Chasing barn finds these days is becoming a challenging exercise especially when you don’t hail from the land of cool custom barn stored relics! But when you’re chasing down something as rare as a genuine 1941 Willys, it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack as Rob Monea can attest! “Just about every Willys in the states has been turned into a gasser. To find an original Willys in America that hasn’t been touched is almost impossible. In the forties when everyone came back from the war, all the kids wanted to go racing and this was about the only car that was for sale. Because all the other manufacturers closed down during the war and Willys stayed open to make the jeep, they also made this low buck piece of crap three window thing.
Some kid found one one day and thought the front was nice and pointy and the driver could sit right back for better weight distribution. Of course once the other kids got onto the idea, they all got onto them right through to the end of the sixties and that’s why there’s none left. If they wrecked a door or something, they’d just buy another car, take the door off and dump the rest in the tip, I mean they were 10-15 bucks a car! “
Rob’s good American mate Clay is always on the lookout for suitable rides for his Aussie buddy, Rob and knew he was after the esoteric 41 Willys coupe! Locating one in a barn in the massive state of Texas, he immediately called Rob to inform him he had found his holy grail, an old school 41 Willys gasser! Once landed on our shore, the proud new owner pawed over his new found love, taking in the tired rusty body, the fact that it had no floor or firewall, the many missing parts off it but knew the potential was there to bring this old girl back to her hey days as an old school fifties drag car as one would find in the back of a barn.
With the original chassis still residing underneath, Rob had Greg Ford, a gasser guru in his own right, box it up but leave the original holes in the frame for authenticity by utilising steam pipe inside the chassis rails for engineering structure and integrity. “I’ve tried to keep it as original as possible with the added crossmembers. Pretty much how it would have been done when it was a gasser using the guidelines. I’ve moved the original front axle forward two inches as well.” Another 41 cowl had to be sourced and the firewall unpicked from it in order to replace the missing firewall in this engine bay.
Retaining the original leaf springs out back but sporting sliding ladder bars, this old girl can be set up for track time while minimising axle tramp. Rob wouldn’t mind giving her a squirt down the quarter mile one day but his main objective will be keeping her curvaceous figure away from the walls!
Under the beak like hood nestles a 350 Chev topped off with a genuine 1960s fuel injected Crower manifold sprouting those iconic staggered trumpet air inlets! Rob explains the reason behind the change to electronic fuel injection. “It’s not practical to run mechanical on the street as it just won’t work. It’s either flat out or it’s nothing so we had to convert it to EFI. We used the injectors out of a six litre Commodore and a Heltech computer” While there’s a genuine Moon tank with accompanying Moon brackets and spinner cap mounted in the grill opening, fuel is fed through braided lines from a main Moon tank in the boot via two electric fuel pumps and a 2 litre surge tank. Although it’s not period correct, Rob knows when to put common sense first! “That’s one of the biggest expenses on the car which I didn’t really want to do as I wanted to keep it to the basic gasser specs. But with forty pounds of fuel pressure, you’ve got to do it properly and safely. If it lets go, you’re in trouble” A B&M built T350 with 4000 stall and nine inch housing 4:11 gearing complete the running gear. The loud as hell headers are shop items but the street legal pipes were bent up and mounted at home.
Unfortunately, this old gasser wasn’t found with any genuine magnesium wheels on her so Rob had to come up with his own plan of attack. He purchased a set of highly polished Real Rodders and sent them off to the acid dippers for period correction. “The rims were all polished when I bought them and I sent them to an acid dipper and said “dip these”. He said “if I dip these, there’ll be nothing left, the acid will eat the whole wheel in half an hour!” I said “let’s put them in for 5 minutes and then pull them out.” He put them in and they fizzed right up and quickly he pulled them straight back out!He rang me and said “I’ve stuffed your wheels” I looked at them and said “no, they’re perfect!” A pair of skinny boots up front and piecrust Firestones on the rear complete the ensemble! Trusty drums do their thing on the rear with the tried and tested Commodore discs and falcon rotors work together to pull the big behemoth up in quick succession!
Stepping inside the unrefined cabin, two black vinyl Mustang seats mounted on cut down chassis rail sit fixed to the now worn aluminium floor. When Rob took ownership of this vehicle, there was no such floor to speak of but after strengthening the frame, adding coats of POR15, a good layer of Dynamat and laying down the tarnished aluminium sheeting, Rob has the period correct vision without the obligatory heat and drumming that comes from the lightened panelling. A Grant steering wheel on the original column gives the driver direction as he shifts his way through the super rare Winters shifter. “That shifter is probably one of the pinnacles of the car! Race guys have told me how rare it is. I originally had a B&M shifter lined up for it but it just didn’t fit the style. When the Winters shifter came up on Ebay, I grabbed it and that’s the original shift knob that was on it which was something the kids did back then! Normally it would be an 8 ball on top but mine doesn’t and it’s the main reason I used it because it’s not clique, it’s random. ”
Another hard to source item that was missing on this one year only vehicle was the gauge cluster and Rob spent years hunting one down while making sure he didn’t get fleeced along the way! “All that was there was a big tacho sitting in front of the empty space but I wanted the original gauge cluster. It took me years to find one which eventually came from a Willys page on Facebook. I put a notice out I was after one and I got four responses of people who reckon they had one. They were asking like $1000 for theirs. I said send me a picture of it but none of them would, they would just ask for the money. Then one guy messaged me, said he had one. I thought, yeah, same old thing. I said send me a picture and five minutes later he did. He said it’s out of his 41 Willys pickup and he’s swapped the original with a digital dash back in the eighties. He said “it’s still sitting up in my loft, if you want it, 100 bucks.” I thought, what the hey, I could lose $100, it’s worth the risk. Four weeks later it arrived and the feeling to just grab that dash and fit it straight in was fantastic! It’s a fully functioning gauge set!” A small diameter Sun tacho compliments the rest of the gauges.
Rob’s dedication to the minor details know no limits either as you peruse over the array of old faded drag racing orientated stickers that adorn the inner door panels and firewall. “My old boss had a fridge from the seventies and every time he’d go to America, he’d bring back drag racing stickers and stick them on it. When he was throwing it out, I took an angle grinder to it and cut all the stickers off it. We then heated up the back and peeled them off. I then took them to Nick who does stickers and he put a new sticky back on them for me! “There’s a sticker on the firewall that’s a genuine 1960s water decal of Lion’s Drag strip in the States. I paid like $100 for it but when I was putting it on, it was that old it was cracking apart so I’ve had to piece it together but it really looks the part like that!”
Ryan Ford is responsible for the patina paint by laying down the red oxide before covering the bulbous body in the original green found inside the door frames. With a fine brush and a tin of one shot, he skilfully replicated the signage of the sixties before giving the bulbous body an intensive massage with sheets of 1200 wet & dry. Rob contributed to the after effect with some carefully placed panel damage just for authenticity! He highlights his handy work while explaining “I’ve put dents in this to go in line with where certain fading will be. If you’re not going to go all the way with a patina job, don’t do it!” Completing that old school sixties theme is an original Cal Custom bonnet scoop along with more hard to find items such as the original headlights, taillights and badges!
Rob is stoked to have his barn find style gasser on the street and loving the fact that he has a genuine 1941 Willys coupe with injection! “I built this to a period and to make it look like it came from that era but I still want to drive it. It’s a prick of a drive over long distances but I wouldn’t have it any other way because it’s a hotrod! It’s loud, it’s smelly, it’s noisy and that’s just me” jokes Rob! “You build it and that’s how it’s gotta be! So that’s the fun I get out of it!” And as a singer/ guitarist in the rockabilly band, Itchy Fingers, is there a song being written about your new found love? “I’ve been working on a couple but I’ve gotta phrase the title right first!”