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The Mysterious RayDay Cylinder Head

Published in blog.hemmings.com

This Winfield intake, Cyclone adapter (to install a Stromberg), and RayDay cylinder head were removed from a Model A in 1956. Images courtesy Evan Bailly and as noted.

We are suckers for vintage speed equipment. The hobby of making inexpensive cars faster goes way back—it predates the term “hot rod” by decades. While some names have been around for ages and are so well-established that they’ve become background noise, there are far more companies that tried to enter the business of hop-up parts and didn’t make it. Some folded their tents entirely, but others had come from the more-general auto-supply business and returned to that.

Stumbling on one of these pieces of forgotten speed equipment is always exciting. Sometimes they work well, and sometimes the enthusiasm of the original maker outstripped its engineering. Regardless, old-car folk are usually at some level also historians, and its in our DNA to chase down as much of the story on these items whether they will be wall hangars or once again functional accessories. The RayDay head illustrated above is one such part–it comes from a firm best known for supplying replacement pistons in the 1920s and ’30s.

Interior view of the RayDay Piston Factory in Seattle, Washington, sometime between 1930 and 1940. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America.

Tacoma, Washington, hot rodder Evan Bailly has a 1928 Ford Phaeton built in a period-correct, WWII-era style, complete with vintage four-banger power. Evan originally hails from Seattle, so when he was offered a chance to purchase a cylinder head marked “RAYDAY SEATTLE,” he knew he had to own it. In fact, the RayDay head was among a group of parts that had been fitted to a Model A roadster pickup (RPU) that also included an original Winfield single-downdraft intake cast for a Winfield carburetor and a Cyclone adapter to mount a Stromberg-style two-barrel. The RPU was purchased in San Francisco in the late ’40s and driven to Seattle when the owner was discharged from the Navy. When the ex-Navy man sold the RPU in 1956, he kept the banger parts.

Evan Bailly’s 1928 Ford Model A Phaeton is built entirely with 1945-and-earlier parts. It already wears the intake, carb adapter, and a Stromberg 48 carburetor. Eventually it may get the RayDay head, too.

Once he had acquired the head, Evan set out on his research quest. “I’m a glutton for history and information,” he says. “And ever since getting the parts, I have been looking for more info on the RayDay company and the products it produced.”

Evan turned first to local phone books, local directories, and public records. From that he was able to piece together that Ray Day Pistons, Inc., first shows up in a Washington State business ledger in 1918, with a headquarters listed in Tacoma. Then, in 1922, still in Tacoma, the company took out an advertisement in Popular Mechanics offering motorcycle parts.

“POWER and speed that surprises experts, vibration stopped, cooler motor, less trouble, with Rayday Pistons. Made of a wonderful aluminum alloy of great strength, light weight, long life, especially for motorcycles. Send stamp for folder ‘More Power to You.’ Ray Day Co., Tacoma, Wash.” Via Google Books.

“I know they were big in motorcycles early on,” Evan tells us. “They advertised in a few motorcycle magazines in the Teens and Twenties. Then their ads in the late ’20s and into the ’30s start referencing cars, trucks, and racing.”

The 1928 Polk’s City Directory shows the company with a Detroit presence, though its Seattle factory (shown above) was still active in the 1930s. The Detroit location suggests that the aftermarket company was transitioning to become a supplier to the original-equipment manufacturers of the era. “I have found multiple references to them being the OEM supplier of pistons to Auburn-Cord-Dusenburg,” Evan says. “They patented a bunch of stuff pertaining to pistons early on. I think they were actually the OEM supplier of pistons to a lot of independent companies. I’ve seen their pistons with Auburn and Graham packaging and have located, online, an NOS box of RayDay pistons for 1928-’30 Hupmobiles.”

A 1934 advertisement showing that RayDay supplied more than motorcycle parts.

The last appearance of RayDay in easily accessible sources relates to a wartime labor dispute involving Chrysler Corporation. Evan speculates that RayDay may have been absorbed by Chrysler in the 1940s. But where does the head come into all this? After his research, Evan began to suspect it was related to their promotional activities in the ’20s and ’30s.

“They campaigned a few AAA and champ cars in the late 20s to mid-’30s as ‘RayDay Piston Specials,’” Evan says. “But I’ve only been able to track down one picture of an early Model T-based one.” Slightly later, circa 1932-’34 another RayDay Piston Special shows up, but that too is Model T-based, originally having been the Hamlin Special, built by Louis Chevrolet in 1926. The engine from that car is in the Museum of American Speed.

The head itself provides a few clues. Evan says the chamber design is “Fairly basic for the time. Probably about the same as a Winfield Red.” Note the welded fillets around the outside.

It appears the dark years of the early Depression were transitional ones for the company. Evan points to the “Seattle” marking on the head as indicative of the head predating the company’s relocation to Detroit, c. 1934, meaning this is likely a very early piece of Model A speed equipment. Is it possible that a series of Model A- or Model B-powered RayDay Piston Specials were planned?

There are tantalizing clues, but no hard information. The topside of Evan’s cylinder head is Model A style, and he is aware of at least two others. Underneath is what Evan describes as a chamber design that was “fairly basic for the time, probably about the same as a Winfield Red.” Welded fillets around the edges suggest that material was added to boost compression and tune chamber volumes. Another element that points at race-car plans is the 8.3:1 compression—far too much for street use in the 1930s. Babbitt bottom ends are not known for their tolerance of ratios higher than 6:1 over the long term, and most pump gas in that era was below 90 octane.

What does the Hemmings Nation know about RayDay? And particularly about these cylinder heads?