Statements like this are sure to generate buzz, but Isky Racing could just be the most prolific innovator in the history of hot rodding. In the 1950s, when aftermarket camshafts didn't exist, Ed Iskenderian learned how to grind them himself. Dry lake racers went nuts, and the art of engine building was forever changed. No wonder Iskenderian earned the nickname "The Camfather." As advances in cam design pushed valvetrain components to the limit, he invented necessities that we take for granted today, such as antipump lifters, performance valvesprings, rev kits, and antiwalk buttons. On any given test-and-tune night at any given track, most racers probably have all of those components in their engines. Furthermore, Iskenderian was the first to use computers in cam design, served as the first president of SEMA, and introduced the concept of corporate sponsorship to professional drag racing when he teamed up with Don Garlits.
Over the decades, Isky Racing Cams has remained at the forefront of camshaft and valvetrain technology, and its innovative spirit hasn't waned one bit. We couldn't resist the urge to talk shop with this legendary manufacturer, and as we expected, the chatter turned very technical very quickly. During our time with Nolan Jamora, head of R&D at Isky, we discussed everything from simulating races on Spintrons to lofting lifters for power. Much of the information floating out there regarding camshaft design is bogus, but some of it isn't, so to know the difference you must read on.
Although Ed Iskenderian's countless innovations have kept his company at the leading edge of camshaft and valvetrain technology for decades, his beginnings were very humble. While still attending high school in Los Angeles in the 1930s, Ed's pet project was a Model T roadster, and by working on it day and night he learned the fundamentals of mechanics that would help him later on in life. After graduating, Ed obtained mechanical experience working as an apprentice tool and die maker. During this time, he worked on making his Model T faster with the help of his good friend Ed Winfield.
After serving in the Air Transport Command during WWII, flying supplies to the islands of the Pacific, Ed wasted no time getting back to his hot rod and getting ready for the dry lake meets. When rebuilding his V-8, he wanted to obtain a special camshaft. However, there were very few racing camshaft manufacturers on the West Coast. Their production schedules were taxed, which resulted in slow delivery. During the five-month waiting period for his special camshaft, Ed decided to enter the cam grinding business and bought a used conventional cylindrical grinder. Drawing on his tool making and mechanical experience, Ed converted it to a universal cam-grinding machine. This machine produced camshafts with a noticeable improvement in performance over the conventional racing camshafts. Ed's cams were the first to produce 1 hp per cube on gasoline in postwar Dodge Hemis, and 1.3 hp per cube in 283 Chevy V-8s.
Back in the 1950s you couldn't just go out and buy a cam core. With the lack of cores and cam grinding equipment at the time, the challenge of creating lobe profiles in addition to manufacturing cams that improved performance was tremendous. "In the early days, we did a lot of regrinds where we took the stock core and put a new profile on it. We made the ramps longer to create more lift and duration," Jamora explains. This practice is still common today for some of the harder to come by cores in many import motors.
"As for the lobe profiles themselves, early on it was all about trying something different to see what worked," Jamora continues. "Ed saw that racers could benefit from the advancement of higher technology in racing, so he created the first hard-face overlay camshafts in the industry and became the first to employ computers in camshaft design. With the computer, Ed created the most advanced cam profiles of the late 1950s and early '60s, like the famous 5-Cycle and Polydyne Profile 505 Magnum, along with the very first hydraulic racing camshafts in the industry."
Over the years, the equipment available to cam manufacturers has changed dramatically, evolving from simple cylindrical grinders to Spintrons and Notron grinders. Naturally, these advancements mean the camshafts of today are far superior to the ones available decades ago. "Ed has always believed in acquiring new technology to push forward. We believe better and more accurate cam and master grinding machines in addition to better information gathering and testing technology helps us push development forward at faster and faster rates," says Jamora. "When we combine our Spintron, computer simulators, and dyno testing with our Accu-Cam precision profile measurements, accuracy standards, and feedback from engine builders, we know we have accurate data we can depend on. I think everything we do is based on past design limitations and the attempt to push each part to the limit or next level. Each new breakthrough is an evolution, and the more data you have, the clearer the path becomes to your goal. The better the testing and manufacturing, the better the product."