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Home / Features / Bootlegging Basics, or How to Convert Your Hyundai into a Moonshine Machine

 

Bootleg-Elantra

Note:  the following is obviously a tongue-in-cheek way to explain the intricate modifications bootleggers made to their cars.  Please do not try this at home.

Although the best bootlegging cars might’ve been mighty fine when stock, they were even finer when modified to carry loads of moonshine while outrunning the ham fist of the law. Moonshine runners are some clever people and really knew (know) what to do to prep a vehicle to perform the duty of carrying a load of white lightning.

If you are ready to pick up a second job of transporting hill-stilled booze in your Hyundai Elantra, here is what you need to do.

Suspension

As a runner, your Elantra is going to have to be able to carry up to 1,000 extra pounds. To do this, you are going to have to stiffen up its suspension. There are a number of ways you can do this.  Back in the day, they would utilize double shocks, heavier-duty springs (often from station wagons) and/or additional leafs.  Most of this won’t work on your Elantra.  We’d suggest you go with an airbag setup instead.  That way you can raise or lower the rear of your econobox at will, instead of having the ass-end sticking sky-high whenever you’re load-less.

Power

Is your Elantra’s engine bay large enough to hold a Caddy ambulance engine? Didn’t think so.  But you’ll need more power than the stock four-banger is going to give you.  Old-time bootleggers didn’t have turbochargers or the magical chemistry of nitrous oxide at their disposal – is this your answer to the V8 power of old?

Lighting

When hauling moonshine, you want to run the night roads unseen. Therefore, do not forget to add some special switches to your Hyundai’s lighting system. You will want to be able to turn off your taillights and brake lights so that the lawman cannot see when you brake and turn as he is chasing you through the hills. Another neat option is to add headlights to the rear of your Elantra that you can flip to bright if the revenuer gets to close…rare is the lawman who can keep a chasing after being blinded by some rear-facing brights.

J-Turn Braking

Not only do you need some mighty-hefty brakes on your Hyundai to help you haul half a ton of shine, you could also modify your brakes so that you one front will catch before the other. Bootleggers called this a “one-brake wheel.”  This will enable you to spin your Elantra a full 180 degrees in a quick skid to avoid roadblocks and sprint back from whence you came.  Of course, if you want to stop in a straight line, you might be in trouble.

Carrying Equipment

If you are going to carry the shine in single-gallon plastic jugs, you will need to install some secret compartments here and there in your Elantra. If you are going to carry the liquid as a tanker would, you have to install tanks beneath your car’s floorboards and perhaps even inside the Hyundai’s seats.

License Plates

Before you start your part-time gig, get you a second set of license plates. These, your car will wear when you are transporting the thunder at night. When not pulling duty, your Elantra needs to wear its official plates. This is great way to keep your daily ride clear and clean.

Learn You Some History, Son

Junior Johnson, a bootlegger in the 50s and 60s, was such a character that famed-author Tom Wolfe dedicated to him an entire article, “The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes!,” he wrote for Esquire in 1965.

Johny Lawman agreed. Talking about the skilled runner, Federal Alcohol Tax Unit Agent Joe Carter said, “Junior had a reputation for being a guy who had a hotrod with a one-brake wheel. He could go down the road and hit that brake and turn around in one lane of a highway and head back the other way at great speed.”

Other moonshiners respected Junior’s skills behind the wheel. Thurmond Brown, an old-timey moonshiner, telling a story about riding with junior, was quoted by Hot Rod as having said:

“Junior and me was comin’ back through Winston-Salem once at about 3 o’clock in the morning after unloading a load, and hell, he was just drivin’ sideways. And them little old mailboxes and newspaper boxes, well, Junior was just a clippin’ by those things right beside my face. I said, ‘Junior, you’re gonna have the law on you.’ And it made him about half-mad, I believe. He said, ‘If we can’t out run ‘em empty, what the hell are we a-doin’ down here loaded?’

Brown continued:

“I knew we could outrun ‘em, loaded or empty, but I was dreadin’ that ride. Junior whipped a car. The car was scared of him. He manhandled it. But settin’ over there on the other side–it was hard on me. He’d pass another car on the right side of the road, and the air would be full of dirt and grass, and that ol’ rear quarter-panel would be way up there inthe damn woods and honeysuckle and such. Junior would say, ‘Ah, c’mon. It’ll be there when we get there.”

However, Junior did not always win. His Hall of Fame NASCAR career was interrupted by an 11-month stint in prison after he was caught stilling moonshine.

Al Capone deserves a spot on this list since he was, for a time, one of the largest moonshine buyers in the nation. During Prohibition, Capone brought massive amounts of the liquid into Chicago.

Lee Arnold Petty was not only one of the pioneers of NASCAR and the patriarch of NASCAR’s top family, he ran moonshine in the hills around his hometown of Randleman, North Carolina.

Raymond Parks is a little-known figure in moonshining lore, but he was one of the most successful bootleggers of the pre-war era.  He started with a secondhand ’25 Ford Model-T and ended with an empire in and around the city of Atlanta.  He also figured prominently in the rise of stock-car racing.  Moonshine is, after all, NASCAR’s “dirty-little secret.”  For more on Parks and the birth of NASCAR, check out Neal Thompson’s excellent book Driving With The Devil.

Top Moonshine Movies

This is the 21st century, where we learn how to do things from watching TV. Cole Trickle/Tom said it best in Days of Thunder. When they asked him how he learned to drive, what did he say? ESPN. So, to be a bootlegger, you got to watch the best moonshine movies.

  • Thunder Road, a Robert Mitchum picture filmed near Asheville, North Carolina.
  • White Lightning, a fantastic old-school flick starring Burt Reynolds, a mustache, and a 1971 Ford Custom 500.
  • The Last American Hero, this 1973 movie starring Jeff Bridges was based on Wolfe’s Esquire article about Junior Johnson.

Where To See Liquor Cars of Old

The annual Mountain Moonshine Festival in Dawsonville, Georgia takes place late October each year. The festival celebrates the county’s role in the moonshine industry during Prohibition. Thousands of visitors attend the festival in the foothills of the Northeast Georgia Mountains each year to learn about moonshining and watch the parade of former moonshine-running vehicles.

 

About the author: Andrew Greene

 

Now playing the role of grumpy old man in the foothills of Northern California’s Gold Country, Andrew has had a life-long love affair with vehicles of all sorts, from the bicycle he pedaled across the continent in 1991 to the armored personnel carriers he drove in the Army to the bamboo rafts, elephants, motorcycle taxis, ferries and buses he traveled by during the 13 years he lived and worked in South East Asia. Always eager to learn more about how the people of the world get from here to there in their day-today lives, he, a professional journalist, has been covering the vehicle industry for years.

 

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