New Zealand isn’t exactly a petrolhead’s mecca for big-name auto shows. In fact, the closest thing this writer’s homeland has to a major Motorshow is bundled in with an agricultural event sporting everything from gumboots and cow milking machines to tractors and turnip-throwing. For example, want to check out the latest Subaru Outback? Sure thing …but you’ll have to adopt three sheep and a bag of mulch for the privilege.

So, when the chance came up to check out this year’s Specialty Equipment Market Association Show (SEMA), this writer jumped at the opportunity to see why the Las Vegas-based event was so popular. First impressions? …Gobsmacked! Upon landing at Harry Reid International Airport, the climate had changed from green Kiwi pastures to miles of drought and greenback notes; Las Vegas is a man-made anomaly in a Martian landscape ready to hoover every cent in your wallet into a neon-lit oblivion. 

Forget the plastic-infused glitz and glam of the main strip; SEMA is a true gem in the Nevada rough. Until experiencing it in person, I was completely unaware of the sheer scale and size of the event and the Las Vegas Convention Centre. The place is massive! New Zealand’s SEMA equivalent, 4s and Rotary Nationals, can be viewed on foot within a day, unlike the Vegas event, which needs a week, four pairs of shoes and eventually a mobility scooter to explore. My feet were f#*ked!

Kiwis are notorious for brilliant backyard ingenuity on a shoestring budget. However, seeing multi-million dollar builds up close and personal was an incredible highlight, as was the impressive build quality and attention to detail that can often be the nemesis of a brilliant project if poorly executed. But the show itself is a testament to automotive passion, talent, community and immersive experiences – something I’ll never forget! New Zealand show organisers could undoubtedly take a note or two.  

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Sadly, SEMA has long come and gone for 2023, and this writer has since evicted himself from the land of the free, but what were some of the top 5 successes and not-so-great offerings from this year’s show?

Ringbrothers 1969 Dodge Charger “Tusk”

Josh Byrnes / Carscoops

One builder that consistently punches above its weight is Ringbrothers. The Wisconsin-based shop came to SEMA with three reveals this year, including a 1965 Mustang Convertible nicknamed “Uncaged”, a stunning 640-hp 1961 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud ll, and our favourite, a 1969 Dodge Charger named “Tusk.”

Powered by Mopar’s 1000-hp, Hellephant supercharged 7.0-litre V8; Tusk is a sensational example of re-engineering with a carbon-fiber two-piece hood, driveshaft and interior elements. Go-fast, bespoke exterior changes are more than skin-deep, with a custom chassis enabling the front wheels to be pushed forward and the engine rearwards by 2.5 inches to help weight distribution and handling.

Gunther Werks Porsche 911 Speedster

Josh Byrnes / Carscoops

Love a good weave? Then you can’t go past the Gunther Werks Porsche 911 Speedster. The carbon-fiber-bodied restomod was a spectacular showstopper with LED lighting, restyled bumpers, windshield and a ducktail spoiler. 

Under its exotic surfacing lay a 4.0-litre flat-six tuned by Oregon-based Rothsport Racing, generating 435 hp and 335 pound-feet of torque. It’s almost Miata-light, too, with a 2590-pound curb weight and a Getrag G50 five-speed manual boding well recipe for some serious fun. Only 25 are being built, so get in quick.

1987 Merkur “RS4Ti”

Josh Byrnes / Carscoops

Rare in more ways than one, the Merkur XR4Ti was essentially a Ford Sierra imported as a sports-luxury alternative to BMW. Turning a blue-collar car into a luxury import was never going to succeed, but what did was the effort made by Canadian-based JH Restorations and their stunning Merkur, dubbed “RS4Ti”.

The custom widebody monster painted in Ford’s Area 51 Blue sports a Ford Performance 2.3-litre EcoBeast crate engine, developing an estimated 450hp. Power for this modern Sierra Cosworth RS500 equivalent is sent to the rear axle via a Tremec TKX five-speed manual transmission. It also features six-piston brakes and American Racing VF529 wheels wearing Toyo Proxes Sport tyres to keep things in check.   

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Toyota Tacoma X-Runner Concept

Josh Byrnes / Carscoops

The only OEM with a decent presence at this year’s show, Toyota, showcased a bevy of Tacoma prototypes, with the X-Runner concept taking centre stage. The street truck redux certainly looked the part with lowered air suspension and custom-valved, 2.5-inch Bilstein shocks, redesigned front bumper, hood and aero-fairings.

It isn’t just all show either, with the TGNA-F platform-based truck sporting some serious performance credentials. The 3.4-litre i-FORCE V6 plucked from the Tundra pumps a healthy 421 hp and 479 lb-ft to the solid rear axle via an electronic locking differential. 

Toyota FJ Bruiser

Josh Byrnes / Carscoops

Looking like something from a Mad Max-inspired Hot Wheels catalogue, Toyota’s FJ Bruiser was arguably one of the unexpected stars of the show. Based on a 1966 FJ45 Pickup Truck, Toyota’s SEMA project team went wild with a custom frame, full tube chassis and a slick paint job. 

Things go from wild to extreme under the hood, with a modified 358 V8 NASCAR Cup engine producing 725 horsepower mated to a race-built 3-speed automatic. Currie front and rear differentials and an advanced transfer case enable four 2WD and four 4WD speeds for the ultimate rock-climbing credentials.


Josh Byrnes / Carscoops

Too Many Lifted Heavy-Duty Trucks

Rather than singling out one vehicle, SEMA attracted many lifted heavy-duty trucks that were fine examples of dubious engineering combined with little creative freedom. The central recurring theme included massive wheels, Bluetooth drivelines, a colour-coordinated powder coat job, and lift kits to tower over Caesars Palace.

While many of the endless (or shall we say, now useless) Ford F-250s, RAM and Silverado’s sat pride of place outside the Las Vegas Convention Center, it would have been a better setup if they were all hoarded out of sight.

Ferrari Testarossa EV

Josh Byrnes / Carscoops

Looking more like a futuristic Miami Vice prop than an actual Ferrari, Gas Monkey’s Testarossa EV was a love or loath affair for many. The electric restomod sported a McLaren F1-like central driver’s seat, frameless windshield and a rising shoulder line that made it look like a child’s race car bed.

Ferrari faithful will be mortified that the 4.9-litre flat-12 of the original has made way for an all-electric powertrain, developing 300 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque. The Legacy EV-developed setup uses an 84.6 kWh battery pack, offering a range of 170-225 miles. Sadly, while the project had much potential, it was also let down by questionable panel fit – just check out that lower light bar. Yikes.

The Vaydor

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If one car at SEMA could scream the essence of the Grand Theft Auto gaming franchise, it would have to be the Infiniti G35-based Vaydor. Unlike most G35s, which end up crowd-bowling at intersection takeovers, this one takes ALL the elements of a Lamborghini and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X to create an incredibly unique look.

Credit to Carolina Vaydor for taking a risk in offering a full-body conversion, but why anyone would blow over $115k of their hard-earned cash on a hacked-up and poorly re-bodied G35 is simply beyond comprehension. 

Hyundai Kona Jayde Concept

Josh Byrnes / Carscoops

In its pre-show press images, Seoul’s SEMA entry looked rather good but faded into the show floor as just another vehicle sporting a colourful wrap and aftermarket HRE wheels. In all fairness, the Kona Jayde Concept was more of a collaborative effort, showcasing various outdoor accessories than a complete custom build.

To give Hyundai credit, they did fit the thing with Eibach springs, subtle styling add-ons and plaid Recaro seats, but they didn’t push the envelope far enough. An off-road-orientated version with the Elantra N’s turbocharged powertrain would have been just the ticket—such a missed opportunity. 

Widebody DeLorean

Josh Byrnes / Carscoops

Before the barrage of hate and keyboard-shaped projectiles comes flying this way, the LS-swapped widebody DeLorean from the builders at Salvage to Savage was arguably a show star. Bringing an icon back to the future is a challenging feat at the best of times, let alone when stainless steel meets IMSA-inspired modified bodywork. 

Luckily, it also has all the right ingredients, featuring air suspension for an aggressive stance, LED lighting and a 700hp twin-turbo 5.3L GM LS V8 mated to a Porsche 996 transmission. Unfortunately, where it succeeds in design, it fails in execution – inside and out. Working with stainless steel is never easy (just ask Elon), but the dubious panel alignment and buckled plastic trim prevent this build from being a home run.  

Photos Josh Byrnes / Carscoops