There are a few automotive aftermarket shows around – and then there’s the world event, the one every important manufacturer, vendor and buyer has to be at: SEMA. Once again taking place at the massive Las Vegas Convention Center (November, 4th to 7th), SEMA is a celebration of automotive aftermarket creativity, and of the cars, SUVs, light trucks and motorcycles that drive a level 10 passion. It’s where you’ll find more specialty and performance parts and accessories than anywhere else on the planet.

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In 2014 the SEMA cruise lands itself at Las Vegas’s LINQ Promenade for an all-access car show dubbed “SEMA Ignited.”

The Baby Boomed

SEMA was created back in 1963, by a handful of relatively small component makers who mostly produced performance equipment for hot rodders – hence the original name, the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association. That founding group probably couldn’t have dreamed of the success their endeavors would generate. Today, SEMA members number 6382 (and growing). Somewhere along the way it became the Specialty Equipment Market Association – in recognition of the broader range of companies involved.

Despite its growth (the market is now worth $31.3 billion annually), SEMA still promotes many of the original principles: uniformity of standards that helps manufacturers distribute compatible products worldwide, high levels of business practice, marketing the industry not just to automotive professionals, but to the tens of thousands of recreational enthusiasts and hobby mechanics who have such an enduring love affair with their vehicles.

Vaughn Gittin Jr's Mustang RTR

Vaughn Gittin Jr’s Mustang RTR cuts a mighty stance at SEMA 2013.

With the growing pressures exerted by government, SEMA has also been active in protecting members from excessive regulations. It frequently acts on behalf of small and medium-sized businesses that would never have the power – or finances – to take on Washington themselves.

From Basement LA to a Million in Vegas

Like the organization itself, the SEMA show had humble beginnings. The first event, held in 1967, took place in Dodger Stadium, Los Angles. Sounds impressive? Well yes, until you realize that it was actually in the basement!

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Edelbrock at the first SEMA at the first SEMA Show circa 1967, held in the basement of Dodger Stadium.

Way back then it was all very different. There were certainly some well-known names – B&M Transmissions, Edelbrock, Hot Rod Magazine, Valvoline Oil, Shelby, etc., – but the exhibitor list wasn’t much more than a handful, and there were a total of just five cars.

It didn’t stay that way for long. Growth was rapid, fueled in part by EPA regulations that restricted factory performance cars – but led to an explosion of aftermarket muscle. In 1968 the show was at the Anaheim Convention Center, near Disneyland. It continued to expand and, in 1977, moved to its current home, the Las Vegas Convention Center – all million-plus square feet of it.

This year’s show promises to be the biggest yet, with attendance expected to exceed the 2013 figure of 60,000. That’s a big number by any standards, but when you consider that SEMA is a trade event, and the general public aren’t invited, you can see why it has become such an important part of the automotive aftermarket calendar. It attracts manufacturers, vendors and buyers from around the globe.

Everything That’s Hot

This year there won’t be a square inch to spare. Spectacular vehicles of every kind will pack the halls. It will be an aftermarket paradise with ground-breaking designs and innovative equipment everywhere you look. There will be, quite literally, thousands of new products on display, serving every conceivable automotive specialty. From luxury to dirt, from compact to muscle, it’s all the tools and all the toys.

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What started as a Model A (?) ended up as one of our favorite mods of the 2013 show.

It’s also a place where the industry learns. Form each other and from outside. There are seminars, demos, networking events… if it’s anything to do with building, repairing or tuning cars, trucks and motorcycles, you’ll find it at SEMA 2014.

And on Friday night, when old acquaintances have been renewed, new contacts made, and millions of dollars of business have been done, the industry will let its hair down and displays it’s wares to the public–in spectacular fashion–with the SEMA Cruise. What was an unofficial end-of-show bash is now well and truly out in the open on the Strip, culminating in “SEMA Ignited”. There’s food, music and an extraordinary display of automotive customizing and performance art, along with many of the legendary names themselves. In every sense of the word, it’s going to be huge.

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Photo credits:
SEMA Ignited Car Cruise – SEMA
MagnaFlow SEMA Booth – MagnaFlow
SEMA Start, Edelbrock booth – Vette Vues Magazine Blog
Model A (?) Custom – Driving Fans