Gearhead Nirvana

SEMA—the massive automotive aftermarket exposition put on by the Specialty Equipment Marketers Association Nov. 1-4 at the Las Vegas Convention Center—was all about paint, tires, wheels, stereos, tools, kit cars, car repair, four-wheel drive, new technology, gizmos, farkles and eye candy. More than that, it is also where industry types come to make deals and get inspired. Which is why it’s closed to the public, lending an air of exclusivity to the affair. And, yes, you missed something cool.

The show was, as usual, a beast. Some 100,000 attendees and 2,100 companies marketing bling for your car occupied the center’s exhibit halls. The “pocket-size” guide to exhibitors was 200 pages long. If you saw it all, you probably walked five miles.

“I had a couple first-timers ask me what they should do first,” the shuttle-bus driver told me as she looped between halls. “I told them ‘leg stretches.’’’

The halls were full of ideas we never thought anyone would have. For instance, we never considered mounting a tent on the roof of our car and equipping it with a flat-screen TV. We also have to hand it to the folks who exhibited a brand-new, kit-built 1965 Mustang body, ready to finish and paint. We want one.

The show is also a guidepost to what you’re going to see on the road in the near future, so look for a lot of tuned, lowered, snowboard-bearing Fiat 500s. Fiat’s huggable, diminutive coupe won the show’s Hottest Sport Compact Car award, meaning more companies are concentrating their aftermarket efforts on it than anything else. Subtext: Minis are so 2006.