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 …
Rod & Custom Feature Car
1939 Chevy Sedan
Walker supplied Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop with a Chassis Tech frame (a company that is no longer in business) that incorporates a complete GM G-body front suspension and steering assembly, to which was added Bilstein shocks and disc brakes from Stainless Steel Brakes Corp. The same company supplied the master cylinder, booster, and proportioning valve, while an ’05 Mustang gave up its pedal assembly. Posies Super Slide parallel leaf springs with supplemental RideTech airbags, and another pair of Bilstein shocks support the rearend, which also uses SSBC brakes.
Pop the hood in this Chevy and you’ll find a stock ’05 GM LS6 with a Cadillac cover over the injection. There’s no chrome, nothing flashy, just a purposeful engine with a JHRS compressor mount, which utilizes the factory idler and tension pulley, and a JHRS-fabbed 2 1/2-inch stainless exhaust system, incorporating Hushpower mufflers. It goes without saying there’s a Walker radiator up front, while a Bowler 4L60E trans with Compushift feeds the power to a limited-slip Currie 28-spline 9-inch rearend.
Wheels & Tires
Wheel Vintiques 15x6 and 15x7 GM-style steels equipped with Chevrolet script hubcaps adorn the passenger side of the sedan, with identical-size American Racing Torq-Thrusts on the driver side, all wrapped in Michelin radial rubber.
Body & Paint
Greg Chalcraft and Ray Lowrey at JHRS handled the bodywork on what was already a cherry body, before Chalcraft sprayed the PPG Mack truck green, squirting the passenger side steelies in a complementary cream. The only deviation from stock is the addition of a third brake light from a sedan delivery. The swan neck mirrors are SO CAL Speed Shop items, while John Wright’s Custom Chrome in Ohio re-plated the brightwork .
While the dash is stock, JHRS fabricated a compound curved panel below it to accept the Alpine stereo and A/C vents, fed by a Vintage Air unit. A cut-down ’55 Chevy steering wheel bolts to an ididit column, while Mr. and Mrs. Walker soak up the miles in ’05 Cadillac front seats, covered in tan/caramel leather by Alabama’s Paul Atkins, who also made the rear seat and upholstered the remainder of the interior, once JHRS ‘insulated it to the max’. In fact, Vernon has a couple more pairs of these stashed for future projects; they’re so comfortable. The original gauges were reworked, with the speedometer now reading up to 120 mph.