For performance-industry insiders, they constitute a rite of fall as regular as the turning of the leaves and the towering compulsion to strangle Dick Vitale. The Specialty Equipment Market Association and Performance Racing Industry shows-or simply "SEMA" and "PRI," as they're known in the business-have for decades served as the launching pad for the hottest new products from the automotive aftermarket. There are diversions, to be sure-gigawatt car-audio systems, neon valve-stem caps, and implausibly proportioned spokesmodels at the all-encompassing SEMA show; gigabuck laser milling machines, 2,500-horse tractor-pull engines, and implausibly proportioned spokesmodels at the race-oriented PRI confab-but for those willing to choke down overpriced convention-hall food and suffer through the plantar misery brought on by several days of nonstop perambulating, there are untold treasures waiting to be discovered.
Here, in no particular order, are some of our most promising finds for 2006.
For late-model fans, this year's shows were defined by a cavalcade of new aftermarket head castings for the ever-popular LS-series engine family. Perhaps most notable was this canted-valve race version from ET Performance (www.etheads.com), said to flow a remarkable 402/237cfm (!) at 0.600-inch lift. ET also offers a wide selection of LS heads with conventional valve orientations, including 225, 235, 245, and 255cc; LS7; and C5-R varieties.
After months of rumor and speculation, World Products (www.worldcastings.com) finally pulled the curtain back on its "Warhawk LS7X" block, a heavy-duty Gen III-style unit capable of supporting displacements of up 454 cubic inches (4.125-inch bore/4.250-inch stroke). Noteworthy enhancements include C5-R-style billet-steel main caps, improved ring sealing, and provisions for two additional head studs per cylinder. The Warhawk even features both LS1- and conventional small-block-style motor-mount configurations, allowing it to be installed in Vettes not originally equipped with a Gen III powerplant.
Having achieved considerable success in the F-Body and truck markets with its innovative rear-mounted turbo kits, Squires Turbo Systems (www.ststurbo.com) has set its sights squarely on the power-crazed C5 crowd.
According to STS founder Rick Squires, a preproduction twin-compressor kit inflated the output of the company's otherwise-stock Z06 test car-shown here during hot laps in the Las Vegas Convention Center parking lot-to a heady 535 hp at only 6 psi. Look for an exclusive first test of the STS C5 system in an upcoming issue of VETTE. (Photos courtesy Squires Turbo Systems.)
Not all of the news out of SEMA and PRI pertained to late-models. This new manual steering gear from Remy Racing and Performance Products (top; www.remyracingshop.com), is built from the original GM tooling and is a direct replacement for the OEM gear in any '69 to '82 Vette. (Photo courtesy Remy Racing and Performance Products.)
Concept One's power steering gear, meanwhile, is essentially an adapted version of the recirculating-ball unit originally installed in '99-'05 GM fullsize trucks. Concept One (www.conceptonepulleys.com) claims the gear provides superior durability and a lighter, more accurate feel similar to that of a modern rack-and-pinion system. It fits all '63 to '82 Corvettes.
Speaking of LS heads, there were multiple new performance-oriented offerings from companies such as RHS (shown; www.racingheadservice.com), World Products (www.worldcastings.com), Trick Flow Specialties (www.trickflow.com), Dart (www.dartheads.com), Edelbrock (www.edelbrock.com), and possibly 80 or 90 others we missed. "You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting one," said one PRI attendee, though we declined to try. We don't have room to list the specifics of each head here, so check the manufacturers' Web sites and keep an eye on future issues of VETTE for more details.
If 454 cubes aren't enough for you, consider this modified LS2 block from ERL (www.erlperformance.com). Fitted with the company's "Superdeck 2" deck plate, it can accommodate displacements of up to 500 ci when fitted with a custom (4.500-inch stroke) crank. Corvette tuner Chuck Mallett was among the first to receive one of these behemoths, so don't be surprised to see an 8.2-liter C6 screamer bearing the Mallett Cars logo in the very near future.
From the "What took you so long?" file comes this comprehensively rejiggered LT1/LT4 OptiSpark distributor from MSD (www.msdignition.com). Dubbed the "Pro-Billet" to reflect its billet-aluminum construction, the unit is equipped with extra-thick mounting flanges to help prevent warping, a large ball-bearing assembly to stabilize high-rpm operation, and an advanced optical-encoder trigger said to be vastly superior to the OEM pickup. The Pro-Billet LT1 distributor even features an adjustment screw that makes it possible to advance or retard timing by up to 5 degrees. We'll be installing one of these pieces on our '96 coupe around the time you read this; look for details in an upcoming issue.
AFCO (www.afcoracing.com) calls its new M2 shock absorber "the ultimate weapon," a title that becomes more persuasive once you've had a chance to review the unit's specifications. The M2's most striking departure from shock-design orthodoxy can be found in its canister, which uses a bladder-rather than a conventional piston-to purportedly reduce cavitation and provide a quicker, more positive response to a variety of inputs. Also of note is the M2's "Swiv-Align" floating spring seat, which the company claims greatly diminishes the side loads placed on the shock's shaft during compression.
With so many fresh Gen III head castings breaking cover at this year's trade shows, it's not all that surprising that at least one manufacturer saw fit to unveil an all-new LS-series intake manifold. Professional Products' (www.professional-products.com) aluminum "Power Plus Typhoon" (shown here in optional polished form) is said to dramatically outperform GM's LS6 unit at low-to-mid rpm and equal or better it at higher revs. The Typhoon is available in two versions, to fit LS1 and LS2 engines, and will accommodate either stock or Professional Products' upsized throttle bodies. Matching fuel-rail kits are also available.
Roger and Joe Vinci, of Vinci High Performance (www.vincihighperformance.com), made the short drive to the PRI show-held for the first time this year in Orlando-from their shop in Maitland, Florida. While there, the two showed off their "Punisher" C6 project car, which had recently been fitted with VHP's ultra-trick line-lock kit...
and a "very early prototype" cold-air-induction package. The line lock is custom fitted to the C6 chassis and features an engagement button concealed in the automatic-transmission lever's engagement button. Very cool.
OK, so it's not a Corvette, but it's a lot closer than you might think. The latest offering from longtime replica builder Factory Five Racing (www.factoryfive.com), the GTM-200 is a carbon-fiber "assembler" ("kit car" sounds so declasse) that promises Ferrari Enzo performance at a fraction of the price. All you have to do is supply your own C5 chassis and engine, along with a Porsche G-50 transaxle, then free up 200-odd hours of garage time in which to screw the whole caboodle together. Weighing in at only 2,250 pounds fully dressed and packing 345-plus horsepower, the GTM-200 promises acceleration bordering on the stupefying. Further stupefaction may be derived by substituting an LS7 crate engine-in fact, Factory Five had completed just such an installation in the days leading up to the SEMA show. For the moderately well-heeled (the kit itself goes for $19,900, donor car not included), the GTM-200 is as close to a street-legal Corvette race car as it gets.
Perhaps hoping to capitalize on the Gen III's growing popularity as a drag- and road-race engine, valvetrain giant Crane Cams (www.cranecams.com) introduced a shaft-mounted rocker arm for LS-series applications. While these rockers do require some machining of the cylinder head to install, Crane claims a 1.7-ratio set actually outperformed a set of 1.8-ratio conventional roller rockers by 7 hp on an engine dyno.
Several years late to the DOT drag-tire party, Goodyear (www.racegoodyear.com) nevertheless appears poised to stick around for a while (get it?). Like some of the more recent drag-radial offerings from Mickey Thompson and M&H, the Goodyears feature an extremely aggressive (read: virtually nonexistent) tread pattern and a rubber compound that closely resembles partially chewed Hubba Bubba. Don't let the factory C4 wheel fool you-a Goodyear rep practically threw a clot when we asked whether the tires could be used on the street.