Mike Stevens | Nov 19, 2008

We've brought you a few of the bigger news items from the 2008 SEMA show, but that only captures a small part of what a wild and wacky event the Specialty Equipment Market Association's annual trade show is.

If you're not familiar with SEMA, it's where anything and anyone related to the automotive aftermarket comes to show off their latest wares. The show fills the massive Las Vegas Convention Center to capacity, which covers almost 300,000 square meters. It lasts four days, but I have never, ever, been able to see it in its entirety.

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This is typical SEMA fare. Heavily-stickered show cars proclaiming the sponsors of heaps of aftermarket and OEM performance parts. Most of the cars consist of Japanese tuners, classic Yank tanks, and high-dollar luxo-Euro metal.

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This heavily turboed Infiniti G37 was built by Cusco to showcase the specialty tuner's wide array of performance parts. It won the coveted Gran Turismo award, given by the series' creator, Kazunori Yamauchi, and will be rendered in an upcoming version of the video game.

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To draw attention to its air-ride suspension products, Firestone's booth was adorned with this hand-built aluminium hot rod based on a Peterbilt cab and Chevy 350.

Unfortunately, in an effort to outdo each other, sometimes companies get carried away and you get this:

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With such excess on display, it's one of the few times the manufacturers let down their hair and party with the aftermarket.

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The featured car this year was the 2010 Chevy Camaro. So naturally, GM had a fleet of heavily customized examples filling its booth. This was my favorite, with livery inspired by Mark Donohue's 1968 SCCA Sunoco Camaro.

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Ford showed off this 1970 F-100 pickup with 19 miles on the odometer. Floating above it was an example of a fully-licensed reproduction Mustang body, built by a Taiwanese company.

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Sometimes the OEMs get carried away too, resulting in something like this. This mess of fiberglass and chrome may look like an primitive ocean dwelling crusteacan but it's called the Galpin Scythe, and it was once a Mustang. I don't ever want to hear the word "ricer" from domestic fanboys again.

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Toyota had this sinister Lexus GS built by Five Axis. As a hybrid, it's good for mother Earth, but looks oh-so-evil.

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How about a North American Mazda 6 touring car?

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Nissan brought out a '32 Ford highboy built around the V6 and an amalgam of suspension pieces from a 1996 300ZX.

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My heart belongs to the nostalgic stuff though, which is why I found this resto-mod Plymouth Super Bee so gorgeous (even though I'm a Chevy and Ford guy).

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And I am in love with this 1972 Nissan Skyline Hardtop at the Toyo Tires booth, which garnered far more attention than the race-prepped Porsche 911 beside it.

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But because of the over-the-top rides that inevitably appear, SEMA has gained a reputation for being the car show that's as gaudy as Las Vegas itself. As such, I would be remiss if I didn't point out some of the crazy stuff that must anger starving third world children no end, like a donk limo paired up with a slammed dually pickup.

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If God suddenly decided to deliver a long-overdue smoting to Sin City, this lifted Toyota 4Runner would make a great escape vehicle for the aftermath.

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If you have a taste for bling, then a pink Bentley or a Rolls Phaeton pushing 30-inch wheels.

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But even those look staid compared to this blown Hemi V8-powered Roller.

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So this one isn't exactly weird, but it was odd to us Americans, snuck into our borders by Disc Brakes Australia.

Sadly, this year's show came at a time of record sales declines for the automotive industry as a result of the downward spiraling economy. A palpable vibe of uneasiness hung over the entire show, which was much smaller than years prior. Detroit has been hit especially hard, but so have the aftermarket companies, several hundred of which canceled their appearances. Even big dogs like Michelin, which usually has a ziggurat adorned with Enzos and Veyrons in their floor space, were no-shows.

With so much overkill present, the casual observer may think business is booming, but the truth is it that most of these firms were simply trying to appear confident in the face of a long uphill battle. Hopefully things will turn around soon - or next year all the cars may look like this:

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