2003 SEMA Show Highlights

November 6, 2003

The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) holds its annual trade show in Las Vegas every November. And every November the convention center there -- the entire convention center -- overflows with cars and stuff that can bolted, welded, glued, or spit-wadded onto them. Take the seven deadly sins, imagine every possible way to indulge in them that involves a car or truck, and then multiply that by a thousand and you've got SEMA.

Some of the aftermarket products displayed at SEMA are spectacular and at least as many of them are crap. But it's undeniable that the combined market for efficacious and cruddy car stuff grows every year and the OEMs ignore that at their own profits' peril. So every year for the past several years, more and more of them have been consuming more and more of the show's floor space in order to show how well their particular vehicles can be customized and their own stocks of personalization components.

Of course the 2003 SEMA Show was the largest one yet. And for at least these four days, every girl with a good tan who's just graduated from Las Vegas High School and can teeter atop a pair of Lucite platform spike heels, can find make a few bucks by standing next to garishly painted cars.

Automotive highlights follow. For photos of the girls, try AutoExtremist.com.

Honda/Acura

Though practically every other manufacturer is taking a run at them, Hondas remain the most popular vehicles with the younger portion of the aftermarket. At SEMA this year Honda and Acura pressed their advantage by re-launching their Factory Performance packages of components for Acuras as "A-SPEC," rolling out some twisted versions of the Honda Element and Acura TSX, and displaying some representative vehicles from various tuners and racers.

While A-SPEC includes the conglomeration of bits introduced last year under the FP brand for the RSX Type-S, it also brings with it a new kit for the 2004 TL. The kit's new springs and revised shocks lower the TL by an inch and are tuned to work with specific 18x8.5-inch alloy wheels wearing Yokohama tires. A decklid spoiler and lower body components painted to match factory colors, and a whole passel of soon-to-be-prestigious A-SPEC badges complete the visuals. The TL A-SPEC stuff goes on sale this month only as a complete kit that must be installed by an Acura dealer. The price is expected to orbit somewhere near $5000.

The A-SPEC package for the slightly smaller TSX sedan isn¡¯t ready yet, but the TSX A-SPEC Concept -- through sheer dint of its name if nothing else -- shows they're working on one. The Concept's body kit, 18-inch wheels, and slightly modified suspension all seem destined for production. The prototype Recaro front seats and Brembo front brakes are probably long shots.

The Honda Element Concept doesn't seem destined to do much more than look pretty at SEMA. Wearing 21-inch wheels, a lot of custom body pieces and powered by a 200-horsepower version of the 2.4-liter VTEC four, it's at least one direction in which the Element can be modified. That leaves a lot of other directions unexplored.

General Motors

Honda may have the youngsters pretty much covered, but it's GM that's traditionally inspired the greatest loyalty amongst hot rodders and the aftermarket in general. They had vehicles from every division (some nice, some dopey), have entered the "dub" business with new 20-inch accessory wheels for full-size Chevy trucks and SUVs and displayed some truly mouthwatering crate engines -- the kind of powerplants that make buying that derelict '67 Camaro sitting in a pasture seem almost rational.

2003 Leno Buick Roadmaster SEMA

2003 Leno Buick Roadmaster SEMA

Probably the most attractive hot rod of the entire show was this stock-appearing '55 Buick Roadmaster. Owned since 1972 by Tonight Show host Jay Leno (who as a struggling comic would reportedly often sleep in it), the Roadmaster incorporates Corvette front and rear suspension systems and GM's latest crate engine, a 572-cubic-inch big-block V-8 rated at 620 horsepower. Those are 17-inch alloy wheels on the Roadmaster concealed behind stock-looking wheel covers and the tires have had their sidewalls shaved of all markings and impressed with wide whitewalls. It's a total sleeper -- right up to the moment Leno starts it and it barks out that there's big power aboard. The car was built at Leno's own Big Dog Garage in Burbank, California.

2003 Chevrolet Aveo EXTREME SEMA concept

2003 Chevrolet Aveo EXTREME SEMA concept

Everything was "XTREME" in Chevrolet's portion of the GM display where it showed rubbed versions of its new Aveo minicar, Malibu sedan, Colorado compact pickup, and Equinox small SUV. With bulging fenders, 18-inch wheels and green paint, the Aveo XTREME looks like a gangrenous thumb sewn to a roller skate, but it's otherwise mechanically stock.

2003 Chevrolet Malibu EXTREME SEMA concept

2003 Chevrolet Malibu EXTREME SEMA concept

The Malibu XTREME wears 19-inch wheels, a bunch of carbon Kevlar trim and gets power from the 2.0-liter, supercharged Ecotec four used in the new Saturn ION Red Line coupe.

2003 Chevrolet Colorado EXTREME SEMA concept

2003 Chevrolet Colorado EXTREME SEMA concept

The Colorado XTREME runs 18-inch wheels, has a slick aluminum rear tonneau cover, and is drenched in PPG Poppy Red paint, but the drivetrain is the stock 220-horsepower, 3.5-liter in-line five.

The Equinox XTREME has a Garrett turbo heaving into its 3.5-liter V-6, gets a lot of body pieces, a lot of on-board electronics and his shod with HRE 20-inch wheels and Toyo Proxes tires. The XTREME brand will likely show up on all these vehicles eventually, but don't expect the productions versions to be so, well, extreme.

2003 HUMMER H2 SUT concept

2003 HUMMER H2 SUT concept

GM did introduce one new production vehicle at SEMA and that was the Hummer H2 SUT -- basically a Hummer H2 SUV given the Avalanche treatment with a small pickup bed replacing the rear third of the truck and a fold-down panel between the cab and cargo area to extend the capacity. The SUT goes into production as a 2005 model during 2004 and was shown as a "Dirt Sports" concept at SEMA wearing a bunch of non-standard stuff including an Eaton supercharger.

2003 Buick Rainier TW concept

2003 Buick Rainier TW concept

Buick's Rainier and Rendezvous 'TW' concepts were both decorated to celebrate that automotive legend, Tiger Woods. The most intriguing element between the two was the 345-horsepower 6.0-liter V-8 crammed between the Rainier's frame rails.

2003 Pontiac Sunfire Autocross concept

2003 Pontiac Sunfire Autocross concept

Pontiac applied the Autocross name to versions of the Grand Am, Grand Prix, GTO, Sunfire, and Vibe at SEMA. The Grand Am is a goner, so it's irrelevant. But both the Sunfire and Vibe wore superchargers on their four-cylinder engines and the Grand Prix had a 5.3-liter V-8 driving its front wheels. The Aussie-built GTO, which features a Corvette 5.7-liter V-8 in production trim, was only cosmetically tweaked.

Mitsubishi

Rather than add anything to their lineup, Mitsubishi used the SEMA show to introduce the 2004 Lancer Evolution RS that is really more like a subtraction. It's basically an Evo VIII that has had such pesky items as the rear spoiler, sound system, power window mechanisms, air conditioning, and rear windshield wiper stripped from it. As a result it's about 150 pounds lighter than the regular Evo despite addition of a helical-type limited slip front differential and rear crossbar that increases stiffness of the unibody's structure. Otherwise the RS is pure Evo -- it still gets 271 horsepower from its turbocharged 2.0-liter four and that power still shoots out through a five-speed manual transmission to an all-wheel drive system. For the hardcore knuckleheads this car will attract, the best news should be a lower sticker price.

Toyota

2004 Toyota Corolla XR-S

2004 Toyota Corolla XR-S

Toyota won't advertise its new Corolla XR-S, but with a 170-horsepower version of the Celica GT-S' 2.0-liter VVTL-i engine and six-speed manual transmission under its hood, and an immensely attractive interior, this small sport sedan could prove to be the car that brings driving enthusiasts back to the Corolla. Toyota expects to build about 5000 of the XR-S sedans during the 2004 model year and that hardly seems enough of them. If only they'd advertise it¡­

Toyota NASCAR V-8

Toyota NASCAR V-8

Toyota¡¯s other big news was the public unveiling of their new overhead valve, 358-cubic inch, iron-block, and carbureted V-8 race engine for use in NASCAR Craftsman Truck racing next year under Tundra pickup sheetmetal. The Toyota NASCAR V-8 is nothing short of spectacular with features both big league and little league racers have sought for decades. "It's the best looking small-block Chevy I've ever seen," at least one observer stated. Interestingly, while the Craftsman trucks run 390 cfm carburetors, much of the testing of this engine one source reported, has been done using a Winston Cup (er, Nextel Cup) spec 830 cfm carburetor. As parts come on line for this engine, Toyota plans to offer not only to Craftsman truck racers but also to competitors in virtually any other circle track series that will accept it. By the way, though the design work on the Toyota NASCAR engine was all done here in the United States by TRD, the block is cast in Japan. And the only stock Tundra component on the engine is the power steering pump.

Ford

Ford Cammer engine

Ford Cammer engine

There were literally dozens of modified new F-150s on display at SEMA with fourteen in Ford's own booth alone. But the most compelling product Ford brought to the show (besides the incomparable GT supercar) was an all-new 5.0-liter, DOHC, 32-valve version of its modular V-8 known as the "Cammer" and available as a crate engine beginning next year. The simply gorgeous Cammer was shown installed in a sweet '65 Mustang Fastback, a nearly hilarious Focus RS8 converted to rear-drive and a flat-out wonderful 1953 Panel Truck sitting atop the FR100 chassis shown last year and wearing the brown and gold livery of the United Parcel Service.

Ford claimed the Cammer was making 420 horsepower as installed in the '65 Mustang on display. However, they didn¡¯t address any rumors that the Cammer would be the engine powering next year's all-new Mustang GT.

Nissan

2003 Nissan WAV Pathfinder Armada concept

2003 Nissan WAV Pathfinder Armada concept

Nissan's big push at SEMA came during 2002 when it introduced the NISMO line of performance and appearance components to North America. At this year's SEMA show, the most profound presences in the Nissan booth were modified Titan full-size pickups and modified Pathfinder Armada full-size SUVs. But among those, one stood out best. Modified by WAV, this Pathfinder Armada wore the proud red, white and blue racing colors of Datsun's early Seventies racing efforts. Lowered in stance and towing a trailer upon which sat John Morton's legendary #46 BRE racing Datsun 510, the WAV Armada practically begs Nissan to can its current corporate colors and revert to the glory so hard-earned by Datsun decades ago.

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