Hemi-Powered 1941 Willys Coupe Is Survivor of Gasser Wars

Hemi-Powered 1941 Willys Coupe Is Survivor of Gasser Wars

Survivor is a phrase that will get used and misused lots within the automotive pastime. It appears that almost any hulk that hasn’t utterly returned to its elemental state will get referred to as a survivor. To our means of considering, although, this ’41 Willys has earned the title.

For one factor, you’re looking in any respect unique sheetmetal. Even the lean hood is produced from the automotive’s manufacturing unit front-end elements. There’s no fiberglass right here. Some rust restore, positive, coated by recent primer rigorously blended with the 1950s purple racing paint. The great-looking trim? Unique. Simply wanted some polish.

What makes the Willys’ situation much more exceptional is the truth that it was drag raced and bought off—not as soon as, however twice—earlier than sympathetic arms sought to protect it. The automotive’s guardian angel was Randy Gribble, who owns Lake Metropolis Rod & Customized in Watertown, South Dakota. He remembers the day, again in 1990, when he and a pal have been driving house from a drag race in Omaha. He was leafing by means of the native Offers on Wheels advert paper whereas his buddy drove.

After being in Randy Gribble’s palms for almost 30 years, this veteran of the Midwest gasser wars has discovered a brand new house with Gil Muro and his cohorts on the Scorching Rod Ranch. “Where I’m from, it’s hard to get California coolness,” says Randy, who’s based mostly in South Dakota. “We don’t have a lot of drag racing out here. We build jalopies for dirt track racing. I’m having more fun knowing Gil is doing something with it.”

That’s the place he noticed an advert for a Willys. “I had Willys fever,” he says, ticking off a number of of the diminutive scorching rods he’s owned through the years, many of which he needed to promote to fund the acquisition of land for his store. “I made my friend pull off the interstate and find a phone booth. It was a Sunday afternoon. I called this place in Greeley, Colorado, a car lot there, and left a message. On Monday they called back, and I made a deal over the phone.”

A pair weeks later the automotive confirmed up at Randy’s place. “Had I seen the car in person I might have passed on it,” he admits, “but I didn’t have a lot of money. I still don’t. Some things never change. And I wanted one really bad.”

The Willys “didn’t look as good as its picture,” Randy says. “The grille was busted out in the center. It had old painted silver wheels on back when the picture showed chrome wheels. The frame was chopped up and rusty, and someone had put an aluminum floor in with sheetmetal screws. But it was an all-steel Willys coupe, and I was in love.”

What’s recognized concerning the Willys’ racing historical past begins within the Denver space within the 1950s. Again then it was powered by a Pontiac engine, and after he purchased the automotive Gil turned up an previous photograph of the Willys with simply the Pontiac logos on the doorways. Dave Mader and Jerry Morris added their names, and one other Pontiac mill, once they raced it within the Kansas space in 1959-1964.

Randy had opened his enterprise 10 years earlier than and was going full-steam on buyer tasks. That meant relegating the Willys to after-hours standing, labored on “a little at a time each winter.” His being within the enterprise and proudly owning a set of elements from his personal race automotive tasks offered alternatives so as to add selection elements to the automotive.

The Willys’ chassis was so beat up that he “started over” utilizing the body from “another car I pulled out of the weeds,” a ’41 sedan that might additionally donate a steering column and a dashboard. Randy and his son burned up two battery-powered screwdrivers getting all of the sheetmetal screws out of the ground. Randy had a ’57 392 Hemi left over from a blown-alcohol nostalgia dragster he’d bought, and he thought it will be good within the Willys. He discovered a Don Lengthy chromoly straight axle at a swap meet in Phoenix. “It came off an old gasser that they were mistakenly turning into a street rod,” he says, laughing. “It had Willys spindles and everything, and the perches were perfect for Willys springs.”

It might be years, although, earlier than Randy discovered about any of the automotive’s historical past. That journey started with an opportunity encounter, very similar to recognizing the advert for the automotive within the first place.

The Willys wears 1950s-vintage purple paint over what seems to be like manufacturing unit white, however there are worn-through areas and locations, like this, the place all of the paint is simply gone. Look shut on the door and you may see an eighth inch or extra of what initially seemed like filler underneath the paint. Nearer examination revealed it to be lead.

“You Got My Old Car”

“I was on my way to the L.A. Roadsters show and was invited to Mike DeVriendt’s open house,” Randy remembers. “He used to have the So-Cal Speed Shop in Colorado, and that’s the area where this car came from. I was talking to Mike about buying the Willys through the ad, and we realized he sold that car to me. This was 20, 25 years later.”

Mike advised Randy he had bought the Willys from a salvage yard south of Wichita. That piece of the puzzle led Randy to contact his pal Don Baxter, who ran Baxter Ford Elements in Lawrence, Kansas, to see if he knew something concerning the automotive. Don recalled seeing a Willys with Indian-head emblems on the doorways, and remembered a Pontiac engine with a chain-driven blower underneath the hood. That element stood out, as “it was the first one with chain drive that he ever saw,” says Randy.

“I wish those windows could talk,” Randy says of this odd put on sample within the paint. His greatest guess: Whereas the Willys was in storage, a dangling chain, perhaps within the storage rafters, would blow round within the wind and hit the automotive because it was swinging.

Additionally lettered on the automotive have been two names, which Randy and a pal punched into an web search engine 4 or 5 years in the past. They discovered a quantity, dialed it, “and there’s Dave Mader on the phone,” Randy recollects. “I told him what I had, and he said, ‘You got my old car. Me and the sheriff will come get it. That car was stolen.’”

It took a second for Randy to understand Mader was joking. Type of.

Dave Mader and Jerry Morris have been pals who purchased the Willys within the late 1950s from an advert in a magazine. A drag race automotive from the Denver space, it had been powered by a Pontiac engine, which defined the logos on the doorways. When Mader and Morris purchased the automotive the Poncho mill was toast, in order that they put one other Pontiac within the automotive, topped by the chain-driven supercharger Don Baxter remembered. They raced it from 1959 to 1964, when Mader was despatched to Vietnam. He left the Willys within the care of his associate, however when he got here again from the service he discovered that Morris had taken the automotive to a junkyard. “It sounded like Morris was in bad health,” Randy says, “but he still had the original title to the car.”

The engine within the Willys is a ’57 392 Hemi that Randy had as a spare for a blown alcohol nostalgia dragster. Within the zero.zero30-over block are flattop cast Ansen blower pistons, Manley rods, and an Engle L153 curler cam. The headers are from Hedman; Gil “cleaned them up and put a good coat of VHT on them.”

Randy requested Mader if he had any photographs from their racing days. “We could hardly afford gas for the car,” Mader informed him. “We didn’t have a camera.”

[Ed note: We would love to hear from any readers who may have seen the car race or have photos of it, from the Mader/Morris years or even before, when it was in Denver. It should be easy to spot in your scrapbook. How many Willys decorated with Indian heads can there be?]

Mader requested him if it nonetheless had its Pontiac engine and Olds rearend. “No,” Randy informed him, “no motor. Just the Pontiac emblem on the doors, and a Tri-Five rearend to roll it around.” Randy stated Mader “wasn’t all that happy” to study Randy put a Hemi within the automotive. “He wanted a Pontiac back in it,” Randy says, admitting, “I should have done a Pontiac motor. And if Gil and I didn’t have all this Hemi stuff, that’s what he’d be doing now.”

Gil had the classic Mickey Thompson valve covers from “another Hemi project,” beneath that are triple-nickel 354 heads that have been ported by Lockerman Porting Service. The heads are from “Mark Williams’ last front-engine dragster,” Randy says. “It was a normally aspirated, nitro-injected, A/Fuel car back in the day.”

Lightening the Load

The Gil he speaks of is Gil Muro, who, together with his brothers and different relations, operates Scorching Rod Ranch within the central California city of Lompoc. Randy knew Gil from the March Meet. “I used to race there when the Goodguys were doing it. Gil bought a few parts from me at the swap meet.” Through the years the 2 stayed in contact, so Gil had Randy’s quantity useful when he noticed on Instagram that the Willys was on the market.

“I put so many projects ahead of this thing, just worked on it when I had the time, when I felt like it,” Randy says. “Pretty soon it had been 28 years. I’m 64 years old, and I’m thinking about lightening the load a bit. That’s one reason why I got rid of it.”

Gil offered the elements for the Hemi’s induction system: Twin 750-cfm Holleys feeding a 6-71 supercharger on a Cragar blower consumption. He’s nonetheless tinkering with the motor, so we weren’t capable of hear it hearth. Among the many mods already deliberate are totally different pulleys “to overdrive it to get more power.”

Plus, he defined, he had taken the automotive to the purpose the place it was prepared for bodywork. “I’m not a body man,” he admits. “I would have had to hire that done.” He additionally confronted a choice concerning the paint. He had so much of prolonged discussions with a good friend, Craig “Spud” Godfrey, about whether or not to protect the historic paint or repaint the automotive. “Spud would have been the one to repaint it if I decided to go that way,” Randy says. In the long run, he felt the physique ought to keep in its as-raced situation. “But there’s so much bad there to be fixed, it would take someone like Gil to save the old paint.”

Gil instantly acknowledged the automotive’s potential. “It’s really rare to find a ’41 Willys that’s all steel and even has the original trim.” Like Randy, he needs to get the automotive operating whereas preserving it as unique as attainable. “Really what we’re doing is helping Randy finish his dream.”

Randy usual the lean entrance finish when he realized “I had to have it flip to work on the motor. I couldn’t work on it if just the hood opened.” However he needed to retain all of the manufacturing unit front-end elements relatively than graft on a fiberglass nostril. So he bolted the inventory hood and fenders collectively and fabricated the aluminum brackets that be a part of the entrance finish to the body. The body, by the best way, appears simply as fairly underneath the automotive because it does right here. Gil smoothed and painted the entire thing.Randy discovered the Willys’ entrance suspension at a swap meet: a spindle-to-spindle setup utilizing a Don Lengthy chromoly straight axle. When Randy received the automotive it had “an original Willys axle in it that had a little drop to it,” he says, “but this axle has the gasser history that I wanted.” He re-arched the entrance springs to offer the nostril slightly altitude (and angle).Wilwood entrance disc brakes are among the many automotive’s few modern elements (together with a gasoline cell within the trunk), all there for security, says Gil. “Old Airheart brakes would be cool, but I wanted some real stopping power considering how fast this thing will be.”Randy eliminated the Tri-5 Chevy rearend that was underneath the Willys when he purchased it and changed it with this ’57 Pontiac rearend, crammed with Four.88 gears, a spool, and 35-spline Previous Henry’s axles.When he took out the Chevy rearend, Randy discovered ladder-bar brackets and fabricated these “based on the look I wanted and where I thought they should come out. I studied a few old HOT ROD magazines and saw what they were doing.” The bars are produced from 1 1/Four-inch DOM with quarter-inch-wall tube. “I did step up to regular Art Morrison ladder bar ends, good solid rod ends,” Randy stated.The unique flooring had been reduce out and changed with a flooring that was hooked up with sheetmetal screws. Plus, “the whole A-pillar structure was in pretty poor shape,” Randy recollects. “I had to put a lot of substructure back in there.” To offset that weight, he made new flooring pans from 12-gauge aluminum, supported by “two c-channel frames, one inside the other. It should be pretty strong.”Extra of Randy’s fabrication work: The steering column got here from the donor sedan that offered the Willys’ body, however he common the pedal meeting to appear to be classic Ansen elements. “The pads are real Ansen, but I made the pedals.” The bracket that helps the pedals ties into the column “where the Willys’ shifter post used to be for the three-on-the-tree shifter.”They seem like previous racing buckets as a result of they’re alleged to, however the seats are literally aftermarket high-back buckets Randy discovered at a swap meet. “I tried to make them look old-timey by cutting the headrests off.” Between the seats is a B&M Collection 60 shifter controlling the automotive’s clutch Turbo 400.

An enormous Solar tach and Stewart-Warner gauges monitor the goings-on, however Randy additionally left room for this ’41 Willys dashboard, one other transplant from the sedan elements automotive. “It’s an original dashboard, just not original to this car,” he explains. “My friend Spud detailed it for me.”The fats 12-16 M&H Racemasters are reproductions, however inside them are gennie 16×11 Halibrand mags. The entrance rolling inventory is all repro: Halibrand kidney-bean lookalikes from Summit Racing Gear mounting 5.00-15 BFG Silvertowns from Coker.Paragon Plastics minimize the Plexiglas aspect and rear home windows for Gil.Randy radiused the wheelwells; Gil patched the rust across the decrease edges, then sprayed the work with primer. One cause the unique trim stayed in such fine condition is as a result of Randy took it off and saved it for the almost 30 years he owned the automotive.It’s nonetheless a piece in progress, however in all probability by the point you learn this the Willys can be again on the road— and perhaps even the dragstrip. As the method nears completion, Gil needed to acknowledge the individuals who helped him. “I want to thank my entire family, especially my wife Charryse and my kids, Bella and Cruz, for all their support. I’d also like to thank all the guys who helped on the car: Russell Smith, Jesse Alarcon, Dave Andrews, Chris Barker, Steve Gaboury, Harold Davis, and Dusty Albrecht.”

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