For moonshiners, that beloved Ford V8 engine would propel many into legitimate careers as professional racers. Two of the most notable were Roy Hall, who was arrested for bank robbery and running moonshine, and Ron Seay, who was murdered by his cousin at the young age of 21 in a dispute over a liquor deal gone awry. It was a bit ironic, however, that the ’32 Ford Flathead V8 was so popular among bootleggers, considering that Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Co., was vehemently opposed to his workers drinking alcohol. Even more interesting, Clyde Barrow, part of the notorious bank robbing duo Bonnie and Clyde, is believed to have written a letter to Henry Ford, praising him for making the Ford Flathead V8 to help the two bank robbers outrun the law.
“The good old boys couldn’t afford Packards or big Lincolns. So, when Ford rolled out the 1932 Ford, that was really the car,” auto historian Rex Roy tells Playboy. “Even Dillinger liked the car because it was fast. It was the rocket of the day.”
One of the biggest stimuli for moonshiners during the height of bootlegging—aside from the whiskey itself, that is—was the 1932 Ford Flathead V8, which was the first low-priced, mass-marketed vehicle to have a V8 engine. The fact that the powerful ’32 Ford only cost about $500 new made it a perfect fit for those in need of a fast set of wheels.
“The positive social mood of the 1920s, during Prohibition, manifested itself in many ways, including the need for speed,” Gunn tells Playboy. “Music tempos were increasing. Tea houses were springing up as well. People’s need and desire for a stimulus was growing, and the cars were becoming faster.”
Murray Gunn, head of global research at the market forecast company Elliott Wave International, also attributes the passion for fast automobiles during Prohibition to the general optimism people had about life during the era.
“Moonshining was a competitive game,” says Kayla Black, director of operations for the American Prohibition Museum, based in Savannah, Georgia. “It was a place for people in rural areas to make money, and that competition among moonshiners translated easily into how fast their cars could go. And that transferred into the track. It was a way to get money and fame and recognition that they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else.”