Each year, enthusiasts from all corners of the globe come to show their wildest, loudest, most modified creations to SEMA, a celebration of all things aftermarket. There’s typically a handful of vehicles that I find pleasing to the eye, but for every tastefully modified vehicle at SEMA, there are fistfuls of rides that to me are downright offensive. So how hard is it really to tastefully modify your vehicles?
As I browsed Bring a Trailer today imagining vintage wagons and SUVs I’d buy to pack full of Black Friday goodies, I found at least two people selling their creations that know the answer to that question. I happened upon two perfect, subtle antidotes to the utterly outrageous approaches you often see glorified at SEMA.
The first is a delightful 1993 Mercedes-Benz 300TE wagon. The car was fitted with an AMG-style body kit that visually pulls the wagon towards the ground. Also custom on this car are the 18-inch gloss-black monoblock wheels with polished lips. They’re not the original wheels that came with the car, and tossing AMG monoblocks on any silver-star-adorned vehicle doesn’t always work, but here it’s stunning. Speaking of silver star, this one’s been painted matte black, as has the front grille. The interior remains largely stock, which means you won’t feel bad loading it up with kids and stuff—note the rear-facing third row that flips up. Buckle up, everyone! Be sure to wave to the minivan in the lane over right before you dust it from a stoplight.
And that’s about all you’ll be dusting, because at the end of the day, this is simply an AMG-inspired build, rather than a bonafide highway decimator from Affalterbach. It’s got an M103 3.0-liter straight-six under the hood and a four-speed automatic transmission through which to deliver power to the rear wheels. But I couldn’t care less—the cosmetic modifications and personal touches (Mercedes-Benz-branded rain guards!) elevate this vehicle even further. Major supervillain vibes here, and I love it.
The auction has six days to go, so it’s perfectly placed to soak up those early purchases of perfect holiday gifts.
If wagons don’t quite do it for you (reevaluate your priorities, first of all) then allow me to propose this 1981 Chevrolet Suburban K20 4x4, offered at no reserve. If you squint, this is actually a wagon, too, albeit one that stands a bit tall.
This one has been repainted in the original Emerald Green color and sports an impossibly cool Doeskin vinyl interior. According to the listing, that repaint job was done more than 25 years ago and those sweet, sweet pinstripes were added during the repainting process. If the wagon’s appearance screams “evil German megalomaniac,” this ‘burban is “quiet Midwestern farmer who unknowingly plows over the underground conduit powering the über-villain's definitely-not-visible lair and cuts his power, saving the world in the process.”
Up front, there’s a burly-looking grille guard sporting a Badlands winch and some additional lighting elements. Out back, a hi-lift jack has been fitted, along with some auxiliary backup lights.
But the best exterior mod can be found on the hood, which proudly brandishes a red-eyed bulldog statue. Road warriors will recognize this pooch as the hood ornament of choice for Mack semi trucks. Seeing as to how many Mack trucks were powered by Detroit Diesels, the parallels are as good an excuse as needed to put a statue of a good boy on the hood.
Inside, the truck shows just enough wear and tear to be used daily. A few cracks in the seat here, some patina on the door cards there, it’s all just right. The seller ripped out the headliner and in its place affixed mounts to hold fly-fishing poles. I can’t think of a more perfect use for that space.
With just three days left to go in the auction, it’s already looking like this one will generate an impressive sale price. Not surprising, as we know that older SUVs and trucks are rapidly gaining popularity among the collector crowd.
So there you have it—modifying a car doesn’t have to be extensive, nor does it have to break the bank. In fact, it’s often the subtle modifications that end up becoming the most aesthetically pleasing.
It also helps a helluva lot to chose to start with a wagon form-factor. You heard it here first.