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SEMA -"Good taste is timeless but a good time is often tasteless."


New Camaro made a strong appearance


The first week in November was not only election time in the US, it was also time for the annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas—more commonly known as "Lost Wages". This year, many were predicting aisles full of tumbleweeds blowing about the empty halls of the Las Vegas Convention Centre. After all, Holley had pulled out along with a lot of other, smaller companies. The question was, with a deepening recession, would anybody go?

As it happened, a heck of a lot of people went and it was an excellent show. The talk was much about the Obama victory and the sliding economy but if the media had been there they would have been scratching their heads asking, "What recession?" The same was true at the recent California Hot Rod Reunion where the crowds were strong and the cash flowing. SEMA certainly saw the crowds but it remains to be seen if anybody bought any product.


It was busy in spite of the economic downturn


The hot rod business has always seemed recession proof with guys going racing or staying at home to work on their cars while ignoring the economy, but this time it's different. People are being laid off left and right and when there's no work there's certainly no money even for an escapist hobby.  Of, course, much of the SEMA Show planning was done well before the economy took a dump and the money was already spent and yet people turned up in their thousands to see the latest from the industry.


Several modified Camaros were on show - in much the same way as Ford launched the Mustang


For the past 10 years, the Big Three: Chrysler, Ford and GM have driven the show with large, lavish and exciting displays. It was obvious this year that the purse strings had been pulled. Chevrolet stepped to the plate to make the new Camaro Car of the Show but it was the more svelte Dodge Challenger that stole the show. They were everywhere and looking good.  I particularly liked the new Hurst signature series built by Brit-run Aria but Chrysler's display was equally jam packed with cool Mopars—even a Don Garlits version.


Hurst has gone back to selling cars and here's the new Hurst Challenger which is sold in several formats


GM, of course, featured the Camaro but only the blue and yellow Sunoco car seemed to grab attention. Over at Ford, they introduced a big F-350 truck called the Raptor. It was cool but was out of step with the eco-conscious movement. Danny Thompson's 259 mph Mustang was there as was Dan Webb's "Yellow Submarine" reported on here earlier in the year after it's chassis debut at the Detroit Autorama. Dan's Thom Taylor-penned, narrow-tracked  enema-inspired bolide is powered by a injected Ford 4-banger sprint car engine. The car is cool and the crowds concurred.


Dan Webb's Yellow Submarine - a tad over-wheeled/tyred at the front perhaps? 


Interestingly, the show features fewer and fewer of its roots: Hot rods and dragsters. There were very few hot rods scattered along the isles and even less drag cars. The latter were represented by John Force's Mustang Funny Car in the NHRA booth courtesy of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorpsorts Musuem and the new diesel-powered rail from Gale Banks Engneering. Both will be on display at the Museum by the time you read this. As for hot rods, they were few. Ken "Posie" Fenical participated in his annual "Driven Dirty  Tour" but his German-inspired '32 3-window looked, well, dirty and somebody even aptly fingered "WASH ME" in the dirt. That said it all.


John Force gave good value as always


The only hot rod of any real note was that of ex-GM design chief Wayne Cherry—nicknamed Wayne's Cherry. It was as far from anywhere as you could get in the Helios Coating booth but it was worth the walk and I don't even like modern rods. However, this Cadillac-inspired open roadster with aluminum chassis, composite body and suicide IFS (if there is such a thing) was one of the most professionally executed cars in the show, Wayne, now in his late-sixties was a member of the Indianapolis Cluster Busters club when he was young and worked at Vauxhall  in England in the mid-sixties. He was probably responsible for all those rusty Crestas. His car was built by a company in Detroit called Race Car Replicas.


Stunning Surf shack backdrop was equal to this wildly flamed '56 Chevy wagon

Also worth close inspection was the new, all-steel '34 3-window from Steve's Auto Restorations. Hopefully, the several million dollars invested in this project will be rewarded with sales but not only is the economy slow but there is definitely a feeling that interest in early Ford hot rods is waning as their fans age and worry more about retirement than rodding. The younger buying crowd obviously prefer Sixties Chevelles, Camaros and muscle cars more than they do their Deuces.


'34 3-Window coupe from Steve's Auto Restorations


Here's the Speed '33 all-steel Convertible body made by Detroit-based American Speed


Despite the recent death, apart from drifting, of the whole sport compact scene, almost all of the import manufacturers from Scion to Subaru were represented. Even Lexus were there with a dyno ride aboard the new 416 horsepower, V8-powered IS F09. It's a rocket if ever there was one. The most popular, however, were the modified Scion xB box cars, several of which were chopped—no easy task, I'm sure. There was everything from Jimmy Shine rivets to leopard skin paint schemes— much of it lacking style or taste.


SEMA, though, is really all about new products and this year there were plenty from the brand new, all-steel '69 Mustang fastback body—who'd a-thought there was a need?—to, well, The CatClamp which I never saw but presumably keeps errant cats clamped to your wheel while you give 'em a wild ride. I want one.

All too soon it was time to head back to LA. I'd had a long, Jack-filled night playing craps with Pete Chapouris and Blackie Gejian who, at 83, rolls the dice all night until it's time to go back to the show. He does that for four days straight with no sleep! I could barely keep my eyes open. And, the phrase that summed the SEMA Show up was coined by Aluma Coupe and CadZZIlla designer Larry Erickson: "Good taste is timeless but a good time is often tasteless."


Story: Tony Thacker
Photos: SEMA Show

George Barris wearing his trademark yellow jacket

Street rods are now getting few and far between at SEMA

Watch out Richard Noble, there's a new contender on the block

A not so regal powerplant for this grand old Rolls

We loved the curvy front end in particular


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