Gary Emery likes to go fast. That presents a dilemma for the University of Oklahoma professor emeritus of finance.
He’s an automobile enthusiast and the star of his collection is a museum quality 1957 Arnold race car. Does he take his only one-of-its-kind-in-the-world auto into speedy competition or does it stay parked in a gallery-like shop.
Emery has chosen the former with him piloting the Arnold well at prestigious tracks all over North America. He and wife Molly acquired the handmade automobile after his retirement from OU in 2012. They’d relocated for a time to Kansas to renovate Emery’s folks’ ranch outside Lawrence.
“I joined the Kansas City Austin-Healey club,” Emery said. “The very first event Molly and I went to we were sitting across the table from one of the guys we’d never met. I told him that I race a Sprite and he said he was getting ready to sell his race car.”
It turned out to be the Arnold Special. Emery saw photos, then went to see the car and was stunned by what he saw.
“I came back home and Molly asked if the car would get me into the events I wanted to be in such as Monterey Historics [Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion] and similar national events” he said. “I told her it has been there twice already. She said, 'You’d better buy it.' Molly has said that about every car in my shop.”
Emery bought the car in 2013. He raced it the first time that fall at Texas World Speedway with Corinthian Vintage Auto Racing Group.
“My third race with this car was in 2014 at Lime Rock in Connecticut,” he said.
That’s a challenging historic up hill and down dale track in a picturesque Litchfield County park.
“It’s iconic and was Paul Newman’s home track,” Emery said. “They were doing races there way back when. I was unfamiliar with the car and the track, didn’t do very well but had a great time.”
It’s the kind of place where you just might happen to meet British racing legend Stirling Moss and his wife Lady Susan.
“We were in the driver’s lounge and I walked over and introduced myself to them,” he said. “Molly and I chatted with them one on one for around 30 minutes. He spun out stories one after another.”
The next weekend found Team Emery racing their Arnold at Watkins Glen International.
“They line the cars up there in what they consider to be the car’s significance,” he said. “Our car was number 30 out of around 200 there and they take it very seriously.”
The Arnold is both beautiful and unique. The glossy paint job is British racing green. The body lines naturally are aerodynamic with sensual rounded fenders. It is hand-crafted aluminum yet perfectly symmetrical. Hammer marks and multiple welds can only be seen on the unpainted underneath surfaces. The Arnold won first place in the race car division of the prestigious Santa Fe (NM) Concorso in 2016 beating out a 1930’s era Bugatti.
“It’s the only one in the world,” Emery said. “I like its history.”
Canadian Edgar Arnold was 24 when he built the car in British Columbia in 1957.
“It’s all hand-formed aluminum over a tube frame,” he said. “The car has mostly Triumph mechanicals such as the race-prepared 2.3 liter motor with 12:1 compression ratio.”
That requires super high-test 110 octane gasoline which Emery buys at an OKC race shop. The Arnold has a fire suppression system and redundant fuel pumps.
“There are big dual Weber carburetors that are completely different from what goes with a stock engine,” he said. “The four-speed Triumph gear box has a racing gear set. And the interesting thing is it’s a totally non-synchronized gear box so that the gears can be bigger. You don’t even use the clutch. Just let off the gas a little bit and bing, you’ve got the gear. Down-shifting you have to heel and toe the clutch.”
The Arnold’s front end has Morris Minor torsion bar suspension.
“I spoke with Edgar Arnold on the telephone who hand-built the car and I have some historical photos from back in the day when he was racing it,” Emery said. “He told me some about racing the car along the West Coast, mostly at the Westwood track in Canada.”
Emery was interested in race entry sheets and other documentation of the Arnold’s history which would add significantly to its provenance.
“He told me that he didn’t have any of that or know that it was important to keep it,” he said. “I asked if he had any trophies and was told that when they’d come back from racing in the US that Canadian customs wanted to charge duty so the trophies were left at the border.”
Arnold only built the one race car but later opened a restoration shop in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, Emery has gleaned other information from previous owners and there have been several.
“One told me that the car looks the best it ever has,” he said.
Emery’s challenge is to take this unique beauty onto the race track at a competitive level without putting it in danger. There have been spin-outs where the car was completely out of control. He has photos of a near miss with another driver at Texas Motor Speedway.
“A woman in an Alfa Romeo passed me,” he said. “I’m not sure how close, but too close for comfort. I was still spinning when she was out of the picture.”
Have you seen a cool vehicle around town? Writer Doug Hill is always on the lookout for future Dig My Ride columns. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.