I’m a firm advocate of getting out and driving hot rods, so it pleases me to say that you’d be hard pressed to find someone who drives ’em more than Vernon Walker. See, not only was he behind the wheel of this 1939 Chevy sedan when I called to discuss this feature, but he was 30 miles shy of the odometer turning 100,000. But what’s even more impressive is that this Chevy is one of an almost identical pair that Vernon owns, and the other one has already surpassed the 100,000-mile mark! Both this green one and the blue one—both Mack truck colors—have covered that mileage towing trailers too! In fact the only time they aren’t towing trailers is during events, which is why they have RideTech supplemental airbags in addition to Posies Super Slide leaf springs in the rear. Sometimes those trailers are carrying 2,000 pounds, and sometimes they’re almost empty and the airbags allow suspension adjustability.
Vernon refers to the cars as his East and West Coast cars, this one being the West Coast car because the fuel injection on the LS6 small-block makes light work of the mountain passes and altitude in the western states, while the carbureted ZZ4 in the blue car is more suited to the eastern seaboard. Both cars were built at Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop (JHRS) in Alabama, and completely fulfill Vernon’s build remit, of them having to “look old but drive like new cars, handle well, and be dependable and serviceable.” Alan Johnson’s shop delivered on both occasions, with the proof being in those accumulated mileages.
Despite its pristine appearance, this Chevy was finished five or six years ago, and came to Johnson’s shop as “a super nice original car.” Vernon has a collection of N.O.S. parts for ’39 Chevys, as well as a few more ’39s for future projects, and rather than repair the dinged front fenders, he supplied a N.O.S. pair. Apart from the stock headlights converted to sealed beam and the addition of windshield washers, everything on the outside of the sedan is as the factory intended, ride height and rolling stock accepted. And seeing as we’re talking wheels, you may have noticed the ’39 wears different rims on each side. Unable to decide whether he preferred steelies or American Racing five-spokes, Vernon had Alan Johnson mount a pair of each. You’re probably wondering, as I was, whether there’s any detrimental handling effects with wheels of different weights on each side of the car. “Absolutely not,” was Vernon’s reply, again giving credit to the build quality. When pushed, he admitted he has a slight preference for the five-spokes, though his wife prefers the steelies, which may be why the former are on the driver side!
One unusual request JHRS accommodated during the build was to install “somewhere around 10 power outlets throughout the car,” according to Johnson. See, Vernon is the man behind Walker Radiator Works in Memphis, Tennessee, and uses the car to test new products. He told us, “Every time I go out to Sacramento I’ll spend a day in Death Valley, testing. Outside of Stovepipe Wells there’s a real long grade that puts a hard strain on a car.” The power outlets allow Walker to run a variety of test equipment (“a whole backseat full,” he says!) that measure everything from the temperature of the blacktop to the ambient air temperature. Without meaning to sound like an advertisement for Walker Radiators, it’s such real-world testing that allows the company to back their products with a 10-year warranty. It’s also such real-world testing that proves JHRS can build show-worthy cars that you can jump in and drive for several thousand miles. And then turn around and do it again. Just ask Vernon Walker …