The Henry J Saga–Part 1

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.

Byrd Photo

My dad's Henry J gasser...Dr. Feelgood. I love this car.

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.

Byrd Photo

My dad painted the car, and my uncle Charles lettered it.

Byrd Photo

The car ran a small block Chevy in this configuration. Sure wish I had a picture of it doing a wheelstand when they put a big block in it.

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.

Byrd Photo

Different paint job and wheels...same car. And it's still awesome.

Byrd Photo

'51 Henry J at Paradise Drag Strip in Calhoun, Georgia. That's my dad holding the car on the line...it was a four-speed car, and the starting line was un-level. This is one of my favorite pictures ever.

Byrd Photo

My dad sitting on the quarter panel of his Henry J at the very first event held at I-40 Dragway in Crossville, TN. Another great picture.

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.

Byrd Photo

Definitely not my favorite look...photo taken at Paradise Drag Strip.

Byrd Photo

When dad turned it into a street car, he repainted it again...he admits those flames are hideous.

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.

Byrd Photo

The car after my dad painted it for the final time. At this point it was ready for lettering.

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.

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43 thoughts on “The Henry J Saga–Part 1

  1. I wasn’t looking for a Henry J story but I’m glad this showed up on my Google search list. Great read and the pictures made it fun. My stepfather’s dad had a Henry J and a Studebaker at the same time but at nine years old I wasn’t into cars that much. In my mid-teens I was drag and street racing Chevys and often though of that Henry J. Especially when one would show up at Phenix City (Alabama) Drag Strip. How many of us wish we could go back and stick one in a garage somewhere? Thanks for the memories.

    • Thanks for the comment Randy. I’ve heard a bunch of stories about Phenix City Drag Strip–sounds like an interesting place. I’m glad you enjoyed part one of my Henry J blog…I enjoyed writing it and hope to do a few more soon.

  2. Great story, and I love the car! You just don’t see alot of those J’s around anymore! I, like you, often wish that I lived in those glorious days…both my father and my mom’s brothers were heavy into the straight-line scene during the sixty’s. My uncles, Tom and Bill Ronca campaigned a 56 Bel-Air in NHRA’s Junior Stock division for many, many years….racking up numurous records.
    Funny story…they sold the car only to find it decades later behind a local garage, parted out and left to rot. (The same car!!!!) My uncle snatched it back up on the cheap and is currently restoring it.
    If you are interested, check out my drawing blog…I rendered it for him a few years back.
    Thanks again for your story!!! I look forward to reading more!
    Best,
    -adam

    • Adam, that’s a cool story about your uncle’s ’56 Chevy, and a very, very good drawing of it on your page! Thanks for reading…I have plenty to talk about when it comes to Henry J’s.

  3. great read Tommy Lee! Its awesome to see you continue to write and shoot car stuff. Impressive! Its fun to read this and say, “his dad worked on my Bronco body.” lol. I look forward to reading more!

    • Thanks Steven…glad you liked it. I hope to do a lot more blogs of this nature. I don’t often get to write about my personal life, so it’s nice to have an outlet for it. Hope everything is going well for you (and your Bronco)!

  4. This is so great! I have all my own old photos of restoration cars we have also owned. Sort of runs in my family too. Your photos are spectacular. Thank you so much for sharing this with me today. Great blog!

  5. I’m a total car geek, petrolhead, gearhead, whatever but I’ve never heard of a Henry J. I’m always into learning something new in the automotive arena!
    Great pictures! Thank you for sharing your memories!

    • You’re welcome! I enjoyed writing the blog, and I’m glad to know I helped introduce someone to the Henry J automobile. They were awful vehicles by consumer standards, but very good at the drag strip because of their light weight.

  6. I remember the Henry J very well. One of my best friends in high school had one. I forget the model year, but ’49 or ’50 sounds about right. It was one of those cars that, if it could have talked, we’d both probably still be grounded šŸ˜€

    Although a bit underpowered, even for the day, it did pretty well on the back roads of Southwest Virginia, especially if you used power slides instead of the brakes.

    Thanks for posting this.

    • It’s funny that “Dr. Feelgood” was titled as a 1949 Henry J, but the reality is Henry J’s didn’t hit the market until the 1951 model year. Someone made a mistake somewhere along the line, and the car was titled as a ’49. They were funny little cars, but did good with a healthy V8!

  7. Terrific cars are “a dime a dozen”. Terrific car guys, the ones that create these one-offs, are “one of a kind”. Every incarnation of that car sings. Love love love the flames.

    • My dad is definitely one of a kind. I’m so glad he introduced me to the car guy world, and I’m glad he’s still here with me to enjoy it together. Thanks for reading!

  8. Wow your dad definitely was a car lover, look at all these cars, It’s pretty much my first time to learn about henry J, And I’m going to research more on it.

  9. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed. I love Corvettes, I had a 67 Chevelle SS, bolero red. I had to sell it many many years ago I needed the money šŸ˜¦ Loved that car. MY father collected Corvettes at one time, he had 8 or 9. What a great history you have. I have always loved cars, now my youngest son loves them too but he isn’t into the oldies ( I wish he was) he drives an Dodge XRT-4. He takes it to the drag strip when he can. He’s a mechanic so he plays with it a lot always adding. LOL My favorite car is a 67 GTO, I love the cars between 67 and 69.

    • Thanks! It was an honor to be Freshly Pressed, considering I haven’t been blogging for very long! I’m definitely a Corvette lover too, and I’m sure I’ll be writing about my personal car (’64 Corvette coupe) in the near future. It has a pretty cool story behind it. Thanks for reading!

  10. Great story and history! i have always loved Henry J’s but never owned one. I like building scale models, and am preparing to build a model of E.L. Williams Gasser from the 70’s. It was very popular at my local dragstrip Tri-City Dragway in Saginaw, Michigan, and was always a national contender. Here is a photo of it:

  11. Back in the mid to late 70’s I hang out at Brainerd alot and their was a Henry J their that was run by a guy who drove a bread truck over in Jasper. Would this be the same car?

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