By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Petersen Archive
Biggest Year Ever
What a difference a year makes. While the first High Performance and Custom Trade Show drew about 100 exhibitors to the drafty halls of Dodger Stadium in 1967, the second edition a year later moved to the modern, well-lit Anaheim Convention Center, where 140 exhibitors used 201 10x10-ft. booths to display their products and make their 1968 sales pitches to 3,800 distributors and dealers from all over this country, Mexico and Canada.
Ray Brock, publisher of Hot Rod Industry News (HRIN), proudly trotted out those facts in his editorial column for the trade magazine’s February 1968 issue, which featured extensive event coverage.
Already, attendees and show organizers—as well as Brock and other HRIN writers—were abbreviating the event’s cumbersome official name to “The SEMA Show,” helped, no doubt, by the SEMA-themed banners hung throughout the hall. The 1968 event kicked off with a cocktail and dinner party for the exhibitors, hosted by Robert E. and Margie Petersen at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach. On Thursday night, SEMA’s annual holiday banquet closed the show. In between were shop tours, product demonstrations and lots of face time in the booths. “Activities for the ladies” included sightseeing trips to historic Olvera Street and the “newly moored” Queen Mary in Long Beach.
Among the trends cited by writer Bob Leif in his show coverage: Volkswagen speed equipment (“the VW is another flathead,” he said), off-roading (a “new market getting a good portion of dealer interest”), high-performance apparel, fiberglass items (“everything from hoods to bodies”) and even smog-friendly speed parts.
The California Air Resources Board had a booth with a VW Squareback “equipped with a new fuel injection system, and a pair of engines that featured speed items such as manifolds and cam,” Leif wrote. “Jardine headers even displayed some models that were equipped with the air pump openings. It looks like a good year coming up for both the high performance business and the smog legislators, now that it’s been found out that we can all work together to solve some of our common problems.”
Leif may have been a bit optimistic there, but he was closer to the mark when he predicted that 1968 “will be the biggest year ever for the high performance and custom field. We don’t make that statement idly, as several of the guests at the show noted that they were presently in the process of expanding their facilities or moving to larger quarters to handle the increased flow of business through their doors.”
Brock, too, was bullish, noting that 1968’s exhibitors used just half of the convention hall’s available 100,000 sq. ft.
“Next year we anticipate using at least three-fourths of the hall, or 75,000 sq. ft. and, who knows, maybe by 1970 we will have the whole hall filled with specialty equipment manufacturer exhibits,” he noted.
In fact, the hall that seemed so spacious and accommodating would hold the SEMA Show for fewer than 10 years before a new, bigger venue was chosen—Las Vegas.