If you were around in the early days of drag racing, “gassers” were easily identified by their nose-up stance that came from a beam axle up front and were designed to transfer power to the rear wheels more effectively. Today, the growing nostalgia craze has made retro-looking rods, including gassers like this 1941 Willys, hot properties indeed. And while this one may look like a relic from the early '60s and carry some retro speed parts, it's also full of modern technology and is finished to standards better than Rolls-Royces of the era. This car was custom built from the ground up with the best of everything, and one look at the specifications or a glance at the quality of the bodywork tells you everything you need to know.
The body is an Outlaw fiberglass piece, and if you're familiar with their work, you know this is just about as good as they come. Drenched in vibrant red paint, there's no such thing as a vintage race car that was ever this nice. Racers spent all their money on go-fast hardware and the paint jobs were often amateur or donated by a local paint shop, and they rarely stood up to the rigors of the track. But with today's paint technology, show-quality finishes can work hand-in-hand with high-performance machinery to create cars that are the best of both worlds. The fiberglass was expertly prepped before a drop of red paint was sprayed, and gaps are easy to massage to perfection. The classic Willys shape is faithfully duplicated, including the rear fenders which manage to contain those massive rear tires thanks to giant wheel tubs. In true gasser fashion, the intake scoop is poking through the hood just enough to let competitors know it's there, but otherwise this is an awfully convincing 1941 Willys coupe.
The door handles have been shaved and the stainless trim that the original Willys coupe wore was never added—who needs the extra weight anyway? Up front, the traditional Willys grille and teardrop-shaped headlamps present a familiar face, and the subtle pinstriping adds detail. The license plate has been frenched into the rear deck and that parachute is real, although not properly secured for use in slowing the car. All the glass is new, including the 1-piece windshield, and carries enough tint to make it look slick.
That scoop poking through the hood is literally the tip of the iceberg. The engine is a 528 cubic inch HEMI crate motor that makes 710 horsepower on 93 octane pump gas. Just take a moment and let that sink in: a 750 horsepower street car. The intake is a vintage Weiand magnesium tunnel ram donated by Ronnie Sox himself, and it's fed by a pair of 750 CFM Dominators. The engine itself was detailed and finished for show, with lots of chrome, polished aluminum, and black wrinkle finish paint. There's a custom aluminum radiator in the nose with an electric fan to keep the massive HEMI cool, and every single component has been double-checked to ensure that it not only looks great but functions properly. With the speeds this car can generate, you just don't take any chances.
The chassis is also by Outlaw, but this is no ordinary, off-the-shelf piece. The builder knows the owners of Outlaw and asked them to create this special 1-off gasser frame that includes a rigid front axle hanging on leaf springs. The frame rails have been powdercoated in a chrome-like finish that looks extremely high-tech and will never wear off, while the rest of the chassis components are chrome or polished stainless, including the leaf springs, front axle, steering linkage, and driveshaft loops. The transmission is a Chrysler A844 4-speed manual with a Hester shifter and line lock, while the clutch is a Centerforce unit encased in a Lakewood scatter-proof bellhousing. A custom driveshaft feeds a custom built and polished Currie 9-inch full of 4.10 gears on a Detroit Locker rear end. 31-spline axles can take the abuse, and it hangs on a fully adjustable 4-link setup with coilovers and wheelie bars (which you may actually need). Massive headers have been given a retro-looking white coating, and dump into race mufflers under the running boards, and offer dump tubes for racing, just like the old guys used to use. It rolls on a set of traditional Torque Thrust wheels and perfectly-sized rubber that absolutely stuffs the rear wheel wells.
The lipstick red leather interior is definitely far, far nicer than anything in a race car, then or now. With deep, comfortable buckets for two and upholstered in a traditional pleated pattern using matching door panels, it looks perfectly appropriate in the '41 Willys body. The dash uses a complete array of Auto Meter white-faced gauges, and a GM tilt steering column makes getting comfortable behind the wheel easy. Sharp-eyed readers will also notice that the steering column drop bracket is the big end of a connecting rod, polished to match the billet steering wheel. There's a Hurst shifter with a pistol grip style knob managing the 4-speed, and the throttle pedal is a piece straight out of the competition section of the speed shop. The windows are power units actuated by cranks for an original look, although there is no radio or heater, because you're simply not going to need them in this party on wheels. The trunk has been upholstered to match, and offers access to the custom-built 25-gallon stainless steel fuel cell that has been completely hidden under its own layer of bright red carpet.
Documentation includes build photos showing the car going from raw fiberglass shell to finished chassis to the show-stopper that you see here.
As radical as this Willys looks, it is as streetable as most other pro-street cars. It is geared for cruising rather than drag racing. The large diameter rear tires combined with the 4.10 gears make it perform close to a 3.50-3.73 gear with standard size tires. The engine turns roughly 2,500 rpms at 60mph. The technical size of the rear tires is S375/60B15, which measures out to 31” tall x13” wide (tread). This Willys is well tuned and runs happily on 93 octane. No special fuel is needed! We've driven it in traffic on a hot day with no overheating issues, thanks to the large aluminum radiator.
Nostalgia is big business these days, and this Willys is a great way to celebrate hot rodding's infancy. The one-off chassis is incredibly well built and detailed, and the bodywork is just as brilliant. Fully functional and with only 97 test miles, this car is poised to start taking home some pretty big trophies at just about any show it enters. It's also incredibly fast, and the equipment is as functional as it is beautiful. Few rods can truly back up their looks with astounding performance, but this one definitely has what it takes. If you're a fan of horsepower, Willys, or the nose-up style of the gasser era, this is your car. Call today!