Parents, they just don’t understand.
And it’s likely that they never will understand about fast and flashy cars, or leather and tattoos. Even if they were, during their own righteous glory days, bad to bone with a tube of Bryl-cream and a muscle car in the garage. It’s different now, of course, which makes today’s annual automotive wonderland called SEMA a rather large shop of horrors for those striving to protect little Millie of Milton from the ravages of a wasted youth. Walk down any aisle at the Las Vegas Convention Center and you’ll find troublemakers and carnival barkers, hawking their wares and selling the next best and greatest thing in Auto Land. There, at a booth in the tires and wheels section, a guy is getting a tattoo of a Dunlop on his bicep. Outside, Internet search portal Yahoo! is celebrating the debut of their custom car section with a two-story party tent, complete with booming music and scantily-clad models dancing on the top floor. Decadence, to be sure. But even the most aghast Mom and Dad would have to agree: this year’s SEMA Automotive Trade Show is something special to behold. It’s a rare thing to see a 6.0-liter, 400-horsepower engine bolted into a 2006 Pontiac Solstice roadster, courtesy of Mallet Cars, Ltd., and rarer still to witness Ashley Force, daughter of the famed funny car legend John Force, miss fourth gear and ruin an indoor quarter mile run in front of trade veterans, journalists and Ford executives.
She got the third attempt right, running her quarter-mile in a little more than 14 seconds – a time that got gear heads up and down the halls muttering slightly and standing in line to see if they could beat the famous -- now infamous -- car girl’s time. Such fun, and more, goes on during the first week of November in Sin City, from exhaust vendors hiring tall blonde models to make exhaust sexy to custom cars so incredible in form and function that it’s amazing why anyone could ever live through the stiltifiying boredom of driving a straight production machine.
Tragically, millions of us live through that exact boring existence. Which is why SEMA matters to us normal folk who buy cars. This yearly pilgrimage of chrome, paint and power serves to inspire us, to nudge us toward the personalization of our ride. It’s here so we can make our car our own – and given the fact that many of us now spend more time behind the wheel than behind the remote, perhaps a little inspiration is in order. Whether you choose the Chrysler 300C, or have your eye on the new 2007 Hyundai Accent three-door commuter car, to personalize is to make it your own, to apply the self-titled stamp and take out that old leather jacket -- give it a good shake -- and go for a cruise.
FunkMaster Flex Fusion
Not to pick on the Taurus, that icon to the company sales force and rental fleets across the land, but…it’s just hard to see a two-tone whatcha-ma-callit paint job on the Taurus, and don’t even think about Ostrich feathers inside.
Funny thing, though: The Ford Fusion, the supposed Taurus replacement, looks quite at home as a FunkMaster Flex Fusion. And if Dearborn’s darlings never sell another Fusion, that simple, single fact makes it a hit. In conjunction with the launch at SEMA of a new Ford marketing campaign to the African-American community, the FunkMaster Flex Fusion sports a two-tone red paint scheme with black pinstripe, alloy three-piece black chrome wheels -- 19-inch in the front and 20-inch in the rear –- and two-tone dash, door panels and steering wheel. Funkmaster Flex, a rap star and car customizer, also chose Ostrich leather, a navigation system, TV monitors in the rear headrests and an innovative side-mirror camera system.
By Brian Chee
Ford GTX1 Concept
We thought so.
Which is why Ford is giving you both -- well, sort of, with the Ford GTX1 Concept. Debuted at the 2005 SEMA Auto Show, the GTX1 takes its inspiration from the 1966 Sebring-winning Ford GTX1. Those Ford guys sure get misty over the '60s, and for good reason, too, if what they see when they take that walk back in time are cars like this one, with those four separate, removable roof panels, that big engine, aluminum Brembo brakes, 19-inch front wheels, 20-inch rear wheels, and a stunning yellow and black paint job.
You can buy it, too. Just get yourself a Ford GT -- be quick about that -- and call up the Genaldi Design Group, or just go to www.gtx1.com.
By Brian Chee
Honda Civic Si Sport Concept
So you could say that it’s more a sizzle than a smugness. And you could say that they’ve earned it, as they were arguably the first to re-stoke the fires of the tuner crowd and to turn them on to customizing import vehicles, and now they are the first import automaker to sponsor SEMA. It’s easy to see why, with concepts such as the Honda Civic Si Sport Concept –- made to light up the eyeballs of every tuner within 50 miles while Honda dealers conveniently sell a new line of Honda Factory Performance (HFP) suspension and body kits. The HFP kits are for the 2006 Civic Si, Civic Sedan and Civic Coupe and feature performance-oriented suspension components along with larger wheels, tires, aerodynamic body kits and, for the first time ever, an HFP muffler.
Fancy that: New kits, sold at the dealer, and very much like that Anniversary White Pearl, partial-carbon fiber beaut under klieg lights in Vegas. Also featured on the Si Sport Concept is a rear carbon diffuser and a center exhaust outlet, and an adjustable, two-piece carbon fiber wing spoiler. An advanced, track-tuned suspension package lowers the Sport Concept Civic Si and Brembo brakes grace all four wheels.
If you can’t shake the image of the concept, however, you can almost get there by purchasing a regular Honda Civic Si with its 197 horsepower VTEC engine, and fun-to-fling ride and handling. Then you can pick up an HFP kit and really get serious.
By Brian Chee
Honda Ridgeline All Terrain Concept
Though only in the game a short time, Honda is quickly getting a handle on this whole pickup truck thing. Scarcely a year after its introduction for 2006, tuner and concept versions of the all-new Ridgeline pickup are scattered across the SEMA show floor, such as this All Terrain Concept Ridgeline.Finished in Toner Green metallic paint, the All Terrain Concept Ridgeline looks more formidable than the version available from local dealers. That’s due in part to aggressive 265/70R17 BF Goodrich T/A all-terrain tires and an experimental spring and strut suspension that increases ground clearance by 1.5 inches. Also adding some toughness to the Ridgeline’s appearance is black chrome used on the wheels, lower body panels, and grille. Gunmetal metallic covers the wheel flares and light covers, and aluminum skid plates are bolted on up front. Inside, there’s brown leather, suede, and wool upholstery with copper interior accents, and topping the cargo area is a custom rack system for transporting toys and necessities off of the beaten path.
It’s unlikely that this model will ever see the light of day from a production standpoint, though bits and pieces look promising. But if nothing else, Honda’s Ridgeline experimentation shows that the company is definitely in tune with what the light truck buyer wants.
By Thom Blackett
Honda Ridgeline Street Sport Concept
Going in the opposite direction of the ALl Terrain Concept Ridgeline, the Street Sport Concept Ridgeline shown at the 2005 SEMA show in Las Vegas ventures into the sport truck realm. Tweaked front and rear bumpers give the Honda Ridgeline a more aggressive appearance, as do the dark Asphalt Shock metallic paint and widened fenders. A prototype high-flow exhaust with side outlets has been bolted on, but the focus here is on audible and visual enhancement, not power. Large Brembo brakes are bolted onto all four corners, and 22-inch black and silver alloys roll on massive 305/40 BF Goodrich T/A tires. Inside the Street Sport Concept Ridgeline are Recaro seats for four passengers, black leather with suede and aluminum trim, and LED accent lights.It’s unlikely that this model will ever see the light of day from a production standpoint, though bits and pieces look promising. But if nothing else, Honda’s Ridgeline experimentation shows that the company is definitely in tune with what the light truck buyer wants.
By Thom Blackett
Hyundai Accent Hatchback
At first it was intriguing, this big box stuck in the corner of the Hyundai booth at the 2005 SEMA Auto Show, resting among the whirring machines, lights, paint, metal and rubber. A Box. The Box. Standing as an oasis of calm, even with its backdrop of bright yellow Tiburons. The Box.
Otherwise known as a shipping container, The Box was a mystery -- and a calming visual break from the automotive onslaught known as SEMA. As the press conference started, though, something seemed wrong -- the expected smoke and sparks failed to materialize, there were no engine revs, and booming electronica didn't thump from loudspeakers.
Nope. None of that. Just a timid little Hyundai Accent three-door hatchback, sitting alone among the packing peanuts.
Built to complement the all-new 2006 Accent GLS four-door, which will go on sale this November, the Accent three-door hatch arrives next spring. Count on the same type of powertrain as the four-door -- namely, a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine estimated to create 110 horsepower and mated to either a five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic transmission. Safety features include six airbags and standard antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD). According to Hyundai, the Accent GS and SE hatchbacks will have one of the largest interiors in the segment.
As if that weren't enough -- imagine, 110 horses powering 16-inch wheels -- Hyundai also plans to offer more than 35 custom accessories when the Accent is launched, including a ground effects kit, cold air intake system, Kenwood MP3 satellite-ready radio, aluminum pedals and doorsills, iPOD holder, and chrome exhaust tip. Factory-installed personalization options include a 220-watt, AM/FM/6-disc CD changer connected to a six-speaker premium audio system. You can also order a power sunroof -- a first for the Accent.
By Brian Chee
2006 Subaru WRX TR, Legacy 2.5 GT Spec B
Some kids love plastic model cars. You know, the kind that come in a cardboard box with a picture of the fully-assembled vehicle, glued and painted perfectly. Open up the box and find a million plastic pieces still in their stampings. Putting it together is pretty much standard practice, but that little car builder gets his first taste of customization by being able to choose whatever interior and exterior colors he wants. Now imagine opening up that box and finding the car fully assembled and painted. That’s how things went down with Subaru at this year’s SEMA show. On one side of the podium was the 2006 Impreza WRX TR, a de-contented version of the regular WRX built to appeal to tuners and customizers. Here’s the car that you know, even before handing over $23,995 to cover the sticker price, will live a very short life sans modification. In Subaru land, the WRX TR is the build-it-yourself model, though in the adult world, such a thing comes with a 2.5-liter, turbocharged four banger good for 230 horsepower and 235 lb.-ft. of torque. There are also lightweight aluminum suspension bits, a quicker steering ratio, 17-inch alloy wheels, and air conditioning. It’s not quite a stripper, but it’s as basic as the WRX gets.
In contrast, the other side of the podium was home to the 2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT spec.B. This luxo-liner, which will be limited to 500 units with commemorative dash plates, comes with exclusive Brick Red leather, aluminum pedals, Momo steering wheel, and Titanium Silver Metallic paint. Power comes from a 2.5-liter engine with 250 horsepower and 250 lb.-ft. of torque. To top it off, there’s a navigation system, power heated seats, and an MP3 player. Sure sounds like a sweet ride, though a little out of place in the tuner/customizer heaven known as the SEMA show.
By Thom Blackett