From the Past to the Future

It was in the Fall of 1966, during my tenure as Editor of Hot Rod Magazine.  The publication’s Publisher, Ray Brock, entered my office saying there was to be a meeting of performance parts manufacturers and some California air quality people concerned about how such parts might affect emissions.  At the time, SEMA was the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association (today the Specialty Equipment Market Association) and the voice of high performance equipment parts builders.  Neither Ray nor I had any idea about what would transpire in such a meeting but felt a responsibility to at least attend and get a sense for what was up.  So we went.

In attendance from the industry were some of the pioneers of SEMA.  While I may not recall all who were there, I do remember that Vic Edelbrock (manifolds), Paul Schiefer (clutches), Harry Weber (clutches), Bob Wyman (ignitions), Ed Iskenderian (cams) and Fred Offenhauser (manifolds) were there and just as puzzled as Ray and I as to why these California air quality people were concerned about aftermarket parts.  However, we weren’t in the dark very long.  The “suits” came right to their point for the meeting.

It seemed these people were charged with identifying sources of “pollution” that either were or could affect ambient air quality in certain areas of the state, notably the so-called “air basins” like Los Angeles and Sacramento, among others.  They believed that by increasing the horsepower of on-road vehicles (nothing was said about race cars), air quality would be degraded.  At that point in time, there were no standards to which such parts could be tested or methods by which to test.  However, the regulators had become aware that the O.E.M.s (Original Equipment Manufacturers, or new vehicle builders) were selling “high performance” vehicles of the day, including over-the-counter high performance parts.  So they reckoned that if the specialty automotive aftermarket parts makers used the “specification limits” of the OEM parts as guidelines for the high performance parts that the Edelbrocks of the world built, things would be OK.

Now, let’s paint this picture from a practical standpoint.  Here you had some of the leading high performance parts manufacturers, many of whom had emerged from the dry lakes, Bonneville and drag strips in Southern California, sitting in front of governmental regulators setting limits on what could be built and sold in California for on-road high performance vehicles.  It was not only bizarre but a bit confusing to these hot rodders turned parts builders.  None the less, it was the opening bell of what would evolve over the next four-plus decades of time.