SEMA 2012: Annual Vegas bash reflects changing old-car hobby

Corky Coker’s Mercer roadster was built to look unrestored according to one source we spoke to at this year’s SEMA Show. If so, it was sure hard to believe is wasn’t a barn find.


Story and photos by John Gunnell

The 2012 SEMA Show, which ran from Oct. 30 through Nov. 2, championed the theme “Innovations of Generations.” Despite the snags that arose for East Coast travelers due to Hurricane Sandy, the SEMA Show drew a massive crowd and packed the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) with exhibitors and attendees, as well as celebrities such as customizer Gene Winfield, car builder Chip Foose and Linda Vaughan — best known as the “First Lady of Racing” and “Miss Hurst Golden Shifter.” The related APEX show took place at the nearby Sands Convention Center.

Commerce at the show appeared to be good. SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting reported that more than 2,100 companies exhibited. Some 1,500 custom rides were parked in and around the convention center and close to 1,800 new products were showcased. Whether you needed a set of Coker Tires’ new all-white Firestone non-skids for your Maxwell or Steele Rubber Co.’s 1965-’68 Chevy station wagon tailgate seals, the SEMA New Products Showcase had it.

We started our SEMA 2012 trip with a stop at the NHRA drag races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway ( backed by Big O Tire Co.

At the same time, the show has taken on a different “late-model” look and old-car fans were sure to notice that veteran exhibitors such as Egge Machine, Bob Drake and Speedway Motors did not have exhibitor listings in the Show Directory. From the Las Vegas monorail station, the lot in front of LVCC looked like a rally of full-size Tonka Toys and tuner cars drifting through clouds of tire smoke. Inside, there seemed to be no shrinkage in the number of participating restoration-oriented businesses, but muscle cars and resto-mods appeared to outnumber unmodified cars by a ratio of 2-to-1 or better.

Filling booth after booth were new Camaros with custom body and trim components, custom engine parts and custom paint finishes. Baseball great Reggie Jackson brought his ’69 Yenko Camaro to the Classic Industries/OER booths and Corky Coker had what resembled an unrestored 1924 Mercer at his stand, as well as vintage Henderson and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. In contrast, hot-rodded or customized versions of a Crosley wagon, a Henry J, a Kaiser Dragon and a Willys station wagon were found in other sections.

A giant white Cadillac was a featured car in the Custom Autosound booth.

Every car on display was a piece of rolling art, except possibly the crowd-pleasing tornado chaser parked outside near the South Hall. Among the special built-for-SEMA show vehicles on display were a resto-mod Road Runner backed by Royal Purple car care products, a ’31 Mack C Cab hot rod truck sponsored by Bulldog Lighting and a “slammed” ’57 Chevy Bel Air hardtop that Clayton Machine Works got behind. Steele Rubber Co. sponsored at least seven modified vehicles, including a ’64 Cadillac deVille, a ’50 Buick sedanette, a ’57 Buick Special, a ’48 Plymouth coupe, a ’66 Cadillac Coupe deVille, a ’54 Chevy Bel Air coupe and a half-finished ’65 Cadillac convertible.

Everything on this ’40 Ford coupe “in the white” is available in reproduction form at

Ford Motor Co. generated excitement with a ’40 Ford coupe “in the white” (untrimmed) sitting in a mock old-time garage under signs announcing that every part used to build the car was available in reproduction form. Ford’s mezzanine display also included a stock-looking Model A roadster pickup, a copper-colored ’40 Ford coupe, a replica hot rod, a track roadster and well-known collector Bruce Meyer’s So-Cal belly tank race car.

Other changes since our last SEMA visit included Kelsey Tire Co.’s move to a “front row seat” in the Tire Hall and the relocation of Robert Larivee Sr.’s. Art Gallery and Book Sale to a spot near the seminar rooms in the upper South Hall. Larivee hosted a number of author book signings, including Jerry Heasley and Jim Luikens, who have penned Old Cars Weekly books, as well as Mark Fletcher and Richard Truesdell, who joined forces to co-author a new book about Hurst. Also on hand was OCW annual holiday cover artist Ken Eberts.

This curvy lady was the mascot at the Jr Distributor International ( booth in the SEMA Show’s “Restoration Marketplace.”

SEMA 2012 remains a huge event for several generations of rodders and restorers alike, but it’s also playing to a new generation of monster truck builders and tuner-car racers who are presently growing the show. This is a trend that is sure to continue. As an organization devoted to all types of enthusiasts, SEMA is standing tall for a kaleidoscope of hobbyists from “duster and goggle”-wearing vintage racers and Snell-helmeted dragster drivers to drifting champs who make the show roar to life each fall. Indeed, it displayed innovations of generations.

One of the first hot rods we spotted at SEMA was one of our favorites, too. The Carson-topped, fender-less, drawer-pull-grille roadster was perfection.


These two young gents from Oregon were pushing their “American Thrill Ride” movie (, which they star in along with their ’55 Chevy.



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