As we prepare to hit the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center for this year’s SEMA show, we wanted to look back on how this organization (originally known as the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association) grew to become the biggest automotive trade show in the world. Formed in 1963, the SEMA organization consisted of pioneers in the high-performance parts business. To make SEMA more inclusive to accessory manufacturers and also to improve its image, SEMA changed its name in 1970 to the Specialty Equipment Market Association.
The show’s humble beginnings go back to the inaugural event, held in 1967 in the basement of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Only five cars were on display, including the “L.A. Dart,” an exhibition wheel-standing Dodge Dart, and a handful of automotive industry manufacturers and representatives.
The following year, the SEMA Show moved to the new Anaheim Convention Center. As exhibitor and attendee participation soared, the move was justified as SEMA required ever-more space. The hot rod and performance parts industry was in full swing by the late 1960s. As the 1970s got under way, Detroit began to shy away from muscle cars. The EPA and insurance industry may have put the clampdown on factory-built performance cars, but they couldn’t diffuse the passion and enthusiasm of buyers looking to personalize their rides by making them faster, cooler, one-of-a-kind street machines. This fueled the aftermarket parts business, with the SEMA Show becoming even more of a springboard for manufacturers, dealers, distributors and buyers to network, grow their businesses and receive media coverage.
By 1977, the SEMA Show had moved to its current location, the Las Vegas Convention Center. With over one million square feet of exhibitor space, SEMA knew there would be room to grow and expand. Last year, the SEMA Show featured more than 60,000 domestic and international buyers. With changing market trends and technology, the SEMA Show designated 12 unique product sections, along with a new products showcase, featuring the latest in new parts, tools and components. In addition, the SEMA Show provides attendees with educational seminars, product demonstrations, special events and networking opportunities, helping to ensure that the industry and auto enthusiast hobby continue to grow for decades to come.
As it was decades ago, the annual SEMA Show is the premier automotive specialty products trade event in the world. Consider it a fashion show for anything with four wheels and an engine. For any gearhead, it’s a must-see event, and even though its audience is limited to “trade only” attendees and not the general public, it’s worth finagling any means necessary to walk the massive halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center to see the coolest, meanest, tricked-out cars, trucks and future trends in one location.
If you happen to get to this year’s SEMA Show, you’ll be impressed with all the hot old school and current Dodge muscle located throughout the Las Vegas Convention Center. However, if you have to sneak in under an alias, give us a nod and a smile when you walk past — your secret will be safe with your fellow Dodge gearheads.