There must be some portal-like witchcraft going on at the SEMA Show, because it’s seemingly impossible to cover every inch regardless of how long you’re there for.
And, looking through other galleries on Instagram, it’s apparent that I missed quite a lot this year, despite feeling fairly confident I’d seen the bulk of cars on show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
That even included taking a brave pill and diving into the North Hall, which is crammed full of marine audio, LED lighting and questionable air fresheners.
And yet, I still missed the new Nissan Z GT4 race car. I’m sure I heard Rob Dahm’s quad-rotor, all-wheel drive FD3S Mazda RX-7 fire into life, but couldn’t actually find it before being distracted by something else just as nutty. Oh, and I completely missed a Buick GNX by The Roadster Shop, a failing I now have to take to my grave.
That might sound a tad extreme, but the want for a GNX is very real right now, so my barometer of what’s an acceptable response is heavily skewed to say the least.
This is of course very annoying for a media outlet like Speedhunters, which is supposed to be on the cutting edge of car culture and photojournalism. But it does at least fill me with some confidence that – despite early concerns of SEMA 2022 being a bit weak – it’s still far superior in size and quality than most shows out there. And that’s also a much better excuse than me simply being tardy and missing cars.
If anything, the subdued opening day lulled everyone into a false sense of calm. Once the sun rose on day two – and hundreds gathered at 8:59am clawing to get in – SEMA resembled a weird episode of The Walking Dead, albeit with more mobility scooters and a crazed lust for free posters rather than human flesh. I’d put money on the zombies being more patient, though.
Not that I blame anyone for arriving early. Before the show even opened there was plenty to see in the public outside area, including the eBay Motors Experience by the main crossing.
Much to my disappointment, this didn’t involve someone offering you half the asking price before abruptly stating your car’s crap anyway. Instead, various products were put on display alongside interviews with builders and much skiddin’ in the outdoor arena.
Given how subdued the indoor displays were this year, I don’t think anyone from SEMA passed that memo to those displaying outside. Maybe this area is classified as international waters in Las Vegas, because it felt brilliantly lawless at times with tyres exploding in the Hoonigan Burnyard and high-horsepower trucks racing in a coned-off area which made intersection takeovers look safe.
Head beyond this and you reach SEMA’s District Nine, an area handily tucked right out the way of innocent show-goers and chequebook builds to house the SPL trucks. SPL is the acronym for sound pressure level, and that basically means building a car with the sole purpose of playing audio as loud as humanly possible.
It might be the polar opposite of Speedhunters, but it turned out to be one of the most bonkers aspects of SEMA. When I first started working in this industry in 2004, the drone of SPL cars would shake your insides from the moment you arrived at an event till the second you left. They were painful, confusing and (for the most part) completely pointless.
What about now? I still don’t understand it, but watching trucks shake themselves apart is extremely entertaining. Especially when one owner decides to battle Marshmello with Tony Christie at 140dB.
Consider it the audio equivalent of running 40psi on a stock motor; you watch because you know destruction is just around the corner, and for the few minutes leading up to that it’s a complete riot.
For all those exhibitors spending hundreds – if not thousands – of hours building cars just for SEMA, I’m sure they’ll appreciate the bulk of this story being focused on the handful of characters who pour concrete into their trucks to stop them rattling apart so quickly. But there is a serious point to this: Car culture (in all forms) is entertainment.
SEMA is a trade show, but it’s also open to the public from Thursday onwards. And if those people can get excited about car tuning, that can only be a good thing for everyone.
Yet, judging by the way some builders act on social media during the build-up, you’d think they were trying to escape a really naff SAW trap which involved Jigsaw and a pair of badly cut fiberglass overfenders.
There are many amazing machines at SEMA which, rightfully so, should be celebrated to the absolute max. It’d be wrong not to mention the Ring Brothers’ 1948 Chevy Loadmaster – a car that took out this year’s SEMA Battle of the Builders competition.
You could argue this blurs the line between car customisation and building something entirely bespoke, but to do so would diminish the mind-boggling amount of work Mike and Jim poured into the Chevy-based work of art.
It goes beyond most of those multi-million-dollar concepts drawn up by manufacturers that never make it into production, because this one’s real. It’s registered and could be driven on the street right now if you so wished.
While we’re on the subject of jaw-dropping builds, another stand-out this year was Driver Motorsports’ Nissan Skyline GT-R on the Vibrant Performance stand. Glance at this car and you’d assume it’s a very tidy R32 wearing a Garage Active wide-body kit with a set of Work SP1s tucked deep in the arches.
But dig a little deeper and the true extent of the work becomes clear… almost four years’ worth to be precise.
The fuel setup in the boot is textbook motorsport yet it’s been fabricated into a piece of art, while the boot lid has been trimmed to match the interior. Sure, it’s got a cage, but there’s no exposed metal in here; even the rear nitrous/air setup has been meticulously built.
That tidy-looking engine is in fact a Nitto-built RB30 monster capable of 1,000+ horsepower. And that’s a genuine power estimate as opposed to the age-old ‘every-built-RB-with-a-single-must-be-1,000hp’ quip.
There’s a lot to take in, but one of my favourite touches is the cam cover. This has had the plug cover welded to the front (cam) cover and trimmed to give space to the mechanical fuel setup and CAS trigger. It’s still undeniably an RB engine, but dialled all the way up to 11.
As someone foolishly taking on their own GT-R overhaul, I have nothing but respect for what Brad and the Driver Motorsports team have created here. Yes, it’s clearly had a lot of cash spent on it, but when everyone else is hell-bent on returning GT-Rs to factory condition it’s massively refreshing to see a US-built one still pushing the boundaries in 2022.
This is all very positive for a SEMA post, because frankly it was a hugely positive (and exciting) show to attend this year. But it wasn’t without its drawbacks, and I’m not just talking about the whole Bluetooth driveshafts meme.
Actually, let’s start there, because this represents a bigger issue in the form of incomplete cars displayed at the show. Undoubtedly this will divide many of you, and while I appreciate both arguments, I can’t help but think it sends out the wrong message for what SEMA (and other shows) should stand for.
Building any car isn’t easy. Issues crop up, deadlines surpass, and costs spiral out of control. The last thing anyone wants is a sea of copy/paste builds, but SEMA doesn’t exactly come as a surprise each year.
Two of my stand-out builds this year, Mike Burroughs’ Ferrari ‘244 GTK’ and Igor Polishchuk’s K-swapped E30 BMW M3, were both finished with hours to spare before making their way to Las Vegas. Why cut it so fine? Because both owners insisted their cars be driven in under their own power as a matter of principal. No power, no show.
And on the flip side to this, I was gutted not to see Stan at Toyo Tires’ Mercedes-Benz 190E build this year. There were no issues to report, it just wasn’t ready in time and Stan wasn’t prepared to rush through it only to then have it appear on FormulaDerp several days later.
This isn’t a point to suggest one attitude is better than another; an individual’s build will always be approached differently to that of a company with product it needs to promote. But what message does it send to a global audience when the product on display isn’t the best it could be.
Cars aside, there’s one more gripe with SEMA which needs to be aired that doesn’t actually relate to the show. In fact, it’s not even exclusive to SEMA.
If your pass allows you in – regardless of what it says on the front – you’ve got as much right to be there as anyone else. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have or how big your name is printed on a Fruit of the Loom tee; nothing elevates you beyond anyone else.
Social media has given the voiceless a voice, and that’s not a bad thing – everyone deserves to be heard. But not all of them need to use a megaphone in the process.
Plus, if the most stressful part of your day is someone walking in front of your shot, your day really hasn’t been that stressful. The fact any of us can call this work is surely the biggest hoax of the 21st century. Go to Vegas and look at cars? Sounds dreadful…
Car culture comes in all shapes and sizes as SEMA demonstrates every year. Pour concrete in your 140dB truck? Amazing, keep being awesome. Bolt twin-turbos in the back of your Aventador? I wish I had the bravery of your tuner. Hell, bring an unfinished car to a show because it brings you happiness? Let’s throw that earlier point straight in the bin.
I cannot think of many industries more bonkers than the world of car tuning. Its diversity is why we love it, but also why it can feel so frustrating at times.
If it goes beyond this and starts to control your life in a negative way, it’s probably time you should take a break from it. Car culture is enjoyment. So, if anyone needs me, I’ll be pouring concrete into a GT-R ready to fit 12 subwoofers in the boot. See you next year, SEMA.