Jay Leno opened the 2019 SEMA Show by marveling at the American design, engineering and manufacturing ingenuity that was showcased in and around the Las Vegas Convention Center.

In what amounted to the keynote address, Leno contrasted the new mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette and its $60,000 base price with competitive vehicles produced in Asia or Europe.

“As sophisticated as anything from Lamborghini or Ferrari,” said the world’s most famous car enthusiast. “A real triumph of American ingenuity and manufacturing.”

Huge SEMA sign was selfie central for show attendees

Leno added that because of the companies that showcase their automotive aftermarket products at the SEMA Show, cars have become not only faster, but safer, stopping better and even more efficient. He suggested that message is important in light of “a couple of high-performance car accidents in recent months.”

He said he has a 1910 Mercedes chassis powered by an aero engine with double chain drive to the rear wheels. But to drive such a vehicle, he said, he had to figure out a way “not to stop better, but to stop at all.”

The solution was installing the front axle from a 1929 Lincoln.

Now, “I can drive it on the street,” he said. 

But, he added, he has retained the original axle so the car can be returned to its original condition at some point.

In regard to not just enhancing the performance of vintage vehicles but an ability to keep them on the road, Leno said 3D printing technology is a game changer. He said an ability to scan and reproduced a no-longer-available part, or even a photograph of that part, has made it possible for him to keep his 1908 White on the road.

Paint-producer PPG’s stand is an annual SEMA Show highlight, a microcosm of some aspect of the automotive lifestyle

This year, behind the graffiti-covered walls, PPG displayed several colorful cars

Driving remains important to Leno and to his generation, he said.

“We didn’t have iPhones,” he said. “We couldn’t go places virtually. We had to go in reality.”

In the days after Leno’s visit to the show-opening new product awards breakfast, SEMA members filled and overflowed the convention center’s three huge exhibition halls and surrounding parking lots with vehicles and parts to preserve or to enhance their performance.

As the show prepared to open, SEMA president Chris Kersting suggested several trends that would be evident as more than 130,000 people attended the trade show. They included:

— Overlanding, vehicle-based off-pavement adventure travel. 

— Fast and Furious, the increasing popularity of sport compact, Japanese Domestic Market, Euro-tuner and exotic vehicles, especially among younger enthusiasts. 

— ADAS and EV conversion, advanced driver-assistance systems and conversions from petroleum to electric propulsion. 

— A data-driven evolution in parts and performance marketing, much like the impact of analytics in sports.

We can’t get you into the actual show, which is a trade event open only to those involved in the automotive aftermarket, but we can share a gallery of some of the vehicles that attracted our attention and that we haven’t included in our previous coverage. 



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