Wild horses

April 17, 2003
At the 2003 Detroit North American International Auto Show, horsepower was the trump card many automakers played to the hilt.

If the North American International Auto Show in Detroit is any indication, muscle cars are still "in." Automakers there paraded out a variety of big-engine, high-horsepower concept vehicles. At least for the near future, it seems, vehicles that can lay rubber will remain part of American culture.

To be fair, Toyota announced that electric/gasoline-hybrid technology will show up on its Lexus RX 330 SUV around 2005. The company also premiered the Fine-S fuel-cell concept, a four-seater sports car promising zero emissions. Ford Motor Co. debuted its Model U concept, a takeoff on Henry Ford's Model T, powered by a supercharged hydrogen internal-combustion engine with a hybrid-electric transmission. But clean-technology vehicles were minor announcements compared to the glut of supercharged, big-engine concept vehicles that dominated the show.

Mercury Messenger
Attempting to jumpstart Mercury's staid image, here comes the Messenger. This rear-wheel-drive sports coupe carries an aluminum 4.6-liter V8 linked to a six-speed automatic. (What, no manual for enthusiasts?) The Messenger rides on a composite aluminum-hybrid chassis bonded to superformed aluminum panels, said to provide high torsional rigidity for good ride and handling. Also, a reduction in NVH is claimed to be another benefit of this chassis type. The seats mount laterally to the tunnel and rocker panel, further strengthening the aluminum hydroformed monocoque.

A computer-controlled suspension adjusts ride height and dynamics with intelligent traction control according to driving style, speed, and road conditions. Brembo power-assisted brakes with 14-in. vented discs and four-piston calipers are standard, assisted by ABS with electronic brake-force distribution. Nineteen-inch spoke wheels up front are wrapped with 11-in.-wide tires, and 20-in. wheels with 12-in.-wide tires are in back. The turbine wheel pattern is said to help direct airflow over the brake discs and calipers.

Cadillac Sixteen
Cadillac combined a look back with a leap forward in its Cadillac Sixteen concept. The luxury sedan takes cues from custom-built 1930 Fleetwoods including its powerful V16 concept powerplant. The 32-valve engine boasts a whopping 1,000 hp and 1,000 lb-ft of torque. It features fuel-saving displacement-on-demand technology which shuts down half of the cylinders under most driving conditions and automatically reactivates them when necessary, as during hard acceleration. This technology will debut in 2004 on select 2005 GM vehicles. The V16 mates to a modified Hydra-Matic four-speed automatic.

An aluminum and steel spaceframe chassis carries a high-arm SLA up front and an independent, semitrailing arm rear suspension. Front and rear brakes are six-piston calipers with 16-in. rotors. Fat, 24-in. aluminum wheels wrapped with custom tires front and rear give it a sporty look.

The four-door sedan measures 223.3-in. long, just over 2 in. longer than the Lincoln Town Car limousine. Along the long, aluminum hood runs a center spine with dual power panels that open to reveal the engine bay. The Sixteen also features an all-glass roof and suicide doors. Luxurious interior touches include hand-stitched leather seats, a center-mounted Bvlgari clock, rear DVD, Bose sound system, and hand-woven silk carpets. According to Cadillac, the Sixteen is the first of a new era of vehicles.

Ford 427
The Ford 427 concept thrusts the ho-hum sedan into overdrive. Inspired by mid-60s Galaxies, the 427 carries a 7.0-liter modular V10 that produces 590 hp at 6,500 rpm and 509 lb-ft of torque at 5,500 rpm. The powerplant is said to be 70 lb lighter than the

32-valve Cobra R Mustang engine. The power-to-weight ratio is possible thanks to a siamese-bore aluminum engine block; a metal spray process that maximizes bores at 95 mm; lightweight forged-aluminum pistons with a short compression height; an aluminum cylinder head; billet steel H-beam connecting rods and common-pin crankshaft for increased strength without a balance shaft; and lightweight hollow stem valves. The engine mates to a six-speed manual.

The sedan is black inside and out with a thick, bent-bar brushed aluminum front grille and aluminum rocker and window line highlights. The interior echoes this theme, with handcrafted black leather seats and aluminum accents on door armrests and the gearshift. Five-spoke, wedge-shaped wheels are wrapped with 19-in. tires. No word from Ford as to whether this sedan will make it to showroom floors.

Chevrolet SS
The Chevrolet SS concept is touted as a contemporary four-door sedan turned sports car. It carries the latest version of Chevy's small-block, aluminum

6.0-liter V8 which puts out 430 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque. The engine mates to a four-speed automatic. The SS features an aluminum chassis with a low-arm SLA front suspension and an independent rear suspension. Driver-adjustable shocks change the damping ratio so that drivers can tune the chassis from soft settings to high performance for more aggressive driving. Brakes boast six-piston calipers and 14-in. rotors up front, and four-piston calipers with

14.75-in. rotors in the rear. Active-traction control helps keep the rear-wheel-drive SS on the road when navigating slippery driving conditions.

The SS seats five, has a built-in child booster seat in the back, and three DVD players to keep the entire family entertained.

Chevrolet Cheyenne
Chevy thinks its full-size pickup truck concept will be a hit with truck lovers. For easier bed access, Cheyenne features two side-access doors behind the cab, as well as a conventional tailgate. The tailgate opens completely or can remain half open for loading small items and doubles as a work shelf. The bed floor sits 28 in. above the ground, lower than the two-wheel-drive Silverado. This is because Chevy finally caught up with Ford and developed an independent-rear suspension, freeing up room to create a deeper bed. Multiple storage bins sit in the bed floor and there are drawers in the sides of the bed. Lighting and integrated tie-downs finish the bed area.

A supercharged, alloy 6.0-liter V8 puts out 500 horses and 580 lb-ft of torque. The Cheyenne rides on big 22-in. wheels with 35-in. tires.

Ford Mustang GT
Kicking some life into the smaller herd of pony cars, the Mustang GT concept coupe and convertible are good indicators of what the 2004 versions will look like. The concepts take cues from the original 1964 Mustangs, adding the bang of a modular

4.6-liter V8 with a belt-driven supercharger and a liquid-to-air intercooler. A functional hood scoop helps the supercharged engine breath. The powerplant features a cast-iron block, aluminum heads, and boasts a healthy 400 hp at 6,000 rpm and 390 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. The V8 links to a six-speed manual for the coupe and a five-speed automatic for the convertible. Twenty-inch aluminum wheels front and back have 13.9-in. Brembo vented disc brakes.

The rear-wheel-drive concepts have only two seats -- racing seats with perforated red leather and four-point harnesses. The coupe shares an element of early Shelby race cars: its strut support linking the two rear-shock towers also serves as the primary hold for a backseat-mounted spare tire. A billet-aluminum strut brace holds the tire in place. Round, optical tachometer and speedometer gauges give a nod to prior Mustangs. On the center console, a row of switches let drivers control the suspension and set the air-fuel mixture. Under the switches sits a circular boost gauge for the supercharged V8, giving a visual indication of actual boost from a lean to rich mixture.

Toyota FJ Cruiser
The FJ Cruiser concept SUV is Toyota's combination of the original FJ40 Land Cruiser, the original 4Runner, and 434 compact pickups. Based on a modified Tacoma pickup platform, the FJ Cruiser carries a 3.4-liter V6 with a supercharger that provides 250 hp. The engine pairs up with a four-speed automatic. The 170.9-in.-long concept SUV has four-wheel drive with low range and is equipped with rear coil-over-long travel suspension, 20-in. wheels, and 33-in. tires.

Geared toward younger buyers with an affinity for the outdoors, the FJ Cruiser includes spotlights on sideview mirrors, an asymmetrical front spotlight, and a front-end towing winch. The only thing it's missing is a gun rack.

Front and rear seats fold completely flat, opening up enough cargo room to hold two sleeping bags.

Dodge Durango Hemi RT
Hemi power arrives in the Durango Hemi RT concept SUV. The 5.7-liter Hemi Magnum V8 boasts a healthy 345 hp at 5,400 rpm and 375 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. Fuel efficiency is said to improve by more than 10% compared to current models. The engine mates to a heavy-duty five-speed automatic. To handle all the power the Hemi generates, a new hydroformed frame increases torsional stiffness and improves ride quality. The four-wheel-drive Durango concept carries an independent front suspension and a new rear suspension with coil springs and solid rear axle. A Watt's linkage fits on the rear axle, reducing rear-end skate over rough surfaces.

For second and third-row passengers, leg, shoulder, and hip room increase. Second-row passengers can also recline seats. The 101-ft3 cargo area is a 15% boost over current Durango cargo space, and the distance between wheelhouses in the back gets a 48-in. increase. The Hemi Durango concept rides on

21-in. satin-chrome wheels wrapped with 50 Series Goodyear tires.

Mitsubishi Tarmac Spyder
Banking on younger buyers, the Mitsubishi Tarmac Spyder concept nestles a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out 315 hp at 6,500 rpm and 274 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. Unfortunately, mating with the engine is a five-speed automatic with Sportronic controls, for those who want to shift but can't engage a clutch for whatever reason.

The Tarmac Spyder has full-time all-wheel drive, and rides on 19-in. aluminum wheels. Keeping the Spyder on the road is computer-controlled Active Center Differential (ACD) and a rear differential with electronic Active Yaw Control (AYC). Backing up its sporty appearance is a front-end air intake to cool the engine's intercooler and radiator, as well as a forward-flipping hood. A detachable hardtop lets the sports car go from coupe to convertible in a hurry. A rear roll bar, which holds a center high-mount signal lamp, helps protect rear passengers.

For entertainment, DVD flat-screen displays front and back work in concert with a high-power CD audio system and subwoofer. The display screens can also project a driver's eye view of the road, thanks to a camera mounted in the side mirror, kind of like a video game on wheels.

Kia KCD-1 Slice
The KCD-1 Slice concept is Kia's twist on crossover vehicles. Based on the Kia Optima sedan chassis, its wheelbase is nearly 6 in. longer at 112 in., and overall length is 177 in., 8 in. shorter than the Optima. The Slice has three rows of seats for six adults, and rear seats fold down to haul cargo. Suicide doors open up for easy access to the interior.

The Slice is powered by an aluminum block 2.7-liter DOHC V6. The engine is said to deliver the low-end torque and high-end horsepower necessary for sporty handling, and links to a Sportmatic automatic with manual gear controls. Available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the Slice carries a double wishbone, coil spring, and tubular shock front suspension, and a multilink design with coil springs and tubular shocks in the rear. Stabilizer bars front and rear balance out the suspension. The Slice rides on 19-in. alloy wheels with sport tires.

Kia is gauging reactions to the Slice before squeezing it into the automaker's current crop of vehicles.

Suzuki Concept-S
Looking suspiciously like the Mini Cooper, the Concept-S vehicle is claimed to fuse Suzuki's racing heritage with cutting-edge features and the excitement of a video game. The concept carries a 1.6-liter DOHC in-line four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual. Other highlights include all-wheel drive and a rally-inspired drivetrain. Eighteen-inch aluminum-alloy wheels sit at the outer corners of the body, giving the vehicle a larger profile than its actual 144-in. length and 68-in. width.

Controls are on the steering wheel, similar to a video-game joystick. Drivers can control the transmission, hand brake, turn signals, and windshield wipers by pushing a steering-wheel-imbedded button. An advanced navigation system also lets drivers download, store, and exchange mp3 music files and share the information electronically with other vehicles. The navigation system uses an intelligent key card to lock, unlock, and start the car, and has a fingerprint identification system that automatically adjusts the suspension to preset levels tailored to different drivers. Currently, Suzuki has no plans to introduce the Concept-S as a production vehicle.

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