In the 1940s, Fay Mooney, Spud Simkins, Johnnie Johnson and friends built a roadster from a 1925 Ford Model T. The car was completely hand fabricated and painted at the Mooney Brothers Body Works in Bakersfield. It looked like an awesome race car but with such clean lines and paint, it was hard not to enter it into the second ever Oakland Roadster Show in 1950. Even the judges were impressed by the work done to make this race car look as good as a show car, winning its class at the show. It was even featured in the January of 1950 edition of the original Hot Rod Magazine.
All Show and Go
This ‘25 wasn’t made to just look pretty, it was made to go racing. In its lifetime, it won races and set track records at places like Bakersfield, Culver City, Ascot Park, Gilmore, and Phoenix (California). It was also driven by the likes of Harold “Hot Dog” Hall, Joe Mason, and Rosie Rousell, who was part of a group of 20 that raced midgets in 1948 in England. Its racing history was also cemented in Dick Wallen’s “Roaring Roadsters: The Road to Indy,” a book about oval track racing describing the post-WWII era of motorsports in the US. Mooney’s T Roadster was featured in many of the photographs within the book.
However, the life of a racecar isn’t always a long one or a soft career. Some time after it started racing, the car was damaged badly, eventually stopped racing, and parted out. Paul Mooney, one of Fay’s three children, remembered the T fondly and wanted to get the old car again. With the car basically gone, what could one do to get it back? Recreate it using vintage photos and articles.
Remake of an Original
That task was given to Keith and Misty Vander Meulen of Image Street Rods and Customs, a modern hot rod shop over in Santa Maria, CA. Keith is well known to the hot rod community for not only making some stunning builds and beautiful roadsters, but also making sure every car owner is treated like family. With the history and family touch of the Mooney/Simkins special, how could you not take on a job like that.
The car was built off an original 1925 Ford Model T body, just like the original car was. It’s not a reproduction like you can find in your hot rod catalog, this was custom made just like Fey did in the 1940s. What makes a “Track T” distinct is the very narrow nose with a small opening for the radiator. It’s a classic oval body that you would see running tracks like Ascot Park in the 1950s.
Under that hood is the same engine that was used on Paul’s father’s car, a GMC 270-cubic-inch inline-six. The camshaft is a grind by Isky Cams, believed to be the original camshaft that would have been used in this engine when it went racing in the 50s. Possibly done by Ed “Isky” Iskenderian himself in that time, too. Fueling it is a set of three Stromberg 97 Carburetors on the Howard Intake. The exhaust is custom made and based off the pictures of the original car.
The suspension is transverse leaf spring with Hootie shocks. The rear leaf is designed to work with the Halibrand Quick Change Rear End and is why it has its unique shape. The original car was thought of as a race car first and it had an “Outlaw” transmission. That was a direct drive that allows the driver to disengage it from the engine to allow for push starting by a pusher truck.
This is the sole deviation from the original design as this car is slightly more street car but still needed to be center driven. So, a GM Saginaw four-speed was fitted, but that presents a problem. The shift levers are on the side of the transmission and the car is center drive. Keith came up with a novel solution with shift rails on the top of the gearbox that connect to custom levers and work with the shift lever in the center of the car.
The next novel feature is the Gordon Schroeder Steering Box. If you’re unfamiliar with early hot rodding and steering systems on cars, the steering linkages probably don’t make much sense. You see a lever coming out of the body of the car that travels parallel to the frame, but that still turns the front wheels. This puts the steering box right under the cowl and is known as “cowl steering box.”
This is how steering boxes were designed from about the middle of World War I and the most preferred for hot rodders was the Gemmer Steering Box. That came from 1937 to 1948 Ford cars and 1937 to 1956 Ford Trucks. It works exactly how Corvair steering boxes do. it’s a steering box with a worm and gear design. The worm gear twists as you turn the steering wheel which turns the pitman gear in the housing connected to the steering arm.
It’s kind of like how a recirculating ball and nut works, but there is a different principal. Instead of being directly driven by a worm gear, the worm drives balls inside a nut frame. The frame fits around the steering shaft and moves up and down. This movement causes the sector gear on the pitman shaft to move the steering arm back and forth. This design improved reliability as it reduced wear seen on the worm gear.
The Schroder, despite looking like a rear differential, is also similar in principal. However, instead of a few teeth to make the sector gear on the pitman shaft, the Schroeder Steering Box uses a full worm screw and wheel gear inside the box to turn the steering arm. Other than that, it still works the same as a traditional Gemmer Steering Box.
The rest of the interior is sparse, just like it was in its heyday. A simple aluminum panel with a few gauges, a short windscreen, and an aviation style seat and belts. The interior panes surrounding the driver aren’t original WWII bomber fireproof materials but modern fabric with diamond stitching to replicate the original. A very simple roll bar is the only other safety this and the original car had.
When looking at the pictures, Paul Mooney’s dedication to his father’s car is an amazing reproduction. It may not be the original that Fey created, but much of the character is still there. It even took home the LA Roadster’s Award of Excellence during the 2018 LA Roadster Show and Swap. This reproduction continues to carry the legacy of the original Mooney/Simkins Special. While this one might not hit the race track, it’s still alive with all the right looks and feel of his father’s car.