Celebrating Mopar® at SEMA! The Early Years

3 weeks ago Events Gallery

Founded in 1963, SEMA was the first alliance between equipment manufacturers, dealers, wholesalers and salesmen in the speed equipment field. “SEMA” at that time stood for “Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association. Prior to this time, there were no unified efforts to unite these companies and sellers toward common goals. 

Back in the early days of the SEMA organization, this was the logo they used, complete with “speed equipment” as part of the name, to be changed later to “specialty” in 1968.

Ed Iskenderian was the first president of SEMA and he’s credited with being the one who guided the new organization through its formative stages. “Isky” cams were well-known at the time and lending his face to the group meant instant credibility to speed shop owners and warehouse distributors across the country.

vehicle on display at SEMA
At that very first SEMA Show event held at Dodger Stadium in 1967, Valvoline chose to display the “Wild Bill Shrewsberry L.A. Dart” wheelstander Dart in all its glory!

Valvoline Oil’s booth at the first SEMA Show in 1967 (staged at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles) was pretty basic, a card table and a couple 55-gallon barrels holding up the wheelstander 1966 Dodge Dart belonging to Bill Shrewsberry. The candy-striped car was an exhibition machine that pulled wheelies from the starting line past the 1320-mark and had its injected HEMI® engine located in the backseat area for ideal weight distribution for its intended show-stopping purposes. It was called the “L.A Dart” because he was sponsored by the Los Angeles/Orange County Area Dodge Dealers.

Growing as a result of the expanding focus of the industry, SEMA again revised their name for the 1980s with the new “market” name added to the association to best describe the scope of the scene.

The word “Speed” was updated to “Specialty” starting in 1968 to better represent to the government that the organization was representing “responsible” companies. The organization provided a united front to stand against what they were seeing at the time in the form of unfair legislative measures that could very much potentially kill the industry. By now, the SEMA Show took place at the Anaheim Convention Center in Orange County.

For the 1977 SEMA Show now in Las Vegas, it had a lot more exhibit and the event was well on its way to being a world-class event. The glitz and glamour of Las Vegas added a great deal of overall excitement to the automotive aftermarket industry to be sure!

“Hot Rod” parts and pieces were the main products promoted at the SEMA Show from the very start. And thanks to efforts by SEMA (during the “K-Car” era) in getting participation from the Chrysler Corporation, visitors could now see first-hand all the latest performance parts (“P”-prefix part numbers) that had been developed for drag racing and related street performance.

The Dodge Dakota Sidewinder was a concept vehicle debuted at the 1996 SEMA Show, a radical 2-seat convertible pickup packed with a Viper GTS-R 8.0L V10 engine. 21-inch front and 22-rear wheels were used and the machine was conceived as a sportier take of the 2nd-generation production Dakota truck.

In time, Chrysler also began to display “concept vehicles” and show new releases of production cars and trucks at SEMA.

At the Innovations Day Luncheon, Robert A. Lutz, Chrysler Corporation’s President and Chief Operating Officer, said this about the ’99 show: “It’s an honor for me to be here, I’ve heard a lot about how it’s grown since the last time I was here, several years ago, but this is really mind-boggling! It’s also a pleasure to be here, nice to be at a show where one of your vehicles is named ‘Vehicle of the Show!’ And, of course, that’s why our all-new Dodge Dakota pickup is here at SEMA.”

Here’s a selection of Mopar® vehicles displayed in the Direct Connection booth (and later “Mopar Performance”) as seen through my camera lenses, with the opening shot of the “LA Dart” at that very first show provided by SEMA.

Author: James Maxwell

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