Anybody who’s ever built a street rod knows that it isn’t a straight resto job. You might start with a few pieces of original tin, but often as not a project car is like that old saying about weddings, “Something old, something new, something borrowed…”.
That’s the case of the ’41 Willys shown here. It’s part original, part reproduction. The body, made by Antique & Collectible Autos, is mounted on a genuine Willys frame. So the car is rolling proof that the fiberglass shell is built to original spec.
A&C’s Joe Trombley notes that he molded the body from an authentic Willys bought by a friend of his, and we have no doubt of that fact. We’ve known Trombley for many years, and have been consistently impressed by the quality of his fiberglass work. All high stress areas are reinforced with heavy woven roving (with thick strands of fiberglass at 90 degrees), a material used in most boat manufacturing. The molds are so well aligned that all flash lines (ridges formed from seams in multiple-piece molds) are eliminated from the gelcoat surface. And all fiberglass components go through 12-point total cure process, ensuring no post cure that can cause waves in the surface.
Trombley actually started out making fiberglass spas, so you can imagine that if he can mold a surface smooth enough for soaking somebody’s backside in a hot tub, he can make one slick-looking auto body. Indeed, when Trombley first developed the Willys replica about 15 years ago, it came with a color gelcoat, so the body didn’t need to be painted (and the company still offers some of its other fiberglass bodies that way).
Over time, though, he found most customers preferred a black gelcoat and applying a custom paint job on it. This isn’t surprising, considering that the range of choices of gelcoat colors is far more limited than paint. Street rodders usually prefer personalized hues on their rides, like the PPG Lemon Ice shown on the car featured here, owned by Gerry Sevigny.
Sevigny bought an authentic ’41 Willys for a mere $3000, largely because the body was completely rusted out and not worth saving. The chassis was the prize in the package. Since he planned on adding big power—a blown Hemi—he boxed and cross-framed it for increased rigidity. To update the suspension geometry, he hung a Heidt’s Mustang II-style unit on the front with coil-over springs. A narrowed Ford 9-inch with a four-bar setup and coil-overs went on the back end of the frame.
Of course, not every prospective street rod builder has access to an original chassis, so Antique and Collectibles also offers ’41 Willys frames. They’re available in a range of configurations, from a basic layout to a tubular Pro Street form that’s narrower in the rear to allow for tubbing the back end to make room for massive meats. The Pro Street is the most popular, and a rolling chassis option can be ordered as well. There’s no single “kit package,” but a menu of parts from which to pick.
After Sevigny beefed up and modernized his original frame, he was ready to install a serious mill. Can you say, “Hemi?” (Sorry, but we’ve just been waiting for an opportunity to use that well-worn tag line.)
Actually, this Willys screams Hemi. It’s based on one of the dragster’s favorites, a 1958 392-inch block bored .030 over and fitted with Ross 8:1 pistons, Engle cams and aluminum heads from Hot Heads. Topped by a GMC 671 supercharger from The Blower Shop, which pumps six pounds of boost through a Hot Heads Tunnel Ram intake manifold, this stump-puller cranks out in excess of 700 horses.
Even with all this neck-snapping power on tap, the car is still remarkably docile on the street. That’s because Fodge Engineering installed an Accel Gen 7 EFI system to keep those stampeding horses on a tight rein. The Fodge installation also features a stealthy injector plate to preserve the period look of the engine bay. This sanitary unit conceals all the modern wiring and high-pressure fuel lines in a single piece of CNC-machined billet.
What prompted Fodge to develop this component? “The biggest challenge is hiding injectors, when customers don’t want the EFI system to be seen,” admits Dan Fodge, who specializes in EFI for street rods and muscle cars. “They don’t like wires and lines; they want you to make it look clean.”
Fodge set up the power curve on the Willys for street duty, but also programmed in some “blower roll,” that nostalgic surging sound emitted off the line. For cruising, though, he dialed in the ideal air/fuel ratio (14:8 to 15:1) and timing to keep the fuel economy reasonable. He claims that 18 to 20 mpg is possible, but Sevigny says he usually only sees 15 mpg (then again, we’ve seen how he puts his foot in it, so we’re not surprised that it’s burning more fuel than estimated).
Not only that, the EFI ensures this hot mill fires up easily, and runs a fast idle on a cold start as well. So just because you like the benefits of EFI doesn’t mean you have to give up form for function. “You’ve got it all,” Fodge says. “Fortunately, the EFI computer doesn’t care what the intake is—we can fuel inject anything,” he adds, noting that he’s done more than a couple hundred EFI cars of all sorts in the last 15 years.
Note this street rod builder’s tip: one key component of an EFI system to keep in mind is the vehicle’s electrical system. Power demands are higher, so a high-amp alternator is a good idea. All of the connections, particularly the grounds on a fiberglass-bodied car, must be clean and secure (be sure to fasten them to bare metal on the chassis). A poor electrical system can be the nemesis of EFI.
This Willys is not just about tech details, though. Inside the uncluttered, camel-colored cockpit is a leather interior from West Coast Custom with consoles concealing the sound system and related wiring. Offsetting the subdued hue of the interior is a gleaming Ididit steering column and a classic-looking A&C instrument panel that houses Auto Meter gauges in “W” shape. A Vintage Air a/c system keeps the interior cool on this blistering hot rod. Would you expect anything less on a car frosted with six layers of Lemon Ice?
One final note about the paint job. There’s a tiny signature on the trunk lid from K.S. Pittman, the racer who helped to make the ’41 Willys famous on the dragstrip. He was the driver of the Stone, Woods, & Cook car that set off the Willys craze. The SW&C Willys became the one that says more about going fast with steel doors and fenders than probably any other race car of the gasser wars era. Which makes us wonder how much quicker the car would have been if it had been fitted with a fiberglass body like Sevigny’s rod. It’s enough to give you the Willys.
Accel/ Mr. Gasket Performance Group
Antique & Collectible Autos, Inc.
35 Dole St.
Buffalo, NY 14210
The Blower Shop