Moonshine, my music is a true crime
I hope it ease your brain and kill your pain the way it do mine
(In due time), I’ll either make a killin’ or I’ll do time
Cause even if the fuzz is comin’ gunnin’ son I’m still runnin.
–Moonshine lyrics, by Matlock
Moonshine has a long and storied history in much of America. After all, we love our drink and we love not paying taxes. Back in the day when the world was sepia and grey and men wore hats, many a fellow was killed or sent to the pen due to his penchant for running the shine.
Men from law enforcement agencies never much liked knowing that folks were cooking their own whiskey and selling it to others. Not only did such actions lead to drunkenness, they also produced no taxes.
These law enforcement men, or revenuers as they were known, chased the moonshiners along creeks and mountain switchbacks, eager to get their axes into the precious jugs of white lightning. Moonshine runners – also known as bootleggers, whiskey trippers, or blockaders – fought back with specially-modified vehicles. These bootlegging cars possessed the stiffest of suspensions to hide that that they were carrying 100 plus gallons of liquid thunder and up to 500-something horsepower. Though they were special and powerful, the moonshine-hauling vehicle is one that did not stand out, its magic secreted beneath the surface.
Though the glory days of the tax free, high-alcohol drink (moonshine is normally from 150 to 190 proof) was many generations ago during Prohibition and shortly thereafter, perhaps its most exciting period was in the 1950s and 1960s when the power of the law strengthened while the power of the hotrod grew as well. Some of the greatest hotrods that have ever plied the roads of West Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, and the Carolinas were born for the sole purpose of play their role in the moonshine trade. Though the top moonshiner cars appeared to be stock, they rarely were. Instead, they were pieced together by knowing folks who appreciated horsepower and cargo-carrying capacity.
The running from the law on the Appalachian back roads gave birth to stock car racing. Moonshine car drivers were a competitive bunch. They soon grew tired of simply outrunning the law and took to racing against one another at county fairs on Sunday after church. NASCAR is the child of moonshine and those who did not much like sitting through an afternoon service.
The Top Cars for Bootleggers and Moonshiners
Without further ado, we give you AutoFoundry’s list of the best bootlegging cars from Prohibition to present day. We chose these rides based on their popularity among whiskey-trippers, their cultural significance, and their sheer awesomeness.
The Ford Model T
Perhaps less exciting than other models on the list, the tin lizzie still deserves its place as the most popular whiskey car of the Prohibition era. The T-Model Ford was powered by a 177 cubic-inch inline four that produced 20-horsepower. It was capable of 40-45 mph in stock trim, and could be had new for about $250. Legendary moonshiners like Raymond Parks would drive their load of shine down out of the mountains under cover of darkness, then put on a suit and blend in with early-morning commuter traffic in cities like Atlanta. Three out of every four cars on the road was a Model T Ford, making it easy to blend in. Funny thing is, Henry Ford was a staunch Prohibitionist who banned his factory workers from drinking (both on and off the job), and yet his machines would help to create a whole new breed of criminal: the bootlegger.
The Ford V-8
This is probably the most iconic bootlegging car of all-time, especially the ’39 and ’40 Ford coupe. Whiskey mechanics had all kinds of tricks for getting more power out of these flathead V-8’s. Bore them, stroke them, add hotter cams and bigger carburetors. All of the hot-rodding basics – they were evolving at the time. They’d even do engine swaps, supplanting the stock motors with Cadillac ambulance engines – the biggest V-8s around at the time.
The 1940 Ford fitted with supercharged V-8 Cadillac ambulance engines was in many ways the perfect moonshine-running car, due to its copious cargo-carrying capacity and its awesome power. The trunk was enormous, capable of holding 100-132 gallons of moonshine either in carefully-packed jars or gallon-size tins. Even when purely stock, the 1940 Ford V-8 provided an extremely stable ride due to its torsion bar, a wanted characteristic for bootleggers navigating moonlit red-dirt switchbacks with 100 gallons of highly-flammable liquid in their trunks.
1951 Ford Pickup
The 1951 Ford pickup is probably the most popular moonshine-running truck of all time. With its toothy single-bar grille and wraparound bumpers, it is a very aggressive looking truck, even by today’s standards. And, what made it a primo carrier of moonshine was of course its large engine bay – capable of holding very big V-8s – and pickup bed. There is reportedly a souped-up ’51 Ford pickup in the White Liquor Exhibit at The Blue Ridge Institute in Ferrum, Virginia.
1961 Chrysler New Yorker
The 1961 Chrysler New Yorker was a favorite of Junior Johnson’s, NASCAR legend and former moonshiner. It cost $5,000 back in the day, which is more than my first car, a used Trans Am, cost me in 1986. Although this big-finned sedan represented the pinnacle of luxury fifty years ago, its cargo-carrying capacity and big-block V-8 Fire-Power engines made it extra valuable to moonshiners. Its engine was the first V-8 Chrysler made. According to HOT ROD, Junior had apparently installed a set of toggle switches in his New Yorker, so he could switch off his taillights, his brake lights, or both – causing all sorts of confusion and mayhem for his pursuers.
1966 Dodge Coronet
The 1966 Dodge Coronet (with a Hemi engine) has been called one of the fastest of sedans of all time, which, considering its 426 Hemi V-8, is probably an understatement. Stock was 425-horsepower, but everyone knows that it was ridiculously easy to get more power out of these engines. The 4-speed manual was preferable, and bootleggers would jack up the rear with up to 10 leaf-stacked springs in order to make the car ride level when packed heavy for a run.
1971 Ford Custom 500
The ’71 Ford Custom 500 makes our list for its role as Burt Reynold’s/Gator McKlusky’s whiskey-hauler in the 1973 classic, White Lightning. Gator’s full-size Ford sedan, brown with a blue interior and black steelies, was outfitted with a 429 Police Interceptor/Cobra Jet motor. These were popular cars among police departments, taxi fleets, and anyone who wanted a “no frills automobile with a lot of seating room and the power of a V-8 engine” – sounds like a moonshine-runner, right?
The 1974 Pontiac LeMans
The ’74 Pontiac LeMans makes our list as Fire Chief/moonshiner Tim Smith’s car in the Discovery Channel’s smash-hit show Moonshiners. The big disco-era A-body has heavy-duty station wagon springs to level the rear and a Maaco-shot single-stage black urethane paint job. But the real fun is under the hood. The LeMans was originally equipped with a humble two-barrel 350, but in 2011 Tim and his son did a budget rebuild. They bored it 0.060 over and added a bunch of Edelbrock goodies: Performer dual-plane intake, 650-cfm Thunder Series carburetor, and 4-inch air cleaner assembly, along with a camshaft, roller rockers, and valvesprings from COMP cams. Power estimate: 400-horsepower. You can read more about this bootlegging beast over at Popular Hot Rodding.
Are there any that we missed? Let us know in the comments!
[Featured Image: NASCAR.com]