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by Ray Alexander
For several years I entered this event through the back entrance to the North Hall. Before reaching the entrance, I saw several trucks parked outside; this was a good sign. North Hall only had tires and wheels and a couple of years prior it wasn’t half filled; in 2011, it was packed wall to wall. I walked the length of two football fields through tires that I had never heard of. This building had an elevation change, and from here to the front of the building was tires and wheels, the difference being that most of the tire brands were familiar. There must be a good profit margin in wheels because many companies demoed their wheels on expensive cars.
First on my agenda was to go to the Mopar area. I was shocked by the Jeep Wrangler SRT and a little surprised by the return of the truck SRT. There were several older Mopars with the distinctive classic colors; Plum Crazy, Sublime and Detonator Yellow.
There was an off-road truck that looked thoroughly dangerous, like it was ready to attack. I asked someone if it was a product.
He replied that it was not, it was his truck, but he did not run Baja or any desert races, just the man-made tracks. He pointed to a truck that was a product and was similar to his.
There was a police version of the Charger on display, and a fellow opened the rear door and looked in. I said, “Don’t go there that is where I have to ride.”
He said “It’s okay I'm a cop, and we still love you.”
It must be the handcuffs that make me feel not loved.
On the way to Mopar Alley I passed close to where Ron Fellows instructors were giving short demonstration rides in Corvettes. These guys had the engines operating near redline for about 50% of the ride (which took less than a minute: they drifted through a long turn that turned them back toward the start line). As soon as they could get one out and another belted in, they went around again. They were still going after 5 P.M. today, that’s a good testimonial for the Corvette engine. Chevrolet had a semi-trailer showing the Corvette assembly process. I have toured the factory, and it is very much a macro step assembly.
I was very disappointed with Mopar Alley, there were no customer modified vehicles, only new production. Last year Fiat had a dedicated piece of Mopar Alley, this year SRT has that area. That was a good thing, now if we could only tune them.
Exhibits spilled over into a large area where SEMA vehicles were parked last year. A large indoor dining area was removed to allow for more product booths. A large outdoor dining area was also taken away. So while there were plenty of places to purchase lunch, there was very little opportunity to sit at a table to eat it. Never have I seen so many people sitting on the floor to eat.
If you came to SEMA you would realize very quickly this is a world event. You couldn’t understand many of the conversations, there were a large number of smokers and the weird clothes all provided hints. I saw what I think was a guy wearing a skirt. The automobile is a product of the world with parts and assemblies coming from many countries. Recently, a freighter hit a reef and some of those containers have car parts inside; how does a factory manage this unplanned delay?
In the off-road area if a vehicle was needed as a tool it was a Jeep. That is a nice change from the time everyone used a three-word rhyme describing Jeeps.
For those who have not been to SEMA, Mopar Alley was located at a pedestrian crossing between North Hall and Central Hall. A bridge over one of the major traffic arteries confined the foot traffic; Mopar Alley simply kept them confined. The alley was usually populated with several customer cars that had an interesting story to tell. This year it was all production vehicles. No other manufacturer had anything that compared with the alley; a crowd or slow traffic can cause people to walk around a display located anywhere else. If you chose this route between buildings you went through the Mopar display
Early on Friday morning I found most of the Mopar crew in a meeting and expressed my disappointment with Mopar Alley.
They asked, “What do you want to see there?”
I replied, “I want to see customer vehicles. This year it is all production vehicles; they might as well be in here with the others. I liked the SRT section of the alley and that should probably stay.”
I had read that due to some Mopar decisions Hurst was to discontinue providing a specialized Hurst Challenger. I saw a Hurst Challenger and a Hurst Cadillac at the show parked next to each other. Why bring a discontinued product to the show?
Diablo told me they were no more than 60 days from being able to modify the newly encrypted PCM. The other manufacturers were not throwing up this barrier to changing computer parameters for engine performance. I saw a 2011 Charger that could not spin the rear tires while power braking.
I have no quantitative facts to offer as evidence but I believe newly built American muscle is returning to the drag strip. Ford and GM were making this an easy trip. The HEMI engine had huge potential that Mopar was refusing to show. How far behind did Mopar wish to be?
Johnny O’s was a busy place when I first saw it. Everyone was dressed in light tan coveralls having their names on them. There was a partial spray booth with an adjoining office. This led me to believe that this was a paint and body shop, it even had the proverbial “junk yard dog” that crapped on the floor a couple of times. They were busy so I went back at another time. They had two beautiful Imperials; one was sectioned down to the size of a Cadillac El Dorado.
I had not seen Johnny O’s at SEMA before so I decided to interview them relative to their perceived value of SEMA. When I went back, no one had coveralls on. I found the correct person to talk with and near the beginning I said, “I haven’t seen Johnny O’s here prior to this year.”
The guy replied, “Oh no, we have been here every year. In fact last year our booth won best of show.”
This was actually PPG (Pittsburgh Paint and Glass), and every year they came as something different and on one day of the show they coordinate their dress with the booth theme. The booth was more crowded when I went back so this marketing scheme must work for them. Last year they were Peggy Sue’s Diner. I remember the diner and I believe there were people in the diner eating hotdogs and popcorn but then it could be my vivid imagination.
Many of the cars on display had Toyo tire clamps indicating sponsorship. Toyo didn’t have a booth last year but they were here this year so I stopped by to present them the opportunity to give me a set of tires. They declined. I asked about a tire that cornered better than Proxes 4 and learned that they made a tire with soft rubber on the right side of the tread pattern and harder rubber on the left side. Tires presented the consumer with a staggering number of tradeoffs and later there were more. As an old cigarette commercial went “do you want good grammar or good taste?”
I was getting too many miles on my Dodge and decided to drive the Corvette to the show. The last time I drove it I detected a new sound from the right rear. I thought a wheel bearing was going bad. The car was still under warranty so I took it to the dealership. Two days later they told me the differential and bearings were not the problem. The right rear tire was cupping, I probably needed the rear wheels aligned. I wanted to get the rear tires trued to get rid of the cups. I found a place that does this and took the car in. The right side was far from factory specifications. The shaving took off a couple of hands full of rubber. The technician joked, “if you put a line lock on the car you could do this yourself.” The car turned more crisply and was much quieter.
Within the forty-acre area devoted to tires and wheels, there were a couple of suppliers for chemicals/solvents needed for tire mounting and repair. One that I particularly disliked was the slippery stuff applied to the bead for tire mounting. The tire was immediately inflated and the material that was trapped on the bead stays wet for days. During the time the stuff is wet if you make a sudden stop, hit a pothole, use too much throttle or do anything that is fun you need to have the wheels balanced again. The tire moves relative to the rim where the weights are applied. Also within this area were several suppliers for mounting and balancing equipment. I saw only one with a tire-truing machine and that was TSI in Phoenix. I asked about demand and he replied it had definitely increased.
Optima Batteries had some very nice old Mopars. They were a sponsor for the Silver State race and competed in a Corvette. The program for this event was four days of festivities with 45 minutes of racing. The first morning in Ely, Nevada was quite chilly and my battery didn’t like it. The only battery in Ely that would fit the Corvette was an Optima. I wanted to share this information. The guy I picked was Daryl Brockman and he was one of the team members racing the Corvette, his partner was Cam Douglass. We talked about the accident in September that killed both driver and navigator. The navigator was Merle Hill, a very helpful technical inspector for Silver State. His test for wheel bearings caused the entire car to shake.
I asked Prothane how was it to come to a glitz and glitter show and sell something as mundane as a bushing. They replied a good product sells itself. I then asked about bushings for a Dodge Charger. I got the same answer as last year. We are working on them.
In conclusion SEMA had a lot more exhibitors this year, it is futile to try seeing everything and be prepared for a lot of walking. On a positive note I got lost a lot less than I used to.
by Norman Layton
The Mopar Alley was a huge disappointment this year. About half the number of vehicles of 2010, with some of the cars loaded with boxes three days after the opening. Still, Chrysler once again used their 28,400 square foot exhibit space to display over 30 vehicles, both upcoming production models and some cutting edge concepts.
Center stage was a new 800 horsepower, 512 CID, V-10 crate motor, P5155872, especially designed for drag racing. Hand assembled and capable of 695 lb. ft. of torque and operating up to 7,000 rpm, with a 12.5:1 compression rating, these race calibrated engines are assembled to exacting standards. There will also be a future off road racing version.
Also featured at the show was a Gen III, High Output crate version of the 426 Hemi V-8 with 590 HP. It's lightweight aluminum block is 100 lbs lighter than the cast iron version. It has six bolt mains and an 11:1 compression ratio. There were also two 426, ready to run, engine calibration kits. Additionally Mopar offered a Pro Stock cylinder head and a Gen III Hemi front Drive kit for easy distributor tuning.
There was also an eye catching orange Durango, called the 'Tow Hook'. Aptly named as it was towing a very nice all aluminum trailer which carried a Charger painted to match. The Durango had several SRT-esque features including a satin black color accent scheme, a custom exhaust system, SRT steering wheel, Katzkin seats and premium interior.
For the small car crowd, the Fiat 500 'Carbon', designed by the Mopar Underground, featured custom anodized blue paint (they call it Azzurro) , blackened interior, carbon fiber front fascia, fog lamp bezels and chin spoiler. It also featured lower ride height (springs) and liftgate spoiler, for better cornering at speed. It had special seats, carpet and floor mats, matted dash panel and instrument panel accents. Expect to see a few of these vehicles show up at the LA Auto show in a week or so.
The major highlight of day one was the live build of a Ram Runner. Mopar employees took a stock Ram and converted into a Ram Runner in less than 8 hours. The Charger Police vehicle has some interesting interior features, though an official from a large police department privately told me they would drive their Crown Vics into the ground before purchasing new alternatives and they will never use a front wheel drive patrol car. That said, most departments seem to have begun a transition to the Charger.
The Call of Duty / Modern Warfare 3 Jeep Wrangler was shown. The Jeep features AEV bumpers front and rear and an AEV Heat Reduction Hood as factory certified and warranted parts. No word yet on pricing or the number of units, but most Special Edition Wranglers have been limited to runs of 5,000.
This is a huge breakthrough for aftermarket companies as AEV becomes one of the very first Tier 2 suppliers to break through into Tier 1 status and have their parts, not only officially sanctioned by Jeep but officially become Jeep parts, installed upon the assembly line at Toledo. These parts were extensively tested, abused and re-tested in a series of bumper tests for Jeep and DOT certification. (Also available is a Superlift 2" lift as a dealer-supplied part.)
Mopar had the biggest part of the Chrysler presence at SEMA this year, with new engines, concepts and the Jeg Jr. announcement.
All in all, SEMA just keeps getting better and the aftermarket looks to be on firm footing after several tough years. The Mopar display was a tad short on vehicles this year, but big on details and specifics. The excitement over the news of Jeg Coughlin Jr. moving to Mopar over shadowed a lot of other Mopar news, but Jeg's announcement was pretty big news for straight line fans, as the 4 time NHRA Pro Stock Champ, joins the Mopar Camp in 2012.
Mopar concepts for SEMA 2011
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