David G. Fox
No, it wasn't the same. There is no substitute for in-person, even hands-on, examination of cars, parts, tools, and accessories. But I thought SEMA did an excellent job of presenting a great deal of what the SEMA show is supposed to be about, given the cards we have all been dealt this year. They called it SEMA360, and the virtual exposition was designed to fill the industry "need for a viable marketplace solution in the absence of the 2020 SEMA Show." Note the suspension of the word "Show." In the end: "The online platform [brought] manufacturers and buyers together for live interaction and quality meetings."
Please note that this page differs from other pages on my website in that none of the photographs are mine. The nature of the virtual show was such that photos had to be taken from the SEMA360 website. In the case of products, pictures were supplied by the product's manufacturer or distributor, or by SEMA. Builders likely supplied photographs of Battle of the Builders cars.
New Products Showcase
I'll jump in with the New Products Showcase. New products are a core reason for the annual exposition. SEMA noted 2,200-plus entries for 2020. Navigating the various categories of items via a computer differed from wandering the aisles of the subset of rooms in LVCC reserved for this showcase to see what caught the eye. But finding interesting bits was not at all difficult.
Coker Tire seems always to have something new for SEMA. Now, they have added exclusive North American distribution of Dunlop Sport Classic tires to their catalog. These radials feature a "clean black sidewall and a classic tread pattern." The appearance and sizing options are aimed at vintage sports cars. "The product line features 15 sizes, with fitments for 13, 14, and 15-inch wheels, and " speed ratings of H, V, and W, depending on the size." Potential applications mentioned in the press release are Austin Healy, Jaguar XK-E, and Aston Martin.
Coker Tire Photograph
Also from Coker in the New Products Showcase was a wide white-wall BF Goodrich Silvertown Radial in the rather large 275/65R16 size.
Street Rod/Custom Car Products
This Is the area where one finds reproduction and universal wiring harnesses from companies like American Autowire, instrumentation from Classic Instruments, new FiTech fuel injection systems, and new A/C fitments from Vintage Air. In Addition....
Aldan American has greatly expanded their business model in recent years. Though based on coil-over shock absorbers looking like their legacy products, they are now offering coil-over conversion kits for muscle-era cars. Specifically mentioned in the New Products Showcase was a front suspension coil-over kit for 1961 and 1962 Ford Thunderbirds. Accompanying information suggested other Ford and Mercury applications. The kits feature modern adjustable shock absorbers, coil springs, and mounting hardware made in the USA and "manufactured to last." Ride height can be altered (stock to lowered two inches), handling is said to be improved, and the kits are designed for OEM-like installation.
Speedway Motors had several interesting new products to display. Their Ford nine-inch rear axle package comes already adapted for traditional street rod use. Axle flanges fit Ford backing plates from the 1930s and 1940s, and iron early Ford or finned Buick brake drums may be used. Of course, Speedway Motors also has a nine-inch third member to go with.
Other items in the Speedway Motors new products display included reproduction (in aluminum) Chevrolet 461 double hump cylinder heads and the G-Comp C10 Chevy truck (1960-1972 half-ton, 2WD) rear suspension kit.
Speedway Motors Photographs
Ford Motor Company. I'm not sure where this monster will fit, but I like the numbers, and I'm sure folks will find at least a few places to put it. It's a crate motor, with old school cam-in-block OHV architecture, enhanced by variable cam timing. The displacement is 7.3 liters and the horsepower rating is 430 at 5,500 rpm. I saw an article on this engine some time back in Hot Rod Magazine (before it was available as a crate engine). They liked very much what they saw, but were concerned about the overall height. But, as I recall, a 1950s F100 has a fair amount of room above the old Y-block. Just sayin'.
Ford Motor Company Photograph
Superformance. A surprise in this area was the link to Superformance and an aluminum Daytona Coupe. "Designed by Peter Brock, this Daytona Coupe pays tribute to the Coupe that won the World Manufacturers Championship for Grand Touring Racecars. Supplied with a Shelby MCO and Shelby CSX number."
Their manufacturers page also made mention of the coming of an "Electric Cobra MkIII." Interestingly, I saw mention recently that AC Cars has geared up to build a small number of AC Cobra Series 1 EV cars plus twelve AC Le Mans tribute Cobras with electric motors developing 617 horsepower.
CVF Racing had a slew of new aluminum under-hood products in the New Products Showcase, including the teaser shown below for the SBC. Most of the products were variations on serpentine belt systems, but there were also some billet hood hinges.
CVF Racing Photograph
LEED Brakes displayed brake upgrade kits for 1960s-era Ford cars. Specifically mentioned were "classic" full-size Ford kits (shown below) and kits for 1964-1966 Mustangs.
LEED Brakes Photograph
Magnuson Superchargers showed several new setups. The one below is termed the "Hotrod LS3LSA 3100 System." The name suggests generation-four Chevy LS applications in no particular chassis. The 3100 designation suggests a higher output than has been available until now. Also shown were 3100 series superchargers for the MoPar Hellcat, 2020+ Shelby GT500, and Chevrolet LS7 COPO drag car.
Magnuson Superchargers Photograph
Ford, Chevrolet, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have typically displayed some tasty modified early model cars under their marque at SEMA. I missed that. They did continue with current-model projects in their virtual presentations. Ford and Chevrolet both had electric project cars to preview.
Ford had videos of two 1400 horsepower electric Mustangs. The four-door Mach-E 1400 from RTR Vehicles additionally claimed 2000 lb/ft of torque from the package of seven electric motors. The car surrounding all of the electrics started as a raw factory shell. It has lots of aero added with several new carbon-fiber body panels. There is two- or four-wheel drive capability, totally adjustable suspension and braking, etc. The car appears to be designed for road racing, drifting, and general mayhem.
The Cobra Jet 1400 drag race prototype gets its 1400hp from four electric motors. They drive the rear wheels. As one would expect with a CJ drag racer, the car looks fairly stock except for stance, tires, and the paint scheme. In the video, it looked extremely smooth smoking the tires to a 170mph quarter mile.
On the accessorizing front, the new Bronco was front and center with video of the "Overland" build from Bronco Nation. It was heavily outfitted with build options and factory available accessory gear for outdoor activities, camping, etc.
Other Ford videos introduced the new for 2021 Mustang Mach 1 and the 2021 Ford GT Heritage Edition. Video for the latter mixed vintage and modern Ford GT racing footage and footage of the 2021 GT sporting the special Heritage color scheme patterned after the 1966 Daytona winning Miles/Ruby #98 Ford GT MkII prototype.
Of course, Ford also had all of the requisite parts and accessory catalog down loads for many of the current Ford vehicles.
Chevrolet had lengthy videos about the K5 Blazer-E powertrain conversion prototype. You may have seen info about this elsewhere. Based on a cherry square-body Blazer and current Chevrolet Volt EV electrics (to be sold as an "E Crate"), the car should have about 150-200 miles of range. The stock Volt's 175hp has been tweaked to around 200hp. Chevrolet Performance put the K5 Blazer-E together in about four weeks.
Within their eight-plus minute video about new gas powertrain stuff (they always show a whole slew of engines – old school SBC to LS) was coverage of a crate version of the 10L90 ten-speed automatic transmission. This crate package comes with the trans, torque converter, wiring harness, and controller, all under one part number. You can even get paddle shifters.
Fiat Chrysler's presentation concentrated on the Jeep Performance Parts Catalog, along with accessory catalogs for various models of Jeep and Ram trucks.
Taking advantage of SEMA's Industry Education presentations was probably easier under the 2020 format (e.g., no limitations on the number of attendees due to a room size). Covering topics as diverse as business management, social media influence, marketing to women, and, on the more specific level, modern upholstery techniques, dozens of sessions were available to help SEMA members make their businesses more viable.
One session I attended was called "Hot Rod Builders Panel, Powered by HRIA." This might have been titled "So, you want to be a hot rod builder." Trend-setting shop owners Bobby Alloway, Jim and Mike Ring, and Kyle Tucker (Detroit Speed & Engineering) plus writer Brian Brennan were moderated by Rick Love of Vintage Air. These guys were obviously all very comfortable with each other as they talked from their various locations. While the 45-minute time frame didn't allow for much in-depth discussion of the numerous aspects of running a hot rod shop, they did touch on a variety of considerations. Certainly on their minds were the problems of managing a business during the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g., raw material and parts supply chain difficulties, a lack of shows for marketing, and shutting down for a period while someone recovered from the virus). In the longer term, difficulty in finding capable young fabricators was mentioned as being pretty universal, as was the necessity of effectively managing time and dollars spent on customer project cars. One of the ongoing challenges seen by some builders is their place of business becoming a "hobby shop," with visitors (likely not customers) constantly dropping by. I suspect these particular builders, being at the top of the game, have less of this than some less well known – or they are better able to fend it off since theirs are very often repeat customers. The personalities of the members of this panel made for a very entertaining session.
On Friday, I followed the discussion "Automotive Restoration Builders Panel, Powered by ARMO." Moderated by Sabra Johnson (City Classic Cars in Houston, Texas), the panel featured manufacturer Art Morrison, of replacement chassis fame, Steve Cook (Steve Cook Creations in Oklahoma), and Dan Short (FantomWorks in Virginia). The major discussion area with this panel was restore versus restomod. Of course, Art Morrison makes modern chassis to go under vintage bodies, and Johnson and Cook seem to be heavily involved with restomod projects. Short does that, too, but he also considers himself something of a purist. A good percentage of Dan's builds attempt make a car as near to original as possible. All recognized that many of today's customers want the look of a vintage car, perhaps one that made an impression during their younger days, but they also really want that car to drive (ride, steer, and stop) like the cars they are used to driving now. The consensus was that, for those customers, the first major step should be a new chassis of modern design, if at all possible. Dan suggested that if a modern replacement chassis wasn't feasible, start by finding the best original frame available for the car to replace a damaged or heavily rusted one. Further, reinforcing an original frame, whether to be restored or restomoded, should help drivability. They also extolled the virtue of a modern, EFI drivetrain. Their experience has been that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find technicians who can work on carbureted engines; this can be especially important when touring long distances. Communication with each client around expectations was seen as crucial to a happy project result. If a customer wants results that are just not within the available budget, that has to be recognized and resolved up front. It is related that Dan noted he is often the rope in a tug of war between the car owner and the people working on the car. The three builders all charge for their projects based on time and materials, not a bid. Again, communication about expectations up front will help define the ballpark, but not a set price. Each indicated that their business fell off considerably in the first 30-60 days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but rebounded sharply thereafter. In terms of running such a business, Art talked about integrity, being honest with yourself and your clients, doing the right thing for customers and employees, and sticking through if times get tough.
Battle of the Builders
SEMA indicated there were 330 entries into the 2020 Battle of the Builders competition. Following are photographs of ten cars that struck my fancy (before official judging results were in). I admit the photography available to download may have influenced my picks. And yes, some of the category assignments seem a bit odd.
Custom: Chris Carlson, 1949 Cadillac Sedanette
Custom: John Wargo, 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air
Custom: Randy Weaver, 1970 Plymouth Sport Satellite
Hot rod: Alan Johnson, 1932 Ford Roadster Pickup
Hot Rod: Mike Rutter, 1966 Dodge Charger
Muscle Car: Eli DeWitt, 1967 Pontiac Le Mans – Top 12 Young Guns Pick
Muscle Car: Alfredo Rios, 1969 Chevrolet Camero
Sport Compact: Chip Foose, 1974 Jaguar E-Type – Top Four Finalist and Sport Compact Winner
Sport Compact: John D. Ubalde, 1993 Mazda RX7 – Top 40 Pick
Truck/Off Road: Randy Borcherding, 1971 Ford Ranchero – Top 12 Pick
This year's winner of the SEMA Battle of the Builders was Brad Ranweiler with his 1963 Chevrolet full-size, two-door station wagon. Earlier in the year, Brad won the Detroit Autorama Ridler Award with the same car.
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