Tom Hunt's 1934 Ford

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Tom proudly posing in his hot rod. Photo courtesy of Times Free Press.
A photo of Tom taken in 2016. At the time, Tom was 84 years old. Photo courtesy of Times Free Press.

1934 Ford roadster owned and built by Tom Hunt of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Tom built the car in the late 1940s, while attending Chattanooga High School. He bought the roadster for $75, money he had saved from birthday gifts from his aunts and uncles. According to an interview Tom did with Mark Kennedy of Times Free Press, he became friends with Charley "Honest Charley" Card, a Chattanooga businessman who owned a downtown restaurant; "The eatery, located near the Read House, was known as a model of efficiency, with fast-paced waiters serving a U-shaped lunch counter with machinelike precision." Hunt viewed Card as a car enthusiast of the first order. He was a leader of the Chattanooga Racing Association, one of the original sponsors of NASCAR and what was then called the Daytona Beach Stock Car Classic.[1]

In 1948, Hunt traveled to the first NASCAR-sponsored Daytona Race and Card took him under his wing. Hunt remembers selling Hot Rod Magazines out of the back of Card's car to the Daytona race crowd and collecting names for a new mail-order speed shop business that Card intended to start back in Chattanooga — the first of its kind in the world. Later, when Card opened his speed shop called "Honest Charley Speed Shop" on McCallie Avenue, Hunt wrangled an after-school job there helping fill mail orders. The mail-order business flourished from the start, and even expanded to include a chain of retail speed stores.[1]

Hunt and Card travelled to stock car races around the South, and while working for Card, Hunt began assembling parts for his 1934 Ford. He became a junkyard scavenger and a master of trading. At one point, he swapped the body on his project car for a 1929 A-Model convertible body. Soon after he began the 15-month process of piecing together his hot rod, Hunt realized it needed to be moved inside for the winter. His father helped him haul car parts to Cleveland, Tennessee, where a 7-Up bottler let him use some warehouse space to work on his car on weekends. "Soon it dawned on me," Hunt remembers. "I didn't know how to weld. I didn't know how to torch and paint."[1]

In 1949, when the car was finished, Hunt, then 17 years old, was eager to show his hot rod to Card. On the day of the unveiling, he drove the car to the speed shop and was in the middle of his presentation when a big Buick Roadmaster pulled up, he remembers. Out popped Bill France Sr., co-founder of NASCAR, and Preston Tucker, automotive designer, entrepreneur and maker of the short-lived 1948 Tucker Sedan. Tucker immediately took an interest in Hunt's handmade car and did a walk-around inspection. "You built this car?" Tucker said, clearly impressed. "Yes, Mr. Tucker, the work is 95 percent mine," Hunt said. Tucker admired Hunt's work stabilizing the car's exhaust pipes and cutting down the doors, a process called "Frenching."[1]

Hunt eventually served in the U.S. Navy's Seabees during the Korean War, and later became a successful salesman. But his passion for cars never waned. According to the interview Hunt did with Mark Kennedy of Times Free Press, "Some rich cat on Lookout Mountain bought it for $1,250 during the war."[1]



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