This SEMA ’97 Tour Is a Cool Car Culture Time Capsule Captured on Tape
No electric vehicles here.
While the industry is focusing on the 2021 SEMA show this week, we decided to look back into the archives and see what the show was like in the old days. Get ready for one heck of a blast from the past as we follow Motorsports Magazine exploring SEMA in 1997. For those who are first happening upon this term, SEMA stands for the Specialty Equipment Market Association, and it’s a gigantic tradeshow in Las Vegas, where vendors from all corners of the automotive realm hang out and feature their products. This includes distinguished tuning shops and big-name automakers showcasing what they’re capable of with all types of accessorized concepts on display. It’s mostly based in the aftermarket performance industry, but there’s usually a lot more in attendance.
Although the video’s title says 1998, the footage itself says 1997. It’s a great look at what the state of the automotive aftermarket industry was in the mid-to-late ’90s and the grainy footage shows how far everything has come.
On-brand for what SEMA has always been known for, there’s a great variety of different car makes and models, tuning cultures, and more. As somebody with a soft spot for old school water-cooled VWs, I was happy to see a couple of tuned Mk3 Jettas on display. There’s also an SVT Ford Contour at one point.
Remember the Tornado?
One highlight that’s worthy of a hearty chuckle is the Tornado Air Management System. For those who weren’t of the age to get hyped about Slipknot’s self-titled CD when it hit Circuit City’s shelves in the late ’90s, the Tornado was something else. In theory, putting one of these impeller-looking gizmos upstream from the throttle body or carburetor promised significant bumps in fuel economy and horsepower. The jury is still out on whether it truly ever provided any real benefits among the general public, but we can’t imagine they were too impactful.
I’m really curious if there are any cars out there still rocking these. As in, they‘ve been in there since the late ’90s and were never removed. Maybe it’s helping to offset the inherent decrease in fuel economy that the vehicle has experienced since it was new. Hmm, the things we ponder here at Car Bibles.
The M-Class Was a Hit
Additionally, mid-to-late ’90s automotive journalism makes an appearance in the video. Doug Hamlin of Motor Trendis there to talk about the Mercedes M-Class and its reason for being the 1998 MT Truck of the Year. Hearing him talk about its advanced traction control system and powerful V6 engine is a throwback. Although the W163 was rad, technology has certainly come a long way since.
To top it all off, there’s some great discussion about the rise of import drag racing. Bobbie Cooper of HKS shares some insight on the state of the market. She essentially sums up that import drag racing in 1997 is like what American drag racing was in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Unbeknown to them, HKS and the rest of the brands at SEMA be in for quite a treat once The Fast and the Furious hit the silver screen just a few years later.
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