You may or may not remember that Babcox Media, Engine Builder’s parent company, celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2020. Unfortunately, any plans we had to celebrate the occasion were squashed by the pandemic. Regardless, the feat is certainly one well-worth making a big deal out of. However, a business anniversary is one thing. A 100th birthday is quite another.
In the case of Ed Iskenderian, the founder of Isky Racing Cams, July 10, 2021 marked his 100th birthday, so I saw it fitting to celebrate the occasion by using my column this month to retell some of his personal history and that of his pioneering engine component company. The following info comes from Isky.
Ed Iskenderian, now a racing and performance industry icon, was born in 1921 in the grapevine country of Tulare County, CA. His future as a winemaker never materialized because several heavy frosts destroyed the vineyards, forcing the Iskenderian family to move to Los Angeles.
While attending Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles, Ed’s pet project was building a Model T Ford roadster. Experiencing repeated crankshaft failure, Ed turned his attention toward the later Ford V8 flathead engine, where he found the crank to be much more rugged with larger bearings and a counter balanced crankshaft. He installed special Maxi “F” type cylinder heads (with overhead exhaust valves) and slingshot intake manifold. He had the combustion chambers cast iron filled and re-contoured the combustion chambers. The actual compression ratio turned out to be a whopping 13:1, an extremely high ratio for the early days of hot rodding. This was Ed Iskenderian’s first hot rod and it still occupies a corner of his plant today.
After graduating, Ed obtained mechanical experience working as an apprentice tool and die maker. This is where Ed developed the skill and experience of always striving for quality and perfection. His career was interrupted by WWII when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He served with the Air Transport Command, repeatedly flying supplies to the islands of the Pacific.
After his war time absence, Ed lost no time in getting back to his hot rod and getting it ready for California’s dry lake bed meets.
When rebuilding his V8, he wanted to obtain a special camshaft. However, the boom had hit hot rodding and there was a great deal of business for the few racing camshaft manufacturers on the West Coast. Their production schedules were taxed, which resulted in slow delivery, so Ed decided to enter the cam grinding business. He bought a used conventional cylindrical grinder and drawing on his tool making and mechanical experience, Ed converted it to a universal cam grinding machine. This machine produced camshafts with a noticeable improvement in performance over the conventional racing Ford camshafts. Ed’s cams were the first to produce 1 hp per cubic inch on gasoline in postwar OHV V8 Dodge Hemis, and 1.3 hp per cubic inch on gasoline in postwar OHV 283 Chevy V8s.
Ed saw that racers could benefit from the advancement of higher-technology in racing so he created the first Hard-Face Overlay camshafts in the industry and became the first to employ computers in camshaft design. With the computer, Ed created the most advanced cam-profiles of the late 1950s and early ’60s like the famous 5-Cycle and Polydyne Profile 505 Magnums along with the very first hydraulic racing camshafts in the industry.
Not stopping here, Ed knew that these new camshafts needed equally technologically advanced components, so he developed the first High-Density Chilled-Iron lifters for the ever-growing Fuel Burning Supercharged Dragster class (now known as Top Fuel). These were the first drop-in self-locking roller tappets and the first Anti-Pump-Up hydraulic lifters enabling hydraulic camshafts to produce higher rpm. This created a new challenge, however, as the new camshafts were delivering greater lifts and durations for higher rpm. The resulting higher lift rates required advanced valve spring designs.
Recognizing this, Ed then introduced to the racing industry the first Vasco Jet 1000 valve springs after having pioneered the first valve spring assemblies for racing a decade before. New cams and components were not the only thing Ed brought to the young drag racing programs. Ed and a young racer from Florida, named Don Garlits, entered into the first corporate sponsorship of a race operation.
In addition to the numerous racing advancements, Ed also turned his interest to helping the stock/street enthusiasts. He offered the first coordinated cam and assembly kit to take the guess work out of ordering. To help fine tune racers’ engines, he offered the first Ultra Rev-Kits for small block Chevy V8 roller cams and the first anti-cam walk kit for Chevy V8s, along with the first offset cam keys and bushings for adjusting cam timing.
In 1963, Ed, in collaboration with a few other industry pioneers, created the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association, which is now known as the Specialty Equipment Market Association or SEMA. Ed presided as its first president in 1963 and 1964 and led the group through its first crucial years.
Although Ed still keeps a close eye on the Isky Racing Cams operation, he recently turned the reins over to his sons Ron and Richard who have continued their father’s traditions. Isky’s location in Gardena, CA consists of a four-building complex of over 75,000 sq.-ft. Isky employs over 100 specialists, including engineers and technical advisers to assist the thousands of Isky dealers throughout the world and the hundreds of thousands of Isky customers.
Happy birthday Ed! EB