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.
Packed with a vintage speed shop full of performance parts, the Hemi not only looked era-correct, it promised to shake the rafters when matched up to the right car. It wasn’t until five years later that the search for a body would finally lead Tom to the Promised Land. Squeezing the Internet for every last ounce of information he could, he followed up on a lead that led him to an original steel body in Seattle. As the story goes, the seller’s friend recalled an old Willys being used as a farm carryall while living in Mobridge, South Dakota, while in his childhood. He revisited the old farm decades later to find it resting peacefully amongst a number of castoff vehicles that had served their time and retired. A deal was made and the car was trailered off to Seattle where it sat for some time, was slightly picked over, and finally offered up for sale. Without wasting any time, Tom made the deal and the car was shipped off to Maryland. Once received and reviewed, Tom was awestruck that even though the car had seen very rough times it was virtually rust free.
It was immediately torn down and sent off to Fast Times Rod’s in Dunkirk, New York, where Pete Clark and his team laid out a new spine constructed from 2x6-inch rectangular framerails with custom tubular crossmembers tough enough to withstand anything the vintage Hemi could dish out. To lay down the power a Ford 9-inch rearend fitted with a nodular centersection was packed with 4.11:1 gears and then supported in place by custom-fabbed ladder bars. Carrera coilover shocks were charged with smoothing out the solid ride.
To set the stance up front a Don Long–style tube axle was complemented by early Ford spindles while parallel leaf springs re-arched by Hagerstown Spring Works of Hagerstown, Maryland, combined with Pete & Jakes tube shocks help soak up the bumps. A 1-5/8-inch four-point rollcage by John Hutchinson adds safety to the mix. It’s easy to go fast but when it comes time to stop well, brake fluid pushed through a Corvette master via stainless lines to 11-inch Ford rear drums and GM vented discs and single-piston calipers up front get the job done.
Completing the look, a pair of 15-inch Team III altered wheels out back capped with Radir piecrust slicks and 15x4-inch aluminum kidney bean Real Rodders Wheels with P145R15 radials up front.
The completed chassis and driveline along with the body was then shipped off to The Hot Rod Garage in Denton, Maryland, where Ray Bartlett and his team began the task of bringing the twisted old steel back to life. The team tackled any minor rust repair while also replacing the transmission tunnel, toe kicks, and a dramatic 5-inch firewall setback and had the car ready to roll onto Grant Bryant at Granted Antique Auto in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, for the final run through. While there it received its flared rear fiberglass fenders, installation of steel reproduction parts crafted by Ferguson Coachbuilding, including the trunklid, rockers, tail pan, and centersection, final panel gapping, bodywork, and finessing to prepare it for the spray booth. Bryant filled his spray gun with a tweaked version of PPG’s Orange Glow Candy and laid down a vibe of decadence, bringing the Willys to life.
To create an office that was all business, a pair of LimeWorks race bucket seats with diamond-pleated black vinyl and Deist four-point harnesses look right at home accented by a three-spoke steering wheel, a Hurst Competition shifter, and a bevy of EELCO and Stewart-Warner dials. Tom wanted to thank everyone involved especially good friend Eddie Hatter for all of his dedication throughout the build. This is one Willys that will shake the streets for decades to come.
How do I break in a flat tappet cam?
With flat tappet cams, make sure to lube the cam and lifters with a break-in lube like the COMP cam and Lifter Installation Lube before you install them in the engine. Also use a good break-in oil, such as the COMP Cams’ Engine Break-in Oil, during initial start up to help ensure a proper break-in process.
Keep it dry
The FAST XFI 2.0 is not watertight. Be mindful to install it where no water, lubricants, or other liquids will come into contact with it.
Precision is important when mounting a distributor on an Inglese EFI System for a Ford application. Timing may be affected otherwise due to the proximity of the distributor to the fuelrails.