✦ The only gauge on the dash is a five-in-one from Haneline, perched in its own pod forwar
In post-war America, there were alternatives to the Big Three when purchasing a new U.S.-made automobile. Among the manufacturers was Kaiser, which had a short history from 1951 to 1954 (with production continuing for another year in South America). Company president Henry J. Kaiser made his money early on in construction, then ship building for the war effort, then opened Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Steel, and then created what would become the Kaiser Permanente hospital system.
In his spare time, Kaiser himself had partnered with Joseph Frazer to run auto manufacturer Graham-Paige in the post-war era, and the two soon formed Kaiser-Frazer in 1947. Frazer left the company in 1951 and his name disappeared the next year, just before Kaiser bought Willys-Overland.
The Henry J automobile was sold from 1951 to 1954, and a few survive today, though many folks remember seeing them converted to race cars (they weighed less than 2,300 pounds in stock configuration) and campaigned in the ’60s-era Gasser Wars.
But it wasn’t hangin’ out at the drags as a teenager that convinced 65-year-old Larry Henderson to search out and build a really cool hot rod. Vance Gehlbach can take the blame for that. In 2003 Gehlbach, a buddy of Larry’s since high school, sent him a photo of a ’56 Chevy he had just bought, and that’s all it took for Larry. He wanted a car, too, and started thinking about a ’32 Ford three-window and, a couple of years later, progressed to a Henry J.
✦ A red ZZ4 350 is topped with aluminum heads and Mooneyes valve covers, and fed by a Barr
✦ The 6061 billet aluminum fan shroud from Billet City holds the fan behind the Ron Davis
✦ Seating in the H-J is split by a waterfall console created out of steel by Super Rides.
Larry was able to find one on eBay in 2004 and brought it to his home in Carlsbad, California. After having been to a few Goodguys shows in the SoCal region, he had become aware of Super Rides, a hot rod shop based in Escondido and owned by Jordan Quintal. Quintal scoped out the ride, and gave Larry the bad news that it was junk, so Larry sold the engine and basically scrapped the car.
Looking around the Internet Larry found another H-J that was at an estate sale in Illinois. It was a driver and after the deal was made, it was on its way. Quintal checked this one out, too, and after it was blasted, they found minimal rust and no evidence of any major collisions—good news!
Super Rides built the car from the inside out, starting with the fabrication of a custom 2x4-inch chassis on the stock wheelbase of 100 inches. Out back a Currie 9-inch (3.70:1) links to a custom four-bar setup from Super Rides, and in the front a twin A-arm design uses 2-inch-drop spindles. Each corner has RideTech airbags as well as Wilwood drilled and slotted rotors gripped by four-piston calipers. One-off EVOD wheels (17x7 and 18x10) were made and are wrapped in BFGoodrich g-Force radial rubber (205/45-17 and 225/45-18) for maximum gription.
✦ First-year Henry Js didn’t even have a trunklid (you had to access the trunk by folding
To get a better idea on what to do to the body’s exterior and give the car its own identity, Larry contacted automotive illustrator Eric Brockmeyer and gave him photos of what the car looked like in its present state. Brockmeyer was able to put pen to paper and come up with some good designs, including a layout for what the interior should look like.
Not a lot of folks remember what a Kaiser Henry J looks like in stock form, but it doesn’t look like Larry’s finished car at all. Adding the laid-back headlights with integral turn signals (from a late-model Mercedes) is the most obvious body mod, but nearly every other aspect of the car was touched by Super Rides, too, from the front to rear.
The grille is custom-made, as was the insert bar, which was shaped from solid aluminum and then chromed by Azteca Plating and Polishing of Escondido (who did all of the car’s chrome work). The front bumper is a modified unit from a ’68 Camaro, and the nosepiece on the front of the hood was removed and filled. Inner fenders were made, too, along with a radiator support and hood hinges, and the firewall was smoothed out.
Door vents were removed in favor of one-piece side glass, and the center windshield trim was removed and the glass V-butted. Super Rides made new doorskins, too, but also redesigned the bottom edge of the door to roll under the car (in the shape of the rocker panel), removing the bottom edge of the door from view. The speed line running on the stock front fenders from the headlight to the leading door edge was extended back on to the door 8 inches, giving the car’s profile a little more action.
✦ The dash was fabbed by Super Rides, which also added a lower dash panel to house the con
✦ Up close, you can see the air vents look like a venturi out of a large Italian carbureto
Wheelwells were reshaped front and rear, and the rear window area was shrunk a little so the glass would fit tight to the body without a lot of rubber. Standard custom tricks (shaved door handles and gas filler) were applied, and the driprails were molded and smoothed.
Out back ’56 Chevy taillights were installed into custom bezels, and Super Rides created a rolled pan that runs from the hand-fabricated split bumpers (made from solid bar stock) back under the car. The inside received a lot of metalwork (Super Rides’ Quintal says “fiberglass is for boats!”), too, including a waterfall center console that runs from beneath the rear window, down between the seating, and forward to just under the dash. When you look inside Larry’s ride and see the seating area for the backseat—that’s something that wasn’t there in factory Henry Js. They treated it as an extended trunk area, so the driver could actually turn around and see the trunk latch from his seat. In fact, the earliest Henry Js didn’t even have a trunklid—the body was smooth from the rear window to the bumper! Super Rides finished up the extensive fabrication with the creation of a straightforward dash before getting it ready for its paintjob.
Larry was at Super Rides one day and met Charley Hutton, the well-known car painter based in a Nampa, Idaho, who has worked on many high-profile hot rods over the past couple of decades. After the two met, Larry decided Hutton would be the one to paint his car. Hutton had the car for nine months, prepping it to perfection before spraying both the chassis and the body with ’00 Mercedes Bright Silver metallic using PPG’s Envirobase waterborne paint.
Once back at Super Rides in Southern California, Quintal began assembly of the H-J, and the chassis turned out as nice as the topside of the car. Up front a ZZ4 crate engine was bored 0.030 over and dialed in with a 10.1:1 compression ratio. The aluminum heads are fed by a Barry Grant Six Shooter carb system that’s bolted to an aluminum manifold that has been chrome plated. A Ron Davis radiator keeps it cool, and a Sanderson/Borla header and muffler combo works with an exhaust system fabbed by Super Rides. Other dress-up items include finned valve covers from Mooneyes, and a serpentine belt system from Street & Performance (who also supplied the water pump, alternator, A/C compressor, power steering pump, and all necessary brackets).
Larry had seen a lot of nice cars while researching how he wanted to have his car built, and only one name kept popping up when it came to interiors: Gabe Lopez at Gabe’s Street Rod Custom Interiors in San Bernardino. Lopez has stitched a laundry list of high-end cars for nearly every award-winning vehicle you can name, and he approached this project with the same amount of zeal.
✦ Looking like it could have come out of James Bond’s DB5, the rest of the car’s switches,
✦ Super Rides built a new chassis for the Henry J, and incorporated airbags from RideTech
✦The chassis is as perfect in detail as the rest of the car. Super Rides made their own fr
Lopez first created the rear seating area that is split by the car’s waterfall console. From there, he used red leather to cover each seat, including the front buckets (whose framework came from Glide Engineering). Red loop carpet went in, too, and it’s a great complement to the bright silver color used everywhere else.
Once Super Rides addressed the car’s electrical needs (using a Painless Wiring kit as a base to work from), it was time to get it started and down the road. It was a long process for Henderson, who kept track of how long it took to get his car done: over 7,300 man-hours. And though it may sound like a long time, judging by the outcome, it looks like time well spent!