You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Hot Rod Icons Celebrate Alex Xydias’ 99th Birthday Party

HOT ROD logo HOT ROD 4/7/2021 Dan Kahn,Franco Gutierrez
Alex Xydias, Billy Gibbons, Chip Foose, Don Prudhomme, Troy Ladd standing in front of a cake: alex-xydias-99th-birthday-01 © Franco Gutierrez alex-xydias-99th-birthday-01

Alex Xydias is one of the forefathers of hot rodding. He was there at the beginning of the hobby and continues to participate. Xydias was recently celebrated by several other notable hot rodders. Dan Kahn and Franco Gutierrez from Kahn Media were there and sent HOT ROD this story of the historic party.

Honoring a Hot Rod Hero

For the past 20 years or so, hot rodding icon and So-Cal Speed Shop founder Alex Xydias has celebrated his birthday by grabbing a bite to eat with his pal, car collector and Petersen Museum founding chairman Bruce Meyer. Sometimes it would be just the two of them; other years they would be joined by a handful of friends. This year, things were a little different.

Alex Xydias et al. posing for the camera © Franco Gutierrez

Xydias—still as tall, lean, and steely-eyed as he was 70 years ago on the salt flats—turned the incredible age of 99 in March. Quite an accomplishment even in a normal year, but as we all know, the past year has been anything but normal. So, when Meyer floated the idea of doing their annual birthday lunch to Xydias, the land speed legend was thrilled at the idea of seeing a friend or two and getting out of the house after a long year of isolation during the pandemic.

Then word got out. Meyer—who counts most of the legends of motorsports and hot rodding as close friends—made a few calls, sent a few emails, but was not sure how many people would be willing to venture out. Turns out, a lot of them were—and after getting their vaccinations, hot rodding's "first class" was excited to gather, catch up with old friends, and celebrate Xydias' big day.

a group of people sitting at a table in front of a building © Franco Gutierrez

A Crowd of Icons in a "Car Barn" of Classics

Research

The location was Meyer's incredible "garage," a collection on the second floor of a commercial building overlooking Beverly Hills that is filled with some of the coolest hot rods, race cars, and sports cars of the past century, from the famed Pierson Brothers Coupe and GreerBlackPrudhomme dragster to the first production Shelby Cobra and the Ford roadster that Meyer used to earn his 200-mph Club hat at Bonneville. But the car at the center of attention on this particular day was the So-Cal Belly Tank, the P-38 Belly Tank that Xydias turned into a 200-mph lakester (technically 198.34mph with flathead power) after founding the So-Cal Speed Shop in 1946, after mustering out of the Army Air Corps where he served as an engineer on a B-17 Flying Fortress.

With the belly tank on display in the center of the room and platters of sandwiches and cold beverages set up on small tables, the room began to fill with some of the most significant figures in hot rod history, all there to honor their friend Alex. The racers included some of the original residents of Burbank's "thunder alley" from the '60s, including Ed "Isky" Iskenderian (who will turn 100 later this year), Ed Pink, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, and "Gentleman Joe" Schubeck. Car builders on hand included Chip Foose, Roy Brizio, Scott Gillen, Jimmy Shine, Pete Eastwood, and Troy Ladd.

a group of people sitting on a couch © Franco Gutierrez

Other friends on hand included rock icon and prolific hot rodder Billy Gibbons, "The Race of Gentleman" founder Bobby Green, photographer and Justice Brothers president Ed Justice, hot rodder and Pixar creative director Jay Ward, Glendale Speed Center founder Rich Cholakian, author and hot rod industry figure Tony Thacker, Petersen personal manager Gigi Carleton-Schubeck, NHRA Museum curator Greg Sharp, journalist Mark Vaughn, American Hot Rod Foundation director David Steele, and Petersen Automotive Museum Executive Director Terry Karges. Several prolific collectors were also on hand, including Dick DeLuna, Tom McIntyre, Lynn Park, Dennis Varni, and several members of the Xydias family.

A Century of Speed

After food and chitchat, Meyer handed a mic over to Xydias, Pink, Isky, and Snake, and asked them to tell a few stories about the early years of hot rodding, land speed racing, drag racing, and the old "thunder alley" in Burbank. Isky, Pink, and Xydias spoke warmly of the days immediately following the war, when the Ford Flathead powered the entire hobby and speed parts industry, and how they initially thought of the small-block Chevy as a threat that would "change everything" because it made so much power right off the assembly line. The three nonagenarians agreed that the late Vic Edelbrock Sr. was instrumental in pushing all of them to develop new products and new vehicles around the small-block and how that development was a tipping point for the hobby.

Alex Xydias et al. sitting in a chair talking on a cell phone © Franco Gutierrez

One of the more touching moments of the afternoon came when both Chip Foose and Billy Gibbons (an accomplished illustrator in his own right) each presented Xydias with a hand-drawn illustration of his iconic land speed cars.

Chip Foose, Alex Xydias that are sitting on a bench © Franco Gutierrez a group of people sitting at a table © Franco Gutierrez

Overall, it was an amazing gathering of motorsports and hot rod heroes, reunited after a year apart, to celebrate one of their own. We're already looking forward to Alex's 100th.

Alex Xydias et al. standing around a plane © Franco Gutierrez

The World's Most Famous Belly Tank

Belly tanks were cheap and plentiful after WWII and were quite popular on the dry lakes and salt flats in the early days of hot rodding in the years following the war. The So-Cal tank is generally considered the most famous and certainly the most beautiful example of the breed, and its rediscovery, restoration, and preservation is actually what first brought Alex Xydias and Bruce Meyer together, while also serving as the catalyst for the modern iteration of the So-Cal Speed Shop.

Meyer hunted the car down in the '90s, enlisted Pete Chapouris to restore it, and roped Xydias in as an advisor to make sure the restoration was accurate. The project forged a lasting friendship among the men, and eventually Chapouris and Xydias relaunched the So-Cal Speed Shop brand and hot rod shop, which led to restoration and creation of countless other important hot rods. Meyer was eventually able to cajole the leadership of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance into including a hot rod class for the first time, where the tank won the Dean Batchelor Preservation Award.

Tom McIntyre et al. that are sitting on a chair

© Franco Gutierrez
AdChoices
AdChoices

More from HOT ROD

Loading...

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon