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SEMA surprises enthusiasts with its vitality

“SEMA was a wonderful surprise, with loads of people and just a great show,” said John D. McLeod III, of Classic Instruments Inc. John had traveled to the giant auto aftermarket trade show in Las Vegas from his company’s headquarters in Boyne City, Mich., and felt the trip was definitely worth it.
As usual, the Nov. 3-6 show brought thousands of exhibitors to the Las Vegas Convention Center. There were some empty booths, it was easier to hop a cab and the lines for the Las Vegas Monorail were a little shorter than they were during our 2007 visit. At the same time, there were signs of improving strength in the hobby marketplace and plenty of good business-building seminars and round tables to attend if your hobby sales needed at shot in the arm.
SEMA is still the largest of 22,000 trade shows and conventions held in Las Vegas every year. The show remains aimed at business-to-business commerce, rather than the public. It is where those who manufacture products for the automotive aftermarket display what they make to retailers and catalogers. The show is divided into 11 sections for different types of products, from hot rod equipment, to tires and from tools to tires. One section, called Restoration Marketplace is for auto restoration products. However, car restorers will find products and services they can use scattered throughout the show.
This year the Restoration Marketplace was filled with exciting developments. Coker tire introduced new products and announced its participation in the making of a movie based on the first Indy 500. John Kelsey, of Kelsey Tire Co., won an important tire industry honor. Egge Machiine launched a celebration of its 95th anniversary. Marquez Design, of West Sacramento, Calif., introduced a reproduction ’56 Chevy convertible body as a new product.
Antique car tires were displayed in the Tire Hall, restoration tools could be found in the Tools & Equipment area and waxes that hobbyists used were promoted in the Car Care & Accessories section. Other “old-car” parts vendors could be found throughout the show. This year Barrett-Jackson — which seems to move around — was set up adjacent to the GM exhibit and not far from Meguiar’s indoor booth. Other hobby vendors — as well as some stock classic Fords (a Model A and a Deuce) — were exhibited in front of the convention center, not far from Meguiar’s “Car Crazy TV” stage. Leslie Kennedy, the VP of that production, said SEMA 2009 “was better than our expectations going in.”
SEMA is famous for its hot rods, its wild customs and its “girls gone SEMA” models and this year was no exception. A hot rod that won lots of attention was an exact clone of the T-bucket that “Edward Kookson III” (actor Ed Byrnes) drove on the old ‘77 Sunset Strip” TV series. The replica was built by Johnnie Overbay’s Reno Rod & Custom in Oklahoma City, Okla. Overbay said that the actual “Kookie Kar” also exists, but has been heavily modified over the years. “This copy is as close as you can get and the owner is selling it,” he said.
Exhibitors in the Restoration Marketplace included Original Parts Group, Dynacorn, Custom Autosound, Rare Parts, J.C. Taylor Insurance, Mid America Motorworks, Steele Rubber, Bob Drake, Garage Scenes Ltd., Auto Appraisal Network, Pilkington Classics, Classic Tube and many others.
Eaton Spring company is another SEMA vendor offering very specialized suspension rebuilding services to vintage vehicle restorers. Owner Mike Eaton was excited about a new product he is launching — a reproduction of the unique rear leaf spring used on straight-axle Corvettes that has passed muster with the National Corvette Restorers Society.
Much of the credit for the organization and success of the Restoration Marketplace has to go to ARMO (Automotive Restoration Market Organization) which represents the interests of restoration parts suppliers within SEMA. ARMO held both a council meeting and a round table at which many ideas for improving the restoration industry were discussed in detail. ARMO is also developing an educational program that could help young enthusiasts learn to restore cars.

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