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SEMA 2012: Mopars at the big aftermarket parts show

SEMA is the aftermarket industry’s organization, and they hold a huge show every year in Las Vegas. The event was much bigger this November than it has been recently; this was the largest I have seen in my five years at the show. In places where there were four or more rows of cars, there was a single row of cars with vendor booths occupying the space vacated by the cars. Outside there were huge exhibits/booths where cars had been.

Richard Petty Challenger convertible

Even with a lot less space, there was the occasional vehicle that made one wonder, why is that here? One of those was a Richard Petty “Legacy” Challenger. It was a convertible. It was Petty Blue. It did have a painted-on number 43. It did have a painted-on representation of “The King.” Petty’s NASCAR performance will never be matched, but that car did not belong here.

I wanted to share something with Bob Bondurant and went to where his booth had always been. I was shocked, it wasn’t there. I had noticed in SEMA news that Ron Fellow’s instructors from his Spring Mountain facility would be giving the Corvette thrill rides. I had talked with Bob and his wife Pat at the Barrett-Jackson auction of the first new production Viper, and they were planning on attending SEMA at that time.

Bob’s instructors were giving rides at the Costa Mesa auction. The line wasn’t too long but there was a requirement to drive a non-performance GM vehicle first. The one I drove certainly lived up to the billing, but the next ride was worth it; with the instructor at the wheel, the Corvette was screaming and sideways about 70% of the time. If you get the chance, do it. The lines at SEMA have always been too long for me to consider before.

Chrysler 300

Another indicator for the size of the show and the attendance was the difficulty in getting a clear shot of things the size of a car. Usually on the first day that was not a problem, not so this year. The crowd was already moving very slowly, and if your target generated attention there was not going to be an opening until about 4 p.m.

I started to wander from where Bob’s booth wasn’t and soon came face to face with the shrunken Imperial that had been in the PPG display last year. There can’t be two of these in the world. The car is a ’69 Imperial; it has been shortened, removing all rear-seat passenger space, and does not have a top. The owner is Murray Pfaff, who designs custom cars.

The Chrysler press conference was scheduled for late in the day starting at 4:40 p.m. Registration can consume a lot more time than it should, so this time slot sort of assures that everyone would be finished with that chore. On the other hand, this is Vegas, and people are anxious to get out and do thoroughly forgettable things.

Daytona conversion

The Chrysler display appeared to generate much more interest than in past years. The increase in attendance would be responsible for some increase, but not all. Pat Caporali, manager of media relations at Chrysler, thought it was the free popcorn.

The presentation was coordinated between four stages and went well with one exception: when Sergio introduced the first racer he expected the person to be in the audience; instead he was waiting to come on stage.

Seventy-five years ago, Mopar was born. Mopar is a contraction for Motor Parts. The first product was anti-freeze. Edelbrock was giving away 75th anniversary pins. A close examination revealed these are actually for 2013. I’m taking it back.

Jeep Wrangler displayThe 2011-and-up power control module (PCM) has a rolling code to prevent aftermarket tuning. At SpringFest, Ralph Gilles was under as much pressure as common people can heap on him regarding the locked PCM. He appeared to give an off-the-cuff answer, saying, “We will have an answer at SEMA.” Some didn’t believe. I was sure there would be an answer; we might not like the answer.

Sergio said that an unlocked PCM will be made available to Arrow and Arrington. Installing one of these will void the powertrain warranty. Don Arrington confirmed that the PCM could be tuned at his facility and shipped to the customer. Final tuning is via e-mail, and that is already done every day for older PCMs. I spoke with Ralph about my concern with there being only two vendors, and he assured me that more vendors will come to the table for this solution.

Finally, Jeep is going to make something that is better prepared to leave the asphalt. The Jeep Wrangler Sand Trooper comes with a 5.7-liter HEMI engine and Mopar/Fox Racing Shox. It features 5 inches of lift, 42-inch wheels, and a skid plate covering most of the bottom. It also has lockable areas under the seats.

Willys Jeep pickup

Sergio is convinced the Fiat is gaining momentum. There will be three models. The high end will be the Bonneville Salt Flats model. Come on!

There is now a Willys truck. I like it.

There was also a Juiced Charger on display. It has a V-10 engine.

Dodge Power Wagon firetruck

Mopar Alley was much better this year. The Power Wagon fire truck was great. The Pikes Peak car was well engineered and well built. All of the other heritage cars were from a Las Vegas Mopar club.

DeSoto Firedome Pikes Peak car

I have always liked the Power Wagon and there before me was one that had been fully restored. The only external modification that I could identify was the fenders, which had been shortened. It was dark green with black fenders, a color scheme used on many cars in the ’30s. Modern brakes had been installed.

Dodge Power Wagon

This was the domain of Winslow Bent, who does vintage truck restorations in Jackson, Wyoming. He uses the Allpar site almost daily to search for vintage parts and get information needed to restore old trucks. He thinks it is a great site. He opened the door for me to visit; he doesn’t know that the first time I went to Wyoming I crossed the state three times east to west, once through Ten-Sleep Canyon.

Romeo Ferraris Fiat 500

The next thing that begged me to look closer was a Fiat Abarth. It comes from Romeo Ferraris in Milano, Italy, and I would classify this as a value added reseller. The car has a red, white, and blue paint scheme and is fitted with 18-inch wheels; the engine is tuned to produce 235 hp, and the European version can be tuned to 300 hp. I would like to drive this car.

Tom RichardsonWednesday, as I was walking toward the convention center, I saw a Best in the Desert chase truck. Not surprising, the upper floor of south hall is dedicated to off-road. The number was 1724. I was almost past the truck when I realized 1724 is a Jeepspeed number, and I know who it is: Tom Richardson, the guy who knocked out his co-driver at the Blue Water Desert Challenge.

Tom owns Warrior Products and produces a line of Jeep accessories, including brackets for mounting a shovel and an ax together and brackets for mounting a Hi-Lift jack on the hood. We laugh at aerodynamics. All of Tom’s products are made in the USA.

There was just something wrong about two ladies manning a booth for American Rack.

On the off-road floor there was a vehicle that appeared to be a mix of a small pickup and a rat rod, but the rear wheels were too short. The body was made from aluminum, and it had a modern HEMI engine. The power-to-weight ratio has got to be a big number. (See Rugged Ridge’s web site)

Rugged Ridge Jeep

I should work harder at getting CRC out of my mind; they take C5 or C6 Corvettes and transform them to resemble much older Corvettes. The angle of the windshield is dead giveaway. If I gave them my 2008 C6 and $105,000, I could get back a 1958 Corvette with a lazy windshield. All body and trim parts including the chromed parts are made of carbon fiber. The cold-air intake was awesome. Air filters on either side of the car are attached to a duct in the hood routing air to the throttle body. At speed it should provide positive air pressure at the intake manifold.

CRC Corvettes

In the Optima display area, there was an older Dodge truck with a Triumph motorcycle in the back. The tires, the seat, and the fact there was no front brake pointed toward this being a flat-track bike. A guy comes over and after he is satisfied that I already have an Optima battery he tells me, “This is Gene Romero’s bike.”

Back in the ’60s I had even less money than I have now and spent many Friday nights at Ascot Park in Gardena, California, watching motorcycle flat-track races. It was cheap and very entertaining. Gene usually rode the high line and the announcer always identified him as the “Flying Burrito.” He was American Motorcycle Association Champion in 1972.

Points are accumulated in different types of racing all across the U.S. One of the infamous was the Sacramento Mile. I have seen news/movie clips of bad accidents at this race. It is a horse track with soft footing; the mile length allowed the bike to achieve a high speed and then when called to turn the bike wanted to plow.

Triumph bike

It was amazing to see how many companies were making products for Jeeps or used a Jeep to display a generic product. Someone is making an air intake that mounts at roof level. Never mind that the driver floats before that depth is reached. If I get into water a foot deep, I am taking my seatbelt off.

The SEMA show is unique and provides a legitimate reason to go to Las Vegas. Those wanting to go and not in an automotive-related business should talk with local auto repair or parts places about passes or tickets.

Also see the Chrysler SEMA cars:

Dodge Charger JuicedDodge Dart Carbon Fire • Fiat 500 Beach Cruiser • Chrysler 300 Luxury • Li’l Red Express Truck

Jeep Grand Cherokee Half & HalfUrban Ram • Moparized ViperJeep Wrangler Sand Trooper

Chrysler HeritageHistory by YearChrysler People and BiosCorporate Facts and History

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