Let’s face it; the automotive aftermarket is a giant locomotive with a $31 billion annual head of steam. Each year it comes into its main station at the Las Vegas Convention Center for the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Marketing Association) Show, an annual trade fair showcasing perhaps the most complete cross-section of the aftermarket in one place. Its prominence continues to grow with inaugural presence like that of Volkswagen and official sponsorship by Honda, tied in with the launch of their newest Civic Si. From the highest end of the market with diamond-encrusted alloys, to the lowliest of widgets for the most frugal econo-cars, the SEMA Show continues ahead like the iron horse it has become.
SEMA’s main event has come a long way since it was first held in 1967 at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium. The 98 exhibits in 14,000 square feet of the first show have exploded to 10,000 booths covering over 1 million square feet at its current location in Las Vegas, with more than 100,000 buyers, sellers, and other industry people attending the four-day event.
The big news from the SEMA organization this year is the announcement of their ProPledge Warranty Program. It may be a while before the program spreads deep into the industry, but the organization’s valiant attempt to cover reputable aftermarket companies with a 36-month warranty to help legitimize the often questioned merits of aftermarket upgrades is most admirable, and with luck it will also be most successful.
One can spend days walking the many halls of SEMA and still miss plenty. The sheer size of the event will tire anyone with aspirations of “seeing it all”. With that warning, below is most certainly an incomplete list of highlights – finds made during four days at an event that might have warranted a visit twice as long.
Vintage Muscle Big for 2005
If supercars and super-luxury were last year’s theme, then 2006 was surely the year of muscle. From tuned modern pony cars like the Ford Mustang and Dodge’s new Charger to, vintage Camaros and a multitude of Mopar offerings, American iron is hot.
If clean and heavily modified muscle-rods are your passion, SEMA was a virtual paradise this year. Some of the most spectacular cars on display can best be described as Foose-inspired. Thrust into celebrity by the TV series Overhaulin’, designer Chip Foose uses vintage muscle cars as foundations for amazing vehicles with modern wheels, chassis components, electronics, and paintwork. While the thought of modifying historically significant cars, such as the ‘69 Superbird on display, may seem blasphemous to many purists, the quality of the work on so many of these show cars could surely be appreciated by any automotive enthusiast.
Even if you’re not into muscle cars, it was hard not to stand in awe and salivate at the wild versions of these classics on display. From the Challenger of pro wrestler Goldberg in the Primedia booth to built Chargers and Camaros found all over the place. There was even a ‘Poison Dart’ that prompted one staffer to take from the Oldsmobile marketing line, “That sure isn’t my dad’s old Dart.”
As mentioned, you need not start with an old car to build your own modern interpretation of American Muscle. Detroit’s Big Three provide plenty of new foundations from which to build, especially Ford with its retro-inspired Mustang, and Daimler-Chrysler with its full-size Hemi-powered trio of Charger, Magnum and 300C. And, though it doesn’t pack the V8 punch of the others, the General’s latest mod-mobile, the Chevy HHR at least provides a retro-themed platform as a starting point for personalization.
Among the most impressive of the New American Muscle genre were two coupes from West Coast Customs. One was a shortened Chrysler 300C converted to two doors and finished in a wild light blue metallic color. The hands-down star of the show though was their orange Dodge Charger coupe, replete with a modern interpretation of General Lee livery. Uncle Jesse would have been proud and many commented that this was the Charger the Dodge boys should have built.
Also for Chrysler’s rear-wheel offerings, we found Newport Convertible Engineering’s 300C and Charger droptop conversions. The design, with Volkswagen Cabriolet-style hoop rollover bar loks rather at home on the 300C, but the upswept C-pillar cut off in mid sweep on the Charger leaves a bit to be desired. Maybe these guys should get together with West Coast Customs.
SEMA is not just about modifying though. A large part of the market, and likewise the SEMA Show, is dedicated to the restoration hobby. If you’re in search of reproduction window seals for your ’70 Chevelle, or original-style trunk carpet for a ’66 Mustang, someone at the show will have it. The restoration market is huge right now, spurred by the popularity of shows like OverHaulin’ and American Hot Rod.
As one exhibitor explained, “ All those old cars that were rotting away in fields and barns are now, suddenly, someone’s ‘project’ car.”
One car that’s made it to full and authentic restoration was the Cadillac at the Jada Toys booth. An authentic recreation of the Cadillac from the film ‘Scarface’, the car came complete with tiger-skin look interior and a full-size cardboard cutout of the film’s star Al Pacino.
Imports Gaining Ground
For the better part of the last decade, import tuning has been one of the fastest growing segments of the aftermarket. The car that launched the import tuning segment back in the mid-‘90s was Honda’s Civic, so it seems only fitting that the all-new Civic Coupe was the official car of the SEMA Show this year. Honda donated a new Civic Coupe to the SEMA Foundation for its raffle, which was also outfitted with a host of popular aftermarket accessories from numerous companies.
Honda America also followed Ford’s lead last year with the Mustang. The then new-to-market model was put in the hands of able-bodied tuners, getting a jumpstart on aftermarket development for the car and making sure each had prominent placement. Honda went one step further, providing not-even-in-production-yet Civic Si models to prominent tuners and even the website Temple of Vtec. The Japanese company also rounded out their Civic presence with a range of other modded Hondas including many Timberlines and even a drop-top Element.
Honda wasn’t the only Japanese manufacturer to use the SEMA Show as the launching pad for a new model. Toyota gave visitors a sneak peek at their upcoming FJ Cruiser SUV. The company brought in several preproduction versions of the truck, and followed that up with an impressive display of classic FJs and Land Cruisers.
Growing Manufacturer Presence
Amongst the car manufacturers, SEMA has been a well-kept secret of sorts. This year showed the widest array yet, if not complete, of marques with an official display. Now regulars, Ford, GM and all of their owned brands, as well as Dodge/Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia and Subaru all came out again this year, joined for the first time by a German manufacturer – Volkswagen.
Not a new model, but a debut nonetheless was Ford’s open top Targa-style GT. This orange stunner from the Ford stand showed what some custom coachwork could do to air out the GT and also show off its handsome interior.
Oddly, the manufacturers get spread amongst the many, many halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center. It’s understandable that SEMA would push to intermix prominent aftermarket companies amongst the car manufacturers, but finding companies like Toyota in Nissan in the truck hall or MoPar in the wheel hall doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Perhaps its more motivation to follow the lofty goal of ‘seeing it all’.
Gotta See It to Believe It
It’s no mystery why the SEMA Show takes place in Las Vegas- the city itself is the capitol of excess, flashiness, and bad taste. While some exhibitors followed the new directive from the show organizers to make sure the “booth talent” was appropriatley attired, there was, nonetheless, no shortage of scantily-clad female attendants (What does “appropriate” mean in Vegas anyway?). Curvacious models notwithstanding, SEMA still delivers its share of wretched excess.
As if bling hasn’t gone far enough, we found a new product called IcedOutEmz, with the tagline ‘Redefining Ballerism’. In case the oversized Chromies weren’t screaming baller already, now you can get jewel encrusted badges for your bucket. Announcing everything from your wheel diameter (20″, 22″, 24″, 26″…) to your status as a “G”, the company offers the full range. They’re even officially licensed by the Ford Motor Company, with badges for your pimped Expedition.
Wheel diameter also continues to grow. We found a Hummer with 30” wheels on it and the usual jewel encrustation. Was it mentioned that there were not one but two Enzos in that booth?!?!
Most impressive presence though has to go to the Giovanna wheel company. With big ads all over the convention center and an even bigger roped off display that you had to wait in line to enter, excess was in the extreme. The company had a range of the highest-end cars, but an early ‘60s Continental sedan slammed to the ground being dwarfed by a brand new Rolls-Royce Phantom really put into perspective the level of opulence that the auto industry has grown to despite skyrocketing fuel prices and diminishing fuel supply.
Forget about fuel supply though. When you’re at SEMA, namby-pamby stuff like hybrids and fuel cells are not even mentioned unless it’s some new-fangled turbo charger or a replacement petrol tank for that project car that’ll keep the fuel supply to those carbureted cylinders under hard turns. If Vegas is the city of sin, then the opulence and indulgence of SEMA is right at home. Just make sure to say your Hail Marys when you get home.
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