As automotive journalists, getting the opportunity to cover the SEMA Show in Las Vegas is high on our priority list. Spending an entire week in Sin City reporting on all the new products and breaking news that debuts that week is both an exciting and exhausting mission. But getting the chance to see what the aftermarket community has to offer for Blue Oval enthusiasts is just too good to pass up.
But what many people tend to forget is at the end of the day we are also very much passionate enthusiasts as well. So this year we decided to bring our own SEMA Show worthy build that could easily hurt the feelings of some of the more expensive builds that were on display this month. And the end result was a car that not only held its own at the show but was also driven over 650 miles to and from the event!
Upgrades Begin To Project Drax Attacks!
Last year, you may remember we wrote an article when the 2018 Mustang order banks officially opened. Three of us had some fun building our dream Mustang, and it was reported that one of the cars would actually be ordered. As soon as we hit send on the order, I immediately went to work on what upgrades we wanted to install. And it wasn’t long after that our road trip to the SEMA Show build began.
Although the 2018 Mustang GT that we ordered had almost every option from the factory, we had no intention of leaving this vehicle stock.
When the car was finally delivered to us in San Diego, CA we immediately put the car on the dyno to confirm if the baseline numbers that Ford had advertised were correct.
While we will get into more details on the performance upgrades in an upcoming article, we were extremely impressed with the added power this dual-fuel Coyote produced in stock form. From there, it was time to add the bolt-on upgrades before we made the jump to boost.
Choosing the Ideal Wheel and Tire Combo
Because our Magnetic Metallic 2018 Mustang GT came equipped with the MagneRide suspension, finding the ideal wheel and tire combo that would work in sync with the advanced dampening system was a crucial element to this build.
We cruised up to HRE Wheels in Vista, CA to find out about the Flow Form lineup of wheels for the S550 Mustang. At the time, HRE had just released the new FF04 wheel, and after getting a shop tour from Greg Lenac at FlowForm, we knew we had found our wheel.
From there, we hit up Harry Kong at Nitto Tire for a set of NT555 G2 tires. Because of the MagneRide suspension we were only able to lower the vehicle 20mm using the Ford Performance lowering springs.
We then finished off the look with a complete set of Baer EradiSpeed Plus Rotors. The EradiSpeed Rotors are a direct replacement rotor for the Performance Pack equipped Mustang, and the drilled and slotted rotors gave our vehicle the visual appeal we were looking for not to mention some added stopping power for what we had planned for this build.
For the front of our 2018 Mustang GT, we installed the APR Performance front splitter. This gave our Mustang the aggressive styling we were looking for and the carbon fiber piece lined up perfectly with our Performance Pack Level 1 front grille.
Once we had found the perfect wheel and tire combo, we decided to add a couple of additional exterior upgrades to make our s550 unique without breaking the bank.
For the rear of the vehicle, we reached out to ROUSH Performance and installed the ROUSH rear aero inserts for the rear diffuser. This simple and inexpensive upgrade really added a custom look to the back of our vehicle. We also added the blacked out 5.0 and GT badges at the same time.
To finish off the front we chose the popular RTR front grille with the LED lights to replace the Mustang’s stock grille. And finally, we installed a custom Satin Black hood wrap from SD Wraps here in San Diego to add a bit of depth to the hood.
Project Drax Attacks Performance Upgrades
Deciding what performance modifications you want to install on an already impressive new model vehicle can sometimes be a very daunting task. While we will go into more details in a future article about exactly what we installed, the performance part of this build brought together some of the biggest names in the industry to help achieve our goal.
We ended up finishing the build in true SEMA Crunch fashion two days before the start of the SEMA Show. Luckily for us, this year our focus was more on driving to and from the event than event coverage. We decided that this year we would cruise up on Day 2 of the event to get a feel for what it is like to drive up straight to the SEMA Show while all the action was going on.
We stopped by JBA Speed Shop the day prior to our road trip for one final pre-flight check and the next day we hit the road from San Diego to Las Vegas.
If you have ever driven from San Diego to Vegas, you know the majority of it is a straight shot, wide open freeway drive up the 15 North. Our first planned stop was at about the halfway point in Barstow.
And as soon as we stepped on the gas, we knew this was going to be a fun, quick drive. The car was an absolute blast to drive! Words cannot explain how dialed in the car was for this type of driving.
The MagneRide suspension soaked up any imperfections in the road like a champ and the power from the Whipple supercharger was like nothing we have ever experienced in a streetable machine. Now we are not suggesting that we broke any laws on the way up, but let’s just say this car made it up to Barstow in record time!
Once we hit Barstow, we checked the fluid levels, topped off the old tank with 91-octane pump gas (more about this later), grabbed a quick bite to eat and we were back on the road!
For the remainder of the trip, we toggled through the different drive modes and found that the Sport+ mode gave us the ideal balance of fuel economy and thrill.
There was little to no drone with the Corsa Extreme exhaust in both normal and Sport+ mode, and the only time we noticed anything was when we put it in full Track mode.
But I will be the first to tell you that Track mode with the windows down at WOT is insane! We got a mixture of looks in that mode while passing unsuspected motorists.
We arrived at the Westgate Resort and Casino in record time, and besides a little bit of road trash knocking one of our front splitter rods loose on the APR front splitter, the car performed brilliantly.
Even with our stint of spirited driving, we averaged 19.4 miles per gallon and only stopped to refuel at the halfway point and once we arrived at our hotel.
SEMA Show Highlights
I attended my first SEMA Show way back in November of 2009, and many of us in the industry know that SEMA is a marathon and not a sprint. Having a solid plan for before you arrive on how you want to navigate the many halls and outside venues that are on display is a crucial part in ensuring you see everything you came out to see.
Our plan this year was to spend much of our first day at the show inside the Las Vegas Convention Center focusing on the indoor Ford display. After taking in all sights and sounds at the Ford booth, we spent the rest of the day visiting the many indoor vendors showcasing the new products available for Blue Oval enthusiasts in 2019.
The next day was all about visiting the impressive Ford Out Front display that took center stage on the outside of the Convention Center. Always a crowd favorite, this area is jam-packed with drifting demonstrations and autograph sessions from some of the hottest Ford Performance drivers in the business.
This year as in previous years, we were invited to run as the trail vehicle for the Optima Ultimate Street Car vehicles as they made their way to SEMA Ignited on the final day of the show. Our car was on display during the final two days with the Optima vehicles. It was cool to see this build was holding its own with the impressive Optima vehicles in its class.
The SEMA Cruise to SEMA Ignited has us parading through a different route this year, and although it may have been a bit shorter than previous years, the entertainment for the fans at SEMA Ignited well made up for it.
Along with the SEMA Ignited Battle of the Builders awards presentation, this year’s event, which was sponsored by KIA, featured live DJ’s, Formula DRIFT demos, and even had an impressive live exhibition from the daredevils at Nitro Circus.
And of course, many of the cars, trucks, and UTVs that were hidden from the public inside the Las Vegas Convention Center were on display for the public to see. It really is a great way to end the week and something that we look forward to participating in each year.
Experiencing Las Vegas S550 Style!
The very next day after the SEMA Show had ended we decided to take our Whipple-blown S550 out to see a couple of the popular attractions around Las Vegas, Nevada.
Even though many exhibitors and media were already eager to catch the first flight back home, for the Optima Ultimate Street Car vehicles, the weekend after the SEMA Show is two full days of running their cars hard in Vegas.
After cruising up to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to check out the action, we decided to find a sweet spot away from the strip to experience a real Vegas-style all you can eat buffet.
And what better place to get some spirited pulls in than on the way to the Redrock Resort Casino and Resort in Summerlin. After enjoying our Vegas buffet, the final part of our day had us cruising the strip before making our way back to the Westgate Hotel to prepare for our cruise back to San Diego in the morning.
Anyone who has made a long road trip to Las Vegas knows that drive out is always a blast but the drive home can sometimes be the longest drive of your Life.
But if you plan your post-SEMA Show activities accordingly, the Sunday after the SEMA Show drive back is half the fun. You see, the majority of the vehicles that were built in SoCal don’t start making the cruise back until Sunday morning.
If you are actually able to get up and hit the road before 10:00 am, that drive back turns into a fun cruise with a variety of cars and trucks that were on display or enthusiasts that made the drive to experience the final day of the show.
This year was no exception as we ended up cruising with some impressive Mustangs, Focus RS and ST’s, and even had some fun leapfrogging alongside a variety of different vehicles representing the popular SoCal JDM community.
In the end, our “lightly” modified 2018 Mustang GT survived the entire trip with nothing more than a few proud rock chips. All the parts we installed survived the trip (which is more than I can say for a couple of vehicles we ran into on the way back) and the dual-fuel, boosted Coyote ran strong the entire trip without issue.
We logged a total of 661.4 miles on the custom tuned Whipple supercharger with a total drive time of about 12 hours for the entire week. And the best part was our miles per gallon remained consistent at 19 mpg!
If you get the chance to experience the SEMA Show and live in the SoCal area, we highly recommend experiencing the drive. What made this build even more memorable was finding out that the same car we were driving up was named the 2018 SEMA Car Of The Year!
More details on our build breakdown will be dropping shorty including the full before and after dyno results of our Whipple Stage 2 supercharger install. But for now here are some of our favorite pictures we took from this year’s event.