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Ed Iskenderian and the History of Hot Rodding

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Published on Sun, Apr 23, 2017

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

ISKY Ed Iskenderian and the History of Hot Rodding Forward by Vic Edelbrock, Jr. Author: Matt Stone Published by CarTech Forest Lake, Minnesota ISBN 978-1-61325-290-1 207 Pages / multiple photos, charts, and real cool ad tearsheets $34.95 USD Review by Doug Stokes … No, the title of this book is really not “I Kissed Isky”.

However ... I really did (kiss him) at a recent book signing (sorry, cameras were banned) where he and author Matt Stone both immortalized my personal copy of Matt’s newest motor-bio work: “ISKY Ed Iskenderian and the History of Hot Roding” just published by our friends at Car Tech. Many of those who are steeped in the knowledge of fast cars from the post-war west coast (and primarily the LA area) probably would want to rewrite Matt’s title as: “Ed Iskenderian IS the History of Hot Rod”. And they’d be very close. But, as readers of this richly illustrated biography will quickly find out, even 95 year-old “Isky” had a mentor. His was the first California cam-wizard was Ed Winfield, whose pre-war work on the Millers and other Indy (“Big Cars”) may be genuinely categorized as legendary.

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Winfield was almost a cult hero among the guys like Ed who came home after the Second World War to the LA area (where his family had moved from central California in the early 20’s) and the incredibly fertile fields of “hoping up” pre-war automobiles for rides, racing, and maybe a little romance as well. They never would have in a thousand years thought they’d be called: “the greatest generation”, but, as it turned out, Isky and his buddies were. The son of an Armenian blacksmith, Ed was good with metallic objects almost by default. He just had a sense for the metal and a mind that worked more like a calculator. You can see that steel trap at work throughout this book. Ed Iskenderian seemed to have somehow innately understood what was going on inside of a racing engine, and was able to boost horsepower and torque by his subtle manipulation of an engine’s valve timing. One of the founding fathers of SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association), Ed has a “likely story” in which he claims to have been out of the room when the vote came up to decide who the first President of the fledgling automotive aftermarket suppliers organization that now counts over 6,600 member companies world-wide would be. Right, you guess it … he got the job! One the things that really set Ed’s business off was the way that he advertised his wares. Missing getting an advert in the very first edition of Hot Rod Magazine, Ed made darn sure that he got a shot for his young cam company in Volume 1 Issue 2 of the now almost 70-year old mothership magazine of backyard performance. The good news for this book is that author Stone has very happily chosen to include a wonderful selection of Isky’s informative, newsy, and just plainly proud of the product, magazine adverts. Some of them are almost stand-alone how-to-do-it tech articles, and all have the same upbeat, brash, and entertaining style. And speaking of smart promotion … Isky is credited with being the first race car parts manufacturer to promote his wares on T-shirts

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A kind, gentle, man whose cams have won countless thousands of races and set hundreds of records on drag strips, in the water, at Bonneville, and at the Indy 500, Ed Iskenderian ... “Isky” is as modest as he is proud of his contributions to the sport. This book tells that remarkable story well. (Which just might even include the ones who installed and won with his cams but who ran the stickers of rival cam outfits on their race cars because they paid more contingency money ... No names here, but you know who you are.) I truly believe, that, if it weren’t for Matt Stone ... Isky’s story, written by himself, would be about a page and a half (at best!) and just say that he was always trying to make his product better and felt that he was lucky so many people got to using his stuff to win races. It’s easy to fall into the world of this wonderful man who car and office are a paean to the old, “…that which is not in plain sight may be considered lost,” that’s been attributed to Picasso. Legendary for having an office that stuff went into but never came out of, his car was always the same … the back seat? Yeah, right … it’s back there, somewhere, but there’s no way to see it under the magazines, catalogs, newsletters, and other assorted printed ephemera.


Somehow matching his surroundings his eclectic collection of friends, competitors, and assorted acquaintances was just as cluttered, but here with “cluttered” with greatness. This book is only 207 pages long, but along the way you’ll meet a panoply of pioneer hot rodders who, like Isky, were far too busy with the business at hand (having fun making cars go fast) to ever even guess that they were destined to be our heroes. Here’s a few that you may recognize … they were all part of this remarkable man’s life: J.C. Agajanian, Nick Arias, Zora Arkus-Duntov, Dean Batchelor, Ray Brock, Fred Carillo, Art and Jack Christman, Jim Clark**, Vic Edelbrock (Sr. and Jr.), Don “Gartlits” (as he and Mickey Thompson both managed to mangle Garlits’ name), Dan Gurney, Chet Herbert, Phil Hill, Stu Hillborn, Parnelli Jones, Ak Miller, Harry Miller, Dean Moon, Wally Parks, Don Prudhomme, Lance Reventlow, Roy Richter, Carroll Shelby, Louie Senter, Clay Smith, Bill and Bob Summers, Mickey Thompson, Bobby and Louie Unser, Linda Vaughn, Phil Weiand, Ed Winfield, and Alex Xydias. There are many, many more. At 95 laps around the sun (DOB: 07/10/21), Isky has outlived a number of the above heroes, and here, in his book he brings them back into unique focus. Ooops … I called it “his” book when Matt Stone (indeed) wrote it …the slip was because of Matt’s talent and Isky’s story … the blend is complete here. This one is a fun read, quick-paced, (and as noted ... richly illustrated) and the wonderfully true story of the life and times of an automotive icon who, even this long along the line, still really doesn’t know what all the fuss is about. It’s about you Isky... One of kindest, most open, most modest of them all ... That’s why I had to give you a little kiss at Autobooks over in Burbank the other day. -DS ABOUT MATT STONE: Automotive journalist, TV commentator, and the insightful biographer of a trio of America’s favorite car guys: Paul Newman, James Garner, and Steve McQueen with McQueen getting two books, one about his “Machines” in general, and the other about his motorcycles and that part of his life. Now, adding the great Ed Iskenderian to his lineup of automotive legends it really makes one wonder whose story the prolific mister Stone will be telling next. Whoever it is, sign me up for an autographed copy please. AUTHOR’S STORY: I first met Ed Iskenderian many years ago when I was racing a Lotus 18 in SCCA competition. We had a rod let go at a race at Riverside and on its way to freedom hit the camshaft. When we got to rebuilding the wounded 4-cylinder, 1,600cc Ford engine we found that (although the lobes were all good) the cam was pretty seriously bent. It was an Iskenderian grind but there was no part number on it.


I went down to the Iskenderian facility in Gardena to get a replacement … That’s where I met Ed. I asked to buy a duplicate. Ed said, “You want a new cam, or do you want me to fix this one?” “Huh? … Fix this one?” “Yeah.” … “FIX IT” Are you kidding?” … “Nope”. “OK, 'fix it' then...” said I. And, with that, he took the cam and we walked into the shop where he set it into a lathe using a set of centers. He rolled the cam back and forth a couple of times to find the high spot, grabbed a (BIG, HEAVY) lead hammer and brought it down very hard on the cam, he rolled the cam back and forth again, swung the hammer one more time ... just as hard, and (and only then) got a dial indicator hooked up to check the straightness of the cam. In the jargon of many old school mechanics: it was “nuts on” ... the formerly bent cam was as straight as the day was long. Ed smiled his little crinkled eye smile and handing it back to an astonished acolyte who, from that day on, actually stopped carrying a hammer in his race box, me figuring that after seeing the master wield one the way that he did, I shouldn’t even attempt to use one. My long ago small homage to the man. -DS


ALSO YOU MIGHT LIKE: It’s way out of print now, but I was able to find more than one copy of it available on the web. I’m talking about Joe Scalzo’s 2007 hopped-up, high-horsepower, high-gear, high-test, high-performance, frank, frantic, factual, fantastic, full-speed love letter to Los Angeles racing called “City of Speed”. The thrill ride that you’ll go on with one of the truly great chroniclers of the modern American racing scene is well worth tracking a copy down! *on the forehead. **For all my (supposed) motorsports knowledge, I did not know that there were Iskenderian grinds in the Lotus-Ford that Clark so astonished the racing world with in the 1965 Indy 500.

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