California native Ed Iskenderian is a living legend with nearly a century’s worth of stories—and almost as many years of experience building performance racing parts. Iskenderian was smitten with the first custom car he saw at age 12 and, long before he could drive he began hanging out with fellow thrill seekers on the dry lake beds north of Los Angeles. Along the way he picked up some hands-on skills working in a machine shop, and later he played a crucial role in the America’s post-World war II hot rodding boom.
Yes, Ed Iskenderian is Isky—as in Isky Cams, the industry leader in performance cams during the hot rod boom and rise of NASCAR in the 1950s. Isky, who just celebrated his 99th birthday on July 10 and still enjoys cigars, is the subject of the Historic Vehicle Association’s latest video.
“After building several little junky cars, I built a little better car, and I’d bought a set of cylinder heads that fit this ’32 Ford V-8 engine I was going to put into my Model T,” Iskenderian explains, closing his eyes as if to relive the moment. “… Luckily I had the money—about $20—to buy a cam.”
Iskenderian, who became known as the Camfather, took the engine to a former racing driver named Edward Winfield, who had become an expert at grinding cams and building speed equipment.
“Winfield took me into his shop and showed me the cam grinder he had built,” Iskenderian says, “and with my little experience in the machine shop I said, ‘Gee, I can build that little grinding equipment too.’”
Admitting that he was stepping into “uncharted territory,” after WWII Iskenderian began building racing cams, grinding stock cams to create more lift and longer duration. “Better breathing,” he says. Iskenderian put an ad in Hot Rod magazine, and to his surprise, NASCAR took notice. Orders began to pour in. “I couldn’t believe it,” he admits.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“I’ve been very fortunate to get into something that I like and I was interested in—and I’m still interested in it,” Iskenderian says. “A lot of development came from just trying things—mechanical things that I was curious about. ‘I wonder if this will work. I wonder if we oughta try that.’ I figured we might stumble onto something—if we just keep fooling around here—and we did. We stumbled onto something.”