Many people think spending one week in Las Vegas sounds like a blast. The reality is that Las Vegas is best in small doses. It's a constant sensory overload of lights, sounds, money, booze, girls, and more booze.
A weekend in Vegas I can handle, but a whole week? I think I'm getting old. Nevertheless, I respond to the call of Turbo duty every year and head for the huge Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) conference in the City of Sin.
And not that I should complain. The annual SEMA Show is like letting a kid loose in the proverbial candy store. All the manufacturers in the $2.6 billion specialty automotive industry turn out with their latest goods and the hottest cars flex their looks. It's one big love-fest for aftermarket enthusiasts. It's such a hot ticket in town, I know people who invent import car product companies just to be able to buy their way into the SEMA show. It's the best time of the year to be in Las Vegas-imagine 200,000 gearheads taking over the town for a week.
This year I had the honor of transporting "Import Tuner"'s (our sister magazine) fixed-up Suzuki Aerio to SEMA the Saturday before the show. Driving a show car for three hours is not fun. It was walking on eggshells, hoping nothing happened to the car before the big show. Every little rock chip made my heart skip a beat. The gusty winds also made this hazardous-we saw numerous cars rolled on their sides. The worst incident involved a Borla Racing trailer that flipped. Imagine that-your racecar being thrashed about in a trailer just days before the biggest show of the year. Not a pretty sight. My transport to the show went smoothly-except I managed to blow the turbo seal before I was halfway there, spewing oil everywhere.
I could tell you the tales of debauchery that week in Las Vegas, but I know you're really interested in the product debuts at SEMA this year. (My wife might read this!) Probably the biggest buzz this year was the number of car manufacturers getting involved in the aftermarket. Some of the big names in attendance Ford, GM, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Honda, Mitsubishi and more.
A lot of sport compact pro racers made their cameos at SEMA to plug their sponsors, including Craig Paisley, Stephan Papadakis and Chris Rado. The two most impressive sport compact racers were AEM's new, rear-drive NSX-powered Honda Civic and Eddie Bello's full carbon-fiber-bodied, rear-drive Porsche 996 pro car.
The most big ballin' car there had to be the metallic orange McLaren F1 towed by a matching color Hummer. We're talking about a million-dollar car on display. Not too shabby, eh? Also a Ferrari Enzo was in the Bridgestone booth. I don't think I've ever been closer to a pair of bad-ass cars in my life. The F1 and Enzo make my dream Porsche 911 look like a grocery-getter.
Turbo magazine represented with not one, but two vehicles! Our very own Project Celica GT-S and a Turbo-sponsored Scion Bbx were on display at the Toyota media event for all the press hounds to see. Our handiwork on these vehicles caught the attention of the big wigs at Toyota and we were honored by their request for our cars to be featured at the media reception. We were flattered and it definitely inspired us at Turbo to keep putting in the long hours on our project cars
Pictured above is a glimpse of our sponsored Scion Bbx. (Heads up, you'll hear more from us about this fine car in a couple of months.) The Bbx was not only at the Toyota reception, but also was one of the many featured vehicles at SEMA. The television program "High Rev Tuners" (shown on the Speed Channel, formerly SpeedVision) even came by and interviewed us about the Bbx. As I mentioned last month, there are five Bbxs out there and "High Rev Tuners" is doing a segment on all five as seen at SEMA, so check your local listings.
You can bet I will be at SEMA next year, even if a week in Las Vegas kills me! For more information, contact www.SEMA.org or www.SEMAshow.com. Upcoming shows include the International Auto Aftermarket Expo in Tokyo March 6-9, 2003 and SEMA International Auto Salon (IAS) in Los Angeles, April 25 to 27, 2003.