As a first-timer at the Specialty Equipment Market Association show, it was easy to be overwhelmed by the huge number of displays. SEMA has everything from lowriders to lifted trucks, from piston manufacturers to speaker companies. However, among the three halls of tuner cars, aftermarket parts, and tire makers, I managed to find a handful of cars that really stood out. In no particular order, here are my ten favorite SEMA show debuts.
It seems like almost every car tuner has tried the baby blue-and-orange Gulf livery at some point, but Tjin Edition's Focus ST manages to pull it off without looking like a cheesy homage. In addition, I couldn't help but love the enormous fender flares that help accommodate the giant white wheels. Otherwise, this 2014 Ford Focus ST is reasonably restrained. That the car was built in partnership with Universal Technical Institute, which teaches students for careers in automotive repair, only makes it a more interesting cause for me.
Typically, the only time a Toyota Camry goes off-road is when a befuddled driver mistakes the brake and accelerator. Not so with this concept car, which looks as race-ready as any other rally car on display at SEMA. The stripped interior features race seats, harnesses, and a roll cage; the giant rear wing, plastic windows, and fat rally tires prove this is anything but a normal Toyota Camry. It's incredibly cool that Toyota, a company sometimes derided for producing only bland commuter cars, created a rally monster.
1968 Chevrolet Caprice Lowrider
Sure, there are plenty of classic American lowriders at SEMA, but this one stood out for its incredible, sparkling green paint. The car uses special gold flakes for shimmer effects, plus another six to eight coats of PPG Industries paints to create one of the most vibrant paint schemes on display here. The interior, while green on every surface, is reasonably restrained and doesn't attempt to reinvent the Chevy's cabin with wild flair -- unlike many similar classics at the show.
There are plenty of modified Chevrolet Corvettes are the SEMA show, but the reason I dig this one is simple: it's a functional race car. Designed because the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray will be available in the upcoming Gran Turismo 6 PlayStation game, this concept car demonstrates how a tuner could modify the Corvette for track duty. Inside, bucket seats, a harness bar, and racing harnesses help keep driver and passenger safe. A carbon-fiber spoiler, splitter, and side skirts, plus a functional exposed tow hook, help identify this as a track car. If you're going to modify a Chevrolet Corvette, at least make it even better suited to its primary task of going fast at all times.
1939 Bugatti Type 57C
This car was originally a wedding anniversary gift from the French government to the Prince of Persia. Then in 1959 it was sold for the equivalent of $275 and languished in the hands of various owners until being fully restored in 1983. Now this car resides at California's Peterson Museum. Meguiar's, the official detailing product provider for the museum, brought the car to SEMA to show off its shiny, sparkling curves beneath the show lights. And what curves! This aerodynamic, voluptuous convertible is flawless in its beauty, especially when displayed below stark-bright LED lights that highlight every angle and contour of the car's enclosed fenders.
2014 Kia Soul DJ
Kia focused on music with its five modified Soul hatchbacks, and my favorite of by far was the DJ model. Sure, chopping a giant hole in the roof isn't exactly practical, but it does allow a DJ to stand on a diamond-plate steel platform and spin tunes to his or her audience. I could take or leave the bold purple paint, the funky three-spoke wheels, and the blue underglow lighting, but the idea of a rolling DJ station sounds pretty cool to me.
Acura Street Performance ILX
I'm lukewarm on the Acura ILX, even when it is equipped with the 2.4-liter engine and six-speed manual transmission. This concept car, built by MAD Industries, changed my mind. The concept car's matte-yellow vinyl wrap, Tein Super Street suspension, Stoptech brakes, and CT Engineering supercharger kit are unlikely to appear on any standard Acura ILX. However, the car wears a new front splitter, new side skirts, a trunklid spoiler, a rear diffuser, and bodyside moldings all sourced from the Acura accessories catalog. In other words, this show car demonstrates how the average Acura ILX owner could modify their car only be sourcing official OEM parts from the Acura dealer. This car looks good -- it's the first ILX I've seen that actually looks like a sporty compact sedan, rather than simply an upscale Civic.
Bisimoto Engineering 2014 Honda Odyssey
It's unlikely any 2014 Honda Odyssey customer will ever wish their minivan had as much power as a Bugatti Veyron, but tuner Bisimoto Engineering answered that question anyway with this 1029-hp Odyssey. The 3.5-liter V-6 engine receives new pistons, fuel injectors, and more, as well as an enormous turbocharger and intercooler, bringing power up to the claimed 1029 hp. Fortunately, drivers operate a six-speed manual transmission rather than the standard car's automatic. Though all three rows of seats remain on the inside, passengers do have to squeeze themselves around an integrated roll cage. Twenty-inch wheels, Recaro front seats, and Toyo TI Sport tires complete the transformation.
Most tuner-car debuts are solutions in search of a problem, but the Ram 1500 Sun Chaser actually seems like a practical vehicle. A clever flip-down seat allows users to sit on the folded-down tailgate. The truck's clever RamBox storage compartments conceal a hot-water shower for cleaning off after beach excursions. And a new rack easily holds two surfboards while still permitting access to the rest of the truck bed. Better still, many of the parts shown on this truck, including the lift kit, intake, exhaust, and 17x8-inch wheels, are available from the Mopar catalog at any Ram dealership.
Chevrolet Camaro Garage Concept
The Chevrolet Camaro is the sort of car that enthusiasts like to modify, so it's only fitting that this concept car demonstrates how owners could swap parts from other Camaro models. Shown at a 90-degree angle so show visitors can see the underside, this Chevrolet Camaro concept benefits from several components from the hot Z/28 and ZL1 variants. From the Z/28, this lesser Chevrolet Camaro adopts a larger exhaust, anti-roll bars, brake ducts, a tougher differential, headers, and shock absorbers. From the ZL1, the Garage concept nabs a short-throw shifter and enlarged brakes. I specifically like this concept because it shows that even buyers of a lesser Camaro model can choose to upgrade with some of the components that are otherwise reserved for the pricier high-performance variants.