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La Cañada’s Ed Winfield – A Pioneer of Hot Rodding

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at lawlerdad@yahoo.com.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
lawlerdad@yahoo.com.

Ed Winfield was an early genius of engine performance engineering. He is hailed as the man who laid the foundations of what makes modern race engines run. More than one automotive historian has deemed him “The Father of Hot Rodding” and the “Founder of American Race Technology.” And this natural mechanical genius grew up in La Cañada, and gained his fame in Glendale.

Ed was born in La Cañada in 1901, followed soon by a brother, Bud, in a little house on Curran Street between Indiana and Union, behind what would later become the famed Huntington Iron Works. Their father died early, so their mother worked for the La Cañada School and as a water tender for a nearby reservoir. Ed showed his interest in the new phenomenon of automobiles early, and by 7 was reading everything he could get his hands on about engines. At 11 years of age, while his Mom was away, he stripped down the family’s Ford Model T to see how fast he could get it to go, reaching an amazing 60 mph on La Cañada’s bumpy dirt roads. Soon after he acquired a motorcycle and with hand tools modified the engine to get more power.

Ed soon completed his education – eighth-grade at La Cañada School. From early childhood he had always worked – first in the blacksmith shop that later became Huntington Iron and starting at 14 in Harry Miller’s Machine Shop in Los Angeles.     Miller was building winning racecars for the Indy 500, and young Winfield learned much from the guys working in the shop, including the legendary Fred Offenhauser.

Winfield became fascinated with cylinder head, camshaft and carburetor design. With money loaned by his mom, he set up a used grinding machine in his family garage in La Cañada, and began experimenting with camshaft design for Model Ts. He began helping racers as a mechanic, and racing himself at such famous tracks as Ascot Raceway. All the time he was competing he was also designing – squeezing more and more horsepower out of the ubiquitous four-cylinder Ford engines that were the mainstay of racing. He raced successfully at tracks all over California, winning the title of the “World’s Fastest Ford” in 1924.

That same year, after having scratch-built a couple of innovative carburetors, he partnered with his brother to start the Winfield Carburetor Company in Glendale. Pete DePaolo won the 1925 Indy 500 with a dual Winfield carbureted Duesenburg, and Winfield Carburetors began dominating the racing world. By 1930s Indy Races, all but one car sported Winfield carbs. At the same time Winfield engineered a revolutionary 180-degree crankshaft, creating the “two-up, two-down engine” which dominated the dirt track and dry lake racing scenes.

It was during this period of his greatest success that Ed Winfield married. His new wife, fearful of the increasing speeds and danger of racing, pleaded with Ed to stop competing. He did as she wished, concentrating his genius on engineering, while his brother Bud continued to promote the Winfield products on the racing circuit. Ed worked quietly in his shop in Glendale, continuing to invent and innovate. He is widely credited with inventing the harmonic balancer, and the first continuous-flow fuel injection system, along with several new carburetor designs. He collaborated with his brother Bud, Fred Offenhauser and Leo Goosen to create the famed “Novi” Indy racing engine that gained fame for its distinctive crowd-pleasing shriek from the 1940s into the ’60s.

Ed Winfield became somewhat of a recluse. His shop in Glendale became infamous for having no sign on it. A knowing customer’s knock on the door might be answered (or not) by opening just wide enough to pass a crankshaft or carburetor out to the potential racer’s hands. With that Winfield product installed, theirs became the car to beat.

Ed retired to Las Vegas in the ’60s, but Ford Motor Company and Indy racers continued to contact him for advice. He died in 1982.

Ed Winfield was one of the great automotive engineers of our time, and he developed that incredible genius right here in our quiet valley.

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  1. Chuck Weiss says:

    What a wonderful bit of history that started up here in the Foothills, thanks for the research and for posting this Mike! I wonder if his house is one of those still standing there on Curran Street behind the La Canada Pet Hospital.

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