As a 15-year-old during the prohibition era, Dan Perry Sr. worked the family farm in a small town outside of Charleston, S.C., raising hogs and growing corn tobacco.
That wasn’t his only job.
Perry ran sugar cane liquor up U.S. Route 17 in his 1938 Mandarin Maroon Ford Coupe. He distributed it to speakeasies throughout Charleston, hauling 20 to 40 gallons each trip. It was enough weight to make the tires sit flat, a red flag for cops. Perry worked around it by overinflating the tires. When he wasn’t moving liquor, he deflated the tires to a suspicious level. When the cops pulled him over, the liquor passed through.
Dan Perry Jr. listened to his father tell these stories of daring trips and cunning tricks and it fascinated him — not in a life of crime, but in hot rods.
“That’s where it started, him hot-roddin’ an old Ford and souping it up” said Perry, a former Marine Corps sargent who makes his home in Jacksonville Beach.
Perry has bought and sold 30 to 40 hot rods throughout his life. In late 2015, he was on the hunt for a car when he found a 1932 Ford 5-Window Coupe.
Buying the car wasn’t the tough decision – it’s what he wanted to do with it.
“One of things on my bucket list was to go to the Bonneville Salt Flats and watch the time trials,” Perry said.
For 12 years, Kenneth Schmidt and Keith Cornell, owners of Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop in Greenfield Center, N.Y. (located outside of Saratoga Springs in Upstate New York), have led a 5,000-mile pilgrimage annually from New York to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Wendover, Utah. The group drove across Interstate 80, stopping at hotels and restaurants along the way.
Perry followed the Rolling Bones’ trips for 10 years, hoping to one day attend.
Motorcars have raced at the salt flats since 1914, setting land-speed records on the speedway, a more than 10-mile long straightaway over tightly packed salt. Each year, drivers from across the world come to Bonneville for Speed Week — a six-day event where drivers try to set time-trial records.
When Perry bought the 5-Window Coupe two years ago, he decided to make the trip. Over the next year, he, along with seven other people, built the car to handle the speed and length of a 7,500-mile round-trip, averaging 80 mph. They made tough decisions about the engine, floor panels and electronics.
But one decision was easy — the color.
“[I chose] Mandarin Maroon because of my dad,” Perry said.
The journey began Aug. 5. It drew men from Australia, England and Canada — all making the trip to Bonneville.
Perry drove 1,074 miles to meet the group in Ohio, joining the 16- to 20-man pack. The group of 14 1932-1934 Fords averaged 400 to 500 miles each day, at speeds of 75-85 mph.
A trailer with a traveling shop trailed the men, helping those who broke down or had problems. Each evening, they stopped at a hotel, met in the parking lot, had a happy hour and fixed whatever problems the cars had.
The pack of depression-era automobiles were a spectacle, as truckers blared their horns and drivers flashed their lights at the men. At gas stations and restaurants, people approached Perry car – older generations with nostalgia, younger generations with curiosity.
“The young kids, they like it and the first thing out of their mouth is, ‘What is it?’” Perry Jr. said. “It’s neat to entertain them and explain what it is.”
Though the men shared the same road in similar cars, they’re reasons for making the trip differed. Some went to break records, others went to experience the salts. As for Dan Perry Jr., it was about the past his father lived.
“It’s not just a hobby; it’s bringing back history and participating in something that people have done since the ’40s,” he said.