I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting out of my first trip to the SEMA show in Las Vegas, but the event somehow ended up being both everything and nothing I thought it would be.

Let me put it this way — I can say with some confidence that whatever it is you’ve heard about SEMA, it’s true. All of it.

The event is carried out on a scale that is virtually impossible to articulate on paper, and the level of organization is simply astounding. Though impressed by the sheer scale of the event, I was also struck by several distinct impressions that I think affect us directly as American car collectors.

I’ve learned over the years that the SEMA show acts somewhat as a breeding ground where the ridiculous and absurd meet for their annual fling, but it is also where the groundbreaking ideas and breathtaking new trends emerge that drive many automotive markets forward for years to follow.

Here’s what I saw:

The good

The first hall I hit on Day 1 housed the New Products Showcase. The simple fact that everyone who’s anyone in the world of automotive-product manufacturing comes together to display their latest and greatest under one roof is the driving force that really makes SEMA great. Buyers and builders and designers and writers are given the rare opportunity to size manufacturers up against one another and compare quality, componentry, ingenuity and style. We all win as a result.

Some of the most interesting and relevant products I saw on hand were retrofit plug-and-play packages designed specifically for easing the pain of sliding a modern drivetrain under the hood of old iron. The concept isn’t new, of course, but the packaging, which may be similar to the one on https://www.andex.net/skin-board-packaging/, and completeness of the units have improved tremendously over the years.

The OEMs have fully recognized the demand for easy-to-install packages that eliminate the need for an electrical engineering degree, and business is booming. Dropping an LT4, Coyote or Hellcat into your Pacer may never be easier. Just don’t expect it to be cheap.

Piggybacking on the high-tech-meets-low-tech of the plug-and-play packages were the data acquisition systems. Although most of us prefer to tune blindly by ear and smell and overinflated sense of ability, the argument against adding some sort of data-acquisition tool to your ride is growing increasingly difficult to defend.

Imagine popping a couple of holes in your exhaust, threading in a couple of O2 sensors and getting live, recordable and repeatable data from affordable units that you can use to dial your tune in wherever you are and however you drive. And that is really just scratching the surface. Digital data loggers that provide accurate engine vitals and recordable track data and real-world diagnostic tools in simple, clean and affordable packages are officially here. No need to wait for the flux-capacitor to hit the market. Keep the carb. Tune like you actually know what you’re doing. Amazing stuff.

The better

If you are still holding on to the idea that street rods, muscle cars and Day 1 originals are the only American collectibles, you’ll find that the folks who show up to SEMA are working hard to change your mind. There’s no place quite like SEMA for unique body styles to get the full-boogie treatment.

Vendors and builders are looking for any opportunity to stand out from the crowd, and ’32 Fords and ’69 Camaros just don’t garner the bang for the buck they did a few short years ago. As a result, SEMA offers one of the year’s best venues for taking a risk on underutilized machines.

For example, do you think mid-’60s GM pickups are ugly? Well, you might want to skip down a paragraph or two. They were everywhere. And they looked amazing and absolutely at home under the lights. If you have a shortbed tucked away in the barn, your time is now.

Speaking of trucks, if I never see another lifted F-150 on ginormous wheels, it’ll be too soon.

Positive spin? If SEMA is any indication, and it is, trucks are every bit a part of the modern American Car Collector scene as Mustangs, Camaros or Challengers. That means the rising tide we’ve watched lift ’70s and ’80s trucks and SUVs is surging against the levee, and the breach is coming. Are you ready?

Editor Pickering has been predicting the coming of the Fox-body Mustangs for a couple of years now, and the inevitable is officially here. Goolsby Customs brought a ’79 equipped with a Coyote Aluminator under the hood and a retro paint job on the surface that was absolutely stopping people in their tracks. Now that consumers have a next-generation 5.0 and OEM-supported plug-and-play options, don’t be surprised if we see a huge resurgence in Fox-body values. Be prepared for other ’70s and ’80s performance platforms to follow suit.

The best

I’m a hot rod/street rod/muscle car, burn-’em-up, slide-it-sideways kind of guy, and SEMA brings out the best of the best from the world I love. Thankfully, the SEMA organization continues to find a bigger carrot to hang from the stick each year, which in turn encourages more vendors to write those blank checks for the top builders. There are some truly exceptional craftsmen bringing truly exceptional cars and trucks to SEMA, and, once again, we all benefit as a result.

We don’t need to be exceptional if those that are can share their ideas and their successes. Builders at the top of the heap can almost single-handedly change the marketability, and thus desirability, of a body style in one fantastic effort.

As I’ve said before, you don’t necessarily need to own the best example of something so long as someone out there is dreaming about it. SEMA’s influence here cannot be understated.

The Las Vegas event is more than a little overwhelming, to be sure, but SEMA keeps the spotlight on making sure our hobby is relevant, innovative and unified. I can’t wait to go back.

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