Hot rod car culture is a fundamental component of who we are as petrolheads. While the import scene undeniably played a heavy hand in reshaping the landscape over the past couple of decades, due in part to the success of the Fast and Furious franchise, another unexpected automotive mutation has recently emerged.
Import fans have begun taking both engineering and styling cues from classic muscle car, rat rod, and lead sled builds and applying them to European and Asian vehicles. Regardless of whether you find yourself appreciating this form of modification or not, its hybridized approach to custom car culture is undeniably unique and impossible to ignore.
Don’t get us wrong — muscle car fanaticism and classic build threads are still a massive driving force in the states, and as a fresh generation of Mopar, Mustang, Camaro, and 4×4 fans come of age, the aftermarket community still retains its interest in American automobiles. From lifted Jeeps and supercharged Challengers to our insatiable interest in classic Chevys, many of today’s performance fans remain true to their red, white, and blue roots.
But interest in foreign aftermarket automotive modifications doesn’t appear to be waning either, as a recent trip to the 50th annual SEMA convention in Las Vegas was sure to stress. So in order to offer a fair take on what we witnessed, here’s a cheat sheet on a few of the cleanest, strangest, and fastest cars from the show that embody both foreign and domestic designs.
1. Post-apocalyptic Dom doom machine
One part time machine, two parts wide-body Mopar monster, three parts Magnaflow guinea pig, and all Hollywood, Dom’s “Ice Charger” from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 8 film was a treat to see in person at the Jada Toys booth. This is what happens when Stuntman Mike, Doc Brown, and Dominic Toretto all decide to get together for a few beers and end up wrenching on a hot rod one evening.
2. Quickly, to the future!
Nothing about this concept vehicle is engineered for practical daily living, nor is it meant for the open road, but holy crap does it look fun as hell for attacking the track. By teaming up with Michelin and Brembo, Chevy looks to tease us with a design that forces drivers to lie down and treat their race car like a bobsled on steroids.
3. Big Mike is still living large
For those of you who’ve been in the Honda game for a while, this Prelude should be instantly recognizable, even without a green coat of paint commonly utilized by America’s Department of Forest Services. Big Mike has been tweaking this car for a hot minute now, and this year he finds his beloved ‘Lude in the running for SEMA’s “Young Guns Builder of the Year,” which focuses on enthusiasts under the age of 35.
4. Stance and style reimagined
Taking an already unusual chassis and giving it a healthy slathering of Euro-inspired stance is a recipe for both indignation from purists and success with unorthodox individuals, as the throng jostling around this 1951 Ford Coupe was eager to attest. Is it impractical as all hell and almost too pretty to drive? Absolutely. But that didn’t stop us from wanting to hoon it around the convention center’s parking lot.
5. The Miata menace
Performance-focused and willing to be driven on almost any paved road, the Miata we discovered over at the Rays booth was a wide-body black beauty that refused to be ignored. Keeping a tuxedo-grade approach to tuning at the forefront and containing just enough AIMGAIN design language to keep things interesting, the little rear-wheel drive rocket ship looked sensational under the Vegas lights.
6. Wide-body E30 badass
This was, without question, one of the coolest and cleanest builds from SEMA 2016, and the best part was that it looked completely practical for street driving purposes. Boxy, widened, bagged, and caged, the only thing slicker than this coupe’s aero kit was its matching interior.
7. Civic sensationalism
Seibon aero on a Civic sedan, complemented by a slew of performance upgrades and a set of forged alloy Rays wheels and ample amounts of race tuning made this 10th-gen Honda a huge hit. Its features include a complete AP Racing big brake kit, hidden Cusco upgrades, A’PEXi performance parts, a massive rear diffuser, and a set of sticky Continental tires. We fell head over heels for this performance Civic.
8. Merciless M4 madness
From its duckbilled rear flush mount deck lid to the sharply angled carbon pieces at every corner, this M4 was a gorgeous example of what capable modern driving performance should look like. It may not have been the most insane automobile at SEMA this year, but from a daily driving viewpoint, it was without question one of the most attractive.
9. Please pass the Prius
Toyota contracted this build out to Beyond Marketing, which reportedly drew its inspiration for the build from the Japanese Prius GT300, a car that has kicked ass on the racetrack due to its finely tuned suspension setup. This heavily modified hybrid gets its name by nearly pulling a full “G” on the skid pad at Willow Springs International Raceway during testing earlier this year with a 0.99, which is something typically reserved for high-dollar sports cars. Last we checked it was also still in the running for the top “Builder of the Year” award.
10. Euro rod revolutionary
Powered by a 3.2-liter motor that’s been filled with all sorts of forged goodies and boosted for good measure, this relic of a Euro hot rod features unpainted sheet meal at every turn, exposed wiring, custom gauge pods, AccuAir suspension, and loads of attitude. Impractical and undoubtedly uncomfortable as well, this little demon sits atop a set of über-obscure 15-inch BBS wheels that have been paint matched to honor BMW’s official racing colors.