By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy of the Petersen Archive
It was nearly 47 years ago that the fledgling trade group known as the Speed Equipment Manufacturer’s Association worked with Petersen Publishing Company to put on its very first High Performance and Custom Equipment Trade Show. There were 98 booths and about 120 industry reps in that first show, which was held at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
According to a post-show write-up in Petersen’s Hot Rod Industry News (HRIN), “better than 3,000 people filed through the show during its three day run,” a figure that the trade journal admitted “seems like a small number.” But, said one exhibitor, quoted by HRIN, “they were the ‘right people.’ Distributors and speed shop owners, along with the automotive press, filed through the doors to see the latest items that were on the market and talk with many about what’s coming up and merchandising ideas.”
By contrast, some 131,000 people turned out for last year’s SEMA Show, which housed some 2,381 exhibiting companies in the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center and several of the parking lots surrounding that massive building. It would be an imposing task to count how many products were on display in last year’s Show, but there were more than 2,000 entries submitted to the New Products Showcase alone.
We’ve reported on the inaugural trade show before, with photos of the relatively simple (by today’s standards) pipe-and-drape booths set up by many of the exhibitors—quite a few of which are mainstays of today’s SEMA Show. This photo, though, pulled back to reveal a row of booths, really conveys what that first event at the Stadium looked like. Held inside the halls of the ballpark’s mezzanine level, the show was dark and cold, say those who were there during those three January days nearly five decades ago.
But a spark had been lit and was fanned by a new venue a year later in Anaheim. SEMA’s name has changed, and so has the Show’s, but it’s still all about the “right people” doing business and shaping the future of the automotive aftermarket.