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|Automotive Atrocities at the 2009 SEMA Show|
|Written by Jim Brennan|
|Tuesday, 24 November 2009 08:16|
First-timer Jim Brennan reports on the craziest car customizations on display in Sin City.
Having recovered from my first ever SEMA show in Las Vegas, I feel like a former virgin after experiencing the pure visceral nature of the event. At once breathtaking and revolting, eye-opening and nauseating, the show provided opportunities to witness both passion and abject rejection at the same time. Hey, it's Vegas, and what goes on in Vegas--well, you know the rest!
It was late on a Sunday that I landed at McCarran Airport, having done what any normal tourist does to get to the flashiest place in the United States: I flew Southwest Airlines. Which means I was physically exhausted even before the Specialty Equipment and Manufacturers Association (SEMA) show began. With my hotel about as far from the Las Vegas Convention Center as you can get without actually leaving Nevada, I had resigned myself to a rental, a lovely vanilla PT Cruiser. The next morning I drove to the Convention Center, utterly unprepared for the sight that greeted me: cars, trucks, bikes, and vans from the likes of Lamborghini, Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lexus, and countless others... jacked-up pickups and slammed low riders... literally acres of chrome plating, multicolored paint jobs, and outrageous hot rods sprinkled with overblown engines, over-sized wheels, and exceedingly garish displays, among which milled throngs of workers trying to get the location ready for the largest show of its type anywhere. And that was only the parking lot!
I made my way upstairs to the Media Center to retrieve my press credentials, so that I could legally attend this exposition. You see, the SEMA Show isn't open to the general public, only to industry members, the media, and the company representatives of the products or services on display. With an all-access pass in hand, I could get in early or stay after hours to avoid the crowds. During the five days I spent nosing into every nook and cranny at the 2009 show, I came across quite a few breathtakingly gorgeous cars, some interesting and thought-provoking trucks, a few astonishing off-road vehicles, and cars that would make anyone envious. While quite a few beautiful things were on display (in metalwork and in the flesh), this was Vegas after all, and I came across more than a few automotive atrocities, questionable customs that defy the imagination or just leave you shaking your head. A few of my favorites...
First up is a mid-1980s Chevrolet pickup with a mid-1960s front clip and bed attached. The dashboard actually gave away the truck's vintage, as it remained virtually stock except for some garish green and gray paint. While there is no doubt it took many hundreds of hours to get this vehicle into the shape it's in, it sure wasn't worth the time and trouble. The truck has been decapitated to make it a semi-topless model. A strange center post sprouts from the driveshaft tunnel just behind the front seats, with a flatscreen monitor embedded at the base. The bed of this unfortunate pickup has been modified so that the passenger compartment looks like it flows from the front to the rear. Another set of seats (mind you, they don't match the front perches) sit higher in the abbreviated bed. And the fiberglass texture resembles the organic form of Alien. The effect was nauseating, and proof that hard work doesn't always result in good taste.
A car-customizing fad born in LA and prevalent in the urban centers of Atlanta and South Florida entails taking a Detroit sedan, coupe, or convertible and turning it into a high-rider. Several words have emerged to describe these jacked-up vehicles, the most common term being the "Donk." SEMA had more than a few of these dazzling works of automotive cruelty on display. One, an insipid, late-80s Chevrolet Caprice, sported a yellow-vinyl roof treatment, yellow dust shields inside extra-large rims, and a very curious paint job. Dubbed the SpongeBob SquarePants Donk, its paint job did indeed feature several depictions of that annoying cartoon character, SpongeBob SquarePants--along with all the other major characters and the scenery from SpongeBob's home of Bikini Bottom.
Among other "Donks" on display was a 1972 Chevrolet Impala Coupe finished with an eye-opening magenta paint job, some rather tasteful trim, and an updated interior. What I found mind-numbing was the choice of wheels: a set of chrome-plated, two-bladed, 26-inch rims with what I can only politely describe as rubber bands for tires. Putting this particular car over the top was its "IKANDE" tag and a set of magenta-colored "Truck Nuts" under the bumper.
Numerous other vehicles fell into the crass, classless, or questionable categories. Almost every car on display at the DUB booth fell into one of these categories. Some examples include a number of mid-engine exotics sporting matte finishes and large aftermarket rims, American muscle cars that had been widened beyond all measure of function (they actually made their ass ends look way too big--I guess that's a trend in cars and in people), and Japanese vehicles that appeal to the "tuner" crowd.
It was a Japanese domestic-market Toyota Velfire minivan that took class and threw it out the back window, though. Layered in red vinyl, it looked like a Vegas upholstery job gone wild. The van's hood and roof featured a poufy padded tufted-diamond design, and the mirrors were finished in a spider's web pattern. The wheels were too big, of course, and the vehicle was equipped with an air-ride suspension. What really set off the alarms on the old taste-o-meter, though, were the sponsorship decals, which were embroidered into the vinyl on the front fenders.
From slammed low riders to jacked-up trucks, this year's exhibitors had something equally reviling for everyone. Take the display sponsored by the California-based car club Nokturnal (a play on the word used for creatures that forage during the night, get it??). This car club has some of the most pointless vehicles ever shown. In keeping with club traditions, its vehicles on display were named. One was the usual jacked-up Cadillac Escalade, the drug dealer's choice of wheels--only this one was named "Yuklade."
Can you possibly come up with a name that better describes an over-the-top Escalade? Ahhhh, I have one. Right behind this monstrosity was a Dodge Ram 3500 quad cab pickup, finished in the most eye-searing shade of green I've ever seen. Of course, it's so jacked up you need a ladder to get into it, and forget about using the rear of the crew cab for anything. It's crammed with so many speakers it makes the local Best Buy look understocked. Two flatscreen monitors housed in the tailgate beg the question of... why?! Certainly one would need to be Yao Ming to watch them. So much was wrong with this truck--except for the name: "Noktastrophe." No joke! Only "Katastrophe" could have been more perfect, considering that trucks like this set the art of customizing back decades.
With so much to see, many attendees missed the "green car" display. I wish I had, because there my eyes were assaulted by the most hideous Prius ever. It sported a green-and-gold finish, vertical doors, questionable trim, an outrageous rear wing--and something up front that could only be described as a huge proboscis flowing from the hood to the bumper. What the hell is this for, this thing that looks like the automotive equivalent of Jimmy Durante? No one could say. I did find out later that it was the work of one George Barris. It's still ugly.
If you plan to visit Vegas next year to take in all that is SEMA, be prepared for some true automotive oddities. You may never look at a custom car the same way again.
Be sure to check out downloadable, high-resolution images from the Show in the Automotive Traveler image gallery.