THE ROAD TO SEMA 2011
In a Mercedes-Benz S 350 BlueTec
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Wed, Nov 23, 2011
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Words and pictures by John Grafman Realizing I’ve been to the SEMA show more times than I care to remember, or can count on both hands, I needed to take a different point of view on this annual foray into the Nevada desert. My perspective is obviously clouded by the years and smoke from tire burnouts. What’s called for is an out-of-body experience. In order to properly reflect on this requires putting myself in the shoes of someone unfamiliar with the pageantry and foolishness of this affair, someone who will question everything and everyone. My solution, I summon the spirit of… Andy Rooney. I can feel his thoughts and I can almost see his brow furrowing in both disgust and dismay. But, he would certainly give a fresh perspective. From the drive to Las Vegas, to the last bittersweet moment out there, Andy will be my co-pilot—at least in spirit. To be factual, I start the trip with good friend, and fellow car nut Ashley Van Dyke. Not only is she able to keep a live video feed of NASCAR action from the passenger seat, she’s also the key to the carpool lane. Additionally, she effectively doubles our fuel productivity.
For the 300 or so mile jaunt we manage to find ourselves in the amazing Mercedes Benz S 350. I can just see Andy asking the million-dollar question “why in the hell would you want to do that”? Fair enough question. First, this isn’t your ordinary S Class, not that there would be anything wrong with that. The 350 in this case features the BlueTec diesel engine. Now, I can understand a few of the arguments against a diesel, not that I agree with most of them. This primo luxury ship is netting us 35-40 mpg while going anywhere from 80-90 mph along the 15 freeway. I can’t imagine many cars that can do this, let alone one this grand in size.
Additionally, this has nearly every feature a Rolls-Royce Ghost has, but for one-third the price. Plus, this has seat massagers in front. Need I say more? And, going a little green as usual means thinking outside of the box. In this case, I bring along a bicycle in the trunk, which fits easily after removing the wheels. With a monster size trunk, ample room in the car, and a full tank of fuel this can go almost anywhere you can dream of.
Perhaps Andy would quip about us fighting a war with the makers of this car just a half century or so ago. Two responses to that are – yes we did, but that was then, and this is now. Today we are one world, like it or not. Secondly, just drive the S 350 and try not to fall in love with it. Love goes a long way to solving the world’s problems.
Camping at the relatively new HRH Tower at the Hard Rock Hotel is fitting with the excitement of Vegas, but doing so in a classier, and affordable manner. In a roundabout way this matches the qualities we find so desirable in the S Class diesel, albeit affordable is a relative term. Plus, one can bike it to the SEMA Show at the convention center in a dozen or so minutes, avoiding taxis and much of the ungodly traffic snarls. We do get to enjoy the opportunity to poke around the outside of the SEMA show all day Monday, October 31st, prior to the show opening the next day. There is a broad selection of everything one could hope to see at SEMA. Mr. Rooney of course bellows his favorite line, “you ever wonder why…” In this case he is referring to the need to modify a perfectly good car to the point of no return.
Yes, again he makes a good point. First, there is a human trait, and a good one at that, which won’t allow us to leave well enough alone. Second, SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association, isn’t just about tweaking cars. As a matter of fact the aftermarket includes virtually everything that goes on a car after initial purchase. So, tires, windshield wipers, wax, as so forth are all part of the program. Sure, it might seem like so much ballyhoo with demos outside provided by Ford, with plumes of smoke rising up into the air several stories as the Mustangs and Cobras tear across what would normally be a sedate, desolate parking lot in front of the mammoth convention center. In actuality, this is a real world showcases for automotive technology. Okay, it’s fun as well. As noisy as the Las Vegas area is, it’s incredible that the wail from built-out Mustangs can reverberate off the high-rise hotels, which are then easily audible by half the city. I can’t recall anything this loud that didn’t have a jet engine and wings.
The static displays of cars in the front are exceptional. These allow one to take a few moments to really check out the craftsmanship. From metal work to metal flake paint, there are dozens, make that hundreds of examples that speak to what quality is all about. Mixed into the fold are a few that need a little more time in the oven. Sadly, some builders are really trying to beat the clock in order to get cars complete for the show. Done or not, these are here. I have to admit that there are a few cars on hand that would find a happy home in my garage. There are many restored and custom ’60s cars, from muscle cars to wagons. I do take a liking to more than one. I really wouldn’t mind the sweet Chevelle SS, the split window Corvette, or perhaps the ’70s flat black Charger on display awaiting tomorrow’s crowd.
Okay, maybe something a bit more current is more your cup of tea? Take your pick from a sea of mustangs in every configuration known to man, or maybe wide-body Subaru, or Mitsu will do. Perhaps something more upscale is the ticket? The Dub area has numerous choices that range from a flat white Bugatti Veyron, to a pimped out Mercedes S Class in two-tone paint with chrome trim. Of course, there are those that really want to stand out from the crowd. Stationed amongst the masses is a unique Local-Motors Rally Fighter. To the far end of the spectrum is a tricked out vintage Mack fire truck. There most definitely is something for everyone. Back at the Hard Rock in anticipation of Halloween festivities are many dressed in all manner of get up. Andy as most know is serious, but he knows how to laugh as well. I’m not entirely sure if he thinks these rebel rousers are off their rocker, or exactly what one would hope to find in sin city. Speaking for myself, I think this makes the perfect backdrop to months of hard work for so many in preparation for the show. And, the creativeness of the cars at SEMA parallels many of the wild costumes. Sadly, I didn’t spot a Michelin Man anywhere. Maybe next year.