By Drew Hardin
Everybody Was There
Photo Courtesy Petersen Publishing Company Archive
“It’s over, completed, finished. We’re tired, happy and proud that the 1969 SEMA Show, produced by Hot Rod Industry News (HRIN), was the largest and finest exposition this industry has ever seen.”
—Hot Rod Industry News, January 1969
“Growing in importance…in prestige…and in size. The third annual High Performance and Custom Trade Show is already three times larger than the ’67 show and almost twice the size of last year’s event.”
—Hot Rod Industry News, February 1969
Fifty years ago, the Petersen Publishing Company magazine devoted to the business side of automotive enthusiasm devoted a large number of pages over two issues to cover the 1969 SEMA Show. The quotes reproduced above are the stories’ opening lines. Even five decades later, you can feel the adrenaline rush of enthusiasm and accomplishment the editors were experiencing on their first go-around with the coverage and how that rush transformed with a month’s hindsight into a less jubilant but more confident assessment of what went on at the Anaheim Convention Center in early January—and what it bode for the industry.
The High Performance and Custom Trade Show got its start two years before, with about 100 exhibitors in “pipe-and-drape” booths lining the concrete halls of Dodger Stadium. Signs of growth were immediate, so the second show was moved to the convention center in Anaheim, where there was plenty of room for the show’s 200 exhibitor booths. By 1969, the HRIN editors said the show “nearly filled” the “giant Anaheim Convention Center floor. Whatever you were looking for, from the finest in all-out racing equipment to apparel, was on display.”
Reading those 50-year-old accounts, we were struck by similarities between then and now.
“By 11 a.m. on Wednesday, the show open for barely an hour, the aisles were filling rapidly with dealers, buyers and exhibitors.”
Sound familiar? Holley (then known as Holley Carburetor) hosted an awards breakfast on opening day, while Carter Carburetor did the honors for a luncheon.
The photo here is from Thursday night’s SEMA Banquet, “also the largest event of its kind ever held in the industry. More than 1,350 persons filled the floor of the Anaheim Convention Center for the affair. Everybody who was anybody in the speed equipment field was on hand.”
That still holds true today, though the number of banquet attendees has swelled to close to 3,000 guests.
Among the awards handed out during the 1969 banquet, Bob Spar of B&M Automotive received the Ed Elliott Memorial Award “for outstanding contribution to SEMA.” The award was “kept secret until the banquet” and was presented by Wally Parks, as NHRA co-sponsored the award.
“We could write for hours and hours about the show,” the editors boasted in their January issue. “The displays were better than ever, professional in every way. The industry has advanced from more than just a bunch of guys working on cars in their back yards. The men in it are businessmen and good ones, and this is only going to improve in the future. We’re proud of the 1969 SEMA Show and plan on making the 1970 edition even bigger.”