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I KISSED ISKY: Ed Iskenderian and the History of Hot Rodding

Published on Fri, Jul 10, 2020

By: Doug Stokes

In this book review, I examine the story masterfully written by Matt Stone detailing one of most obsessive speed-smiths I've ever known.

The man himself, Ed Iskenderian.
ISKY: Ed Iskenderian and the History of Hot Rodding.

(This is a reprise of a review that I wrote here in LACar a few years back, and today, July 10, 2020 is a bit of a signal day in the life of the subject of that book, the “Camfather” himself, Ed Iskenderian because he completes his 99th lap around the Sun today (and most likely using one his vaunted “5-Cycle” cams … look that one up).

No, the title of this book is not “I Kissed Isky” ... however ... I really did at a recent book signing (cameras were banned) where he and author Matt Stone both immortalized my personal copy of Matt’s newest bit of motor-bio work: “ISKY Ed Iskenderian and the History of Hot Rodding” just published by our friends over at Car Tech. 

When reading that title for the first time, 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 it as “Ed Iskenderian IS the History of Hot Rodding”.  And they’d be very close.  But, as readers of this richly illustrated biography, will find out, even 99 year-old “Isky” had a mentor.

The first cam-wizard was Gene Winfield, his pre-war work on Miller and other Indy (“Big Cars”) is legendary.  He was something of a cult hero among the eager young car guys, who like Ed who came home after the War and gravitated to the west coast.  When Winfield talked about cams, Isky listened. Seems that he took very good notice of those musings.

Like so many other car-crazy G I's who came home after WW2, Ed Iskenderian somehow found his way to California and the incredibly fertile field of “hopping up” pre-war automobiles for rides, racing, and maybe a little romance as well.

The son of a 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.  Its quite easy to see that steel trap at work throughout this book. 

Ed Iskenderian really understood what was going on inside of a racing engine, and was able to boost horsepower and torque by the subtle manipulation of an engine’s valve timing.  He was a savant, a natural.

The man himself, Ed Iskenderian.
The man himself, Ed Iskenderian.

One of the founding fathers of SEMA  (and self-deprecating as ever)… Ed here tells the story of being out of the room when the vote came up to decide who would be the first President of the organization that now counts thousands of industry members world-wide. 

You guessed it, he got the job!

… One the things that really set Ed’s business off was the way that he advertised his wares.  Missing the opportunity of getting an advert in the very first edition of Hot Rod Magazine, Ed made darn sure that he got a shot for his fledgling cam company in Volume 1 Issue 2 of the now 70 year-old mothership magazine of backyard performance.

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.  And this book tells that story. 

I suppose, that if it weren’t for Matt Stone, Isky’s story, written by himself would be about a page and a half (at best!).  I suspect that it would just say that  he was always trying to make his product better and felt that he was lucky that so many fast people got to using his stuff to win. 

And that might even Include the “clever” ones who used his cams but who ran the stickers of other cam outfits because they paid more contingency money ... (no names here, but you know who you are ... jerks.)

This one is a fun read, quick-paced, (and as noted ... richly illustrated) story of the life and times of an automotive icon who really doesn’t know what all the fuss is about. 

And that’s why today is about you Isky... That’s why I had to give you a little kiss at Autobooks over in Burbank the other day.  -DS

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