Imagine walking into a shop and seeing a '41 Willys coupe set up like no other Willys you'd ever seen before. Most hot rodders only see the venerable '41 Willys coupe as either a '60s-era Gasser, or as a stocker about to become a '60s-era Gasser.
But when David Trent, who lives in Morehead, Kentucky, walked into Jason Graham's Hot Rod Shop a couple of years ago, what he saw was something more associated with the little pages of Rod & Custom magazine, rather than an alcohol-sniffing quarter-mile drag car.
Graham used Axalta (Dupont) paint materials when he sprayed the custom green pearl with mi
Some of the most respected shapes in the custom car world are the round ones. For example, the '39 Ford Henry Westergard customized for Mel Falconer, or the '37 Chevy coupe Westergard created for Leroy Semas. The Chevy was unchopped, but the side windows were filled (creating a larger but graceful sail panel), while the Ford was chopped 3 inches and featured fender skirts and molded fenders.
But what David viewed at Graham's shop, based in Portland, Tennessee, was something more akin to a tail-dragging custom. Graham had thought of the idea for several years before mocking up a car as a roller to see if it would look right and, as most anyone who views it can verify, it most definitely works!
David bought the project, and then wisely had Graham finish the car, as Graham has been on a bit of a roll the past few years, garnering an armful of awards and prizes, including several Painless Performance Top 100 awards and others for both his customers and himself.
Graham usually builds his cars low, and without the aid of any airbag system but, for this car, which would have no ground clearance when parked for maximum impact, Graham acquired a set of four RideTech airbags through Cool Cars for the project. Out back he used a Chevy 10-bolt rear dialed in with a triangulated four-link design, while up front a Mustang II–type suspension went in with tubular arms.
Though the pedal assembly for the car was custom built by Graham, he did use a Mustang booster mounted under the dash to keep the firewall clean and added a chrome tilt column for the steering. Graham also fab'd the 14-gallon gas tank for the car. Wheel choice came down to a set of 15x5 steel wheels, wrapped in Firestone pie-crust 6.00 bias-ply tires and topped with '55 Pontiac hubcaps with chrome bullets.
And although customs are more known for their style rather than speed, Graham did install a Chevy 350/350 combo under the hood, topping the engine with a trio of Stromberg 97s, crowned with finned aluminum air cleaners from O'Brien Truckers. Block hugger headers were also utilized, which run through to Mellow Tone mufflers.
Taillights from a ’39 Lincoln Zephyr were set into the rear fenders on a customized, raise
The body is, of course, where you define what a custom is, and Graham completed several tricks to get the look he was going for. Among the most difficult was chopping the already-round roof 3-1/2 inches, then converting the doors to operate suicide style. Graham also fab'd new steel running boards for the Willys as well as a pair of fenderskirts for the rear. The hood now opens from the side (rather than alligator style) and '39 Lincoln Zephyr taillights were installed atop raised mini “pads” on each fender.
Terry Briggs, who works with Graham at his shop, finished the bodywork before Graham sprayed the coupe a custom pearl green with micro metalflake using Axalta (Dupont) products. Once the color was on, Graham created a pleated white vinyl interior for the Willys, and utilized white vinyl (with green piping) for the old-school, bow-type headliner.
The bench seat was repurposed from the front of a '39 Chevy four-door, and green loop carpet nicely contrasts the nearly all-white interior. Up in the center of the custom dash is a gauge pod out of a '30s-era Plymouth (wired using an EZ Wiring kit), and the 15-inch steering wheel out of a '55 Chevy is color-matched to the car's exterior.
Once the car was finished, Graham took it to the 2013 Detroit Autorama, where it picked up a Painless Performance Top 100 award and the admiring looks from thousands of onlookers, one of whom was the owner, David Trent, who was seeing it completed for the first time. So impressed with what Graham was able to do with his Willys, he laid out a plan for Graham to work on three more cars for him: a Model A coupe, a '40 Merc coupe, and a '49 Mercury. And judging by Graham's track record, you'll be seeing these future cars in the winner's circle at a car show somewhere in the Tennessee/Kentucky/Ohio region very soon!
Just the Facts
Owner: David Trent
A white, pleated interior is about as “custom” as you can get, and builder Jason Graham st
A custom look for the 350 engine was in order, so air cleaners from O’Brien Truckers and t
Dominant in the reworked dash is a ’30s-era Plymouth gauge cluster along with a 15-inch ’5