* Updates * And more photos at the bottom of the post.
In September of 1846 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, a fair that would later turn into the Canadian National Exhibition was first held, and every year thereafter it would be located in a different city. Toronto began holding its own yearly fair in 1878 at Exhibition Place and beginning in 1904 the yearly Canadian National Exhibition has been located there. Racing began at the fair as early as about 1904 or 1905 when Barney Oldfield made an appearance there with one of the earliest of the Peerless Green Dragon Racing cars.
Yearly auto racing soon became a fixture at the fair and during the World War I years while looking for work for his drivers, American racing promoter Ernie Moross brought his traveling auto racing circus to the Exhibition. Organized races were also run on the track, which brings us to this August 1920 photo of Roy La Plante and his Wisconsin Special Racing Car. After a search nothing has been found about either La Plante or his racing car.
The only clues to the Special’s origin are based on the appearance of the lightweight frame, the narrow and drilled front frame cross member (seen above) and the chain drive, all of which are almost identical to that of the Fiat Cyclone. Back in this era racing cars were recycled for years and there is a possibility that this car may have originated as one of the early 1907 Fiat racing cars.
The name make it likely that it was powered by Wisconsin four-cylinder engine. The car has a dropped front axle that appears to be made by Timken along with a contemporary narrow radiator and body. If any of our readers can tell us more about either La Plante or this racing car, please send us a comment. The photo is courtesy of the Toronto Public Library.
* Update II * The mystery has been solved by reader Tin Indian. The Fiat can be seen below with Fred Horey of St. Paul, Minnesota behind the wheel. He was a Midwestern racer, and it appears he had his Fiat for some time as you can see three more photos of it on Bob Lawrence’s Racing site.
The earliest photo of the car when Horey owned it, shows that with the exception of the V-shaped radiator it looks identical to one of our earlier photos showing Ralph DePalma racing the Cyclone against George Robertson in the Simplex Zip. It this is the same car than it did, in fact, originate as a Fiat Cyclone. The photo of Roy La Plante in the car above looks to be identical to the photo below.
* Update I * There is a possibility that Roy La Plante’s Wisconsin Special is a rebuilt circa 1907 Fiat. The photos below show the Cyclone as first built and after a rebuild and use by Barney Oldfield. Racer Sig Haugdahl also apparently owned the Cyclone for a period of time and a photo of he and Leon Duray with that appears to be another Fiat are also pictured.
The Wisconsin Special frame, its side profile, and the narrow channel section front cross member all appear to match the Fiat Cyclone (above). On both cars, the cross member is drilled with lightening holes and the two flanges of the channel face forward. Two of the other key locations that both cars seem to share is the center-to-center distance between the jackshaft for the rear drive chain and the rear wheel.
The brake actuating shaft on the Cyclone is operated by the tiny hand lever below Cedrino’s left hand; on the Special, the brake shaft is in the same location and may have been operated by a handle on the inside of the body. The Wisconsin Special also has a different front axle as explained earlier in the text and the steering box is located above the frame and may be a different unit.
An earlier article on The Old Motor titled: The Nine Lives of the Fiat Cyclone Racing Car covers the car in the rebuilt form seen above when Barney Oldfield used it during the teens. At that time, it had been re-powered with a 16-valve Duesenberg engine and received an updated radiator and body. This photo courtesy of Racemaker Press, clearly shows a view of a front frame cross member that is identical to the one on the Wisconsin Special.
Sig Haugdahl and his Fiat and Leon Duray and what appears to be another Fiat are pictured above in a photo courtesy of Bob Lawrence. Duray’s car appears to share many of the same features as La Plante’s Wisconsin Special including the steering box and the shape of the cowl and the small front sprocket.
What does this all mean? After covering everything that has been compared, the Wisconsin Special appears to be a rebuilt Fiat. One other similar car is seen below with Louis Meneghetti on October 28, 1912, at the at Charter Oak Park race track in Hartford, Connecticut. This Fiat was called the Baby Jumbo, and it could have ended up being rebuilt into any of these cars. If you can add anything to the story or help with other photos of any of these six cars, please let us know.