The Best of SEMA: Retro Campers, Three-Row Wranglers and a Bronco Desert Racer
One you can buy, one you can build yourself and the others go on the vision board
SEMA has become a peculiar event. You, the general public, aren’t allowed in, as it’s an industry-only trade show. But every year in Las Vegas, the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show seems to up the ante by exhibiting the most flabbergasting and harebrained vehicles to be found anywhere on the planet. It’s all about the aftermarket, and attendees have to build something absolutely bonkers to rival what YouTubers are doing and penetrate the cultural consciousness. So every year these elusive machines become more tantalizing, even as the eventual target audience for them — vehicle owners — remains no closer to the action than before.
Thankfully, we’ve reached a point where some of these builds are being documented in their own YouTube shows. So below, not only have we rounded up our five favorite vehicles from the event — from Toyota’s viral Tacozilla camper to an electric Ford pickup that you can make at home — but we’ve included links to videos of the cars in action, some of them detailing the entire design from start to finish. Because really, who needs another concept car that’s only built for show?
Apparently Ford thought the same thing, because one of the best vehicles they exhibited at SEMA 2021 is something you can actually buy. No assembly required.
The Dream: Toyota Tacozilla Tacoma Camper
The retro overlanding hit of the show is the Tacozilla from Toyota. Built by the Toyota Motorsports Garage team, the camper pays tribute to similar models from the ‘70s and ‘80s. But despite the era-appropriate color scheme and silhouette on the outside, the inside is as slick and modern as you anything you could ask for from a 21st-century build: walk from the cabin back into the camper and you’ll find a bathroom with a toilet and hot water shower, a kitchen with a stove and sink, and plenty of sleeping space. “Being around race cars my whole life, race cars are cool looking,” said project leader Marty Schwerter. “I want campers to be cool looking, too.”
The Realistic Concept: Ford F-100 Eluminator
As electrification is slowly taking hold of the automotive industry, one of the many misconceptions being tossed around is that EVs will kill customization. The complex electronics and new technologies are seen as water to the oil of current car culture. But this year’s show included a SEMA Electrified area dedicated to custom EVs, and Ford got in on the action with the F-100 Eluminator. What’s special about this refreshed 1978 pickup is that it gets its name from the Eluminator electric crate motor inside, and those are actually available for people to buy online from Ford Performance Parts. Now, Ford just needs to offer a battery pack to go with it and we’ll be set.
The Wild Card: Gas Monkey Garage Polaris Slingshot
The three-wheeled Slingshot was made to be messed with. It takes an eccentric person to buy one in the first place, which I guess is why we saw a whole superhero brigade rolling around in them on Halloween in NYC. Here we’ve got Richard Rawlings of Gas Monkey Garage having his team do the opposite of your standard Slingshot build: it’s raised, with custom suspension, a custom roll cage, custom roof rack, custom skid plates, custom rock sliders, the works. It really seems like Rawlings gave them a bunch of impossible problems to solve, but they did it, and now people who maybe never thought they’d want a Slingshot might just want one.
The Plausible: Three-Row Jeep Wrangler Overlook
We’ve covered Mopar’s Jeep builds for SEMA before — last year it was the hot dog-cooking Gladiator that had to stay home because of the pandemic — and the four vehicles they’ve put together this year don’t disappoint, from a beefed-up hybrid off-roader to a Kaiser Jeep with a bar in the back. Our favorite, though, is something people have been asking for from Jeep for a while: a three-row Wrangler. They’ve taken a Wrangler Sahara model and extended the cabin by a foot to get that extra row in there, and in classic Jeep fashion they’ve added off-roading accessories while keeping the interior super luxe.
The One You Can Buy: Ford Bronco DR
There are tons of Bronco builds at SEMA, but the one you need to pay attention to is the one that wasn’t designed just for sitting on a trade show floor. This Ford Bronco DR, or Desert Racer, is basically an off-the-rack off-road racing machine. Ford built it to tackle the storied Baja 1000 and will be selling 50 of them starting in late 2022 to anyone willing to shell out somewhere “in the mid-$200,000 range.” Just be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.
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