SEMA 2015 Thoughts by Ben Schaffer Part 1

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Bulletproof Automotive Z4 GT Continuum


This SEMA marks Bulletproof’s 15th year. When we began way back in 2000, the mission was simple – to find exciting new ideas and to share our findings with others. We worked to introduce brands like Amuse and Varis to new audiences outside Japan, as well as created trustworthy supply routes to already popular brands like Top Secret and Mines. Along the way, we travelled to Japan (a lot), met many new friends, provided new ideas to enthusiasts hungry for inspiration, and ultimately helped to grow a positive community that “represents the real.”

Whatever we did, we always relied on inspiration and excitement. Inspiration was our fuel and every January it was Tokyo Auto Salon that lit our hearts ablaze and ignited our minds with new ideas. Back in our early days, information was the rare commodity that we hunted for, curated and shared wherever, and however we could; it would be seen in our magazine columns, blog posts and in countless conversations with clients and friends. Ultimately you’d see these ideas trickle down into projects created by our customers in the US and around the world. Traditionally, every November, SEMA would hit and inevitably the hot ideas of January’s TAS would show up in some synthesized US-specific form at SEMA. Back then it was SEMA that represented the mainstream popularization of those underground ideas, which then caused us to yearn for the next new and exciting thing. In our subset of the tuning world, the cycle of hunting for inspiration continued like this for years because – let’s be honest – when it came to JDM tuning, 95% of all of the fresh ideas were born in Japan.

Bulletproof S2000 GT Studio Shot


In the beginning, Bulletproof was a business of one – me. Then of two, then eventually we had a team of a few underpaid people surviving on passion alone (and instant ramen). We had no money to make demo cars back then and we didn’t make SEMA cars for our first 7 years. Survival was enough. We had big ideas but we only had hopes to lend those ideas to our clients or else they would die inside our heads. In many ways things are not much different today for us, or for many others; this industry is notoriously hard to survive, and surely still 95% of our ideas would never exist anywhere, save for our minds, if it were not for our clients who entrust us to make for them special cars. However, starting in 2007, we took a leap of faith and decided to take the same trusty S2000 that started the business back in 2000 and turn it into a world-class SEMA build. This decision permanently upped the bar for Bulletproof Automotive. Although each SEMA car is challenging to fund and ultimately loses money, it brings a satisfaction like no other to see an idea turn into reality. (If we didn’t have the opportunity to create our dreams and look at our work with pride there would be no point to be slaving away all of these hours and years.) Sometimes, we are lucky to have clients that let us share in their dreams, which is equally satisfying, but on occasion, we have to get a little crazy ourselves with projects if no customer allows us the opportunity.

Bulletproof Automotive Concept One FR-S at Tsukuba Circuit


From project cars to our demo cars, we’ve had various highs. Perhaps the highest high was our FR-S Concept One which was requested by Option Magazine and HyperRev to display at Tokyo Auto Salon. Why does this stand out to us? Ever since we began, the bar was Tokyo Auto Salon, not SEMA. With that in mind, when we turned our S2000 into a SEMA car in 2007, the creative choices we made were based on what we would have expected of a car at Tokyo Auto Salon. In our minds, if you can make it at Tokyo Auto Salon, you can make it anywhere. The Concept One is in the history books now; it crushed Auto Salon, it launched a new Rays wheel as a demo car in their booth (Volk Racing ZE40), and in street trim it ran as fast as a Ferrari Italia at Tsukuba Circuit. It did everything we ever imagined, all while maintaining a level of fit/finish that managed to surprise many. Beyond all, in Japan it was received, by the same people that have inspired us since day one, as fresh inspiration. The validation that this was not a US-made car featuring JDM tuning principles, but rather something bigger, something globally uniting…typified everything we worked so hard for. The surprise conclusion to the Concept One project actually just unfolded a few weeks ago, when it was chosen by the world famous Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles as the single representation of Japanese Tuning in their historic “Hot Rod” Gallery.


As Bulletproof moved forward, we’ve kept doing more and more ambitious projects (we would have gotten bored otherwise). However these days, our clients get the best of our work, with our customer builds often exceeding our own demo cars (we prefer it this way, as it affirms people’s trust in us to do exciting work for them). In the beginning, we were the only client crazy enough to trust us; it was make turn a personal car into a demo car or never make anything; however in 15 years of hard work, we have proven ourselves as a team capable of nearly anything!

At SEMA 2015, we will debut a project meant to serve as a celebration of our 15 years of hard work and creativity with our most unique project yet, a collaboration with Varis Japan, dubbed the “Z4 GT Continuum.”


Stay tuned for Part 2…


FB Update: Bulletproof Automotive Invades SEMA!!

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GT-R Week at SEMA

Come join us for GT-R week at SEMA!!

We will have plenty of fresh updates here for you guys straight from SEMA. Stay tuned!

Be sure to check us out on Facebook at for all the up to date, current and fresh off the press, live updates from SEMA!

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Off to SEMA

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Whenever I look at this picture I can’t help but smile. Although I’m critical about how a lot of cars are put together (it is after all my business to analyze such things), sometimes it’s nice to just get a good laugh out of it and not think to deeply into it.

I took this picture while driving to work one day. I particularly enjoyed thinking about the scenario of the owner contemplating the decision as to whether to give the Accord a dual exhaust or install a bumper which does not fit a custom dual exhaust. Clearly there would be no money left over to paint the bumper regardless of the decision, but this guy wanted it all. So rather than trim the bumper to accommodate the dual exhaust he sort of just “made it all work” and let the second exhaust dangle wherever it may. As a result it made my morning considerably more enjoyable.

When I think of SEMA somehow I can’t help but think of cars like this.

With that being said, I can’t wait for Tokyo Auto Salon.

(PS – This was written prior to my departure to SEMA but it won’t go live until Saturday)

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SEMA Envy by Stanley Ku

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It is that time of year again when SEMA is taking place in Las Vegas. I have been wanting to go for years now, but have never gotten the chance to. Unfortunately, this is also the time of year when midterms take place for college students like me. The urge to go only gets stronger with every year. Maybe next year will be the year. I sure hope so. On the brighter side of things, at least there will always be an abundance of coverage of the show. I just wanted to share with you guys some pictures that I came across. Here are pictures from “Synth19” at JDM Chicago.

I am only posting a few random pictures. There are simply too many for me to post onto here and he is adding new pictures as the show progress. Check out the thread here to view all of them. If anyone has come across some worthy pictures, post the link up in the comments. I would love to see them.

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Art and Science of a Brand by PCAL

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Domestic auto executives have been getting quite a verbal lashing by the media and the general public lately. There’s no denying that there have been some mistakes made, but I think their current image is an undeserved one. Rewind 10 years and the only remotely modern Cadillac that interested me in any way was the Mosler Twinstar, a car with one 300hp Northstar in the front, and another in the back. I got a chance to talk to a GM executive about Cadillac’s resurgence at SEMA which helped me realize how far the company has really come.


First there was the Prodrive-built Cadillac Cien that helped define the company’s new design language as only a supercar could. It even ended up appearing in Gran Turismo 4. Then there was the CTS-V and the associated Speed World Challenge race program. There was also the Corvette-based XLR. The result is a very different, but much stronger brand. Currently the CTS-V is considered a solid competitor to the M5 and is a performance benchmark itself.


Even with all that, I was surprised to see the Cadillac VRS at SEMA. This car was remarkably well done. The builders were clearly people who “get it.” Why is it on the blog? Our car’s are rolling expressions of who we are. Cadillac isn’t going to produce the VRS, but it sends a very clear message about the brand. No matter what you’re building, the impact this car makes is something to consider.


Notable details: Aero-section tubing for suspension arms, inboard shocks, Formula 1-style brake ducts, continuity of the styling theme.


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SEMA 2009?

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I’m a bit worried about SEMA this year. It seems like most of the good companies have pulled out of the show for financial reasons. Usually trade shows are some of the worst hit by the recession and this year SEMA looks ultra depressing.

I’m left with all of the really cool ideas/concepts of cars I want to make, but no booths to put them in. I really hope SEMA wont be as dissapointing as I’m afraid it will be.

As most of you already know, I built Toyo’s SEMA booth and ad cars two years in a row and now there’s no Toyo booth at all this year…

I think I might need to go one better this year and build a car for Tokyo Auto Salon instead of SEMA. I always wanted to build a car to compete on JDM home turf. That would be a really fun challenge. Plus I always wanted to run Tsukuba…hmm, now I’m dreaming up something worth while.

Is there any actually good news about SEMA this year? Anyone?

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Magazine Cover : Mobil 1 GT-RR Demo Car by PAS Mag

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GT-RR / Mobil 1 SEMA Car - Midnight Purple on PAS MAG Cover

Check the June 2009 issue of Performance Auto and Sound Magazine out when it hits news stands! On the cover is one of the two signature GT-Rs we put together for SEMA for our client Brandon in Hawaii and our main sponsors Mobil 1, Toyo Tires and GT-RR. Other companies involved in the build who deserve a shout out as well include: Endless, Amuse, Manabu Suzuki (MSR), Zele, Cobb, and Signal Auto.

PAS Mag is still doing their thing strong and has some great guys behind it (Mike and Dave in particular come to mind). Thanks guys!

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