Feature: SEMA 2011 car history and auto shows auto articles car culture auto brands
The NASCAR engine Jil helped to build. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Jil McIntosh

Photo Gallery:
SEMA 2012

A Dodge Ram pickup truck turned into a snow tractor, an Audi R8 painted entirely in chrome with colour-changing wheels, and a chance to build a NASCAR engine? It can only be the SEMA show, held last week in Las Vegas and possibly the best place on earth for a car fan.

SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association, started in 1963 when a group of small companies that made performance equipment for hot rods banded together. Its first trade show consisted of fewer than 100 booths. Today, it’s more than 2,000 exhibitors who present almost everything imaginable to do with vehicles, from wash mitts to crate engines, in what is one of, if not the largest, events of its kind. It’s strictly an industry event and isn’t open to the public, and nothing inside is for sale, at least in terms of handing over your cash and walking out with the product in hand. Instead, this is where retailers from around the world meet manufacturers to see what’s new and what they’ll carry in their stores, and to write up deals to buy large quantities of product. Also along for the ride are members of the media, celebrities, special guests and speakers, and “opinion leaders,” specialty car fans invited by SEMA to relate what’s happening on the asphalt and how it applies to the industry.

Feature: SEMA 2011 car history and auto shows auto articles car culture auto brands
Feature: SEMA 2011 car history and auto shows auto articles car culture auto brands
A Dodge Ram turned into Yeti, a snow machine (top); A wheel that spins inside of itself. Click image to enlarge

What they see is nothing short of spectacular. Kids in candy stores don’t get to have this much fun. It starts outside the building, where the Las Vegas Convention Center’s front parking lots are jammed with vehicles. That’s the great thing about SEMA: you only get the full effect of aftermarket items when they’re on cars, trucks and motorcycles, and there are thousands of them at the show. It’s all about the product, and so custom cars that have won some of the highest awards in the nation are just sitting in exhibitors’ booths because those companies supplied some of their parts. The lifestyle magazine DUB had one entire parking lot to itself, where you could see anything from lowriders and donks to a customized Bugatti Veyron. Yes, it’s that kind of show.

The trade show consists of several halls, with specific areas: wheels and tires, trucks and SUVs, racing and performance, hot rods and restoration, audio, tools and accessories. Within those categories it goes even deeper, with aisles dedicated strictly to window film, bodyshop tools, upholstery and lights. SEMA is more of a consumer products show, while a related event, AAPEX (Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo) is held nearby at the Sands. Quieter and without as much flash, AAPEX focuses on professional products aimed at body shops and repair facilities, such as tools, paint, chemicals, lubricants and body fill.

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