The Tokyo Auto Salon is the ultimate convergence of performance and style. It's a wet dream come true for hardcore import enthusiasts.

For the seventh year in a row, Turbo put on its famous Tokyo Auto Salon Tour, where readers, fellow enthusiasts and industry insiders can trek to Tokyo with us. The 2002 Tour was the best ever, as it included more than cars--namely a day trip to Mt. Fuji and Lake Hanoke and a look at rural Japan. To take advantage of the expansion of the Tour, many people extended their stay by either getting there early or staying later than the prescribed time.

The 2002 Tour was attended by 44 people, more than last year and a lot more than we were expecting after the 9-11 tragedies.

This was my fifth Auto Salon and I found myself a bit jaded at first. It takes a good deal of nerve to walk by a six-deep row of Skyline GT-Rs with big wheels, body kits and crazy turbo upgrades and ask yourself, "where's the hardcore stuff?"

Not only was each car magazine worthy, but leading cover candidates. I caught myself, re-centered my psyche and walked the floor with renewed enlightenment.

The star of the show was Signal Auto's 8.99-second R34 Skyline GT-R. The car is impressive because while it's not a racecar, it made its 8-second pass on street radials and backed it up with a 9.008. The car had a well-dressed engine with a sectioned and welded intake pipe that screams "made in Japan" and trippy Mazora color-shifting paint. I also liked the Cockpit Tatebayashi RX-7 that flexed a wicked carbon-Kevlar front lip spoiler, full-tilt Tein suspension and Work wheels. Also under the RX-7 banner were a few cars from famed rotary guru RE Amemiya. A silver race-bodied racer and a white street car--both FDs. The big news here is the radical race-inspired body kit on the silver car may be produced by Bomex.

It seems each Salon has its standout vehicle make. In 1999, the R34 Skyline GT-R was unveiled; in 2000, it was the Altezza; in 2001, it was the Subaru WRX and S15 Silvia. This year, the RSX stole the spotlight.

Top Fuel, Bomex, Veilside, Mugen, Top Secret, Signal Auto, HKS, Up Garage, Buddy Club, Spoon Sports and A'pexi, to name a few, had versions of the sporty coupe in their booths.

There was also a resurgence of the Mazda RX-7 at the Salon. The number and quality of rotary Mazdas was extremely high. Of course, the Skyline is always strong. On the scarce side were the Nissan Silvia, Toyota Celica and MR2 Spyder and Civics.

One of the biggest changes was how the OEs approached the Salon. Nissan had a mammoth display with tuner cars from NISMO and Own among others in its booth. This was Nissan's biggest presence ever. Mitsubishi and Subaru had slightly bigger booths than in 2001 and both companies were parlaying style and technology from their WRC race programs down to the street.

Honda had a groundbreaking booth. It was very big but was called "Honda Customize World" and it featured a grip of customized vehicles. The big push was behind the Mobilio RV (mini-micro van), but the emphasis on customization was the big deal. There was even an entry from American Racing Equipment.

On the parts front, there were a few standouts. Blitz had a wild twin supercharger kit for the Lexus SC430 and a single-blower set-up for the Celica. Volk Racing has two new wheels coming to America. HKS displayed its Hiper Damper II suspension systems and some cool VTEC cams. A'pexi had wild turbo upgrades for Supras, MR2s and RX-7s. And Do-Luck has taken chassis reinforcement to new heights.

The Turbo TAS Tour 2002 was a big hit. Beyond the Auto Salon experience, we took a day trip to Mt. Fuji. Our tour guide kept commenting on how lucky we were to have a view of the mountain. (She said the mountain was like a woman who could change her mood in the blink of an eye.) I took a few frames from the bus; when we got to a recreation area at the base, I clicked off a couple more. Then ,in the span of four minutes, the mountain became shrouded in cloud cover, not to emerge for the rest of the day. Moody indeed.

We are working with JTEC and Turbo's TAS Tour 2003 is already in the works, so stay tuned for more info and check out JTEC's Web site for more stuff about the show and the tour.