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Model T Ford Speed and Racing Equipment Part I – The Early Pioneers

  • The Craig-Hunt SOHC 16 -Valve Head – The Motor Age February 17, 1921.

In the early part of the last century, auto racing was one of the most popular spectator sports in the country. Star racing drivers earned big money in the pursuit of speed while becoming the idols of millions. The specially built racing cars they piloted were well beyond the financial means of the average man and only the well-heeled owner or a driver who had a generous sponsor was able to run the best racing hardware available at the time.

The inexpensive and durable Model “T” Ford  leveled the playing field for thousands of young, daring, skillful and hard-working people and allowed them to successfully enter the speed game. One could be bought with limited funds as a used car or built up from spare parts and turned into a high performance machine with some hard work and determination.

Many of the first attempts involved milling down the stock Ford cylinder head by around 1/8 inch or so for higher compression. This was often followed with machining of the intake and exhaust ports, fitting larger valves and installing a “high speed” camshaft. Additional improvements included replacing the stock Ford ignition system with a high tension magneto, under-slinging the springs in order to lower the chassis, intake and exhaust manifold changes and substitution of a larger carburetor.

The very first of the overhead-valve conversion cylinder head appears to have been an 8-valve set-up advertised for sale by C.D. Noonan of Paris, Illinois at some point before 1917, as reported back in the then by Murray Fahnestock, Technical Editor of the Fordowner magazine. We were unable to find any other information about this head after a long search except for ad (above) in the Motor Age from March 29, 1917 by a D.R. Noonan, a manufacturer of racing camshafts and racing engine mechanic. We also discovered that he had been an Oldsmobile dealer in 1916. Ads placed by him after 1917 list only cylinder regrinding as his specialty and no longer describe camshaft manufacture or racing engine work.

W.L. Hunt of Indianapolis, Indiana, appears to have come out with the second racing cylinder head to be offered for the Ford. He used many ideas that had previously been proven in the racing arena by other builders that used overhead cams. The first of his SOHC 16-valve heads was introduced early in 1917 as a Peugeot Type racing head For Fords. The earliest ad that we found offering this head (below left) was in the February 15, 1917 issue of Motor Age.

  • 1917 Ad for the Hunt Head – First version of the Hunt Head – Second Version called the Craig-Hunt, still chain driven but featured an enclosed camshaft.

The first version of the W.L. Hunt 16-valve head utilized a camshaft driven directly by a single roller chain from a sprocket mounted on the front of the crankshaft. The built-up cam was delivered with the cam lobes not attached to the shaft and it was left to the engine builder to determine what valve timing to use by assembling it and pinning the lobes to the shaft in the desired position. It was supported on plain bearings with no provision for oiling other than manually. Valves were 1.5-inch diameter inclined at a 20 degree angle in a small combustion chamber and featured two spark plugs. The compression ratio described in period references was about 5 to 1.

The second version of the head, called the Craig-Hunt, was updated with a fully assembled camshaft enclosed in a three part aluminum housing for better protection and oiling. The cam now ran in ball bearings with improved rocker arms that featured roller followers. The lobes themselves dipped into oil in the bottom half of the housing to assure “perfect and continual lubrication.”

The third and final development can be seen in the top photo at the beginning of our post. This refined version featured a vertical shaft-drive utilizing bevel gears at the top and bottom along with a special aluminum cover. A centrifugal water pump, arranged off to the side of this shaft, was also driven by bevel gears and a gear-driven high-tension Eiseman magneto provided the spark.

  • Ford racing car built by Bill Hunt of  Speedway Engineering. This car was capable of 85 m.p.h. and won eleven firsts out of fourteen starts.

By 1920 the Hunt 16-valve head and the rest of the line of speed equipment was now handled by Speedway Engineering, another enterprise located in Indianapolis. The photo (above) shows Bill Hunt himself in his racing car. Below, you can read a very interesting article from the Motor Age of December 16, 1920 that gives an overview of it’s construction and success during the racing season. To be continued with coverage of early Roof, Rajo and Frontenac cylinder heads and equipment in Part II.


8 responses to “Model T Ford Speed and Racing Equipment Part I – The Early Pioneers

  1. I have nothing on C. D. Noonan, but D. R. “Roy” or “Ray” Noonan was a well-known entrant of the “Noonan Overland Special” in the twenties in Northcentral Indiana and Eastern Illinois. Mostly driven by Benny Shoaff and carrying #10, the car was pretty successful at places like Centlivre Park in Fort Wayne, the Hoosier Motor Speedway in Indianapolis or the Chicago area tracks: it won a main event at Fort Wayne in October of 1922, and equalled the track record at Funk’s Speedway in Winchester/IN the following year. On occasions, Noonan drove it himself, and others behind the wheel included Glen Fites and Doc Roberts.

  2. Thanks to David Greenlees for so much good material on the Model T Ford racing cars. The Old Motor was a gold mine for me. I gave a talk to my Antique Auto Club on the Fronty Fords – and I was surprised at how few had ever heard of them It was well received – and I gave credit to my sources. The art work of John Burgess really added a lot to my talk – and was a surprise to many people. It was a lot of fun- and should be printed in the popular press!

  3. Very interesting article. I’m researching the history of auto racing in SW Indiana, SE Illinois and W Kentucky and I’ve run across several of these names and cars in my research including Bill Hunt in his Carnation and Benny Shoaf. The name Noonan looks very familiar, but I will have to take a closer look to see if I have any info on him.

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