Photo credit Newspress

Neon lights, parts displays, wheels and endless branding—this is what you know about the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association show in Las Vegas. I had never been to SEMA before, but I knew of its reputation for ridiculousness. But I wondered, could I find something truly rad there?

I was invited down to SEMA by Hyundai to check out the new version of their compact Accent sedan. I planned to spend a few extra days in Vegas beyond the press launch to take in the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the flat-brim ball caps of the show. Plus, I’d been told a number of times that this was a trade show everyone in the industry should attend once.

So I waded through this show over 30 miles in three days, according to my pedometer. There were thousands of people, all of them in my way, stopping to glare at some of the wildest creations. Remember, SEMA is a trade show, not a car show; it’s there for businesses to connect with each other, and for companies to show off their latest parts. Turns out I did find some memorable cars and builds.

Here, I’ve gathered all of the most awesome things, sorted out from the most awful.

I am an unabashed Porsche enthusiast, and I cannot get enough of the 993-generation 911-based “Gunther Werks 400R”. With a 400 horsepower aircooled naturally-aspirated flat-six engine and lightweight carbon fiber bodywork, this car is a diamond in the rough.

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This car was inch-perfect when I saw it on day one, but later in the show the front trunk lid was knocked out of alignment somehow and looked a bit wonky.

While Ken Block’s mega-powerful twin-turbo V8 Hoonicorn Mustang was sitting just inside the building at the Ford booth, I was actually much more taken by this wild Group A Rally Car Escort Cosworth. Ken’s Cossie has been seen before, but it looked all the more rad with it’s new livery.

I don’t normally equate the Goodguys brand of events to being rad, but in the case of this 500-horsepower Aluminator-powered four-eyes Fox body Mustang, holy Moses they knocked it straight out of the park.

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With a 1979 Indy 500 Pace Car-inspired livery and a super period-correct interior, this is probably the car on the show floor I’d most like to drive.

Rod Emory’s 964/356 amalgam in the Momo booth (a work in progress for Momo owner Henrique Cisneros) has a lot of potential to be the most awesome car in Porsche history. Merging a 964 chassis with the classic good looks of a 356, this car has modern driving dynamics mixed with old-school lightweight sensibilities.

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The engine is a 964-based four-cylinder of Rod’s own design, and will eventually feature a few hundred turbocharged horsepower in a 2200 pound package.

It’s hard to go wrong with Ford’s 1967 Le Mans-winning GT40. This car shows just how easy it is to win when you put legendary drivers Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt in a multi-million dollar sports car effort.

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Someone standing nearby said, “You know, if Enzo hadn’t been a dick to The Deuce, that car wouldn’t exist,” and that’s the best thing that happened to me at SEMA this year.

Bigfoot is the original legend of Radness. I loved poring over the details of this truck that was already the god of cars by the time I was born.

Rod Millen won the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb three times in this wild turbocharged Toyota Celica-ish silhouette racer, setting the record in 1994 that would not fall until 2007. Rod Millen is a badass, and this Celica is a badass. I didn’t expect to see this at SEMA, but I’m glad I did.

When I first laid eyes on this weird 911-ish sand rail buggy with Volkswagen Type-1 power, I hated it with a firey passion. A few days removed from the event, and it’s starting to grow on me.

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There is obviously very little actual 911 left in this car, save perhaps the greenhouse and floor pan. I bet it’s an absolute riot to drive across the desert at moderate VW-powered speed. Stef Schrader, are you jealous?

I don’t know much about trucks, but I know I’m hardcore in love with this one.

If you don’t yet know the 40-plus year story of Mickey & Danny Thompson’s Challenger 2, I suggest you go read up on it right now. Any car that can run 411 miles per hour driven by pistons is righteously cool in my book.

Just like bump and grind, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with a little R30 Nissan Skyline RS-Turbo. This two-tone beauty is just spectacular in person.

Photo credit Newspress

Speaking of, it’s worth noting that there were tons of Datsuns at this year’s show, as our friends at Japanese Nostalgic Car report. Maybe Datsun builds are The Next Big Thing.

Rob Ida’s twin-turbo Tucker is a pure and simple work of art that belongs in a museum as much as it deserves to get hooned within an inch of its life.

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Rob built this car from scratch with painstaking detail to the original, spending thousands of hours recreating each panel in steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber. I was convinced it was a real Tucker 48 as I walked around it.

My personal best-in-show for all of SEMA has to be this gloriously patina’d one-of-25 Cunningham C3. I’d never seen a proper Vignale-bodied Cunningham in person, and it was perhaps all the more awesome in as-used condition as it would have been fully restored. Just check out that Chrysler FirePower Hemi.

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Just a little bit of rust on the intake trumpets gives me all kinds of happy feelings inside.

Last but not least, Mike Burroughs (of Stanceworks fame - you know, the guy with Rusty Slammington?) brought his E28 BMW 5 Series back to SEMA this year with a new livery. Plopped square in the Motul booth, this new vintage-inspired Motul livery looked absolutely spectacular. That Mike drove this track-focused car from LA to Las Vegas the night before the show made this car even cooler. If you want to see it in person, Mike confirmed that he’ll be bringing it to Radwood 2.

So that’s how my SEMA went down. In the end, everyone was right—SEMA is an event that really needs to be experienced, but maybe only just once.

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Will I be back in 2018? I can’t say. By late October of next year, the hundreds of Chinese tire manufacturer booths will have faded from my memory, but I’ll remember these few awesome sights with rose-tinted glasses.

For now, my feet hurt, and I think I’m going to go kick back and watch Stranger Things.