“Cars like mine were used to haul illegal whiskey from hidden stills in the mountains to customers all over the state,” Miller explains. “In the ’50s and early ’60s a lot of plain-looking sedans were motoring around the Carolinas and Tennessee under the light of the moon with powerful V-8 engines up front and 50 gallons of hooch hidden in the trunk and in secret storage compartments.
“These cars also had heavy-duty suspensions so they could handle the mountain roads despite all of that extra fluid weight.”
Such cars and their enterprising owners have been immortalized in movies such as “Thunder Road” (starring Robert Mitchum) and television programs such as “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Miller’s goal was to create a modern take on the legendary moonshine haulers that was comfortable enough to drive every day, but powerful enough to give the Duke Boys’ General Lee Charger a run for its money.
Miller and his wife Judy found the ’49 Ford in Mt. Pleasant in 1993. They completely disassembled the car as they planned their modifications and spent the next three years putting it back together. Under the hood went a Ford 302-cubic-inch V-8 with twin four-barrel carburetors and some high-performance exhaust headers. Chrome and polished aluminum were tastefully applied to various underhood parts, including the air cleaner housing and valve covers. In order to upgrade the Ford’s handling, the Millers installed independent front suspension components from a Mustang II, a rear axle from a Maverick and five-spoke chromed wheels wrapped by high-performance Goodrich radial T/A tires.
They redesigned the car’s interior with a ’51 Ford dash; comfortable, leather-covered bucket seats and a beautiful carmen red-and-white trim scheme. That color scheme was carried through to the upholstered trunk.
Body modifications included a “frenched” antenna, a hood with dozens of air-breathing louvers and a concealed fuel cap. Layers of smooth ’95 Ford wild strawberry paint were applied to the body.
One final touch of nostalgia the couple installed was the tassel that hangs from the mirror commemorating Judy’s high school graduation in ’69.
While Miller’s little Ford won’t be hauling homemade refreshment to the Food Lion AutoFair, it will be bringing its owner a feeling of pride as it sits on display at the race track he first visited more than 40 years ago.
“I was nine years old when Charlotte Motor Speedway was being built in 1959,” Miller recalls. “My father brought me to see it going up, and I came here for races throughout my childhood. There’s a real sense of accomplishment that one of my cars is being exhibited here now.”
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $8 for adults; children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For more information on the four-day event, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit the website at www.gospeedway.com.