There are universal truths that apply to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. You can bet that tens of thousands of industry car enthusiasts, or those smart enough to scam an industry name badge, will fly in to ogle a mix of everything automotive – from the most impressive builds you’ve ever seen to the most blatantly product-peddling cars. At night, there’s an army of slightly overweight guys in corporate Polos and Dockers ogling a barely clad waitresses at industry parties, then thumping on their buddy’s chest and further tiring out that weary phrase, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”
Yes, the SEMA Show event is full of clichés, and that might be why we love it. You see, SEMA is a mix of everything – from opulent exotics on bejeweled rims to top-shelf street rods shipped in from points far flung. There are cars for art’s sake and cars blatantly made to help push annual sales of fill-in-the-blank line of automotive tchotchkes. If you’re a car snob, there’s plenty at which to turn up your nose. If you just plain love cars, there’s a little bit of everything to see.
Though slightly changed this year in their presentation, Volkswagen of America was still at SEMA in force. Auburn Hills dropped their stand area in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s North Hall in order to grab a spot outside, making SEMA a stop on the company’s Diesolution Tour. The same rig rounding America this year and spreading the word on Volkswagen diesel power established the anchor to VW’s presence, flanked by the company’s Baja Touareg racer, a Jetta Sportwagen TDI SEMA Concept, the first showing of the TDI Cup Jetta racecar, and a pair of cars (Rabbit and Passat) representing Volkswagen Accessories.
SEMA continues to be of increasing interest to aftermarket companies catering to the Volkswagen tuning market. REVO Technik displayed this year, with a modded GLI on display in their stand. The car included a prototype of REVO’s latest Stage III for 2.0T FSI engine applications. The kit uses a Garrett GT3076 turbo, custom tubular manifold, upgraded injectors and several other upgrades, but no output numbers have yet been provided.
Numerous other VWs, mostly GTIs, were also found around the numerous halls. In particular, the a wide-body GTI by Tein on display outside and an extensively built grey Mk1 Rabbit in the audio hall grabbed our attention. There was even a Phaeton on display in the exhibition area just outside the main hall.
For Audi, the SEMA Show remains in a bit of a holding pattern. Audi, as a manufacturer, still hasn’t decided to show at the Las Vegas event. Yes, Audi does support the show subversively, like the stock R8 spotted over at Michelin, but there’s no official presence here by the brand. Audi should take note though – Lexus has joined the party. This year, Audi’s Japanese rival showcased their new IS-F – a car not even on the market yet, though several prominent Lexus tuners had modded versions on site.
Not surprisingly, the R8 was a popular choice on stands around the show this year. Just a few have been sold so far, though we counted four on the grounds of the SEMA Show – all in the cavernous wheel hall. Gallery-Miami/SDS Forged Alloy Wheel had a white example sporting wheels from SDS and the new Stratmosphere/Forge Exhuast at the Vredestein Tire display, there was a black R8 at the uber exclusive Giovanna wheels display, and two in the aforementioned Michelin stand. The two at Michelin made for a particularly cool photo-op, each flanking one of this year’s Audi Sport North America R10 racecars.
One of the cars at Michelin, as mentioned, belonged to Audi and remained unmodified. The other marked the debut of APR’s own R8 development car. The three-tone silver, gray and black APR car marked the most extensively modded R8 we’ve seen yet. On the outside, the car showed off several body pieces the company plans on selling – a chin spoiler, sideblade spoilers and a slightly larger decklid spoiler. At the rear, you could spot the company’s new titanium exhaust that, combined with engine software, nets a reported 480 hp and 340 lb/ft of torque.
Speaking of Vredestein, Fog City Performance had Audi’s new S5 on the tire company’s stand, lowered on KW’s new B8 Variant 3 kit and sitting on 20-inch wheels. With such an aggressive stance, the S5’s form goes from elegant to positively menacing… in an elegant way.
Audi’s smallest coupe in the lineup, the aluminum-bodied TT, was certainly not the smallest on power thanks to the VR6 turbocharging experts at HPA. Outwardly, this orange coupe displayed on the Dunlop stand featured an Oettinger body kit, Abt rear wing, LSD door conversion and 19-inch Moda wheels shod with Dunlops. Even more interesting was what could be found beneath the aluminum bonnet – a 565hp twin-turbocharged version of the TT’s 3.2-liter mill mated to a remapped DSG transmission with upgraded clutch. We had dinner with a colleague from Motor Trend who’d driven the car for an upcoming piece planned for that magazine and he was all smiles as he described how astonishingly fast the orange coupe was.
Bentley is another VAG brand that doesn’t officially take part in SEMA, though the cars from Crewe are seemingly as popular a tool for drawing onlookers into a booth as a Vegas stripper in a tight black dress… particularly in the large wheel and tire hall. The Continentals are definitely the favorite – with Flying Spurs and GTs a regular site wearing everything form simply over-sized wheels to full body kit augmentation. We even spotted a few Arnage chassis cars, including a sedan and a convertible.
Exotics always a favorite at SEMA, VAG sibling Lamborghini is another company well-represented even though it doesn’t officially maintain a presence. Not surprisingly, it was the Gallardo that could most commonly be found – specifically in the wheel hall. Nitto Tires gets the coolest Gallardo prize, simply because they had the only Superleggera we found at SEMA.
Murcielagos also were not-so-surprisingly numerous. In the wheel hall where exotics rolling on your latest rim design seems to be a SEMA tradition, perhaps this is to be expected. However, we were both shocked and awed to see what turned out to be a white and orange Murcielago kit car.
One aftermarket company we wish would cater more specifically to VAG brands is wheel manufacturer HRE. The comapany’s typically modular wheel lineup has expanded this year to include a new Monobloc line of one-piece rims that are so clean and Euro, they might almost qualify as “OEMplus” – the super clean could-be-factory look coveted heavily by VAG enthusiasts. Looking over their fitment list, neither Volkswagen or Audi was listed. However, there are applications for the Bentley Continental, which should translate as a direct fit for cars like the A8, Phaeton and more. In addition, our particular favorite the M40 is made in Mercedes applications – a setup that shares the same bolt pattern as some VW and Audi models.
Of course, SEMA is also a bit about the celebrity factor. We hear Paris Hilton was walking the hall with Criss Angel, though it would be other celebs more widely known in automotive circles that we appreciated seeing. While we didn’t catch sight of Jay Leno this year, we did run in to Audi R10 driver Dindo Capello and strolled the halls for a few hours with the Le Mans champion. While in Dindo’s company, we also ran into ALMS Porsche Pennske Driver Ryan Briscoe, IRL driver Paul Tracy and Dodge Formula D drifting ace Samuel Hubinette. Look for a full report on our time with Capello within about one week.
SEMA remains one of the more interesting shows on the calendar. Its sprawling size, dwarfing all but the Frankfurt IAA in sheer footprint, will leave your feet hurting and your appetite for cars overstuffed, satisfied and with a hint of indigestion. We’re still waiting for the day that Audi comes to SEMA in an official capacity, which might induce even more participation by the company’s rich aftermarket. We’ll love this gargantuan party in Vegas even more when that happens.
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