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How Whiskey Cars Worked


Whiskey Car Drivers
Junior Johnson poses on the beach with his #55 B&L Motors 1955 Oldsmobile before the Beach and Road Course race on Feb. 27, 1955, at the Beach and Road Course in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Junior Johnson poses on the beach with his #55 B&L Motors 1955 Oldsmobile before the Beach and Road Course race on Feb. 27, 1955, at the Beach and Road Course in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Don O'Reilly/Dozier Mobley/Getty Images

Whiskey car drivers tended to be young men. While it's easy to picture a 20-year-old outrunning the cops in a whiskey car, think of someone even younger. Boys as young as 14 would run moonshine. As part of farm families, those boys were already used to operating and working on farm machinery, and using cars and trucks for work.

Running moonshine was often a family business. The best drivers had a mix of street-smarts, nerves and local knowledge that allowed them to outwit law enforcement. Robert Glenn Johnson Jr., better-known as Junior Johnson, said that he'd put a light and sirens on his car. When he was approaching an area where he knew the police had put up a roadblock to catch moonshiners, he'd put the lights and siren on. The police, thinking he was a cop, would take the roadblock down, and Johnson and his illegal cargo would go on their way [source: Hot Rod Magazine].

Since revenuers were often not from the areas where they worked, and whiskey car drivers were, they often knew the roads better. That allowed them to take back roads and shortcuts, to double back and hideout when they were being pursued. Drivers had their own signature moves, too. One of the most famous is the bootlegger's turn. It's where the moonshiner runner will quickly make a 180-degree turn and head off in the opposite direction before the police can turn around. Familiarity with the roads also let whiskey car drivers, bootleggers and moonshiners drive faster than their pursuers, since they knew just how fast they could take the local curves. Still, many drivers died after pushing their cars just a little too far.

Whiskey car drivers also had intimate knowledge of their cars, having worked on and modified them themselves, for the most part. Law enforcement officers knew their cars well, but didn't have the advantage of designing the cars specifically for the type of driving and the terrain they'd encounter while trying to chase down bootleggers.

While bootlegging, moonshine running and whiskey cars continued into the 1970's in parts of the South, what many people consider the golden age of the activity ended with World War II, when most of the drivers joined the armed forces. But when they came back, they found more legitimate ways to use their considerable talents.


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