Origins of Speed – a Historical Look Back

 Ed Iskenderian at the First "Hot Rod Car Show" display

1948 Hot Rod Show display with Jack Andrews, Charlie Nordon and Ed Iskenderian…Pic Courtesy of Ed Iskenderian.  Click to Enlarge.

I know hot rods and customs is what brings us car guys and gals together but, its the people that make this hobby what it is.  Everyone has their own story.  My passion for the automobile started with my dad and uncle.  They have hot rodded off and on since they were teenagers.  It was their hobby, their passion.  It’s what kept them out of trouble when their dad passed away at the age of 15 and 12.  My dad has tons of stories of his ’64 Mercury Comet Cyclone on the streets of Azusa, Calif and the original Irwindale Dragstrip.  My uncle has stories of tearing up GMR (Glendora Mountain Road) in his Nova and Datsun 510.  Most of my close friends are there because of our common interestes in cars.  My brother and I and my cousin have our own stories of cars (and motorcycles) that we have customized that we can share with our kids.  It’s the Hecht pasttime.


Gardena Raceway September 1946

Gardena Speedway, September 15, 1946 photo courtesy of Don Johansen.  Click to Enlarge!

A recurring theme throughout the early days of speed equipment manufacturing was the dirt track racing with chopped and stripped down roadsters.  This is where you advertised your parts.  Win at the races and sell parts, it was the only formula before the days of engine dynos.

The automobile itself has only been around for the everyday person since the early 1900’s.  That’s really not that long in the grand scheme of things.  But time moves on and documenting and remembering our rodding roots is very important.  So, where are the origins of speed?  When did hot rodding and customizing your car really start?  The heart of that industry has got to be Southern California in the late 1930’s and 40’s.  Soon, hotrodders found the dry lake beds of California and the Salt Flats of Bonneville, Utah where they could let the flatheads stretch their legs…

In this post, the hot rod history lesson comes from one of the coolest automotive books of all time!  Motorbooks has done it again with the introduction of “Merchants of Speed”, authored by Paul D. Smith.  This is a fact based book, a history book if you will.  Photos are from the actual “Merchants” themselves in some cases.  Families and close friends have also proven to be a wealth of information, photos and documentation.

Ed "Isky" Iskendarian poses next to his 1924 T bucket roadster hot rod

Ed “Isky” Iskenderian with his famous roadster purchased from a friend in 1938 for $25.  Photo courtesy of Ed Iskenderian.  Click to Enlarge.

Above is Ed Iskenderian in his military uniform posing with his 1924 T bucket.  Born in 1921, “he was about 12 years old (in 1933 or so) when he began to notice a type of car that was completely different than the run-of-the-mill vehicles that inhabited the roadways.  These street rods were mainly Model T’s void of all unnecessary parts and propelled with hopped-up four-cylinders.  Ed and his buddies found out they could see more of these cars up at Muroc Dry Lake.”

Like many of the time, Ed served in WWII and doing so, gained many mechanical skills that would serve them well later.  When he returned from the war, Ed wanted to get his roadster back on the road.  That obviously turned into “how can I make it faster”.  His first hot rod part was this 4 carb intake manifold for his flathead you see below.  Ed eventually became the first President of the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association in 1963.

Iskenderian's first hot rod part, an engine turned 4 carb manifold


Isky’s first hot rod part, a 4 carb manifold for his flathead V8.  Courtesy of Ed Iskenderian.  Click to Enlarge.

To find out about the “Isky Cams” part of the Iskenderian history you need to pick up this book.


Vic Edelbrock Sr with his 283ci and X-1 manifold

Vic Edelbrock Sr. in 1958 with his X-1 6 carb mani on a Chevy 283cid.  Photo coutesy of Edelbrock Corporation.

Edelbrock…just let that name ring in your ears for a second.  Probably THE most successful speed equipment manufacturer to date.  In 1938 Vic Sr. bought his dual-purpose machine, a 1932 V8 powered roadster which became his family hauler/dry lakes racer.  Vic was involved in every type of racing, oval track, midget racing, dry lakes/Bonneville, event boat racing.  There’s so much more, but I don’t have the room here.  Seriously, just buy the book!


Edelbrock Jr and Sr have created THE most successful hot rod business

Edelbrock, a family tradition of hot rodding.  Photo courtesy of Edelbrock Corporation.

In all, “Merchants of Speed” book includes the history of 22 Speed Equipment shops.  You’ll see others like Navarro, Ansen Automotive, Howard Cams, Braje, and more!  This book is insanely cool!  Being into more modern late model Japanese cars, I really appreciated this book.  Paul Smith did an amazing job of finding out the details of these shops and the speed parts that made them successful.  The old photos are great.  This book will be an important part of future hot rodders remembering their origins.  That’s just my humble opinion.


Paul D. Smith author and Barney Navarro, Merchant of SpeedIn all seriousness, this book is and will be one of my cherished possessions in life.  Sounds lame, but I’m serious when I say that this book will be very important in continuing the memories of the very first hot rodders.

Take a look at these photos and the history attached and think about your car story.  We want to hear yours.  Please share them with us, we’d love to share them with readers.

Thank you Motorbooks and Paul D. Smith and an even bigger thank you to you Merchants of Speed.  I will have an increased sense of respect at Bonneville this year.

Picture coutesy of Paul D. Smith, author