Under the hood it’s all business with a Mike Sullivan–built 392-inch Hemi packed with Mick
For anyone growing up during the peak of the Gasser Wars in the ’60s there was nothing quite like the names of Stone, Woods, and Cook; K.S. Pitman; or Big John Mazmanian lettered on the sides of these hell-bent race cars. Their adrenalin rush was legendary and it was easy to see the long-lasting impact these wild rides would have on countless hot rodders.
It was well past the heyday of Gasser Wars when Tom Venezia of Dayton, Maryland, discovered their allure while thumbing through old well-worn copies of drag racing magazines. Even though he had never seen one run, there was something about their nosebleed stance, monstrous blown Hemis, and endless attitude that forever burned in his young mind. He would set out to read as much as he could on the era while taking pen to paper, drawing impressions of what he imagined the perfect Gasser would be, which in his eyes just so happened to be an iconic ’41 Willys.
As he grew older he saved up as much cash as he could from mowing neighborhood lawns and at the age of 15 towed home a ’62 Corvette packed with a non-running 396ci V-8. Forever intrigued by anything mechanical, he worked on the Vette non-stop and got it running as a really wicked ride for high school.
As the years passed and the kid from Jersey (where he grew up) started a business, got married, and raised a family, he never forgot his roots. In fact, he stayed involved throughout his life with numerous hop-ups passing through his garage doors, including a slick Deuce five-window and ’34 Ford coupe, which he still owns today. After all the years though, memories of early Gassers still fascinated him.
There’s nothing like setting out on a quest to blend both excitement and frustration in one’s daily life. Tom decided after years of dreaming about owning a Willys Gasser that he was ready to move forward and find a suitable car to start his buildup. Since a ’glass body just wouldn’t do, he began scouring the country for a clean and uncut ’41 Willys to convert to the dark side. Well, anyone who knows how rare it is to find what Tom was searching for would tell you that you’d have a better chance at finding a diamond in a pile of sand. Any search usually embodies finding the car, but also the bits to build it. Seeing that Tom would be creating an era-correct Gasser, he was also looking for the sum of the parts to build it from.
If you’re going to plant a bit of terror into the engine bay, it had better be an early Chrysler Hemi and one late night an Internet search landed him face to face with lady luck. As often happens, the V-8 arrived well before the body and chassis, and in this case Tom struck gold. The advertised engine was built by none other than legendary drag racer Mike Sullivan. The behemoth 392ci Hemi was bored 0.030 over to 398ci and packed with a stock forged crank linked to Mickey Thompson aluminum rods capped with Venolia forged 8.5:1 pistons. A set of tweaked and polished heads come to life as a Mooneyham 6-71 blower perched atop a Weiand intake sucks air though a vintage Hilborn four-port injector converted to EFI by Hilborn. A Joe Hunt HEI magneto-styled ignition linked to an MSD 6AL box lights the fire while a pair of Hot Heads Research fenderwell headers dump all spent gases loud and proud.
A Muncie four-speed from The Muncie Man in Frederick, Maryland, was filled with a Hayes 10-1/2-inch clutch and pressure plate with a Lakewood scattershield and matched to the V-8 through a Hot Heads Research steel flywheel and Hemi-to-GM four-speed adapter.