Friday, November 4, 2011

Las Vegas was the center of the automotive universe during the 2011 SEMA Show

The SEMA Show. What a circus.

For one week, every company, every person, every eye of everybody who is anybody in the automotive world is focused squarely on the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas. This event is like no other—bigger, crazier, more popular. The sheer size of the facility they hold it in boggles the mind, and it is so full that it spills outside.

As an organization, SEMA supports aftermarket automotive parts companies. They also have lobbyists to stand up for the rights of old car lovers and owners when the government tries to outlaw certain aspects of the hobby. If you’re like the typical car aficionado that reads this blog, that’s important. It’s why your hot rod is still legal even though it doesn’t have five-mile-per-hour bumpers. It’s why you can run a pre-’74 car without catalytic coverters or expensive/power-robbing emissions systems. It’s why you can still work on this stuff in your garage. Ultimately, it’s why our hobby isn’t outlawed altogether. SEMA acts as a voice for all of us who love old cars, to those that would just as soon see them all destroyed.

The SEMA Show is primarily a trade show. Companies bring out their new products and various widgets and try to generate enthusiasm and ultimately sales to others in the automotive business. The show is actually only meant to be open to SEMA members, those directly involved with the automotive aftermarket, and media personnel. But pretty much everyone knows about it, and there are no doubt plenty of folks among the 50,000-100,000 attendees that managed to find a way in just because they’re enthusiasts.

I was there with a co-worker this year as the editor of The Automobile Red Book valuation guide. I appreciate the fact that I work for a product that is run by people who consider it important enough to be represented on such a big stage. I’ll be writing some cover reviews for the Red Book that will be published later next year.

For me, the actual content of this show is split about 50/50 between the really spectacular, and the incredibly horrible. That really shouldn’t be a surprise, though. The modified cars are often so radical that it is impossible not to have a love-it or hate-it reaction. Anyway, I’m 38, but my automotive tendencies often veer toward those of a 60-year-old man. Don’t get me wrong; I love new Corvettes and late-model American factory hot rods, but I don’t get much or a rise out of 26” chrome wheels, air-bagged Mustangs, or anything that looks like it could have starred in The Fast and the Furious.

To that end, I tend to gravitate most toward older customs and hot rods. Give me a ’49 Mercury lead sled over a Nissan Skyline any day. If it looked like George Barris built it in 1950, I’m all for it. Oh, and speaking of the King of the Customizers, he posed with me for a picture in the lobby of the Hilton next to the convention center.

Chevrolet, Ford, and Chrysler all had displays at SEMA. Both Ford and Chrysler paid homage to their past, with some really neat old cars mixed in with their concepts. Chrysler had Challengers and ‘Cudas, drag cars and concepts. Ford had old Mustangs, hot rods, Cobras, and even a land speed record car.  They had several significant cars from the Henry Ford Museum, and even the first Shelby Cobra prototype.  I can't imagine what that car is worth.

The very day of Chevrolet’s 100th birthday landed during the SEMA show, so you would think their display would really illustrate their heritage. Instead, it was loaded with new Camaros and Sonics. That was basically it. Oh, there was a modified ’70 Chevelle of questionable taste built for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., sitting there, and they had some restored engines in glass cases, but otherwise, their huge area did nothing to pay honor to their centennial. Of course, I’m a sentimentalist, so I thought it was pretty weak. The iridescent green paint on the Hot Wheels Camaro was pretty cool, though.

Famous car people were everywhere. I was literally within arm’s length of guys like Chip Foose, Gene Winfield, Don Prudhomme, Jack Roush, Vic Edelbrock, Barry Maguire, Ken Block, Mario Andretti, and probably many more that I didn’t immediately recognize. This show is so important that even the guys that shape the industry come to see the latest.

One night, while I was sleeping, a ’64 Impala was stolen from the show. The silver convertible featured big wheels, black painted chrome trim, bumpers, and grill, and a custom leather interior. The car belonged to Cincinnati Bengals lineman Frostee Rucker. I didn’t take a picture of it, but I did see it on the news the next day. I just hope the criminals stole it so they could replace the ugly black trim with the original chrome and machine-turned stuff. Maybe they’ll make those improvements and return it later in the week. One can only hope.

Taking pictures was a challenge. For one thing, there were just too many people. You basically had to stand in one spot with your camera ready, and if a moment opened up where no one was between you and the car, you had to take the shot immediately. Plus, everybody was taking pictures, and not everyone gets the concept of taking the shot and getting the hell out of the way. No time to linger around the car or jack with your camera phone at this event. You need to have your stuff together.

At any rate, I took some 700 pictures for the slideshow below.  A few shots are courtesy of GM, Ford, Chrysler, and SEMA, which fill in most of the gaps of things that I either missed, or couldn’t get a good shot of. Now, these are just the things that I thought were worth taking pictures of. It doesn’t even come close to covering everything that was there. I hope you enjoy them!

Tip: If the pictures come in sideways or otherwise weird, try refreshing the page. Picasa, the site that I host these on, sometimes gets a little wonky, especially with these large slideshows.


  1. wow. some seriously cool, jaw-dropping stuff there craig. must have been awesome to be there in person. great pics for the rest of us. thanks! have to say that black Caddie and the red and white Corvette are my favorites so far. still have about half the slide show to get through.

    (and what was with that transformer-like cat yellow bentley???)

  2. A primered Bizzarini?!?!? Some seriously cool stuff, as well as some seriously awful. AND, a mini-tutorial on what NOT to do to a Bentley... Too many cool cars to begin to mention.
    Your observation vis a vis Chevrolet points out a [major] symptom of what's wrong with the Division and is emblematic of the "thinking" prevalent within the hierarchy for the past 25 years that has brought the company to the sad, ruinous state that it's in today.
    Oh, and for such a youngster, you do show considerable taste! ;)

  3. Excellent column today, Giarc!
    Especially the second paragraph!

  4. Sweet....thanks for taking me there.

    Mop...67 light blue cuda.