11/05/2004 THE CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN
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 Sun, Nov 7, 2004
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
THE CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN
By JOHN GRAFMAN
SEMA (the Specialty Equipment Market Association) in Las Vegas can be compared to a three-ring circus. But that is a grand understatement. A thirty-ring circus is more appropriate. SEMA has more people, cars, products, models, parties, and aisles than nearly any other event. This isn't just a convention, it's a marathon.
Even the most diligent show attendee can get overwhelmed by the numerous and diverse displays. Catching everything is just down right impossible. Brain overload is a major concern. Hundreds of visual stimuli can lead to a sore neck, if you know what I mean (and I think you do).
I want to say I took good notes of all the latest gizmos out here. I also want to say I own a mansion and a yacht. The truth is I'm barely scratching the surface of the show. While this may sound like I only caught a little, nothing is further from the truth.
The Hard Rock Hotel is about a mile down the street from the Las Vegas Convention Center. While the shuttle buses don't even make a courtesy stop there, everyone who has a pulse and a clue seems to know this is the place to come. Just a few of the notables I run into in the area are Truman Pollard of Mazda R&D, Billy Longfellow and Ernie Bunnell of 3dCarbon, a group from ASC, and Camilo Pardo, chief designer on the Ford GT. Why the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino? The place just has magic. Auto enthusiasts and rock go together like alcohol and hangovers. Fortunately (or otherwise), the Hard Rock has all of that and more. Few hotels can offer a rock n' roll ambiance and a view of the strip like the Hard Rock can.
The traffic to the show on the first morning is as thick as mud. We might be running just a bit late, but so is everyone else. Misery loves company. With camera in hand and a strong dose of courage, we are ready to embark on a sea of humanity. The problem isn't so much that there isn't anything interesting to comment on; rather, everything is worthy of pointing out. I'm extremely impressed by the showing put on by Ford. One might say they own this show, at least this time around. Just the factory-sponsored booth, if you can call it that, takes up the entire width of the central hall and is located on two levels. As those who have been paying attention would guess, the new Mustang was the rage.
A number of well-known and some lesser-known companies all have various interpretations on Mustang modifications. Some have some real trick features, like glass roof panels or an altered location for the turn signal indicators. Vibrant color paint schemes echo days gone by. The bulky, thick seats in the stock model are switched out with race style buckets that not only help to keep the occupants from flailing about under high G forces, but they also increase the roominess inside the car. During Ford's award ceremony, the stage is canvassed with some of the well-known Mustang engine tuners. The respected icons are there for all to appreciate and thank: Roush, Saleen, and Steeda. Even the man himself, Carroll Shelby, is on hand. And he even climbs into one of the cars...via the window. (How old does he think he is? Guys half his age can't do that as nimbly.) Then they fire up their respective cars right inside the convention center and motor out the side door, exit stage left! The bellow of these road-going monsters echoing within the halls shakes the earth like a space shuttle launch.
While there are many Mustangs on the Ford display, only one can claim to have earned the title as Ford's best-modified car. That goes to 3dCarbon. Although a new name, 3dCarbon is quickly gaining a great reputation with some very experienced people who formed the Wings West company back in the 'Nineties. Their new business is off to a roaring success. The big advantage to their white car with red stripes is the ease in which anyone else can essentially reproduce the same killer looking car. Many other vehicles on display require too much modification for the average Joe to handle. We expect to see many clones of this car tearing the streets up in coming months.
While working my way through the rest of the center hall, I'm impressed by the sheer variety of project cars. It's amazing to see everything from the latest cars to old classics. The display at Daimler Chrysler features some ultra-cherry rides, like a late 'Sixties Charger that retained the best of what makes it such a great car. It incorporates current parts that one can get from Dodge directly.
While going through the hall that contains the major OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), it was becoming obvious that many of them want to grab some of the dollars that normally go to the traditional aftermarket companies. This is going to be a battle in the future. While the OEMs can bring in large dollars to develop products, they cost consumers more than some smaller players for various reasons. Time will tell if this strategy will work for the big fish, or not.
As a twist of fate, I wind up catching up with Mitsubishi R&D design model manager and long-time acquaintance David Harris. The crew of excellent designers and model makers worked long and hard to bring two new concepts to the show. The Endeavor and Gallant are both tuned to integrate with the Mitsubishi RalliArt brand. Both of the cars feature some body mods and flawless candy apple red paint jobs. The real news is under the hood, as they share the new V6 that will be found in the '06 Eclipse. It's variants like these that can offer far more choices and reasons to buy a Mitsubishi. Hey, just how many variations does Porsche have on just a couple of platforms? Maybe there is a lesson to learn from the Germans.
We spend the better part of the night reliving old times. Good times and good drinks! Before we knew it the hour was getting to be late and we needed to head our separate ways until our paths cross again. Managing a decent nights sleep of eight hours was not going to happen. As they say, the show must go on.
Show Time, Day Two
Getting my act together earlier, and perhaps due to it being the second day, the street traffic was tolerable. By no means was the show any less active, however.
The area of my concentration is the wheel-and-tire hall. As upgrading and plus-sizing is becoming the national pastime only interrupted briefly by an election, I deem this as the most need-to-see section of the show. As it turns out, I am right - but for very different reasons. This where the bling-bling resides, and also some hot models to drive the point home. I'm not sure if you can find a greater number of outstanding, modified cars anywhere on earth. Period! The number of Rolls, Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Astons makes me think for just a moment that these cars are out there in big numbers. In reality, some of these are produced each year in just barely triple-digit numbers. Yet, inside this hall they seem to be as plentiful as Hondas at Hot Import Nights.
While the cars are special, it is the rims and rubber that defy expectation. Unique wheels with engraving and some with faux gems push the line between cool and crass. These over-the-top expenditures are meant not to complement the car as much as they are symbols of the owners' wealth.
The evolution of the wheel and tire continues, and the sizes continue to grow to a massive twenty-eight inches. If these tires were human, they undoubtedly would be Shaquille O'Neal. What car can accommodate these is unclear, but I guess the manufacturers figure "build it and they will come".
The bevy of models are all vying to bring in the buyers to this trade-only event. I don't know if it sways any buyers, but it most certainly has our heads turning. No piece of apparel is considered too revealing. As it turns out, according to Lisa Barrow of Daimler Chrysler marketing department, there was even a model wearing no top at all, just body paint. I don't know how I manage to miss that. All I can say is "God bless America".
A Short Interlude
Between the SEMA show and what parties are to follow that night, I had a slight deviation in my agenda. Literally, just across the street and unknown to most of the thousand of car enthusiast that have come to this event lies what will be home to one of the most prominent auto dealerships in the country.
I took up an offer to inspect the creation of the Ferrari dealership that will reside inside the new Wynn Hotel and Casino. While the property is staggering in size, the dealership will occupy but just a small portion. But, it will be accessible and clearly visible when arriving to the hotel as well as from the gaming areas. Now, if that isn't a fabulous idea I don't know what is. The Ferrari dealership will be more encompassing than most. One could call this a lifestyle experience. Even at this early stage, one can sense this will be one of the most impressive automobile purchasing environments anywhere; it will set the stage on how dealerships and buying experiences will have to be henceforth viewed. This most significant location will be a landmark on a street that has no shortage of competition for the eyes (and wallets).
The worst part of this night is having only so much time to see all of the planned parties. I can't make but just a fraction of the possible affairs going on. These parties are often to induce buyers and thank all of those who make everything possible. As much as most companies like to invite all attendees to the show, this is simply not possible.
I'm able to catch the Ford Motor Company event, which further imbeds the whole Mustang culture and forty years of history in just the space of a few hours. How better to do this than by having the Beach Boys give a concert right there amongst the cars themselves? This is how business relations get cemented. If you were undecided before you walked through the door, you were on the team by nights end.
Our night doesn't end as the music at Ford's affair waned. Just a few walking minutes away is the Dub magazine party, complete with rappers, DJs, dancing girls and a bikini contest. This blowout packs the people in. This expresses a lifestyle far differently than our prior engagement.
While only sampling what must be just a small sliver of the SEMA week, I walk away with a clear vision of the madness.
SEMA is as diverse as America, because the automobile is so much a part of America itself. The assortment of cars and car products that cater to everyone from the guys/gals whose only modification is changing their spark plugs, to those who swap out entire motors, and the parties after hours are all a tribute to our life here in this country. While we might not always agree with what the next person does, we do manage to tolerate quite a lot. Coincidently, others manage to tolerate us as well most of the time too.
While this year the start of SEMA fell on November second, which this year is the presidential election day - a day which comes along only once every four years where we Americans can express ourselves and our politics by voting.
Fortunately, and in no small part due to SEMA, we can express our freedom and expression everyday of the year. Simply put, the automobile is as pure an American icon as it gets.
For more information on SEMA please go to www.sema.org