People ask me all the time what my favorite car is…especially people who aren’t really in the car guy realm. When non car people talk to car people it seems like this is their go-to question to break the ice. It’s always hard for me to answer because I like a bunch of different cars for many different reasons. Corvettes are a strong contender, especially those built from 1963 to 1967, but one car that has always stood out as a favorite is the Henry J. Most people have never heard of Henry J, but I learned about them when I was just a kid.
My dad (Troy Byrd) did a fairly decent job of taking pictures of the various cars, trucks and motorcycles he owned over the years. He probably didn’t take pictures of about 100 cars or so, but when you consider how many of these old junkers he’s owned, that’s a good percentage. Anyway, as a child, I really enjoyed looking at my dad’s pictures of his cars, as well as cars he’d painted. It’s funny how these photos defined what kind of cars I liked.
So I asked my dad about all these cars, trying to figure out why each one was so cool. And for a while, I thought all those pictures of Henry J’s were all different cars. As it turns out, he only had pictures of two of his J’s and one of his friend’s Henry J drag car. The reason I thought he had a bunch of Henry J’s is because of the multiple paint jobs. After learning more about the timeline of the car, it actually had MORE paint jobs than I thought. To add another layer to this story, this Henry J was the very first car my dad ever painted, creating a hobby which would soon turn into a career.
Like most high performance cars, my dad’s Henry J went through a bunch of different engine combinations. Oddly enough, he said the engine that held up the longest was a 307 out of a Malibu. The car almost always had a single-four barrel tunnel ram on it, and it ALWAYS had a four-speed manual transmission. I’ve heard so many stories about this car that it makes me wish I was one of my dad’s friends from back then, instead of his son! I would’ve been hanging out at his place every day. Street racing on the narrowest backroad you’ve ever seen, burnouts galore, wheelies on dirt bikes…these were the good ole days and I hate that I missed out on it.
Fast forward to the mid-80s and my dad had gotten all the fun he could get out of the car. He traded it to Buddy Sinclair on Dayton Mountain, who sent it to a professional chassis shop and had a tube chassis built for it. The car came back to my dad’s shop shortly after the chassis was complete, and my dad painted it bright orange. After the paint job, it went up the hill to my uncle Charles’ house, where it would be lettered again…by now, he’d lettered this car several times with all of my dad’s different paint jobs.
The car still lives up on Dayton Mountain, and I just hope someday that I have the opportunity to buy it. Even though the original chassis is long gone, it’s one of those cars that means a lot to me. I would more than likely get rid of the narrowed rear end, and put it back to the all-black configuration. That’s it for part one of my Henry J saga…this will be another ongoing series of blogs, so stay tuned.