Quick! Ever install an Edelbrock product on your hot rod? If so, raise your ratchet. Yep, everyone has a wrench up. No surprise, as Edelbrock has been one of rodding’s most innovative and enduring performance brands for more than seven decades.
Such is the legacy of one Vic Edelbrock Sr., the gentleman who made aftermarket speed parts an integral part of the hot rod experience. That signature Edelbrock logo? As ubiquitous as lug nuts and valve stems.
The Edelbrock story began more than a century ago in Wichita, Kansas, where Vic was born in 1913 to a humble grocery store owner. The store provided comfortably for the family until it was destroyed by a fire in 1927 – forcing 14-year-old Vic to leave school to help financially support the family.
Always an industrious type, the young and ambitious Vic talked his way into a spot at an auto repair shop, where he honed his natural talent for things mechanical. Two years later the great economic crash of 1929 fell hard on the people of Kansas, so much so that Vic’s brother – like thousands of others Midwesterners who endured both the depression and the relentless dust storms – fled the plains for the golden hills of California. Two years later Vic knocked the dust off his overalls and joined him in Los Angeles.
Armed with improved car repair skills, Vic partnered with his brother-in-law and opened his own shop in Beverly Hills. (He had recently married.) Success was immediate and steady, and to keep up with his expanding customer base he relocated the shop several times, each time to larger digs.
During this period, Vic became involved with local midget racing and picked up a 1932 Ford roadster project car as well. Flatheads were beginning to infiltrate the racing scene and Vic employed his ’32 to develop the first Edelbrock manifold for a flathead V8 – a 180-degree, single-carb design. At the lakes, his roadster was a “test mule,” albeit a very fast one, topping 121mph. Not bad for car he drove to and from the lakes.
Vic’s success at the lakes drew interest from other racers keen to adapt Edelbrock components to their own machines. Soon Vic introduced a twin-carb 180-degree manifold, which led to the first cast aluminum Edelbrock manifold, the Slingshot – the first to show off the now-iconic Edelbrock lettering.
Once World War II began, Edelbrock worked at the Long Beach shipyards and Douglas Aircraft, where he refined his knowledge of machining, exotic metals, and tool-and-die. Since his contribution to the war effort was deemed critical, he remained stateside.
As the war neared its close, Vic moved to a new shop in Hollywood, at the corner of Highland and Santa Monica Blvd. Here he focused on performance parts and engine building, continuing to assemble winning racing engines. One significant breakthrough was the installation of the performance industry’s first engine dyno.
The first Edelbrock catalog appeared in 1946, boasting Edelbrock heads and intakes as well as pistons, steering wheels and crankshafts. At the same time, Vic ramped up his focus on midget racing. While no longer popular today, midget racing flourished after the war, the first rung on the motorsports ladder. Midget dirt tracks dotted America; they even raced at the Rose Bowl. During this period, the Ford Flathead became the predominant power plant, and Edelbrock’s array of speed parts contributed to that popularity. Moreover, Edelbrock campaigned his own Kurtis Kraft midget for soon-to-be Indianapolis 500 winners Billy Vukovich and Roger Ward.
Success begat more success, and as the business flourished Vic moved again in 1949 to a 5,000sq. ft. facility on Jefferson Blvd. During the early 1950s, Edelbrock speed parts became the go-to secret to performance. Dry lakes, Bonneville, midgets, drags – no matter, Edelbrock-equipped cars dominated. The Edelbrock-adorned Dean Bachelor and Alex Xydias SoCal Speed Shop Special was the first single-engine streamliner to top 200mph on the salt. Xydias, now a spry 95 years old, had known Vic from before the war.
“I remember watching Vic’s ’32 at the lakes,” Xydias recalled in a recent phone conversation. “It was the fastest non-streamliner car. I knew how well his stuff worked, and when I started SoCal after the war, he was the first person I went to, with my state of California reseller license in hand, to stock my shop with his manifolds.
“Later in 1950, we shared a booth at one of the first hot car shows in Hollywood, with the Hot Rod Magazine trophy on display for our top speed at Bonneville. He was always part of the scene, and was generous with his time and advice. He helped my driving at Bonneville by telling me to keep the car going dead straight through the speed traps – every second counts.”
Edelbrock was as talented and competitive in business as he was in racing, Xydais explained. During this time, the business continued to expand. The Edelbrock catalog grew, offering all manner of performance components – cylinder heads, intake manifolds, flywheels, pistons, cams and adjustable tappets for Fords, Mercurys and Lincolns.
Vic was also quick to see the potential of the small-block Chevy, introducing a radical Ram Log manifold that mounted six carbs; it proved a drag-racing favorite. In 1958, he managed an industry first by extracting one horsepower-per-cubic-inch from a 283c.i. small-block Chevy with the new Cross Ram manifold (matching the output of the GM-designed fuel-injection system).
Sadly, Vic Edelbrock Sr. passed away from cancer at the way-too-young age of 49 in 1962. The keys to the company were turned over to his son, Vic Jr., who continued his father’s success, becoming a hot rod legend in his own right. The Edelbrock brand is as prominent today as ever.
Renowned top-fuel and IndyCar engine builder Ed Pink, now 85, also knew Vic Sr. “Vic seemed to like me,” Pink remembered. “He once asked me how I could afford to run a Top Fuel car, since I was a preparing one just by myself. More than once, I would arrive at my shop and there’d be a 55-gallon drum of nitro on the doorstep, complements of Vic.”
Pink also zeroed in on Edelbrock’s secret: “He was dedicated to the sport and was good at what he did. He never took anything for granted, and figured things out on his own. He never introduced a product until it was perfect.”
Let Alex have the last word: “Vic was my mentor and my friend, and my cars always had Edelbrock pieces on them. Hey, it didn’t hurt that he looked like Humphrey Bogart, too!”