When it comes to performance, they say there is no replacement for displacement – apply that same thinking to a car show and you get SEMA! It is all about holding the biggest, best and most informative networking event in the world for the entire car industry. Motorsport, custom cars of all types, tools, collision repair, paint companies, new products – everything you want to know about the automotive world are found under one roof. The thought leaders, the innovators and those who have made major contributions, as well as those about to, head to Las Vegas in the first week of November each year to get their dose of a holistic view of the industry.
The SEMA show is held at the massive Las Vegas Convention Centre, and even though there are conventions happening all year round for every type of industry, this event is the biggest on the annual calendar. The event thought they may have peaked for the 50th Anniversary – but in 2017 it went bigger again. There were 186 000 registered attendees, most of whom came back daily for the four-day event. Everyone is required to provide proof that they are a part of the industry – this is not a show for the public. The show has 12 sections, 800 display stands and a New Products Showcase featuring nearly 3 000 ideas yet to hit the market. Every open mind can reach out for educational seminars, product demonstrations and plenty of networking opportunities. To walk around the show requires some long days as to physically visit every element of the show will mean walking for 28.5 miles – it is literally that big!
There are special breakfasts each morning and dinners every night, with the Gala Dinner on the Thursday night where this year Barry Meguiar (of Meguiar’s Car Care and “Car Crazy” TV fame) was one of the inductees into the Hall of Fame. It all culminates with a mega after-party on the Friday night of the event.
The big awards
Over the years SEMA has been a place where the best builders of custom cars and the best restorers all debut special cars, showing off a range of great ideas – and 2017 was no exception. There are two major awards for the cars over the week, in addition to a number of minor awards that are simply too numerous to list.
The Shine award
The judges need to look over almost 1 800 cars and pick the ones that really stand out. One of the judges for many years for this award is Ziggy of Ziggy’s Hot Rods in NSW. The award has been given to the “Best of Show” since 2001 and the finalists are all celebrated at the Mothers stand in the middle of the Main Hall on Wednesday afternoon. This year the winner was “Afterthought”, the beautiful 1930 Ford Coupé from Cal Automotive Creations – a car that featured as one of the Great Eight at Detroit Autorama (The Ridler) earlier last year and has been touring the U.S. since it’s debut and winning awards for the quality of craftsmanship and finish. The paint is PPG Paleo-Historic Blue and was applied by Charley Hutton.
SEMA battle of the builders
This is only the fourth time at SEMA where there has been a process of identifying the best builder of a vehicle from more than 300 applications submitted across all market segments – including Hot Rod, Off-road, Sport, Compact and Young Guns. The competition is considered the ultimate builders’ challenge and each builder is given 10 minutes with the judging panel to talk through the special features of their chosen car. The final 12 are announced on the Thursday and the top three and the winner are announced on the Friday night. For the 2017 event these were: Troy Ladd (Hollywood Hot Rods) with the 1936 Packard “Mulholland Speedster” that was America’s Most Beautiful Roadster earlier this year and the winner of the Hot August Night’s Cup; Alan Johnson with an amazing GTP 1932 Ford custom Tudor, a car that also made the Great Eight. However, it was another hot rod that took the major prize – one very special 1929 Ford A Model Tudor, built by Troy Trepanier (Rad Rides) and made to be driven. It sports a custom mix of Glasurit Bronze Paint and an all-aluminium GM small block engine, backed by a five-speed ’box and custom Halibrand quick-change rear end. When Troy received the award he said: “I’ve been coming here for 27 years and what a spectacle.” He went on the say “Every one of these builders is a winner, every car is so different and hand-built, and it is such an honour to be picked. I’m just fortunate to be a part of it all.”
The cars are the stars
But SEMA wasn’t all about Hot Rods. There were so many pick-ups of different years from the big four brands of Ford, GM, Dodge/Jeep and Toyota that it was difficult to see around them to look at the other cars – Jeeps were everywhere – and many of them were the older CK model. There were also a lot of 1962-65 model Chevy pick-ups. They came at every height level with many of them dumped on the ground, but the more popular style included graphics and high-lift suspension.
On a different note there are some cool ideas, mating older car designs with new drivetrain technology. Chip Foose designed and built a 1971 Mach 1 Ford Mustang mated to a 2017 ‘Stang. Yes, there were a few changes required to mate the new Coyote engine and unibody construction of today with the body and dimensions of yesterday and the car looked truly awesome. Dave Kindig (Kindig-it Design) had a really cool looking 1958 Lincoln (“Maybellene”) with a twin supercharged 600 cubic inch V12 engine. Kindig also released a whole new range of innovative paint colours in partnership with AkzoNobel under the Modern Classikk by Kindig branding.
The big names in products kept coming too. Jay Leno turned up at the show to launch a new range of the Jay Leno Garage detailing line. PPG had screaming paint colours with a range of artists and many of the best painters in the world having conversations and providing advice. Shelby American debuted their new 2018 Mustang with over 1 000 HP to the rear wheels and Mopar launched a new kit to help pair modern V8s with classic muscle (plug and play 6.2 Hemi). Many of the world’s car manufacturers also had special cars on display to link in with the SEMA story. New cars from Ford, Chevrolet, Mopar, Toyota, Mazda and Kia were displayed along with Honda, Porsche, Hennessey, Mini, BMW, Lexus, Hyundai, Ferrari and many others.
Then there was the myriad of other products that were launched to make cars go faster, better and stronger while being able to cope with different types of terrain and lifestyles. Hundreds of exhibitors filled an entire hall with Collision Repair Industry diagnostics, tools, equipment, technology and software, cleaning products and a full range of services. Another area of SEMA that is becoming increasingly popular is involved with everything to do with design of the next generation of vehicles and the use of data for business decisions. There were some folk who spent their entire four days in only one section of the show as there was just so much to take in.
But the SEMA show isn’t just a static car show, with rides available and special displays by Ford, Chevrolet with their Corvettes, Camaros and new range of trucks, BMW partnered with Continental Tyres for drifting displays and there was also a major launch of the new Kia Stinger GT with drifting across the road from the Convention centre. People were lining up all day to participate in the active components of the show. There were also the cars of the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational – the best from around the country for the final event. The 100 chosen participants and their cars got to enjoy SEMA and then had their main event at the Las Vegas Speedway over the following weekend.
It’s difficult to explain all that happens at SEMA as the show is just that big. There is so much to take in that it becomes something people want to go back to year after year. Chip Foose explained the benefit of SEMA best when he said: “SEMA is just the biggest and best car show in the world that brings together great cars and amazing car people for four days of absorbing everything you want to learn about, and everything you want to do next!”