Unlike many tales, the story of the So-Cal Speed Shop is not one made up by
some clever marketing types; it's a true story of friendship, hot rods and
the need for speed.
Our story begins on March 22, 1922, in Los Angeles, California, with the birth of Alex Xydias. Although his father was a prominent producer of silent movies, Alex's childhood was fairly normal, and like most young boys, he naturally gravitated towards automobiles. His first hot rod, a '29 Ford roadster with a milled head and a chopped flywheel, which he drove to Fairfax High School, was paid for with part-time earnings. After graduating, Alex worked in a gas station and saved enough for a '34 three-window coupe which was followed by a beautifully customized '34 cabriolet-found in the lower basement garage at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. In 1940, Alex joined The Wheelers, a Southern California Timing Association club located in Norwalk, California. However, his life, like that of so many young men, was about to change when, in 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps, serving as a B-17 engineer. According to Alex, "All we talked about during the war 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." 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. 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." The hot rods that bore the So-Cal logo ran in pretty fast company. For example, a V8-60-powered bellytank lakester clocked 136 mph in 1948 and appeared on the cover of the January 1949 issue of a fledgling Hot Rod magazine. 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 following year, Alex and some racing buddies formed the So-Cal Speed Shop Racing Team and built the first hot rods to go 160, 170, 180 and 190 mph. In 1952, Mechanix Illustrated magazine voted the So-Cal gang the Number One Racing Team
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, in the adjoining San Gabriel Valley, in the town of El Monte, another California kid was bitten with the hot rod bug. Born of a hot rodding father, Pete Chapouris started "cruisin' the boulevards" with his friends around 1955. They'd start at the El Monte In-N-Out on Valley, go straight west to Farmer Boys, out on Colorado to Bob's in Glendale before turning around and going east to Henry's in Arcadia. Like Alex's childhood, it too was an influential time for a young man.
Pete's first hot rod was a '32 roadster, but at the time, nobody cared about roadsters so he sold the body for fifty bucks and substituted a Model A coupe body atop the Deuce rails. A $200 Chevy V8 was mated to a Packard trans at Blair's Speed Shop, and Barris Kustom was paid $10 to reverse the wheels. Like most enthusiasts, Pete went through a string of cars, wheeling and dealing his way up market until he could afford a brand new '61 T-bird. For Alex, the speed equipment business had undergone 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's were under increasing pressure from the "big boys." The final straw came when Alex's right-hand man at the shop, Keith Baldwin, left. Alex closed the doors in 1961. Although Alex's filmmaking 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-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.
At the time, Pete was working as a product development technician at Clayton Industries, manufacturer of dynamometers. During his tenure, he met Mike Hoag who had left Blair's to form M & S Welding with Sherm Gunn, building dragsters. Pete wanted to work for them and consequently took welding classes at night until they gave him a part-time job. In 1971, he left Clayton and went to work at Blair's.
A member of the Vintage Tin Hot Rod Club, Pete began work on a chopped '34 coupe that would have a seminal impact upon not only his life but also the hot rod world. Finished in traditional black and flames, the coupe was photographed for the cover of the November 1973 issue of Rod & Custom along with a similarly chopped canary yellow coupe of Jim "Jake" Jacobs. The two rodders hit it off and decided to start a small hot rod repair business in Temple City, California. Then came the call from Hollywood, specifically Howie Horowitz, producer of the hugely successful Batman series. He wanted Pete's car for a made-for-TV movie called The California Kid. The show starred a young actor named Martin Sheen.
The Kid put Pete and Jake's Hot Rod Parts on the map, and the pair ran a thriving business which, because of their innovative style and seat-of-the-pants marketing savvy, took the hot rod business out of the backyard and into the mainstream. Meanwhile, in 1982, Alex was inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame.
Pete and Jake's was eventually sold in 1987, the year Alex retired, and Pete went to work as Vice President of Marketing at SEMA. Having been instrumental in the formation of the Street Rod Equipment Association (SREA), the job was a natural, and Pete became a driving force in the transformation of the SREA into the Street Rod Marketing Alliance, a council of SEMA. Pete was also elected into the SRMA Hall of Fame.
Pete has never been a stuffed shirt or desk-bound kind of guy, and when it came time to move on from SEMA, in 1990, he formed an alliance with Bob Bauder called Syntassien and, among other exciting projects, completed a pair of Harley-Davidson "HogZZillas" for Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top. The friendship with Billy has resulted in numerous projects. Syntassien was a long word but a short-lived company. Pete had a bigger vision, and in 1995, he opened The Pete Chapouris Group (PC3g) at 1357 East Grand Avenue, Pomona, California.
Under Pete's direction, and with the help of his team of craftsmen, PC3g quickly evolved into one of the world's premier hot rod shops, garnering magazine ink for the cars it built like a Guttenberg press
One of the first cars that PC3g was involved in was the restoration, for Bruce Meyer, of the Pierson Brothers' coupe, which led to an enduring association and the eventual restoration of Alex Xydias' So-Cal bellytanker.
Cover-quality cars were produced by PC3g with prodigious speed, and the list included Don Simpson's "Killer Coupe," several cars for Billy F. Gibbons (including a '36 three-window coupe and "Kopperhed"), and an extended-cab Model A pickup for Chuck de Heras. However, the crowning glory in PC3g's body of work is the restoration of the Doane Spencer roadster for Bruce Meyer. Built by Doane in 1948 to compete in the infamous Carrera Panamericana Mexican road race, this car has an impeccable pedigree. By installing Lincoln drum brakes, 16-inch wheels, and raising the engine, exhausts and gas tank to increase ground clearance, Doane unwittingly spawned the classic "highboy" look that enthusiasts the world over continue to emulate more than 40 years later. It's also a look that won the hearts of the Pebble Beach judges, winning the inaugural Pebble Beach Historic Concours d'Elegance Hot Rod Class. It also won the perpetual Dean Batchelor Memorial Award for Excellence.
The win at Pebble Beach would be a fitting end to a chapter but not before Pete and his friend Alex were selected as two of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the high-performance industry and, as such, were inducted into the Hot Rod magazine Hall of Fame in 1997. Our story doesn't end there, though. For a while, Alex had been working behind the scenes with Pete Chapouris to resurrect the famed So-Cal Speed Shop. On November 21, 1997, that dream became a reality, and PC3g changed its name to So-Cal Speed Shop to begin another chapter in this on-going hot rod history
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