By Drew Hardin
Predicting the Future, Circa 1966
We recently came upon a fascinating article in the September 1966 issue of Hot Rod Industry News, Petersen Publishing Company’s aftermarket trade magazine. In it, Bob McVay questioned several “leaders in the field of high performance and custom equipment” about what lay ahead in the aftermarket.
“This high performance and custom industry has come a long way,” McVay wrote 50 years ago, noting the progression from “run-what-you-brung” dry-lakes racers to “220-mph-plus quarter-mile dragsters and factory hot rods that’ll turn over 100 mph in the quarter and run 130 mph without breathing hard, right from the showroom.”
Among those he interviewed was a hot-rodding pioneer who, “if the name’s too hard to pronounce, just remember ‘Isky’; that’s the name most people use for his world-famous camshafts that have excelled in all kinds of high-performance street, strip and track machines.”
Like many of those first-generation speed-part makers, Ed Iskenderian got his start experimenting with components to make his own race car go faster. A modified Pierce Arrow distributor for the Flathead V8 in his Model T lakester was one of Isky’s first parts. “Then, when he had to wait six months to get a Clay Smith camshaft many years ago, he decided to try grinding his own,” McVay wrote. The rest, as they say, is history.
Isky summed up the state of the performance aftermarket, circa 1966, this way: “The economy is up, people have the money, and they want racing camshafts.” Two big influencers at work in the mid-’60s were the growing exposure of the youth market to racing of all kinds and the super cars coming out of Detroit at the time. Their “optional extras give car owners the desire to have something faster of their own,” wrote McVay.
As to the future of performance retailing, Isky felt that chain stores were suited to the “dress-up market” of “packaged goods, bright bolt-on equipment, wheels and such.” But he felt that the real future for high-performance equipment “lies with the high performance and speed shops,” said McVay. “These, he says, are the backbone of our business.”
Why? “Knowledge of the sport pays off in increased sales and in return sales,” McVay wrote. “Today’s young people are sharp. They want to buy from a specialist who knows the score. They want to ‘bench race’ and find out what they need to know from an expert, preferably someone who is a leading competitor or involved in the racing aspects of the automotive scene.
“Speed shops whose owners started small, just like Isky, and have grown up with the industry, can still successfully compete in today’s market. That is, if they have the knowhow, the right products and the right people selling.”
A formula for success then and today.