Macabre auto aftermarket enters the afterlife at SEMA Show

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Turns out the automotive aftermarket now extends into the afterlife.

The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show here annually showcases the latest in aftermarket automotive equipment, from air fresheners to hot-rod engines. But the SEMA Show this year included one of the most macabre if fascinating booths in its history — Last Rides Custom Urns.

The urns actually are one-of-a-kind cast sculptures that resemble scale-model vehicles. The difference is that they are hollow inside and hold the ashes of the dearly departed.

Last Rides is the brainchild of Jessie Enriquez, an artist, fabricator, mechanic and woodworker from Tucson, Ariz. His sons Christopher and Erik were manning the booth that displayed several examples of the family’s work.

As the story goes, the family was talking about funerals and various family member’s wishes. Several said they wanted to be cremated.

Turns out, this was no casual conversation. The family began checking to see what sort of urns were available and discovered nothing that it thought expressed the deceased’s personality.

After creating several prototypes, the family found its solution, and a new business. It sculpts a clay model of the client’s favorite vehicle — one he or she has owned or restored or simply one he or she might have wanted to drive. The model is cast, hand painted, and mounted on a wooden base.

Several people have purchased their urn to display now in a home, office or garage with the idea of actually using it for its intended purpose at a later — hopefully much later — date.

The SEMA Show is a closed trade show, not open to the public, but annually draws tens of thousands of people who either buy or sell aftermarket parts, from Detroit automakers to local mechanics. However, it also is an amazing car show, with hundreds of customized vehicles on display, some in the booths inside the Las Vegas Convention Center, hundreds more in the parking lots outside the buildings.

There are various awards for the most interesting of vehicles, but one of the things most impressive at this year’s SEMA Show were the display booths themselves.

While the colorful scale models in the Last Rides booth were eye-catching on their own, others sometimes go to extremes to draw attention to their wares. Three in particular deserve mention this year:

— To celebrate the 110th anniversary of Henry Ford’s victory over Alexander Winton in an early auto race, an achievement that really launched the Ford Motor Co. by helping Henry line up needed investors, Ford’s booth featured several historic racing cars from The Henry Ford Museum. To display those cars — and at the same time to provide security that kept them out of touch — the cars were placed atop a stack of metal shipping containers, each painted in the color scheme of the car it supported.

— While Ford’s was the most impressive display among the original equipment automakers, PPG’s stood out among top tier suppliers.

Last year, PPG’s display took the form of a working drive-in. This year, the display was repurposed and presented as Johnny O’s Collision & Customs: You Bend ‘Em… We Mend ‘Em! Three cars and several motorcycles were parked in or in front of the shop, including the Imperial Speedster, a creation by Murray Pfaff, an custom car designer from Royal Oak.

— But it wasn’t only such large companies that had special eye-catching displays. Perhaps the most impressive by a small firm was that by Laser Shades, a fledgling company started by an Australian who has created laser-cut automotive window screens that are held in place magnetically.

Not only is the product clever, but so was the booth, which involved hanging product samples for various vehicles on colorful panels that appeared to be ready to go to the laser cutter for production.

 

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at ledsall@cox.net.