SO-CAL Speed Shop Founder
In the October 1991 issue of American Rodder, the subject of writer Mike Griffin’s “Where Are They Now” column was Alex Xydias. In the second-to-last paragraph, Mike said, “Xydias now lives with his wife, Helen, in quiet retirement.” With no disrespect to Mike, nothing could be further from the truth.
Alex & the 210 MPH SO-CAL Speed Shop Streamliner set in 1950
Born March 22, 1922, in Los Angeles. Alex’s first hot rod, a ’29 roadster, which he drove to Fairfax High School, was paid for with part-time earnings. By the time he went into the Army Air Corps in 1942, he owned a ’34 coupe and a beautifully customized ’34 cabriolet which he found in the lower basement garage at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. According to Alex, “During the war, all we talked about was cars and once, when on furlough, a friend took me to a street race out in the San Fernando Valley. I was really surprised at how fast the cars ran and I got the idea to open a speed shop.”
SO-CAL Speed Shop in Burbank, CA
On the day of his discharge, March 3, 1946, using some borrowed money, Alex opened the first So-Cal Speed Shop on Olive Avenue in Burbank. “I really struggled to keep it going,” says Alex. “Sometimes I made less than $100 a month but the hard work paid off, and when my one-year lease was up, I moved shop to 1104 South Victory Boulevard in Burbank where I placed a Sears Roebuck prefab two-car garage.”
SO-CAL Speed Shop V8-60 powered "Belly Tank" Lakester
The hot rods that bore the So-Cal logo ran in pretty fast company. For example, a V8-60 powered lakester clocked 136-mph in 1948 and So-Cal cars were the first hot rods to go 160, 170, 180 and 190 mph. Mechanix Illustrated magazine voted the So-Cal gang the Number One Racing Team. The So-Cal Speed Shop belly tank was built using a 315 gallon surplus P-38 centerline fuel tank (belly tank) as its body. Using the streamlined belly tank was a natural to this Air Corps veteran who knew that Lockheed had spent lots of time in the wind tunnel with these tanks making them aerodynamically “slippery” and they were available as war surplus for $5! In August of 1948, Alex installed a “souped-up” Ford 156 cu. in. V8-60 that he and hot rod pioneer Vic Edelbrock Sr. built. He towed the car to El Mirage dry lake and set a class record of 130.155.
The "Belly Tank" Lakester set a top time of 198.34 MPH in 1952
Initially the car was run as a streamliner, but the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) created a special class for these fuel tank cars calling them “lakesters”. Later at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Alex and his So-Cal Speed Shop team used the V8-60 to set a class record at 145.395. They swapped out the V8-60 for a larger 259 inch Mercury flathead and set another class record at 181.085.
The 198.34 mph one-way speed still stands as the fastest speed ever achieved by a normally-aspirated flathead-powered car
They then put in a 296 inch Mercury flathead and set yet another class record at 195.77 setting a one-way speed of 198.34 mph. This last class record was broken again the next day by Mal Hoopster running 197.88 in a Chrysler Hemi powered lakester in the same class, but the one-way speed still stands as the fastest speed ever achieved by a normally-aspirated flathead-powered car. At the 1952 Bonneville Speedweek, this car was voted the “Most Honored Car in the History of Bonneville”.
The SO-CAL Speed Shop "Streamliner"
This early success was quickly ratified when Alex teamed up with legendary auto enthusiast and author Dean Batchelor to develop a purpose-built streamliner. Powered by an Edelbrock-equipped Mercury V8, the liner ran 210 mph in 1950.
The SO-CAL Speed Shop Competition Coupe ran 172 MPH in 1953
In 1954, Xyidas ran the chopped '34 coupe to a speed over 178 MPH
While fast cars continued to run under the So-Cal banner, Alex embarked upon another endeavor: documenting auto racing events. He filmed everything from Bonneville to NASCAR, including Pikes Peak, Indy and the 24 Hours of Sebring. “It was hard work,” says Alex. “I’d spend hours behind the wheel getting to an event which I’d then have to film, before spending hours printing and editing the film.” Meanwhile, the speed equipment business was undergoing many changes. The flathead Ford, in which the So-Cal Speed Shop specialized, was no longer the hot rodder’s favorite, and small firms like Alex’ were under increasing pressure from the “big boys.” The final straw came when Alex’ right-hand man at the shop, Keith Baldwin, left. Alex closed the doors in 1961.
The SO-CAL Speed Shop Team held over 20 records from 1948 to 1954
SO-CAL Speed Shop Magazine Cover Photos
Although Alex’ film making was doing well, he accepted a position as editor of Petersen Publishing’s Car Craft magazine in 1963. He stayed with Petersen 12 1/2 years transferring to Hot Rod Industry News, where he later became publisher. While there, he also served as director of the annual Petersen Trade Show, which eventually became the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Show—now the tenth largest trade show in the U.S. After leaving Petersen, Alex went on to work with partner Mickey Thompson organizing the SCORE off-road equipment trade show. They were friends and partners in that hugely successful event for 10 years until Mickey’s untimely death. Alex was inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame in 1982. He was also inducted into the Dry Lakes Hall of Fame and has been honored with lifetime memberships in the SCTA and his old car club the Sidewinders.
In 1996, in his early seventies, he once again climbed behind the wheel of a race car and followed that long black line at Bonneville. Driving John Wolf’s Modified Roadster he earned his Competition License at 176 mph. The following year was another banner year. He was selected as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People within the high-performance industry and thus inducted into the Hot Rod Magazine Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, he had been approached by Pete Chapouris who had recently restored Alex’s original belly tanker for customer Bruce Meyer. “Pete was looking for a direction for his new hot rod company and wondered if we could come to some agreement on the use of the So-Cal name,” remembers Alex. Canny Alex who had been wise enough to not only retain the rights to his legendary name and logo but also produce a commemorative catalog, hit it off with his fellow Greek and struck a deal. The new SO-CAL Speed Shop (the SO-CAL was now in upper case to differentiate it from the old business) was announced on November 21, 1997, at the NHRA Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield, California.
Alex & Pete
Our story doesn’t end there though. Alex is continually involved with SO-CAL on a consulting basis. He attends many events where his autograph is always in demand and he has given slide shows of his story from England to Phoenix, Arizona. Not only that but he was recently appointed to the board of the NHRA Museum alongside his friend of 60 years Wally Parks. And, as if that is not enough he’s working diligently on transferring all his old motorsports films to video so that we can all enjoy them in the comfort of our arm chairs. Makes you tired just thinking about him, doesn’t it?
Words & Photos Courtesy of SO-CAL Speed Shop HQ