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The 2014 SEMA Show and why we’re obsessed

12 November 2014


Photos by Brian Goude (GrinderTV) and Cody Gephart
Las Vegas Convention Centre
November 4–7

Not much can be said about SEMA that hasn’t been said before, as it really is one of those shows that lives up to all the hype. The SEMA Show, held at the Las Vegas Convention Centre over November 4–7 (New Zealand time) epitomizes the American culture of bigger is better, where the enormity of the show has to be seen to be believed.

Every vehicle at the show has been pushed to its limits to draw people to trade booths. This is understandable, given ‘SEMA’ stands for Specialty Equipment Marketing Association and the predominant purpose of the event is an industry trade show, with trade displays for anything and everything automotive. In some parts of the show you can walk past twenty trade booths before finding a custom car, but when you do, you can be guaranteed that every spare ounce of skill, money, time, and creativity has been thrown at it. After several months, or years, in the build, most will have been completed mere hours before being transported to the show. Many won’t actually even be fully complete or drivable, and there is a running joke with exhibitors that the standard expectation of a SEMA-build is that the car’s paint job will still be drying as it is being rolled into the show.

Before you book flights to the States for next year’s show, you ought to be aware that it is a trade-only event and is not open to the public. As unbelievable as this may seem, each and every one of the 60,000 people attending have applied in advance to attend and have been approved because they work in the automotive industry. The scale of the show is difficult to describe, but for a rough idea, it covers about six times the area of the entire V 4&Rotary Nationals. The event runs for four days, and you can walk around the entire time, barely stopping, without seeing everything. On top of all the automotive products you could ever imagine including show cars, race cars, hot rods, lifted and slammed trucks, there are drift demos, TV celebrities, top-international car builders, and countless promotional models.

It is not uncommon to see brand-new vehicles being modified, with 2015 models driven straight from the car yards to the workshops to be cut up, welded, custom painted and trimmed, then taken to the show. It is also a joy to witness the custom cars built around older models, with plenty of seven-figure builds dotted around the show. Foreign metal was not forgotten, with companies such as Liberty Walk bringing cars over from Japan. Like witnessing some sort of  inanimate celebrity, it’s always a buzz seeing cars in person that you’ve only ever seen online. Seeing the vehicle in the flesh, being able to look at the engineering or design in detail, and seeing parts of the car that you’ll never get to see in a feature article is something else. The builder is often around to chat to and find out any extra details you want to know about it as well.  

There are some guarantees with SEMA — your legs will be destroyed from all the walking around, your liver will be destroyed from all the nightly activities, your bank balance will be destroyed from the trip there from New Zealand (unless you’re lucky at the casino), but it’s well worth it.

Check out the gallery below for a look inside the 2014 SEMA Show: