by Bill Wilson
The year was 1938, and Vic Edelbrock was an unhappy man. He had just bought a 1932 Ford Roadster, and was let down by its lack of horsepower. His keen mind figured out the problem: a defect in the intake manifold’s design. His answer to the issue was to build his own manifold, which he nicknamed The Slingshot.
Not only did it improve performance, it allowed dual carburetors to be mounted on the engine, giving horsepower a giant boost. In fact, it increased it so much that Vic broke the standing speed record for the flying quarter mile with his ’32 Roadster in November of 1941. And so began the aftermarket auto parts industry.
At the time there were no aftermarket parts manufacturers to speak of, just independent hobbyists who built their own. But when word of Vic’s record breaking accomplishment got out, he was flooded with requests to build more Slingshots. Happy to accommodate his new fans, he ultimately made and sold over a hundred customized manifolds to eager buyers.
Then World War 2 came along, and Vic was occupied with building battle ships and airplane parts for the next four years. When peace came in 1945 he went back to constructing aftermarket parts, adding aluminum cylinder heads to his line. Demand for his products grew so much that in 1946 he and his buddy Pete Peterson put together his first catalog. It was an innovation that marked the end of his days as a garage mechanic and turned him into a full-time performance parts manufacturer.
By 1949 his company was making manifolds, cylinder heads and pistons out of a brand-new shop he had built just for that purpose. He led the way in new innovations, being one of the first manufacturers to use an engine dynamometer. By the 1950s he was still at the head of the pack, racing on dry lake beds as well as at the Bonneville Speedway, under the auspices of the newly formed California Roadster Association (CRA).
Always a pioneer, Vic expanded into midget car racing in the late 1940s, after buying a car built by Frank Kurtis. He loved the little vehicles so much that he began touring southern California’s dirt tracks with flathead engine guru Bobby Meeks, tuning their engines right there at the raceway.
As the 1950s went on, Vic kept setting the bar higher and higher for racing engines. At the time the cream of the crop in midget racing vehicles were those built by Fred Offenhauser. Fred got the crown knocked off his head, however, when Vic’s Kurtis Kraft V8-60 midget car outran an Offenhauser-powered vehicle at Gilmore Stadium, the Mecca of midget racing. At the time the win was regarded as a crazy fluke. Vic got the last laugh the following evening, though, when the same car again came out on top, this time at a track in San Bernadino.
A New Start
Vic passed away in 1962 after a battle with cancer. He was succeeded by his only son, Vic Edelbrock, Jr., who was 26 at the time. A graduate of USC with a degree in business, he took over as president and CEO.
He led the company into becoming a member of the Specialty Equipment Manufacturing Association (SEMA) in the 60s and served as its president from 1971-74.
The 1970s saw the company go through a period of adjustments. The 1971 Clean Air Act and the OPEC embargo placed new challenges on the firm to develop cleaner, more efficient products. In response, it released its line of Streetmaster intake manifolds that boosted mileage as well as performance.
In 1987 the firm moved to new facilities in Torrance, CA where it remains to this day. The five-story corporate building occupies over 400,000 square feet. There’s also a 73,000 square foot foundry in San Jacinto.
In 1999 and 2000 Forbes magazine named Edelbrock one of the best 200 small companies in the United States. Today it’s an enterprise that manufactures over 8,000 different parts and has revenues in excess of $100 million a year, impressive results for a venture that began in 1938 with one man, a 1932 Roadster, and a commitment to being the best.