Rewind to about 10 years ago, I had already bought and sold a few cars, and I wanted a Henry J so bad I couldn’t stand it. My dad and I found a very good candidate in Pigeon Forge, TN one year but the price wasn’t right…or so I thought. I’m pretty sure the guy wanted $1,800 for it and it was about as solid as Henry J’s get, but I didn’t know how badly these cars rusted at that time. So we passed on it and waited for another one to come along. The search was on.
Next, we exhausted our local resources, as three Henry J’s live within a 30-mile radius of Dayton…two of which are actually in Dayton. One is on the mountain, and it’s my dad’s old gasser. I’d love to have it someday, but they don’t want to turn loose of it. The next is another local drag car, which featured a ’70s stance, a crazy amount of engine setback, and a cool story about a horrific clutch explosion. Wanna read about the clutch explosion? Sure you do….click HERE. The third Henry J in the area is sitting in Athens, Tennessee, easily viewable from the highway. Saw the car for the first time probably 10 years ago, and it’s still sitting in the same area, rotting away.
So, after I got my first computer in 2003, as a senior in high school, I found Henry J websites and the occasional J for sale on Ebay Motors. On one of my Ebay searches, I see a cheap Henry J so I click on it and find out it’s in Maryville…close enough for me. My mindset was “It’s a Henry J–if I can get it for $500 I’m buying it, I don’t care how rough it is.” HAH! I guess I really didn’t know how rough this thing would be until I went to pick it up. I had bought my first Henry J and it was the rustiest car I’d ever seen. Went to open the door and it nearly fell on my foot because the hinge post was so rotten. This thing should’ve barely been considered a parts car and I took it on as a buildable car.
Ok, so I get the car home and stare at it for a while…a couple months to be exact. Mean while, my dad found a brutally wrecked S-10 for $350. It ran and drove fine but the body was junk. So I buy the wrecked truck and start tearing it apart, down to the bare cab. Then we cut the top off of it, leaving the rear portion of the cab. This chassis, engine and drive train would be the underpinnings for my Henry J. To make it work, we had to shorten the frame 8 inches, but it was fairly simple. I ground off all the rivets that hold the front leaf spring hangers, then we cut the rear frame rails directly above the rear end housing. Made another cut 8 inches from the first one, then butted up the rails and welded them into place. To make it stronger, we welded eighth inch plate to the side of the frame rails. The wheelbase was now 100 inches to match the original Henry J specifications.
With the chassis ready to roll, it was time to cut the floor pans out of the J, and get it ready for installation. About 27 sawzall blades later, it was resting in place, channeled approximately 3 inches over the S-10 frame. Everything looked ok, but the thing was sitting about a foot higher than I wanted it. Well, not really a foot, but you get the idea. So I bought a pair of drop spindles, and cut a round out of the front coil springs. Then, I removed all of the helper leafs out of the spring pack and installed 3 inch blocks to get the stance right. Front wheels are spare tire wheels from an ’80s S-10 (15×5 smooth steelie) and the rears are standard 15-inch steel S-10 steel wheels.
Body is in place, doors are hung, fenders are hung and this thing is ready for its first trip around the block. Keep in mind that it’s not really much of a hot rod because of the S-10’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission, but it was still fun to get it out on the road for the first time. At this point, my dad and I had invested about 5 days of work. Speaking of work, real life got in the way of progress, so the car sat untouched for a bit. Then, as spring rolled around, I wanted to drive it to the Rat Rod Rumble at 411 Dragway, so we hopped back on board and buttoned it up.
My dad and I set out to Seymour, Tennessee in the Henry J, hoping it wouldn’t present any problems. 100 miles later we arrived at our destination with little chunks of rust stuck to our shirts. As it turns out, the car is rusty on the inside too, so as we motored up the road, it rattled a bunch of dust and rust loose. Anyway, the car made it there fine, but the return trip would give us a bit of a headache. Literally, it gave us a headache, as the higher temperatures intensified the exhaust fumes, which were entering the cockpit with little to no restriction. By the time we got home, both of us had sore throats, but it was SO worth it! The Henry J made a 200-mile round trip with absolutely no problems! Since then, we’ve taken it to a few local shows but it certainly doesn’t get my undivided attention. I haven’t driven it in a while because of suspension issues, so I really need to fix the problems and get it back on the road. Mother Nature continues to tweak the paint job, but I’m ok with that.