VIP Sponsors


Hot Rod Hero Alex Xydias Turns 100!

photo: Ed Justice JR.
By Mark Vaughn 
As soon as he got out of the Army Air Corps in 1945, Alex Xydias founded the SO-CAL Speed Shop in Southern California. The shop went on to set records on the lakes and at the drags. Xydias went on to co-found SEMA, the SEMA show, to film races all across the country, and to establish the legend of the Southern California hot rodder forever. Hot rod hero Alex Xydias, founder of the SO-CAL Speed Shop, WWII Army Air Corps veteran, one of the founders of the SEMA show, a Petersen Publications publisher, and an all-around great guy, has added another honor to what has become a world-beating long list of them: centenarian. Xydias turned 100 March 22, a milestone marked by a gathering of 50 friends and family at the private collection of Xydias’ friend and Beverly Hills car collector Bruce Meyer.
     “What a guy,” Meyer said. “Can you imagine that life?” Let’s try. Xydias, still sharp as a tack, has had an extraordinary life. It wasn’t just all the hot rodding stuff, though he was as formidable as anyone who ever hotted a rod, but everything else that made Xydias—and Wally Parks, Vic Edelbrock, Pete Petersen, and a cast of others—members not only of the Greatest Generation but key figures in what later became known as the American Century. Born to Greek immigrant parents in 1922, Xydias bought his first hot rod at age 19, a ‘29 Ford, which he and a friend drove to their first dry lakes meet at El Mirage in 1941. “We each pitched in 25 cents for gas,” Xydias recalled 10 years ago during his 90th birthday celebration. “Gas was 9 cents a gallon then.”
Alex and Isky, more than two centuries of speed between them. Photo Ed Justice JR.
      What he saw when he got to El Mirage would set him on a life course that would intersect with the greatest names in hot-rodding, drag racing and car culture—eventually. As with everything else in 1941, the war intervened. Xydias was in the Army Air Corps, stationed in Douglas, Arizona. “For three and a half years, I was mostly saving Arizona,” he said. “We all knew that at any minute the Japanese were going to come through.” The Japanese didn’t come through, and by 1945 then-Sgt. Xydias had a 1934 Ford Phaeton and big plans. When he was on leave back in Southern California, a friend took him to a street race on Sepulveda Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. He saw “…hundreds of kids there drag racing.”
     “I was stunned,” he recalled. “There was obviously a lot of enthusiasm for it.” So he started planning then and there to open a speed shop as soon as he got out of the service, even though the term “speed shop” hadn't been invented yet. As soon as he was discharged in 1946, he rented a $100-a-month storefront on Olive Boulevard in Burbank and started selling chrome carburetor stacks and steel wheels. Whenever he needed something more substantial for a customer, he “went over to Vic's” i.e., Vic Edelbrock Sr.'s shop, and brought back a manifold. The year 1946 saw a new shop on Victory Boulevard and the christening of the new name, SO-CAL Speed Shop. (The shop was rechristened SoCal Speed Shop when it was revived decades later by hot rod builder Pete Chapouris.)
     “To get the SO-CAL name out there, we decided to build a belly tank,” Xydias said. The rest is history. Along with the shop's famous streamliner, coupe and roadsters, the belly tank did more than just get the name out there. SO-CAL creations were the first to go 170, 180 and 190 mph on the lakes. By 1950, the streamliner had run 210 mph. By 1953, SO-CAL was running drag races, “since you could drag-race every weekend while Bonneville came but once a year,” and the SoCal coupe set a new record—132 mph—at the new Pomona drag strip. The name of the shop was so well known that Xydias joked about its reknown: “People would come out from back East, they'd drive by Lockheed, and they thought it was us.”