All Hail Henry Junk
Stock Henry J’s are just a little weird. They’re goofy, somewhat awkward economy cars that were originally marketed to the budget-minded motorist. (Hey, even a trunk was optional!) I’ve always wondered how popular these cars really were back in the ’50s and ’60s. Would you see them on the streets? At the drive-ins? In high school parking lots? One thing’s for sure: with a healthy dose of hot rod ingenuity, they were right at home at the drag strip.
It’s interesting to note that the major AA/Gas race teams seemed to stray away from the J. Instead, they opted for lighter Anglias, Austins and Willys of all shapes and sizes. But just because they weren’t the top choice of the top dogs doesn’t make them unfit for competition. Case in point, we have “Henry Junk.”
The story starts in 1965 when H.A.M.B.er Hotrod Tommy of Sheldahl, Iowa, traded a ’55 Chevy sedan body for an old Henry J at the age of 16. Like any red-blooded hot rodder, he mocked it up as a Gasser and hit it with some white shoe polish lettering. At that point, the car was mostly intact; it retained everything from its bumpers and headlight rings to door handles and glass. That being said, Tommy admits it was in sad shape.
From there, he sold the car to his brother who took it to a whole different level. “It started with a 283/four-speed,” Tommy recalls. The engine was set way back, and the gap between the hood and cowl was situated right over the carb. That put the distributor in the interior, making for easy adjustments via the dash panel. In their quest for more power, they swapped in a nasty 327cid Chevy backed by a four-speed Hydro.
Along with the driveline updates, the car was treated to some new paintwork. First red oxide primer, then canary yellow and brushwork by 17-year-old Tommy. Here’s his rundown.
“The early (crude, with steel rear wheels) lettering was by me, but the car was rebuilt by my brother (Americans in rear now), repainted by ‘Sniff’ Wayne Larson and cobwebbing and lettering by ‘Delbert’ (Bob Palmer), a friend of my brother. Thank goodness I was in the service—U.S. Navy—at that time, so I didn’t mess it up.
“I did go see it race at Humboldt when home on leave. Normally it was on the street being mean and nasty. He wanted to get an actual time. 11.32 best, but blew up the Hydro trans getting there. Ostrich engine just too much—’specially the 8,200 shifts.”
There’s a lot to like about Henry Junk. From its straight axle to its lead pipe rear bumper, it looks downright ferocious. So much, in fact, that they taped a “Beware of Dog” sign in the quarter window. As brutal as this car may have been, the best part is that everyone seemed to be having fun with it. That’s what this hot rodding thing is all about, isn’t it?
Photos courtesy of hotrod_tommy