Ed IskenderianNowadays, there are off-the-shelf cams and custom cams. Back in Ed Iskenderian's day, you could choose between a stock cam and a stock cam. That didn't exactly make the pursuit of horsepower any easier during the early days of hot rodding. Fortunately, Ed did what no one else had the brains or the balls to do. By learning to grind his own bumpsticks, he invented the aftermarket camshaft industry as we know it today. Today, with the endless engine combinations that can be bolted together, finding the ideal cam just isn't a problem. Thanks to his innovative genius, Ed earned the appropriate nickname "The Camfather."
Ed was born in Central California in 1921. While winemaking was the official Iskenderian family business at the time, a deep freeze devastated their vineyards, forcing them to move south to Los Angeles. That put Ed in the epicenter of the hobby before hot rodding really started catching on. During high school, Ed fiddled around with a Ford Model T roadster that taught him the basics of turning wrenches. Chronic crankshaft failure led to the installation of a Ford flathead V-8, which Ed liked due to its counter-balanced crank with larger journals. He reshaped the flathead's combustion chambers to achieve 13:1 compression and topped it off with a slingshot intake manifold.
After high school, Ed got a gig working as a tool and die maker where he picked up the mechanical skills that would come in handy later on down the road. As an apprentice, his mentor taught him the importance of striving for excellence and quality. Then World War II came along, and Ed went off to serve his country. He saw it as an opportunity to satiate his speed fix and enlisted as a pilot for the Army Air Corps. During the war effort, Ed shuttled in supplies to support the battle in the Pacific.
Not long after the Allies declared victory, Ed was elbow-deep in parts getting his hot rod ready for some land speed racing at the dry lakes. It was while trying to coax a few more ponies from his flathead that he realized how hard it was to get a racing cam. Although there were a few camshaft manufacturers, the thought of mass producing them hadn't crossed their minds. Ed was still without a cam five months after putting one on order so he decided to make his own. He purchased a used cylindrical grinder and converted it to grind cam lobes instead. Even Ed's early cams produced noticeable horsepower gains.
Opening the door for mass-produced aftermarket cams was just the beginning. Always one to push the envelope, Ed became the first to use computers to assist in camshaft design. Consequently, he created some of the most advanced cam lobe profiles of the '50s and '60s, and he also introduced the first hydraulic racing cam in the industry. With the advancement of camshaft design-and their greater durations and lifts-Ed made sure valvetrain technology kept pace. In addition to heavy-duty lifters and valvesprings, he brought the first rev-kits, anti-walk kits, and offset cam keys to the market. Although Ed catered to hardcore racers including the ranks of Top Fuel, he didn't forget about the casual street/strip enthusiast. Along with expanding his line of shelf street cams, Ed offered the first bundled cam and valvespring kit to eliminate potential parts incompatibility.
Cams are just part of "The Camfather's" legacy. He introduced the concept of corporate sponsorship in racing by supporting a fledging hotshoe named Don Garlits. In 1963, Ed co-founded SEMA and served as its first president, and then in 1985, he was inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame. Ed eventually handed the day-to-day operations of his company to his sons, Ron and Richard, who continue to lead the charge in camshaft technology at Isky's 75,000 square-foot shop in Gardena, Calif.