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SEMA show: Car-makers roll out the customs

Unlikely hero: Toyota’s heavily modified Prius G SEMA show car managed to pull almost 1G while cornering during tests at the Willow Springs race track in California.

Whacky OEM-backed modified cars a growing attraction at SEMA customisation expo


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2 Nov 2016

GLOBAL car-makers are throwing increasing amounts of money at raising their profile among enthusiasts by building or commissioning extreme, whacky and downright unlikely modified versions of showroom models for this week’s SEMA vehicle customisation expo in Las Vegas.

In addition to the wild concepts, often produced in conjunction with tuning houses or to co-promote kindred brands, tamer limited editions or lightly sexed-up production cars previewing future sports variants and short-run specials are also making their way to the annual SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) show.

Ford predictably provided six modified Mustangs ranging from big power builds based on both V8 and four-cylinder EcoBoost engines to body-kitted street cruisers and a resto-mod heritage car.

Also representing the Blue Oval were 11 fettled F-trucks including everything from apocalyptic off-roaders through pimped-up urban low-riders, luxury load-luggers and a toy-inspired police vehicle.

A pair of performance-boosted Fusion sedans (named Mondeo in Australia) and two Transit vans repurposed as a mobile concert venue and a retro-luxury motorhome were joined by a wide-bodied Fiesta ST and five interpretations of the Focus ST and RS hot hatchbacks.

Chevrolet pitched in a dozen concepts including four Camaro coupes variously tuned for the drag strip, circuit racing, menacing other road users or just to promote the bow-tie brand’s genuine performance accessories catalogue.

Serious effort went into the Colorado one-tonner, with one military themed concept combining a hydrogen fuel-cell drivetrain conversion with formidable off-road upgrades and the other designed for travel to remote surf spots.

Three Silverado full-size trucks included one equipped with a snowplough, another toughened up for trade use and one providing additional luxury and innovative storage options.

Chevrolet rounded out its SEMA offering with an adventure-themed Trax crossover and subtly tweaked Blue Line concepts of the Cruze and Malibu potentially pointing to future warmed-up special editions.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Mopar service, parts and accessories brand brought along six vehicles, including a matte black 1971 Challenger fitted with the latest driveline, suspension and braking technology, along with headlights and tail-lights from the current Challenger.

Also mixing old and new was the Jeep CJ66 with elements of three Wrangler generations combined with modern off-road accessories and drivetrain performance upgrades. From this Century were souped-up versions of the Dodge Durango SUV, Chrysler Pacifica people-mover and Ram commercial vehicles.

Toyota also had a significant SEMA presence, headlined by a LandCruiser 200 Series dubbed Land Speed Cruiser due to its twin-turbo 5.7-litre V8 petrol engine capable of propelling this apartment block on wheels to an SUV record-shattering 354km/h.

Also showcasing Toyota’s tuning smarts was a Corolla sedan converted to a high-performance coupe, Sienna people-mover fitted out with iPad-controlled private-jet-style interior and a race-ready Prius hybrid capable of serious cornering grip, proved with 0.99G pulled on the skid pan at the Willow Springs race track in California.

The Japanese giant also debuted its 2017 86 Cup Series racer at SEMA alongside a Tacoma TRD Pro truck modified for desert racing and due to compete in the MINT 400 off-road race, while luxury arm Lexus revealed the world’s first customised version of its LC flagship coupe alongside a hotted-up GS F performance sedan and tuned RC F coupe.

South Korean sister companies Hyundai and Kia showed four cars apiece, with the former debuting a pair of polar-opposite Santa Fe concepts (see separate story), a Veloster track car and an Elantra street racer.

Hyundai also debuted a US market ‘Night’ special edition of the Tucson SUV bearing a striking resemblance to the 30 Special Edition recently launched in Australia to celebrate the brand’s three decades Down Under.

All four Kia concepts were capable of driverless operation, with the Sorento Ski Gondola arguably most striking due to the addition of snow-friendly caterpillar tracks.

The Carnival people-mover was converted into a mobile recording studio and band transport vehicle, a Soul hatchback was turned into an entertainment lounge – including huge TV screen – for those long journeys not behind the wheel and Kia reimagined the Niro crossover as a triathlon-ready team support vehicle complete with easy-access suicide doors and a rear-mounted bicycle rack.

Honda’s large SEMA presence reprised the Civic Type R prototype from last month’s Paris show for its North American debut, joined by another Civic hatch showcasing Honda Factory Performance accessories, a smattering of race-ready or performance-tuned Civic coupes and sedans, plus and a Sega-sponsored entertainment-focussed Civic sedan.

Modifications were also lavished on the Ridgeline ute, with concepts variously using genuine Honda or aftermarket accessories to tweak the truck for racing, off-roading or style and luxury.

In keeping with tradition, Mazda presented two MX-5 concepts, including an evolution of last year’s lightweight Speedster that is even more low-slung and stripped-out than before, achieving a 159kg weight loss over the regular soft-top.

Mazda also showed the Kuro (charcoal) concept based on the upcoming MX-5 RF hardtop variant, finished in matte paintwork and using suspension and tyres from the Global MX-5 Cup racer.

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