EACH time I make the pilgrimage to SEMA in Las Vegas, I promise myself I’ll make time to attend the NHRA Top Fuel meeting that usually coincides with the world’s biggest automotive trade show. I managed it on my first year in 2005, back when ‘Aussie’ Dave Grubnic was driving for Connie Kalitta. These days, Grubnic is a respected tuner on the US Top Fuel circuit, and Richie Crampton – another Aussie – is driving for Kalitta. The more things change, eh?
In 2018, I made sure to book in extra time to make the drags, and boy, was I pumped. Massive fields of Top Fuel dragsters and Nitro Funny Cars making pass after pass? Yes please! Things were looking good, until I arrived at the airport in Melbourne and found my flight had been cancelled. No drags for me!
The other big event that bookends the week at SEMA is Halloween – a holiday that the Yanks take very seriously.
03: The very first car we saw was Max Grundy’s ’60 Chrysler, recently chopped by Aussie Justin Hills. It is simply awesome and accompanied by an equally cool 1959 Fleetform boat
04: The Cheetah was a très-cool American sports car of the 1960s, and this one is even cooler as it features an Aussiebuilt V12 LS motor! We love the heavy speedboat-style flake, too
If you think Halloween is just about kids dressing up and bludging lollies from their neighbours, think again. It is one of the wildest nights out you’ll ever have, especially in a town like Vegas. I missed that one too, as I had to bail home early to make it to the Willowbank Nostalgia Drags. Dammit!
All of which is my way of saying that while SEMA is an awesome, mind-expanding show, you’ll also get treated to one of the best drag racing meets on the planet and the wildest night out most folks will ever experience – if you play your cards right!
This year’s SEMA Show was bigger and brasher than ever. A new outdoor activation by the Hoonigans was a great addition to proceedings, making it even harder for attendees to see everything the show has to offer in just four days.
Another exciting feature that was added in 2018 is the Monday-night Vehicle Reveal, where a bunch of brandnew builds are rolled onto a stage with great pomp and ceremony for the waiting throng of media and exhibitors. Not only does this allow the media to get news of the new cars out before the show officially opens, but it is also a thank you to the exhibitors, with a killer band and dinner provided as well. These SEMA guys and girls think of everything!
For manufacturers, SEMA is a massive deal, with Ford, General Motors and many others having a strong presence. Chevrolet scooped the pool with its PR assault, launching the stunning 2019 COPO Camaro and the all-electric eCOPO concept car.
And for aftermarket, SEMA is the place to be for businesses of all sizes. Though the annual Performance Racing Industry show – held in Indianapolis in December and also staged by SEMA – is the mecca for heavy-hitting performance gear, many manufacturers have both SEMA and PRI as essential dates on their calendars.
There are many Aussie firms at SEMA each year, including Turbosmart, Haltech, Harrop, the V12LS guys and many more. Turbosmart in particular had a great year, taking out the Performance Street New Product gong for its Kompact Electro-Mechanical Blow-Off Valve. This is a massive accolade and well-deserved for an Aussie company that is taking its products to the world.
01: Kindig-It Design drove the restorers into a frothing rage with this Mercedes 300SL Gullwing. It is actually a fibreglass replica, coated in a custom AkzoNobel colour called Underslated, while a custom Roadster Shop chassis cradles an LSX454 engine and carbonceramic brakes. It won the John D’Agostino Crystal Award of Excellence
02: We loved this 1964 Volvo 122 Amazon, powered by a Cummins R2.8 diesel. The grunt runs through a Tremec TR6060 six-speed and into a 3.25:1 Ford 9in. The stock chassis has been braced, r ack-and-pinion steering added up front and a four-link out back. The build was handled by Heritage Driven from Albuquerque, New Mexico
But what makes SEMA a must-see is the cars. With hundreds of exhibitors vying for attention each year, most of them endeavour to have a killer custom vehicle on their stand to pull heads. It is always a pleasure to check out the latest creations by the Ringbrothers, Chip Foose, Goolsby Customs and many more of the big names, as well as the cars dreamed up by regular Joes in their home garages.
This year’s SEMA show takes place 5-8 Nov, 2019. But be warned, you’ll need to be in the industry to be approved as an attendee. Check out semashow.com for more info. Can’t make it? Never fear! You can get a Melbourne taste of the Showgrounds, SEMA Show at 11-12 Meguiar’s May. MotorEx s – held at Melbourne Showgrounds, 11-12 May.