By Ellen McKoy
SEMA Hall of Fame inductee Butch Lahmann passed away last weekend due to complications from COVID-19 (coronavirus).
Lahmann was known and respected industrywide, not just for being a smart, savvy and successful entrepreneur and businessman—albeit with the tough exterior and warm heart of a true New Yorker—but also for his dedicated volunteer service to the aftermarket industry he loved.
He first ventured into the industry in the ’70s during the van conversion craze as the owner of Auto Truck & Van (ATV) located in Farmingdale, New York. He later expanded his operation to 11 retail stores on Long Island.
In the mid-’70s, Lahmann founded American Specialty Equipment Corp. in nearby Hauppauge, which served as a feeder warehouse to his stores and a major wholesaler on the East Coast. Over the course of several years, to better connect with his customers, Lahmann took to the road with the American Speed Road Show—a jobber show that began at the warehouse and traveled to different cities on the East Coast. The company was later acquired by Keystone Automotive.
Lahmann’s passion for the industry extended beyond his business to volunteering his time, talents and leadership skills. He served multiple terms on the SEMA Board of Directors, including as board treasurer. He was named SEMA Person of the Year in 1984 and inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame in 1995.
There’s no limit to the depth of his influence in the industry, and there are many folks today, including former SEMA President and CEO Chuck Blum (1980–2002), who can recount the memorable ways in which Lahmann influenced both their personal and professional lives.
“I knew Butch back when I got involved with SEMA in 1980,” Blum said. “As treasurer of the association, he was unbelievably tough with money. He basically put everyone’s thumbs to the screw to make sure there was no wasted money. We’d go to a board meeting and there would be 21 guys in a room, and everyone’s talking to everybody else, but when Butch started talking, everyone shut up and listened.”
As a volunteer leader, Lahmann also served on the select committee of the Street Rod Equipment Alliance (SREA)—the predecessor to SRMA and HRIA—and as a director and treasurer of the Performance Warehouse Association (PWA), which presented Lahmann with the PWA Pioneer Award in 1996.
“The interesting thing about Butch that most people don’t know is that back in the mid ‘80s, there was a group that formed called the Off-Road Equipment Association (OREA), but they were having a lot of problems,” Blum said. “Butch was a player in that industry at the time, so he went to them and brought the off-road segment into SEMA. At the time, the segment wasn’t nearly as big compared to what it is today, but we made a place for them at the SEMA Show and they prospered from that point on. In those days, SEMA was primarily a performance association but we were trying to get into other automotive areas. Butch single handedly was the ambassador for SEMA. He brought that group to us and it paid off.”
Lahmann is survived by his wife Mary Ann, sons Butch Jr. and Daniel, and three grandchildren.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, a private memorial service will be held for the family. A public celebration of life will be planned for friends and business associates. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the American Diabetes Association.