To many today, the name Alex Xydias (pronounced Ex-hideous) is synonymous with the famed hot rod company So-Cal Speed Shop. Yet, as the records show, Xydias’ achievements on the lakes, in publishing and ultimately in event productions are equally phenomenal. The man had quite a career.
Before World War II, Xydias, who grew up in Los Angeles, was campaigning a ’34 coupe at El Mirage enjoying moderate success. In 1946, after he was discharged from the army where he was a B-17 engineer and gunner, Xydias, using his $100 demob money, opened So-Cal Speed Shop, supplying hot rodders with speed equipment, much of it sourced from his friend Vic Edelbrock. There was no way to advertise back then and in an effort to market his business, Xydias decided to go lakes racing in a surplus P-51 belly tank powered by a mid-engined, Ford-V8-60 built by Edelbrock’s Bobby Meeks.
“I only had limited racing experience.” Said Alex. “The belly tank was like a pressure cooker inside and I was perched in the nose with no protection—I was the crush zone.” Nevertheless, by the end of 1948 Xydias owned the Class A Streamliner record at 130.155 mph. He also garnered the cover of a new magazine called HOT ROD—the first of five such covers. The tank and the magazine helped launch the So-Cal Speed Shop as an internationally recognized brand.
Wanting to go faster, Xydias teamed up with legendary racer and author Dean Bachelor. Inspired by the small, lightweight, pre-WWII Auto Union Type C land speed racecar, they built the So-Cal Streamliner using the Model T Ford frame and engine from the tank. Neil Emory and Clayton Jensen of Valley Custom hand-formed the sleek aluminum body and with Batchelor behind the wheel the car turned 152 mph in the spring of1949.
Encouraged by their success, the team took the Streamliner to the first Bonneville Nationals in August that year. With a new, Meeks-built Mercury V8 they set a Class C Streamliner record at 189.745 mph. Their top speed was 193.54 mph. They returned to Bonneville the following year and set a record at 208.927 mph. The So-Cal Streamliner became “ The World’s Fastest Hot Rod.”
Xydias quickly understood the meaning of the adage “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” and what was now the So-Cal Racing Team continued to build hot rods and racecars that set records at the lakes and on the drag strips enabling Xydias to sell parts. Now restored to its former glory by Pete Chapouris and his team at the revived SO-CAL Speed Shop, the original So-Cal belly tank has become one of the most iconic hot rods ever.
Facing changes in the industry, Xydias tried his had at filmmaking, something his father had done in the “silent” era. Xydias, however, filmed motorsports—everything from Bonneville to Indy to Daytona—and while his productions were very professional he soon realized that he was ahead of his time, people just wouldn’t pay to go watch racing movies. It was time for a career change. His legacy lives on though in such enduring documentaries as “The Hot Rod Story.”
In 1963, Xydias joined HOT ROD publisher Petersen Publishing as editor of Car Craft Magazine. Within a year he moved on to be editor and then publisher of Hot Rod Industry News where, as a director, he helped launch an industry trade show that would eventually grow become the annual SEMA Show. He was inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame in 1982.
After 12 years at Petersen, Xydias partnered with racer and entrepreneur Mickey Thompson and launched the SCORE Off-Road Equipment trade show. They operated that show for 10 years until Thompson’s untimely murder. Meanwhile, Xydias was inducted into the Dry Lakes Hall of Fame, the HOT ROD Magazine Hall of Fame, and the Route 66 Hall of Fame. He also received the Robert E. Petersen Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
Over the years, Xydias had always maintained the So-Cal Speed Shop with reunions and commemorative catalogs. Consequently, when his friend Pete Chapouris came asking about resurrecting the iconic brand, Xydias was ready and in1997 the new SO-CAL Speed Shop was launched to much acclaim. Xydias remains active with the company as an advisor. He is also Chairman of Board of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum.
Our story doesn’t end there though. In 2012, the Learning Centers at Fairplex, Pomona, California, created a new automotive school called the Alex Xydias Center for Automotive Arts (AXC). The purpose of the school is to help educate young people and provide them an opportunity to develop skills for a viable career in the auto industry. At a time when high school auto shop programs have all but disappeared, AXC provides a much-needed auto-centric educational environment that facilitates opportunities for young enthusiasts and provides an incredible bookend for Alex Xydias’ amazing career.
By Tony Thacker