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The Mystery Racer of Edmonton

Published in blog.hemmings.com


Photo courtesy Reynolds-Alberta Museum

Managing Editor Dan Beaudry keeps the above photo hung in his cubicle. It helped to inspire his Model A speedster build. It’s a 1926 or ’27 Ford Model T with all the bodywork aft of the cowl removed and a driver in cloth helmet and goggles perched jauntily behind the wheel. The hood proudly declares “R.C.A.F. Edmonton” and wears a roundel.

At a glance, it appears to have been taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s, and you can imagine the Royal Canadian Air Force personnel at RCAF Edmonton assembling it in a hangar between servicing Bristol Bulldog and Hawker Hart biplanes. Or perhaps just to pass the time during the cold Alberta winters.

That image isn’t correct, though, as what was then called RCAF Station Edmonton did not open until 1942 (the civil airfield it occupied, Blatchford Field, did open in 1927) and was not officially named until 1944. Further, the man in the driver’s seat, Stan Reynolds, wasn’t born until 1923. RCAF Station Edmonton also closed in 1955, when it was replaced by RCAF Station Namao, now called CFB Edmonton.

Knowing the racy T dated from the 1944-’55 era raised its own set of questions. Most modified flivvers from that era look radically different, with 16-inch wheels from a V-8 Ford, a Model A frame, and often a flathead V-8 engine, too. This one was clearly all Model T, right down to the tall-and-skinny 21-inch wire-spoke wheels and vibrator coils in a box bolted to the cylinder head.

Well, knowing that Reynolds was the driver helped a lot. Reynolds enlisted in the RCAF in 1942 and flew de Havilland Mosquito fighters in the European Theatre of Operations during World War II. He was also the 1947 Canadian Model T Racing Champion, and, in the 1950s and ’60s was a prominent auto dealer in his hometown of Wetaskiwin, Alberta. He was also the namesake of the Stan Reynolds Airport in Wetaskiwin and is the founder of the Reynolds-Alberta Museum also in Wetaskiwin.

It would be easy to assume that the illustrated car was Reynolds’ mount during his winning 1947 season, but as it happens, that car is in the Reynolds-Alberta collection, where it is cataloged as a 1916. The ’16 incorporates several 1926-’27 Ford features, including the fuel tank and coil box, but the wood-spoke wheels hint that it is a different car altogether—though perhaps it incorporates some bits of the 1926-’27.

Also, Reynolds demobbed in 1945 and returned to Wetaskiwin, so the odds of him driving a car in RCAF livery in 1947 seem small. In fact, it seemed certain that this car had to have been raced in the 1942-’45 period. We’re not used to contemplating organized racing events during the all-out effort that was World War II, but a visit to the website of the Alberta Fairground T Racers confirmed that racing stripped-down, ostensibly stock Model Ts was a very popular form of motorsport from 1941 to 1951. It also mentions that Stan and his father, Ted (also a pilot and a garage owner), were both racers during that period.

Finally, a search for “Canadian Model T Ford racing championship” led us to the Canadian Archival Information Network and the exact picture hanging in Mr. Beaudry’s cubicle, with a date of May 20, 1945.

As it happens, that date is four days before a big Empire Day shindig in Edmonton (the first after V-E Day), that included a Model T Race Meet sponsored by the Lions Club and the Junior Chamber of Commerce. We know this because the Alberta Fairground T Racers display a copy of the rules of that event on their website as an example to those wishing to join them. Taking a look at those rules answers why this T is so radically different from other Model Ts we’re used to seeing from this era—competition was open only to mechanically stock cars with stripped-off or -down bodywork and the option of lowered suspension.

It’s worth noting, however, that racers recall many illicit modifications to get an edge in the racing. One racer admitted to machining his connecting rods off-center for a compression boost, others recalled the smell of ether in the pits when only gasoline was allowed as fuel. Stan himself was known to have flipped over his intake manifold and constructed a sheet-metal ram-air duct to his carburetor, and to have drilled his cast-iron pistons to decrease their mass and gain a few more rpm.

This great photo and a little online legwork led us to a chapter in North American racing history that we hadn’t heard of before and we’re glad it did. Have you ever run down the story behind an intriguing photo or artifact?