The History of SEMA

Posted by: Xavier Kwan onNovember 7th, 2016


Another year has come and gone for automotive industries largest show SEMA. Year after year, SEMA has become the cornerstone of all things representing the automotive industry showcasing new products from every corner of the market. The expectations are high, and vendors who put themselves in the public eye at SEMA are always putting their best foot forward. But have you ever wondered how it all started?

SEMA, like any organization, has a beginning story. Originally called Speed Equipment Manufacturing Association when they started in 1963, the organization comes from humble beginnings during the muscle car days. Originating out of a need to fill a gap in industry trade regulations, SEMA was the born from the Revell Model company and headed by its first president Ed the “camfather” Iskenderian. Other original members came from the same fuel filled genetics and came by way of names like Roy Richter, Willie Garner, Bob Hedman, Robert E. Wyman, John Bartlett, Phil Weiand, Jr., Al Segal, Dean Moon, and Vic Edelbrock, Jr. Each pioneers in their respective areas and each having made their own mark in automotive history. Not long after its beginnings, the organization changed its name to Specialty Equipment Market Association officially in 1970.

In it’s early days, SEMA shows were small venues aiming at bringing manufacturers together to showcase their products. 1967 was officially SEMA’s first showing holding up in the basement of the Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium. At that time they were able to bring in 98 manufacturers and still got a respectable 3000 people in attendance. The first SEMA show displayed five cars total, but of notable acknowledgement was a 1967 Ford GT40 in the Shelby America booth and a drag race prepped Dodge Dart. Car parts were always only part of the SEMA equation. The other half was showcasing vehicles which were running said parts to bring what the manufacturers had to offer to life. This show format quickly caught momentum and SEMA achieved great success in a short period of time. By 1970, the show grew to a much larger venue, drawing in greater number of industry representatives, larger crowds, and it was quickly become a place where vendors came to showcase their products and were expected to make deals happen as well. Only 6 years later, SEMA was selling out their convention hall capacity at 570 booths and had to turn away manufacturers due to space limitation. For the following year, SEMA moved to Las Vegas for their larger venues and the rest as they say is history.

The show format continued to evolve year over year. Originally designed to be a product showcase venue, by 1979 new day long seminar programs were integrated into the show dates furthering the mission of SEMA to showcase and share automotive knowledge in the industry. The one-day seminar has now become a major part of the show’s program. 1983 was another big year for SEMA when they expanded their parts representation beyond domestic manufacturers. Automotive International Association (AIA) partnered with SEMA to bring in a whole new array of products to the show. Accolades for the shows success soon came to the forefront with Car and Driver magazine stating that SEMA was now the best place to see the direction and trends of the automotive world in the west coast.

Throughout the 90’s, SEMA continued to grow bigger and bigger by the year, and the caliber of the show continued to raise the bar like none other. Creating truly the largest show in the automotive industry, SEMA brought together giants likes the Automotive Service Industry, Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, and Automotive Parts & Accessories Association which together spanned a total of 1.6 million square feet of exhibition space. The show continued to bring together automotive big leagues like the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders. To this day, the SEMA show still breaks the one million square feet mark for required exhibition space for their show making it the largest automotive industry show in North America. Attendance exceeds 150,000 manufacturers, buyers and industry representatives, bringing together 2,300 exhibitors with over 11,000 booths. In comparison to their humble beginnings of 3000 attendees, SEMA is truly a remarkable operation.

For those of us who might never get the chance to experience SEMA, we will have to resort to cruising the internet for the next little while as journalist continue to publish details of the show and highlighting some of the best show vehicles that always make their place at the annual event.

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