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7 Jan 2018

SEMA 2017

SEMA 2017 


Text and Photos: Reinis Babrovskis 

Big, bigger …trust me even bigger – this is USA.

Americans don’t do small, no really… Ever wondered how enormous SEMA really is? Imagine Tokyo, Paris and Geneva International automotive shows; now combine them as one, and then add some. There is nothing that can prepare one for what is in the largest automotive trade show in the world.

Welcome to Heaven Part II. 



SEMA, previously known as “Speed Equipment Manufacturing Association” now “Specialty Equipment Market Association”, was formed by a couple of entrepreneurs (Roy Richter, Willie Garner, Bob Hedman, Robert E. Wyman, John Barlett, Phil Weiland JR., Al Segal, Dean Moon and Vic Edelbrock JR) in 1963. It grew to become an enormous, worldwide trade association that consists of 6,383 members (companies, traders, specialists) that provide education, professional development, market research, legislative and regulatory advocacy and industry publications on regular basis. 

SEMA is not a car show; the purpose of the SEMA was to bring together automotive businesses to showcase their OEM products, exchange their market knowledge, present their media and speciality equipment, as well as offer the services of tuners, restoration specialists, even car dealers and manufacturers. It may have started with 5 cars and a small number of stands, however, it revolutionised into the world’s largest trade show.



Well this can be explained in a single picture very simple, what do you see bellow:

A) Modified Red Nissan GTR

B) Bicycle Rack Product

SEMA is what you make of it. It genuinely is one of the most amazing trade shows in the world with thousands of phenomenal automotive products on display, but also it can be perceived as the world’s largest car show with thousands of world’s finest automotive builds. May I add though SEMA is NOT open to general public and customer/exhibitor and media access is strictly controlled.



SEMA first debuted in the basement of a “Dodger’s” stadium in Los Angeles, USA, before expanding and moving to Anaheim stadium 7 years later, then Anaheim Convention Center, before finally relocating to its current established home in 1997 to Las Vegas Convention Centre. Currently SEMA occupies a mind blowing one million net square feet space, offers 11 thousand exhibitor booths and sees as many as 3,000 media and 150,000 customers at the show.


Where else would one host a forever expanding trade show than in a forever expanding city, and there is no other like that of Las Vegas. The city that never sleeps is vibrant in colours, is always awake and offers the space SEMA required. Last Vegas Convention Center is located right beside the strip and close to the airport making it an ideal location that is very accessible. 


As a standard SEMA 2017 ran on the first week of November; the show was split into multiple areas including multiple halls inside the Vegas Convention Centre (South Hall, North Hall, Newcomers Hall etc.) as well as outside areas. 

The two outside "playgrounds"arenas were taken over by BMW and Ford where some very skillful drivers gladly scared the bollocks out of the passengers. 


SEMA is a life changing event for any petrol head, trust me. It is not an event that one may leave and forget about, it has gifted me memories I shall cherish forever, it is an event that blew me away and here are some of the highlights why:


Not unless you were in SEMA – it had both the quantity and quality; I didn't see a car that wasn’t perfect, and for once I wasn’t afraid to use that description. Even the most immaculate cars at a typical show may have a scraped wheel lug from installing the wheels or a cracked rubber seal on a window, but not here. Each and every car was shining and each part was in a better condition than when it left the factory. #Mindblown.


And whilst I shouldn’t have been surprised to see so many modified cars (at the end of the day that is what SEMA products are all about) I couldn’t imagine the level of customisation on every vehicle – from fully custom headlights or taillights, to custom interiors and paintworks to full-blown custom chassis and bodywork. It was just madness and I loved it. 


I’ve heard this plenty of times: Dude my mate is the best painter around, oh really? 
There are two things that will either make or break a car – the choice of alloy wheels and paintwork. We’ve all seen beautiful pin stripes or flames decorating the sides of hotrods, crazy candy colours on lowriders or pin up style drawings on the back of the lorries. Custom paint is what sets a car apart and oh boy, the quality of exhibitors here was astounding.



The part of the car a person will see and spend most of the time in is the interior, fact! You want it to be beautiful, you want it custom. I am not talking steering wheel and gear knob change either. I am talking fully changed interior dials, custom retrims, full alterations at its finest and there were plenty of exhibitors that offered exactly that in SEMA. 



The heart of the vehicle – the engine; since the first ever rolled out of a manufacturer’s factory the man has tried to make it faster. We have tuned and modified engines for over a century, so there is no surprise there is a massive market for it. We have been doing engine swaps and as of lately engine “tucks” (reallocating anything ugly to make the engine bay “flush” and many other things to spice up the engine bay, but again NOTHING prepares for what you see at SEMA. This takes engine dress up and modifying to a whole new level. Seeing LS swaps just doesn’t do it here. 


As with any fashion, including car scene, the trend is forever changing and it seems the widearch era has fully taken over the modifying scene. Since the internet was broken by the creations of Liberty Walk, Rocket Bunny and Rauh Welt it really took over the global market and I mean nearly every car here was treated to some sort of wide bodykit treatment.


Bird is the word…
If you haven’t heard of SEMA before, I am certain though you’d heard of SEMA girls at least. They are a cruical part of SEMA. The exhibitors must find a way to stand out in the vast majority of other exhibitors and what better way to do that than with the help of beautiful ladies.


The most exciting part of visiting SEMA for me was the chance to finally see cars that I really have seen very little of in my life (due to boring government laws in UK that state our cars must be capable of saving our lives in a crash – how boring, I know) – the Hotrods. Luckily for USA car enthusiasts quite a few states don’t require an annual vehicle test so anything goes as long as the emissions are OK, so seeing bonkers hotrods with a welded in trailer was a first for me…


Sixties and seventies - “the Pony era” was the most dominant era of motoring industry in USA, when the industry was blooming. Iconic cars were rolling out of the factories, one after another - Mustang, Camaro, Charger to name a few. And then it all stopped and died. Luckily for us, the cars never died thanks to the huge American Muscle followers and seeing so many at once was a dream come true.


It’s not uncommon to see some extra special cars at SEMA and I was lucky enough to see some of the “celebrity cars” this year, including the last two builds from the American rally driver and youtube celebrity Ken Block. The Hoonigan brought along his 1965 Ford Mustang RTR V2 that’s powered by a twin turbo 6.7 cubic litre capacity V8 engine, producing ludicrous 1,400 bhp at the crank that also happen to push 21lb of boost with added methanol.

Ken also displayed his latest addition - 1991 Ford Escort Cossworth Group A Rally car that is powered by the good cossie 2.0 liter engine pushing out between 350-400 bhp that is connected to a seven speed gearbox.

I spotted another “celebrity car” not far from Ken’s cossie that I had seen on the bigger screens before – it was the stunning 1969 Yenko Camaro SYC replica powered by the 427 cubic inch 7.0 V8 producing 428 hp that featured in the second instalment of the Fast and the Furious Franchise. It looked even more impressive in person than it did in the movie.

Gas Monkey’s attempt at JDM for the first time turned out a huge success as they built this spectacular Datsun 280Z. Gas Monkey decided to retain the OEM subtle look for this 1975 Fairlady whilst concentrating on making it faster and better handling. With the visuals sorted with the help of wider flared arches, it was time to change the engine to something more nimble. Out went the six cylinders and in came the more modern SR20 2.0 turbocharged four cylinder engine from Nissan Silvia. With the power sorted Gas Monkey team upgraded the classic suspension to the modern “Arizona Z” full set up. The 280 received some beautiful Willwood brakes, Rays Volk Racing and Nitto NTO1 grippy tires. As for the interior the Fairlady received speedhut gauges , some OEM goodies like competition steering wheel and gear knob and full re-trim on the seats and fabrics. Finally a lick of retro green paint and boom, Gas Monkey just built an epic JDM. Well done!

A man that is an inspiration to many, Magnus Walker made his fame not by motor racing, not by doing youtube videos, nor by famous tv shows, in fact he made his carrier thanks to fashion. He sold the fashion company and turned to his other passion: Porsches. Over the years he has customised many Porsches and now owns the famous brand “Urban Outlaw”. Magnus, originally from Sheffield, UK is a mastermind of fashion and wizard at Porsches and genuinely a superb guy! I was excited to have a chance to have a chat with him and see one of his outlaws in person. 

Photo credit: Larry Chen


Back in the day they may have served as a farmer’s vehicle of choice in a ranch, nowadays though is a completely different story. Fully customised rat look pickup dragsters running a quarter mile in less than 10 seconds is what defines an epic car. There was no shortage of outstanding pick up builds in SEMA. 


Can you get more American than a big ass truck? Yeah, stick a huge USA flag on the side of it. And maybe put a shotgun behind the seat and some beer cans at the back. The yanks really do love their big trucks, one question I still didn’t get an answer to, is how on earth do you get in one of them.


Why, just why on earth would anybody want to drive a jumbo jet sized car is beyond me, but you know what – they are epic. This was the first time I ever got to see them up close and I couldn’t believe the size and engineering skills behind monstertrucks.

The suspension on these things is something else.


Trucks have been modified since the day they were invented, but Americans just like India, takes it to another level. When recovery truck is cooler than the car it is recovering you know that is a WIN in any books. 


“All my friends know the Lowrider, The lowrider get us a little higher, drives a little slower, he is a real goer…” The lowriders are yet again another class of vehicles that one may not see outside the land of the free. Chrome wheels, fully custom suspension and flawless paint are a must on any of these. They may not be to everybody’s taste yet just like any of the vehicles here the quality of the builds behind them is second to none.


Whilst SEMA is oriented to custom vehicles and parts, it was amazing to see quite a few famous race cars from the past and present at the show, like the majestic GT40 from LeMans series, Chevrolet’s NASCAR or Cadillac’s endurance series beast, not to mention all the drift cars present by individuals and certain companies. Variety is vital for any show success.


Even the EV cars got some lovin' in the land of the V8s and cheap gasoline. Mind you I did spot only about 5 of them in the vast SEMA territory but I do suspect this will change in the following years with the electric cars inevitably taking over the future market. 



There might not be as many bikes as cars at the SEMA but trust me there are still plenty of wonderful 2 wheels present, from race bikes to choppers and full custom cafe racers.



Well then there were the utter crazy builds. I found myself stopping to look at some cars and had to think very hard to figure out what was I actually looking at. From super extended jeeps to super wide BMW, there were plenty of weird builds, ah well this is SEMA.


There is no way to define the best car, stand or product within SEMA, the quality was far too astounding amongst all exhibitors, but if I would have to choose one, for me it was the Toyo Tire stand that impressed me the most. Despite having nothing American in an American held trade show it really impressed me with the beautifully styled cars on display. 


Standing out amongst thousands of immaculate car builds is near impossible yet somehow there was a car that stood out for me since day one; it was a bonkers Group 5 race car inspired BMW E9 CSL build from Willy Izaguirre.
Having bought it from a friend in a rather sad state he went on to fully restoring and transforming the standard 3.0 CSL into something majestic. The “retro-blue” coloured CSL Group 5 monster look alike is powered by a boosted 503 hp 3.2 litre M3 engine.
The bodykit was custom built and inspired from a rendered design that Willy found online, it nailed the great era of Group 5 racing. To fill the huge custom bodykit BMW was equipped with humongous 17X15.5” BBS wheels at the rear dressed in Toyo Proxes R888R.

The interior was equally impressive rocking a custom dash with modern gauges and custom made gear shifter.

As it turned out it wasn’t just me that was so impressed by this vehicle, as it was awarded the “Best Euro” prize at the event. Majestic build!


Bonus Images:


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