You think inner city kids have little chance to succeed? The auto shop teacher (center) ha
As long as there are high-performance enthusiasts who feel strongly that an internal combustion engine is more than just the means of propelling a vehicle from A to B, the name Arias will be remembered long after he, and we, are gone.
Nick Arias Jr., of Harbor City, California, didn’t set out to be one of the symbols of the speed equipment industry; it was the achievements of his high-performance engine products that dictated that. Getting there took years of hard work, setbacks, and strained long-term relationships before that success was realized.
Nick was born in his home in a rough neighborhood of Pico Heights in downtown Los Angeles near Olympic and Vermont in 1929. Nick could’ve looked for the fast buck but instead, he and his buddies were only interested in fast cars. His keen curiosity in the mechanics of things was his path to success.
Nick’s father worked for Southern Pacific Railroad for 45 years. “My dad never missed a day’s work,” Nick begins. “He was a blacksmith by trade and worked in the Roundhouse on the steam engines. He was trained in Spain but the country was starving so he left when he was 17 and worked on a freighter till he came to California.”
Taken June 1952 in Kumhwa, Korea. The boys from L.A. (left to right): Nick, Joe Toros, and
Nick went to Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles: “I majored in auto shop, auto mechanics, and Industrial Arts. I had Vocational Auto Shop where I had four periods a day and that’s where I learned auto mechanics; in fact I attribute a lot of what I know back to school and the theory-end of the operation of the engine and how it runs. My instructor said you have to know how something works before you can fix it or change it. Everything I learned in high school, I practiced as an adult. I would call myself a B machinist not a Class A machinist.”
While you might conclude Nick went to what was essentially a trade school, Polytechnic, like any high school, had a strong emphasis on the academic side where Nick applied himself, graduating with top scores. He definitely had a head on his shoulders, which prepared him for the business world.
In the meantime, at age 11, he worked pumping gas after school to save money to buy a car. His first job after high school was working at Handy Parts, an automotive parts store on Automotive Row in Los Angeles. “My first car was a Ford three-window coupe with a Model B four-cylinder engine. I bought it from a World War II vet in 1946 for $250. It had a Winfield head and cam. I had it about three years then.
While it looks a little sorrowful, you’re looking at the race car that made history winnin
“I started building a little Model A bucket. It was lighter; it was more a racing car. It had a chopped-down flywheel, which was called a button flywheel. It really wasn’t practical for the street.”
Street is Neat
Our former R&C Publisher Tom Medley coined the term “street is neat”, meaning “get out and enjoy your ride”. Hot rod racing was indigenous to Southern California because of the year-round warm climate and the dry lakes. The vastness of the streets in the L.A. area made street racing a way of life and relatively safe for citizens and racers alike when just a tiny fraction of people occupied those streets, compared to today.
Nick and his high school buddies Joe Pisano and Kenny Bigelow wasted no time starting the Photons Car Club. While “Photons” left many scratching their heads, Nick and his buddies knew it meant faster than the speed of light! Those guys were serious when it came to speed!