For Tom Sullivan of Allendale, New Jersey, growing up in Hagerstown, Pennsylvania, sure had its perks when it came time to heading to the drags. Attending his first races at the age of 13 in Allentown, he was immediately consumed by the heavy scent of race fuel as cars launched from the lights to scorch the quarter-mile. Sullivan has fond memories of his dad's '51 Henry J, which he spent plenty of time daydreaming of when he was a teen on how he could modify it into a contender at the track. He was even fortunate enough to get his driver's license driving the Henry J on his road test, which forever burned a deep fondness for the model into his mind.
Flash forward through the decades with time spent working as a production supervisor at the Ford plant in Mahwah, New Jersey, racing a '63 Falcon and '68 Roadrunner at the drags, and raising a family, which he always spent Saturday nights with at the local stock car track. Through all the years Tom kept active in the hobby, never losing touch with his race cars or venturing to the tracks with his family.
The Henry J has an aggressive stance thanks to a Rocky’s Rod Shop chassis and wheels from Rocket and ET; the razor-sharp body is ...
There was, however, the one longing desire to someday resurrect his boyhood dreams by finally building the Henry J he never forgot about. Beginning a search for a workable car over a decade ago was like searching for a diamond in a pile of sand, seeing there were so few available. A chance meeting at a local car show led him to an owner who had a project in the works for sale due to a storage issue with the car. Tom wasted no time in checking out the '51 Henry J and found it somewhat complete and in the early stages of its build, and a deal was made.
After doing his research for a chassis builder all paths led him to Rocky's Rod Shop in High Bridge, New Jersey, to get the project rolling. Wanting a stout base to anchor the car, Tom had the team at Rocky's start from scratch designing a frame constructed from 2x4-inch box steel tubing accented by both tubular and boxed crossmembers. The wheelbase length was also increased from the stock 100 to 103 inches. To plant the power to the pavement, a 9-inch Ford rear filled with Strange 35-spline axles spinning through 3.89 gears is anchored in place by custom fabbed ladder bars and QA1 coilover shocks. Wanting a low-slung stance and solid handling, a Mustang II–style IFS with custom fabbed upper and lower control arms packed with QA1 coilover shocks and 2-inch Mustang II dropped spindles steers through a manual rack-and-pinion unit.
To bring everything safely to a stop, brake fluid moves through steel lines to a Corvette dual-reservoir master feeding Wilwood 12-inch rotors wearing matching four-piston calipers out back and 11-inch GM metric rotors and calipers up front. Dialing in the stance with period-perfect rims and rubber Tom opted for classic 15x12 ET Fueler wheels shod with P390/45R15 M&H drag radials and 15x4.5 Rocket Launcher wheels capped with BFGoodrich P155/80R15 rubber (rear to front).
The core of any Street Shaker resides under the hood and for this task Tom went straight to the head of the class by contacting Tony Feil Competition Engines in Raritan, New Jersey. Feil designed a wicked V-8 starting with a 540ci Dart Machinery Big M block machined to 565 ci, which was balanced, blueprinted, and filled with a speed shop full of go-fast goods. An Eagle crank links to matching Eagle rods topped by Keith Black 9.8:1 pistons while a Lunati solid lifter roller tappet cam sets the thump. The block is capped by a pair of Dart Machinery aluminum heads wearing Jesel Pro Series shaft rockers. For plenty of deep breathing, a Dart single-plane aluminum high-rise intake wears a Holley 1,150-cfm Dominator carb crowned by a K&N filter. Dyno'd at 776 hp, the engine sparks to life through an MSD ignition while spent gases exit through Rocky's Rod Shop headers to a custom 3-inch exhaust by Six Deuces Speed Shop of Milford, Delaware, complete with oval electric cutouts and Spin Tech performance mufflers. A Ford AOD trans with a full manual valvebody by F&B Performance of Long Island, New York, moves the power rearward through a custom driveshaft by Denny's Driveshaft of Kenmore, New York.