27 July 2016

The legend of Johnny Ray

A ’30 Ford Hot Rod Loved By Three Generations

Traffic is heavy going into Chicago, and the roads are packed with Chevys, Toyotas, Hondas and a wicked-looking ’30 Ford Model A coupe with a V-8 rumble. It’s a nice fall day and public relations professional Molly Currey is heading to her office in the Chevy-powered hot rod known as Johnny Ray.

As long as she can remember, the Model A has been part of her life. In the mid-1970s, her father, Guy Morter — a mechanical engineer, racer and mechanic — started building a hot rod in his garage with only a kerosene torpedo heater to keep the Wisconsin winter at bay. Just 2 years old when the project began, Currey and Johnny Ray grew up together in the center of Wisconsin’s hot rod and racing culture.

Morter started with an original steel body from a 1930 Ford Model A, which he chopped and channeled. To handle more power, he fabricated a new chassis of rectangular steel tubing with a dropped I-beam front axle and a narrowed 9-inch Ford rear end with coil springs. He fabricated his own firewall, center cross-member and steering linkage from stainless steel.

Power came from a modified 350 Chevy mated to a race-built TH350 transmission. The project took eight years and was completed in the early 1980s, when Currey was in fifth grade.

Johnny Ray, as Currey’s mom dubbed it, was always a part of her life, whether it was in the barn, in parades, at local shows or during the odd lift to school. While the family was always into hot rodding and racing (Molly is a 1998 Off-Road World Champion and the only woman ever to race a semi up Pikes Peak), she never drove Johnny Ray growing up. That changed a few years ago. “Dad had a barn full of cars and projects and he wanted to downsize,” she says. When he talked about selling Johnny Ray, “I told him, ‘It has to stay in the family,’ so I bought it.”

Just as she inherited her love of cars from her father, her 12-year-old daughter, Susie, and 9-year-old son, Charlie, “fight over who gets to drive home with me from soccer practice. Sometimes I even do the shopping in it. I just started doing car shows. It’s how I grew up.”

Currey gets a kick driving Johnny Ray around Chicago’s Gold Coast, where she sees plenty of Bentleys and Maseratis. She even had a Lamborghini driver pull up next to her and nod. “It’s a little rough around the edges," she admits. "The interior is a work in progress, but you just can’t buy something this cool. I’d rather have my Model A coupe than a $200,000 Ferrari any day.”

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