Toyota Shows Off Vintage and Performance-Inspired Models at SEMA

Toyota's vehicles are characters in our lives – sports cars that thrill to trucks that take us everywhere. Even more inspiration is on display at the 2023 SEMA show.

Retro Cruiser Toyota Land Cruiser
The Retro Cruiser Toyota Land Cruiser. Photo: Annika Carter

Toyota is Having a Moment.

We can’t get enough of them: Vintage-inspired modern designs like the 40th Anniversary Toyota 4Runner, boxy SUVs like the newly redesigned Land Cruiser, desert-going off-roaders like the Toyota Tacoma, family pods like the Grand Highlander, cute little gas-sippers like the Prius Prime and sporty thrillers like the Toyota Supra. These cars that inspire our lives have inspired a huge display at the 2023 SEMA show, the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association convention that takes place each November in Las Vegas.

It’s almost like Toyota’s models have become characters in our lives; they allow us to dream, imagine and aspire to a life beyond the tedium. But where does all that come from? Toyota took the moment to return to its roots with classic Toyota models, telling the story of its history in performance driving and racing applications.

Here’s what’s on display, from retro and modified models that are for show only to others that Toyota will produce and sell. We can only hope that some of these lovelies will go on tour to upcoming auto shows.

Related:My 11 Year Old’s Favorite Car is the Toyota Sienna

The Toyota Fj Bruiser

The Toyota FJ Bruiser. Photo: Annika Carter

Modified Toyota Land Cruisers Are Big Fun

FJ Bruiser

Toyota’s aptly-named “FJ Bruiser,” a play on the mid-2000’s FJ Cruiser, began its life as a 1966 FJ45 Land Cruiser pickup truck. One of two customized vehicles on display based on a classic Land Cruiser, this vehicle celebrates the Land Cruiser’s return to the US market in 2024.

A full “resto-mod,” Toyota restored the 1966 truck to its former glory, while fitting modern technology and top-of-the-line performance upgrades to make the FJ Bruiser an insanely capable off-roader.

Not much of the original FJ45 remains, with a full custom chassis and roll cage to modern suspension components and design, topped off with a NASCAR Cup Car powerplant – a 348 cubic inch, 725 hp V8 engine.

Perhaps the most unique feature on the FJ Bruiser, in lieu of a skid plate (a flat plate that covers the underside of a vehicle to protect mechanical components from impact with rocks or other debris offroad) the FJ Bruiser has a track, like a tank, that can be controlled from the cockpit. In the event of a high center, when an obstacle gets stuck on the undercarriage of the vehicle, the track can be turned on (called “tank mode”) with the push of a button to easily maneuver out of what would otherwise be a messy situation!

Vintage Toyota Land Cruiser

The Retro Cruiser Toyota Land Cruiser. Photo: Annika Carter

The Toyota Retro Cruiser

Also based on a classic land cruiser (this time, a 1967 FJ45 Land Cruiser Wagon), the Retro Cruiser was also built to celebrate the return of the highly anticipated Land Cruiser to the US market. 10” longer than the standard 1967 FJ45 and 4” wider, the Retro Cruiser was customized with off-road performance in mind. A custom-built suspension allows for 30% greater wheel travel, allowing it to overcome larger obstacles.

The Retro Cruiser may be a familiar face to some. Originally built in 1999, Toyota Motorsports Garage drove it out of the vault and fully restored it to its original glory – addressing all mechanical and cosmetic faults to be as perfect as the day it was built.

Related: Everything You Want to Know about the 2024 Toyota Land Cruiser 

The Toyota Gr86 At Sema

The Toyota GR86 on display SEMA. Photo: Annika Carter

Toyota Sports Cars Love Mods, Too

GR Cup Series GR86

In 2023, Toyota launched the inaugural season of the Toyota Gazoo Racing North America GR Cup Series. A racing series designed to give amateur drivers the opportunity to race on some of the country’s top race tracks, the series features identically-built Toyota GR86 vehicles. All the GR Cup Series GR86 cars began life as street-faring GR86s from Toyota. After a trip to a factory in North Carolina, the cars emerge competition-ready, with safety and performance modifications to make them excel on the race track.

The 2023 series of the GR Cup Series exceeded Toyota’s expectations, with 31 cars on the starting line at the last race of the series. With 40 cars expected at the start of the 2024 season, ready to compete at 14 events at 7 of the United State’s most prestigious tracks, Toyota aims to turn Gazoo Racing into the premier performance band in the US within the next decade.

The Blue Beetle Themed Toyota Tacoma

The Blue Beetle themed Toyota Tacoma. Photo: Annika Carter

And Let’s Not Forget the Trucks

Blue Beetle

In celebration of Warner Bros Pictures’ newest DC superhero, Toyota and Warner Bros have joined forces in creating the Blue Beetle – a Toyota Tacoma inspired by Blue Beetle. Blue Beetle, released in August of this year, features DC’s first Latino superhero to star in his own feature film and features a Toyota Tacoma as the hero vehicle of the film.

The Blue Beetle Tacoma displayed at SEMA proudly wears a wrap designed by Warner Bros that is inspired by the Blue Beetle character, drawing inspiration from the hero’s suit and the general aesthetic of the film.

The Toyota X Runner Concept Based On The Tacoma

The Toyota X Runner Concept based on the Tacoma. Photo: Annika Carter

Tacoma X-Runner Concept

Perhaps my favorite special vehicle on display by Toyota at SEMA 2023 is the Toyota Tacoma X-Runner. While the rest of Toyota’s trucks are lifted to the sky on big tires, outfitted for performance off-road, the X-Runner brings back the early 2000’s two-wheel-drive “sports truck.” Painted Speedway Blue, this new X-Runner concept nods back to the original Tacoma X-Runner that debuted at the 2004 Chicago Auto Show. Instead of being lifted, the X-Runner is lowered, is fast, and is designed to be tunable and modifiable for car enthusiasts.

A result of a collaboration between Toyota Engineering and the Calty Design Research Inc. team, the X-Runner is built with a reinforced, stronger frame and 3” wider width than the standard Tacoma. It sits on air-ride suspension, a type of suspension in which the car rides on compressed-air-filled bags, rather than springs. This allows the truck to ride at the lowest height possible, while still being able to carry a load (the bags can fill with more air under heavy load to maintain a level ride height and avoid sagging under load).

The sporty look is completed with more aggressive styling, including new bumpers and side skirts, functional vents to cool the brakes, a functional hood scoop, and 21” carbon fiber wheels wrapped in wide Michelin sport tires.

The engine of the X-Runner may be the most exciting part. While the rest of the car is a concept, the twin-turbo V6 engine is enabled with the TRD performance package, which will be available on the 2024 Tundra beginning in spring 2024. While the standard TRD engine makes 389 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, the TRD Performance Package Power-Up option will increase this to a whopping 421 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. While the maximum torque number remains the same, this torque is reached at a lower RPM, which will result in a quicker-feeling acceleration.

Good News for Tundra Fans

On the Tundra iFORCE MAX, the horsepower will be boosted to 439 horsepower. This increase in power is possible due to increased airflow to the turbos thanks larger, higher flow air intakes and a higher flow exhaust, along with improved engine calibration. The TRD Power-Up will also come with throttle tuning for a sportier driving feel. While the increased power will be exciting for Tundra owners, this engine will require at minimum of 91-octane premium fuel, so be prepared for increased fuel costs.

On the 2024 Tundras equipped with the TRD Performance Package Power-Up option, the truck will be distinguished with subtle visual cues – a special badge on the tailgate and a unique exhaust tip. Because this performance upgrade will be installed at the factory before the truck ever hits the dealership lot, the engine will be fully covered by the factory-backed warranty. On new trucks, MSRP for the TRD Performance Package Power-Up will be $3,400.

Toyota is considering expanding the package availability to other vehicle models in the near future, and is actively working on dealer-installed options for customers who already own Tundras, but still want to enjoy the increased power.

Hopefully Toyota will show some of these concepts at other shows, too, so we can all voice our opinions in person.

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Annika Carter has over four years of performance driving experience, both with and without professional instruction. She has driven... More about Annika Carter