Tuesday, November 14, 2006

American Muscle

Tuesday, October 31, 2006
2006 Specialty Equipment Market Association show
American Muscle
Show caters to carmakers' customizers
Larry Edsall / Special to The Detroit News

Flexing American automotive muscle may have lost its appeal to some when gas prices soared, but not to true power aficionados. And they'll get a supercharged dose of it this week in Las Vegas.

The Specialty Equipment Market Association's annual trade show, opening today at the Las Vegas Convention Center, will cater to America's first customizers, who raced Mustangs, Camaros and Challengers long before tuners was a noun.

"Power is universal," said Jamie Allison, program manager for Ford Motor Co.'s racing technology performance group, "and people always want more."

They'll have plenty to see at this year's show, jointly sponsored for the first time by General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG, which includes Chrysler. All three Detroit automakers have managed to cram big V-8s into some surprising sheet metal that will be on display at the show.

SEMA will not overlook the rest of the $34 billion custom and performance parts market, of course. The four-day event, which is not open to the public, will offer a 1-million-square-foot venue for 14 automakers and 2,000 custom and performance parts makers to show their wares and seek potential business partners.

Hundreds of refitted, decked out, totally made-over cars and trucks will be on display and about 120,000 people are expected to attend, said SEMA spokesman Peter MacGillivray. Think of it as "Pimp My Ride" meets "American Chopper" meets Steve Saleen.

The theme will be American muscle.

Back in the mid-1960s, the original muscle cars were family-style, midsize, hard-topped and two-door sedans into which some creative product planners and enterprising engineers planted huge and powerful V-8 engines. Thus was born the Pontiac GTO and Olds 4-4-2, Hemi-powered Dodge Chargers and Plymouth 'Cudas.

"In some ways, the original muscle car drivers were a lot like the tuners of today," MacGillivray said.

"They were working on improving the performance and looks of their vehicles."

For a modern look at muscle, Chrysler will have more than 60 vehicles at SEMA this year, including a 5.7-liter Hemi-powered Dodge Nitro, producing 360-horses, at the stand for its Mopar parts and accessories unit. Mopar will also unveil a Dodge Challenger SS concept car.

There will be eight vehicles from Chrysler's in-house Skunkworks team, a group of designers, engineers and others who work after-hours on projects coordinated by Ralph Gilles. Gilles designed the popular Chrysler 300 and now heads up truck design.

"These are like our children," Gilles said Friday while looking at the vehicles, which were still at Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills.

Concepts could see road

Gilles said while all of the vehicles are concepts, most are built with an eye toward eventually making it to the streets, either as a production model or through Mopar.

"These are the kinds of things we'd build in our garage if we had the chance," said product stylist Vince Galante. Galante designed the interior of a brawny 2007 Chrysler Sebring for display at SEMA that comes with a complete body kit, 20-inch tires and a Boston Acoustics stereo system that could make your ears bleed.

Not to be outdone, Ford will display a group of specially prepared Shelby GT500 Mustangs, as well as a supercharged Mustang GT in a California Special body kit.

Ford shows off kit

Ford will also showcase 3dCarbon body kits for the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ sedans and the Lincoln MKX crossover, as well as a highly modified version of the Ford Edge crossover.

For a more complete power package, Ford will display a customized F-150 FX2 Sport Extreme pickup, which boasts a 450-horsepower 5.4-liter V-8 with an inter-cooled supercharger. The only thing more powerful than the engine on this truck is its high performance brakes.

GM's spin on American Muscle will focus on trucks, including a Chevrolet Silverado off-road concept designed with NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt Jr., and a low-riding hauler concept done with the Teutul family, known for designing motorcycles on "American Chopper" TV show.

Yet another muscular pickup on the Chevy stand will be the Silverado 427. The historic 427 designation comes from the 427-cubic-inch, LS7 small-block V-8 engine under the hood that was borrowed from the Corvette Z06.

Some aftermarket designs for GM vehicles, such as a Cadillac Escalade EXT designed by DUB magazine, don't come from the automaker.

But Bob Walczyk, marketing and product manager for Chevrolet, said that isn't always a bad thing because the aftermarket can bring new life to production vehicles. "SEMA is where the aftermarket takes our product and extends our product. The vehicle is a canvas from an artist's perspective."

Automakers join show

Automakers have become big players at SEMA, essentially turning it into another auto show, because they see profit potential. A typical consumer spends up to $1,000 personalizing and customizing a car, said Christine Feuell, director of vehicle personalization and accessories at Ford. Truck buyers typically spend $1,500.

Detroit News Staff Writer Scott Burgess contributed to this report. Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer.

© Copyright 2006 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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