A moonshiner’s favorite now basks in the coastal sun
There’s no bad way to view a 1939 Ford Deluxe coupe. But perhaps the best way, at first anyway, is to view it strictly in the mind’s eye.
Think two lanes of winding blacktop lined on both sides with tall pines and vanishing up ahead into a thick mountain mist.
Listen to the rumbling off around the curve and over the hill; and then it appears, that grill, like a frigate’s prow; and then it’s there, low-slung, curvaceous, fast.
A finger is raised in greeting — index, you understand, this is Tennessee, Kentucky, folks are courteous even in the commission of federal felonies.
And then it’s gone, over the hill, sweeping last year’s leaves along in its wake, headed for Lexington or Knoxville with a trunk full of ‘shine.
Gear-head lore, which we’ll accept as unimpeachable, has it that the ’39 and ’40 Deluxe models were favorites among moonshiners running like “Junior Johnson through the woods of Caroline.”
It makes sense. The Deluxe is essentially a huge trunk — big enough for 22 cases of hooch — pulled along by a huge engine with just enough room in between for Bubba to drive and Billy Ray to ride shotgun. Not just any engine was doing the pulling, but Ford’s legendary “flathead” V8.
In the almost 80 years since they rolled off Ford assembly lines, the cars have become icons among American hot-rodders.
Ross Novelli Jr.’s ’39 Deluxe is not a quintessential moonshiner’s rig — the candy apple paint is far too flashy — but it’s an exceptional example of a classic American hot rod.
The Ford flatty is gone, replaced by a 350 cubic-inch Chevy V8 with a roller cam. It’s force-fed by a B&M blower topped by a Holley double-pumper carburetor.
The package is delivering about 400 horsepower, Novelli calculates.
That’s all driving a Turbo 350 transmission mated to Ford’s workhorse 9-inch differential.
Novelli has had the ’39 since about 2006. He never had a special desire for one.
“I was looking for a 1955 Bel Air,” he said. “I found this and ended up with it and the Bel Air.”
Such are the pitfalls in a gear-head’s path.
Novelli, an islander, has a stable of about six classic cars. He tries to drive each at least once a month to keep the tires and seals in good shape.
The ’39 is the most dependable.
“It’s the one I can count on to start every time,” he said.
That may not be so surprising. Despite the venerable age of its sheet metal, the ’39 has only 4,900 miles on the odometer, up from 3,200 when he bought it, Novelli said.
“I bought this one because my wife thought it looked nice and I thought it would hold its value,” he said. “They’re getting rare and a lot of the ones you see are painted in flames and things.”
“I liked how clean and simple this one is.”