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To veiw all pictures taken at SEMA 2009 CLICK HERE
BY DAVID MENZIES
Las Vegas is like no other place on Earth. On its fabled strip, where dreams are realized and fortunes vanquished on an hourly basis, this improbable municipality plunked smack in the middle of a Nevada desert has an unworldly look to it. There’s a chunk of New York City’s skyline circa 1936; there’s a fabricated Paris complete with a half-scale Eifel Tower; there’s a make-believe medieval castle and a pseudo-pyramid; a tiny tropical paradise and a slice of Venice. Be it a piece of ancient Rome or a slice of some futuristic metropolis, the Las Vegas strip houses a Xerox of virtually every iconic piece of architecture on the planet. And yet, in existing as such a copycat city, Las Vegas itself is, ironically, a wholly original one-of-a kind entity; a surreal environment driven by equal parts glitz and glamour; exaggeration and hyperbole.
How fitting, then, that Las Vegas is home to the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) trade show. This car show, too, is a one-of-a-kind, larger-than-life smorgasbord.
Simply put, SEMA exists as a 2 million sq.-ft. Mecca for the motorhead set. Chrome-covered and turbo-charged; tarted-up and slammed-down, SEMA is a cathedral that celebrates life-sized Hot Wheels as envisioned by Dr. Seuss and Salvador Dali. SEMA is where the need for speed is realized both under the hood and within the aesthetic design of the vehicles. Simply put, most SEMA vehicles look ferociously fast even when the parking brake is fully engaged.
And much like Sin City itself, there’s an otherworldly feel to SEMA. After all, this is where the internal combustion engine is sheltered, as it were, from the real-life indignities of OPEC, oil embargoes, CO2 emissions and bicycle lanes; where the rousing rumble of a modified, big block V8 is not noise pollution, but rather, a soothing lullaby.
Almost cruelly, SEMA is the biggest car show the vast majority of car fans will never get a chance to see. Admission to the show is restricted to qualified attendees (essentially, retailers, wholesalers and – thankfully – the press.) While an excess of eye candy reigns, at the end of the day, SEMA is strictly business, whether the product line is the mundane (air fresheners and floor mats) or the magnificent (racing equipment and off-road kits.)
Even so, an effective way to sell products (even a product as de rigueur as tinted windows) is to affix that product to a vehicle… especially a volcano-hot, head-turning, piss ’n vinegar vehicle. You don’t see many grocery-getters at this show.
In this regard, SEMA is akin to a Beach Boys anthem come to life. Except that here, under the hot Nevada sun, daddy never took that T-Bird away – and he never will. Even though SEMA takes place every November within the grey-on-grey environs of the Las Vegas Convention Center, given the polished labours of lust gleaming under the bright studio lighting, there’s a feeling of endless summer here… even if that bastard Old Man Winter is lurking just around the corner.
What’s more, SEMA plays no favourites. Unlike many other car shows, there is no automotive apartheid to be found here. Every enthusiast genre collides and comingles at SEMA. Muscle cars, hot rods and restored classic cars share floor space with rice rockets, monster trucks, and factory-rendered concepts. SEMA is a melting pot for motors of every stripe, all united by an insatiable need for stylin’ and profilin’.
In a way, SEMA also gives new meaning to the term “auto erotica.” This is where the G-force merges with the G-spot judging by the numerous apparel-challenged models draped over vehicle hoods. Like the cars they lovingly caress, many of the models themselves seem to have been artificially-enhanced to an otherworldly extreme.
And yet, if there’s a predominating vibe to the show, it is a “can-do” philosophy, along the lines of, “If it can be done it should be done and will be done.” How else can one explain why somebody would pimp a Plymouth Prowler or lower a Lamborghini – vehicles that already essentially come modified right out of the factory?
As always, there were head-turning examples of excess at SEMA. Take for example the Subaru TRAX – a WRX STi fitted with snow cat-like tracks instead of wheels. Just the tonic, really, should the next instalment of The Fast and the Furious take place in the North Pole.
Meanwhile, Lexus used SEMA as a platform to make the North American debut of its LFA – a supercar that will be restricted to just 500 models worldwide and will retail for US$375,000. As the high rollers say in down on Las Vegas Boulevard, “If you got it, flaunt it, baby.”
Undoubtedly, there are those who cringe at the mere notion of a SEMA. Some might fret about the shameless sexism; the Birkenstock set likely mourns the Sasquatch-sized carbon footprints created by most of the vehicles on display. Yet, while some may think of a car as an appliance or a soulless inanimate object, the vehicles at SEMA are so much more than mere conveyances to get to the proverbial “Point B.” SEMA is not about the destination. It’s about the “getting there” – typically in a style that is over-the-top, outrageous and above all else, unapologetic. In this regard, SEMA is not so much a car show as it is a super-sized showroom for the 2009 Kyoto Anti-Christ and all its various disciples. Al Gore be damned, a car aficionado leaves the Las Vegas Convention Center exhausted – yet happy to be alive in such a golden age of automobiles.