Best Custom Automotive Builds – SEMA 2022

Every year, the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) throws a trade show at the Las Vegas Convention Center to showcase the best aftermarket builds and components the automotive industry has to offer. Just this year, we saw everything from Volkswagen’s factory-built GLI Performance concept all the way to a Toyota Tacoma drift truck with a NASCAR V8 shoved under the hood. After my two days at the show, here are ten of the best builds that caught my eye.

NASCAR-Swapped Toyota Tacoma

nascar swapped toyota tacoma on track

Matthew Crisara

Even at a time when EVs are red hot in popularity, it’s difficult to not appreciate the sonorous exhaust note of a tuned V8. Few can match the unadulterated shock and awe of Brad Deberti’s Toyota Tacoma drift truck (a.k.a “The Performance Truck”) complete with a Toyota NASCAR V8 that revs to 10,000 rpm. At full throttle, it sounds almost feral, like an angry wild animal. The truck also annihilates tires—especially with Brad behind the wheel.

While the powertrain is the obvious meat and potatoes of the truck, the body kit and suspension setup are equally impressive. Out the back, it’s hard to miss the massive wing along with the wide-body kit that flanks all four fender wells. This allows DeBerti to run ultra-sticky BF Goodrich Rival tires at all four corners with no issues. The truck has also been lowered quite substantially via adjustable coilovers at all four corners. These mods continue at the front axle with custom fabricated suspension components that allows more steering angle—very important for drifting. Check out the link below for a quick preview of what this thing sounds like at full throttle.

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The Hoonigan’s Chevy Caprice Donk Build

hoonigan’s chevy caprice donk build

Matthew Crisara

What is a Donk you might ask? In automotive terms, “Donk” is the nickname for a modified 1971-76 Chevrolet Caprice or Impala. Big wheels aren’t required, but have become a staple on these builds for quite some time.

This particular Donk—built by Hoonigan Industries—features a supercharged big-block V8 sourced from eBay Motors. The engine itself was then built out by Blue Print Engines with burlier components to make more power and improve reliability. The titanic 8-71 (referring to eight cylinders and 71 cubic inches per cylinder) supercharger that you see plopped on top of the engine helps extract nearly 900 horsepower. The end result is an engine that sounds almost as insane as it looks; being a big block, it makes a super low grumble that shakes everything around it.

The final piece of the “Donk” puzzle (in my eyes) is the big wheels. In order to check that box, Hoonigan had a custom-milled set of gold 26-inch Rotiform wheels to fit the car; the team says that these rims are loosely inspired by BBS’s iconic RS rims. And gold wheels against the blue paint looks absolutely fantastic.

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Ryan Tuerck’s Toyota Stout

ryan tuerck’s toyota stout

Matthew Crisara

Most car enthusiasts will know that Toyota’s current lineup of trucks includes the Tacoma and Tundra. However, from 1954 through 1989, the Japanese automaker produced the Stout, a petite little pickup truck that marked the brand’s first foray into selling trucks in America. The original flatbed was an absolute gem—beloved by die-hard Toyota fans—and professional drift driver Ryan Tuerck saw it as the perfect base for a highly tuned drift truck.

Once the Stout hit the shop, Rob Parsons (a.k.a Chairslayer) began digitally scanning the truck to create a digital model. This would both help him design a bespoke tube-frame chassis, and aid John Sibaal in designing a wide-body kit. When I chatted with Sibaal at the Mobil 1 booth, he mentioned that digital scans are a new and exciting technology that is extremely precise—further simplifying his workflow in crafting the aesthetics and Parsons’s job when it comes to building the chassis.

Nearly all of the original bed was chopped out and only the tube chassis remains. Along with cutting out a ton of weight, it allowed the engineering team plenty of space for a bigger fuel cell and one of the sexiest outboard suspension systems I’ve ever seen. Look closely and you’ll notice Ryan Tuerck’s name and race number—RT411—engraved in the suspension uprights. Every time wandering around the build revealed new details that I hadn’t noticed before.

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“Hoonipigasus” Porsche Hill Climb Car

hoonipigasus porsche hill climb car

Matthew Crisara

Known as the “Hoonipigasus” (“Hoonipig” for short), this heavily modified Porsche 911 was built to tackle the 2022 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb—one of the most dangerous and heavily demanding motorsport events in the world. The name (and paintwork) honor the famous Porsche 917/20 “Pink Pig” that competed at the 1971 24 Hours of LeMans. While Betim Berisha and his team at BBI autosport began with a rusty old Porsche 911 shell for the project, most everything else was built or fabricated in-house with one purpose: to go fast.

This hill climb monster features a fully-built 4.0-liter flat-six engine—it started out as the same motor that you’d find in Porsche’s 911 GT3 R racer that competes in the IMSA sports car racing series. However, Berisha and his team of magicians at BBI fitted two massive turbochargers along with a laundry list of other modifications to extract 1,400 horsepower. That’s not to mention that the car is also all-wheel drive to help put its savage amount of power to the ground. Despite it sporting some of the biggest slick tires that I’ve ever seen, Berisha mentioned that traction was still in high demand up on the mountain.

However, along with a surplus of mechanical grip, the Hoonipig also offers a ton of aerodynamic grip for leaning into the corners. You’ll see the massive rear wing at the back, which Berisha says he’s curious about toying with a Formula 1-style Drag Reduction System to increase straight-line speed. Everywhere else on the car, flicks and scoops and wings are all designed to produce downforce to keep the car stuck to the ground.

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Larry Chen’s Toyota GR86 “Daily Drifter”

larry chen’s toyota gr86 daily drifter

Matthew Crisara

Larry Chen is one of the most famous and successful automotive/motorsport photographers in the United States, who shares a passion for both driving and shooting photos of cars. This GR86 marks Chen’s first major SEMA build, partnering with Toyota to build a fun and attainable drift car on a budget. Chen’s goal with his SEMA build was to spend no more than $10,000 on mods to put together a basic drift build.

Despite the factory car having more than enough power to get the tires spinning, car enthusiasts know that more power is always better. That’s why one of the first steps involved adding an HKS supercharger kit—making this one of the very first GR86 vehicles fitted with a blower. This bumps the power output up from 228 hp to 300 hp. Other basic modifications include bigger brakes at the front axle, adjustable coilover suspension, a limited-slip differential, and a steering angle kit. However, as you’ll clearly notice from the exterior, the scope of the build was to both improve performance and aesthetics.

A quick walk around reveals a Seibon carbon-fiber hood along with myriad HKS carbon trimmings, including a front splitter, side skirts, a rear wing, and a rear spoiler. The body kit is well complemented by a stark white set of Motegi Racing MR154 wheels wrapped in sticky Yokohama rubber. It’s also tough to miss the Type S Auto LED strips that flank the underside of the car.

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Westcott Designs Toyota Sequoia

westcott designs toyota sequoia

Matthew Crisara

Another highlight at the Toyota display was this 2023 Sequoia built out by Westcott Designs. Based out of Phoenix, Arizona, the studio specializes in fabricating and installing components for off-road vehicles. The real highlight of their SEMA build (at least for me) is the 37-inch Nitto Recon Grappler tires—as far as I know it’s the first Sequoia on 37s. Westcott’s Sequoia-specific lift kit (providing 3 inches of lift in the front and 1.75 inches in the back) clears enough room for the bigger rubber. To offer some perspective, the highest-level TRD Pro trim only allows for a 33-inch tire from the factory.

The other focal point of the project comes at the back with a hitch-mounted rack holding owner Jeff Westcott’s Kawasaki 550 stand up jet ski—dressed up with a TRD sticker kit. The rack assembly also houses three fuel jugs, including a top plate with Toyota’s “Let’s Go Places” motto laser cut into it. In fact, the very rack holding all of this to the back of the Sequoia actually swivels around to allow easy access to the rear of the vehicle.

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S-Klub LA Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster

s klub la mercedes benz 300 sl roadster

Matthew Crisara

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL is one of the prettiest cars ever made. Regardless of whether you like the gullwing or the roadster, the drop top variant was a massive deal when it came out in the spring of 1957. It transformed the high-performance gullwing into a fresh air machine—giving motorists the best of both worlds. While it’s definitely nice to look at, S-Klub LA vehicles are resto-mod machines, meaning these are classic cars with modern components underneath. The goal with these types of vehicles is to enjoy the exclusivity of driving a classic car without dealing with dated technology and components that are prone to having issues.

What you see here is essentially a largely period-correct 300 SL Roadster with the underpinnings from a 2003 Mercedes-Benz SLK 32 AMG. The real focal point of this build is that S-Klub converted the electric convertible top from the SLK to work with the 300 SL. That’s not to mention that the early 2000s open-air machine was no slouch in the performance department—originally rolling out of the factory with a stout V6, cranking out 349 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. Paired with modern brakes, the end result will likely be just as exciting to drive as it is to look at.

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Nissan Sunny Pickup (With Leaf EV Powertrain)

nissan sunny pickup with leaf ev powertrain

Matthew Crisara

This 1987 Nissan Sunny built by Tommy Pike Customs (TPC) might look like the adorable little pickup truck that it once was—sans the front end that’s been converted to look like the original Hakosuka Nissan GTR. However, a quick peek under the hood shows a 2021 Nissan Leaf motor, connected to the same manual transmission that the Sunny came with. When I talked with Dan Passe, director of product communications at Nissan USA, he reckons that it won’t last very long given the higher horsepower and torque output associated with the electric powertrain. The truck now makes 147 hp and 238 lb-ft of torque, which is more than twice the power it made from the factory.

The livery harkens back to the number 46 Datsun 510 that Peter Brock—of Brock Racing Enterprises (hence the BRE)—ran on his Datsun 510 and 240Z race cars. The vehicle is running on 17-inch Rotiform wheels (with the aero covers) wrapped in microscopic 205-section Toyo Extensa all-season tires. Up front, TPC also swapped out the Sunny’s stock suspension for much beefier Nissan 240SX S13 front suspension components (coilovers, disc brakes, and lower control arms) to cope with the extra weight from the electric motor.

I’m pleased to report that the “Danger High Voltage” message on the gas cap is actually real, given that the fuel filler neck has been swapped for a charge port. The plug is routed to a reconfigured version of the stock battery that allows the pack to fit neatly under the flatbed. According to Passe, this gives the truck nearly perfect 50-50 weight distribution. This clever balance of modern engineering and timeless design makes the electric Sunny one of my favorite builds at the show.

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Baja Porsche 911 Build

baja porsche 911 build

Matthew Crisara

This absolutely incredible Baja 911 build started out in life as a 1991 Porsche Carrera 4 Cabriolet before TJ Russell and his team converted it into an off-road monster. The metamorphosis from tarmac past master to off-road bruiser was a lengthy process. Russell’s goal with his company, Russell Built Fabrication, is to pay homage to Porsche’s off-road racing success in the 80s—the automaker has won the prestigious Paris Dakar Rally twice—as if the German company had continued desert racing into the 90s.

One of the most striking aspects you’ll see in the Baja 911 pictured above is the body kit. Rather unsurprisingly, it allows for a much wider and taller stance than before thanks to beefier Toyo Open Country AT/III and long-travel suspension. However, the new body panels are all molded from composite materials to make them more durable but also lighter than the standard steel that you’d expect from the factory—these panels shave about 400 pounds of weight from the final product. Unlike the standard rear-wheel-drive Carrera 4, the Baja 911 features an all-wheel-drive conversion for improved all-terrain ability.

Every year, SEMA hosts a battle of the builders. The Baja 911 won this year’s “Sport Compact, Luxury, and Exotics” class.

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Volkswagen GLI Performance

volkswagen gli performance

Matthew Crisara

Volkswagen’s GLI Performance concept adds a wide-body kit along with more power to the already rad GLI platform. It’s well deserved, as the GLI has often harbored a reputation for getting hand-me-down bits from the GTI and Golf R hot hatchbacks.

Under the hood, the vehicle receives RacingLine’s Stage 3 engine upgrades, which light a fire under the GLI’s turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. These basic power adders extract 350 hp and 372 pound-feet of torque from the GLI’s EA888 engine—up from 280 hp and 258 lb-ft. While that might not sound like a ton of power, it’s important not to forget that Volkswagen’s performance sedan keeps the same front-wheel drive layout. You light the fuse in this thing and it will definitely keep you on your toes.

In terms of aesthetics, it’s hard to miss the hexagonal vinyl wrap that complements the factory Kings red metallic paint. This new two-tone livery also flows onto the 20-inch Rotiform wheels, which feature the brand’s aerodisc covers; the bigger wheels—which also sit 0.8-inches wider than stock—are flanked by a wide body kit. The end result is a super aggressive stance that shows what the GLI can and should look like.

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