.
Other notable changes include the graphite-finished Forgeline alloys, LED lighting, flush-mounted glass and a selection of hinges and handles to give it a little more sporting edge. How badly do you want one?
Image: Finale Speed
The Ford Sierra RS500 was a big hit here in the UK and has developed a huge cult following as one of the very best Fast Fords ever made. A European spin-off, known as the Merkur XR4Ti, was also released in 1985 and takes the final spot on our 2023 SEMA round-up.
Powered by an all-new 2.3-litre Ford ‘EcoBeast’ engine and now called the “RS4Ti”, Kevin Huth of JH Restorations has given it a thorough external rework that includes a modernised take on the Sierra RS500’s original body kit, and a biplane rear wing that nods towards the car’s heritage as a former rally winner. Lovely.
Image: Kevin Huth