(Editor's note: I want to thank both Tom Morr and Larry Edsall for covering the SEMA Show for PUTC so completely. This will be our final installment for our show coverage this year--we hope you've enjoyed it. We can't wait for SEMA 2013.)
By Tom Morr
At SEMA, the bar is high — and there's a bar every few hundred yards. Combine the two, and picking the show's top trucks becomes more of an adventure than a job.
Many customizing trends carried over from last year. For one, the 909/MMA-influenced trucks keep spawning. Genetically, these trucks, often Super Dutys, have 38- to 40-inch tires, flat paint that apparently complements the owners' flat-bill hats, billet grilles (RBP or ones inspired by that company's designs) and as many LED bars as will fit or budget allows.
Nostalgia continues to be influential. Classic styling with resto-mod performance makes many of these creations more like hot rods or street machines that happen to have a bed. Jimmy Shine's infamous bare-metal '34 Ford pickup is a prime example of a truck that transcends time and trends: It's a rat-rod land-speed slammed sport truck. Military tribute themes remain popular, too.
The slammed trucks of SEMA actually offered more creativity and diversity than their taller relatives. However, we aimed high and literally overlooked many of these.
Our annual best-of gallery includes some of the highly hyped trucks and a few that had the intangibles to stand out at SEMA. That's increasingly tough to do.
The most famous 4x4 pickup of all time has gone green. Bigfoot 20, the newest member of Bob Chandler's family, runs on battery power, thanks to primary sponsor Odyssey. The truck is powered by 36 Odyssey PC1200 deep-cycle batteries and a motor from Electrified Motor Sports. Dennis Berube hand-built the system, which uses three banks of 10 batteries, to supply 360 volts to the DC motor. The other six batteries juice pumps for the brakes and power steering. The truck has an on-board battery charger.
Many other components are shared with other Bigfoot trucks. These include 66x43x25 Firestone Flotation tires and ZF planetary axles. This truck has a custom fiber-glass body.
Bigfoot 20 won't compete until Bob Chandler's team is fully up to speed on the new technology. The electric motor and 1,375 pounds of batteries yield different driving dynamics than the other members of Bigfoot's fleet. It's another example of how Bigfoot remains a technological trailblazer.
Although sled pulling isn't always an edge-of-your-seat experience for spectators, the sport's work-truck roots command pickup owners' attention. Farm-bred tractor tech has now combined with NHRA Funny Car packaging, resulting in a brute-force display of gargantuan turbo power.
The Rock Hard Ram puller is a prime example of the species. Van and Patty Haisley of Haisley Machine created this 2,500-horsepower Ram using three turbos on a Cummins 6.7-liter engine. The big-daddy turbo is a 105-mm full ball-bearing model customized by Columbus Diesel. Twin Holset HC5 turbos spin up their big brother to create an eye-raising 150 pounds of boost.
The rest of the engine is based on a production 6.7-liter Cummins. The crankshaft remains stock, but everything else on the Haisley "Super B" engine was engineered and manufactured specifically for the application. The injectors are so large that the vehicle burns 1.5 gallons of diesel during a 13-second full pull (300 feet).
The rest of the drivetrain includes a Profab single-speed transmission and a Rockwell SQHD rear end.
The custom glass body is by Frey's Auto Body. It retains the stock Ram body lines while fitting a 158-inch wheelbase. This Ram goes way beyond pulling its own weight.
Li'l Red Screamer
Mopar's Li'l Red Express Ram is a prime example of a modern tribute to a classic. The original Dodge Li'l Red Express is one of the most traffic-slowing designs ever unleashed off a factory assembly line: About 7,300 of these special-edition trucks were built for the 1978 and 1979 model years. The vertical exhaust stacks foreshadowed the big-rig influence that jolted the industry when the redesigned Ram was introduced in 1993. Car and toy collectors alike remain enamored with the Li'l Red truck.
This 2013 Li'l Red Express Ram 1500 is Mopar's tip of the hat to the original. Although it lacks the Flareside box, this modern iteration includes the vertical exhaust stacks, gold graphics and wood bed accents. Power comes from a 5.7-liter Hemi, boosted significantly by a Banks Sidewinder turbocharger. The custom fiber-glass hood has a bulge to accommodate the turbocharger. Mopar dubs — 22-inch wheels with gold inserts — reinforce this modern take on a seminal truck.
As with many SEMA concepts, positive reinforcement from the industry inspires manufacturers to green-light the entire package, or at least some of its parts, for consumer use. The Mopar Li'l Red Express is one of the most commercially viable concepts we saw this year.
Monstrous Super Duty
Inspired by the Monster energy drink, Kelderman created a standout 2012 Ford Super Duty. This F-250 crew-cab 4x4 has the company's adjustable 8- to 10-inch air suspension, complete with an electronic leveling system that has a touchpad interface. Sway-A-Way remote-reservoir shocks round out the suspension. The Super Duty rolls on 40x15.50R22 Toyo Open Country M/Ts on Monster Energy Edition 22x14 wheels from T.I.S.
Upgrades from H&S Performance help the 6.7-liter Power Stroke move the meaty rotating mass. These include an H&S cold-air intake and a Mini Maxx programmer. An MBRP exhaust helps the diesel exhale.
Matte-black paint by Lynch custom painting makes the Monster green graphics by Serrano Custom Designs really pop. Other exterior accents include a Backbone headache rack, Vision X LEDs, a Bedslide cargo tray, AMP Research PowerSteps, Fab Fours bumpers and PML diff covers.
Besides the sheer size, this Super Duty's green graphics made it stand out in a sea of matte-black trucks at SEMA. This truck won a Ford Project Excellence Award.
One take-away from SEMA 2012: Lime-green graphics attract eyeballs, especially indoors. Like the Kelderman Super Duty, this Raptor uses a matte background under vibrant green accents. Even the OE rear-corner splash design was replicated in slime green.
The hard parts are just as stunning. And the hard part of Raptor customization is that the raw material is already heavily aftermarket-ized.
For starters, a Roush supercharger bumps the 6.2-liter V-8 to nearly 600 hp. It also features a Roush exhaust, part of the Roush Off-Road package.
Rolling stock is new Toyo Open Country A/T II tires. These 35x12.50R20 skins are wrapped around custom-painted BMF wheels.
Bumpers by Addictive Desert Designs and Rigid LED bars give the truck a serious off-road attitude. Other touches include AMP Research PowerSteps and a Monster Hooks tow hook, which received the same marbled green finish as the Ford badge on the grille.
The Raptor was built by Five R Trucks' Custom Truck HQ. It appears at home on the range in Colorado or in the Southwest desert.
Sano Power Wagon
Slab-sided Dodge pickups nearly put Ram trucks out of business by the late 1980s. Tough and utilitarian in the 1960s, the breed almost went extinct when Dodge was leapfrogged technologically and aesthetically by Ford and GM. The Cummins diesel and Peterbilt styling finally reintroduced Ram to light-duty relevance in the 1990s.
Resto-masters ICON (the company behind the $150,000 modern Early Bronco) created a sublime 1965 D200. Not as sexy as the earlier Power Wagons, the fleetside body presented a big blank canvas for subtle touches. Icon stretched and reconfigured the original body to fit a 2006 one-ton Ram Mega Cab chassis. Attention to detail included plating or re-creating all the original hardware in brushed nickel or stainless steel. Badges were even rendered in the original fonts. Modern touches include J.W. Speaker LED lights.
Under the hood, the Cummins diesel received the full Banks treatment. The Six-Gun package includes an intake, intercooler, programmer and exhaust system. It also has a Banks exhaust brake and water-methanol injection with an in-cab Banks IQ monitor/controller. Torque is claimed to be 975 pounds-feet. Power gets to the ground via 37-inch BFGs on DOT-legal Hutchinson beadlocks.
This big white wagon has numerous subtle details. A bison-hide interior is just one of its long laundry list of wild modifications.
Rough Rider Raptor
Another modern blast from the past is a retro 2012 Raptor created by Sanderson Ford of Phoenix. Its PPG paint scheme comes from Ford's early 1990s' off-road racing team, the Rough Riders.
Other touches combine modern tech with retro-mods. For example, the rear end is a Currie 9-inch — but an all-new model, in contrast with the refurbed units the company sold 20 years ago. ZMR bumpers and racks have the pre-runner flavor but are manufactured from current-spec chromoly steel. KC lights are cutting-edge high-intensity-discharge carbon-fiber Pods. Roush supplied the power parts: intake, headers and exhaust.
Underneath, suspension travel is increased by Foutz Motorsports long-arm kit. Supporting parts include King remote-reservoir shocks and Eibach springs. These make room for 7x12.50-17 BFG Baja T/A KRs on BMF M-80 wheels.
Finally, this is a Raptor with a cause: Sanderson Ford uses it to raise money and awareness for the Arizona Special Olympics.
This Raptor is exhibit A that 1) the economy is thriving in other parts of the world and 2) you can never show too many custom SVT F-150s. Neptune Expedition, a Russian group that organizes off-road events, commissioned Addictive Desert Designs to build it a Raptor. ADD began with its own bumpers and racks. Recon LED headlights and taillights were added, as were a stable of Vision X LED bars.
Added power comes from an SCT tuner. Breathing improvement is handled by an AFE intake and Stainless Works exhaust. The Raptor appears poised to participate in the 2013 Lagoda Trophy. We don't read Russian, but the online photos of previous events look like it's the real deal.
RealTruck.com built an unreal Chevy Silverado 2500 HD it calls the Storm Truck. When parked, it might blend in with a snowstorm, but powering up the Chevy creates an ultimate tailgater.
Prominent are five LG television monitors. They and the rest of the A/V gadgets are all controlled by an iPad.
Extensive bodywork also stands out. Done by The Foss Shop in North Dakota, body mods include rear-hinged rear doors, Lambo-style front doors and a barn-style tailgate. Also, handles were shaved, and the bed box was extended to accommodate all the gadgetry. The extensive list of electronics includes Vizualogic headrest monitors, an Xbox 360 with Kinect, an Alpine stereo and Kinetik power cells.
The truck sports a few off-the-rack bolt-on parts, including Putco bed rails, AMP Research PowerSteps and Boondock Backwoods bumpers. Engine performance is increased with a Bully Dog tuner and Gibson exhaust. PlasmaGlow lights draw attention to many of the custom details.
We can't think of a better way to ride out a storm than in this custom Chevy.
This one's way beyond most of our means. Still, it's one of the most ingenious ideas ever shown at SEMA.
Exhaust companies post sound clips of their various mufflers on their websites. Magnaflow decided to go above and beyond with a live demo. The over-the-top concept involves revolving exhaust systems in the truck's bed. Different Magnaflow systems can be rotated into place by an in-cab switch, then demoed for sound quality. A diverter valve allows the truck to run normally when it isn't showing off. The daily-driver exhaust tips are integrated into the taillights.
The platform is a 1949 Chevy 3100. Chip Foose sketched it with round fenders and picked the Glasurit Sioux Red color. CW restorations did the work. The truck is powered by a 430-hp GM E-Rod LS3, backed by an Art Carr 4L65E. TCI supplied the chassis; Wilwood brakes are part of the package.
We haven't seen it work yet. If the exhaust demo is executed as well as the rest of the truck, people will talk about the Revolver for years to come.
Kelderman took the street-truck laying-frame concept down a notch. This sleeper Ram 5500 can tow a serious trailer; the Kelderman Bed Lift system can also relocate the box. A Kiwi Indian Hendee-Deviant bike makes the system actually look functional for loading and unloading.
Naturally, the truck has a Kelderman airbag suspension. Toyo Open Country A/T tires on Diesel wheels get the dualie power to the ground. Speaking of power, the Ram packs a few extra ponies. An H&R tuner combines with a K&N filter and an MBRP exhaust to open things up a little. Other modifications include Fab Fours bumpers, a Warn winch and a T-Rex billet grille.
At first glance, this truck appeared to be having its bed stolen. Up close, though, its high level of engineering is evident. The bike ain't bad, either.
Ram fans got some serious eye candy with the Mopar Power Ram. The vehicle is based on a new Ram 1500 that's accessorized with items from the Mopar catalog.
These include a Mopar 3-inch lift kit, a bed step and a folding tonneau cover. A Warn winch rides on the front bumper. Mickey Thompson tires on DOT-compliant Hutchinson beadlocks complement the aggressive Raptor-esque bed graphics. It's a package that the Ram-owning enthusiast can realistically duplicate themselves.
The lucky 13th entry into our top 12 is another retro ride. This 1951 Dodge B-3-B has much of its original sheet metal. However, it's powered by a Mopar 400 crate engine with an Edelbrock top end.
Other modern amenities are part of builder Rich Gengo's palette. These include air conditioning, power windows and a tilt column. Center Line wheels contrast sharply with the original steelies and later smoothies.