By Stefan De Koker
Owner David Blumberg
Every once in a while during my career I see a car I have only dreamed about and which I never thought I’d actually see. One of my all-time favourite cars is the 1941 Willys, the sweetheart of drag racers in America in the ‘50s.
The problem with the Willys marque in South Africa is that when you talk about it every one thinks of a Jeep, but even though they did make Jeeps, the Willys name is so much more. One of the oldest car manufacturers, Willys started in 1908 when John Willys bought the Overland Automotive Division of Standard Wheel Company and renamed it the Willys-Overland Motor Company in 1912.
They built a few almost forgettable cars up to 1937, when they started becoming a source of inspiration to hot rodders across America. The type 37 had a streamlined body and beautiful proportions, but it didn’t prepare the world for the 1941 Willys Americar.
Originally supplied with a 4-cylinder Go Devil engine, the car was perfect fodder for the booming drag racing community. It was smaller and lighter than the Big Three’s offerings at the time and, with an aerodynamic (for the time) body and perfect styling, it was the first choice for drag racers in the ‘50s like the Stone, Woods and Cook outfit, the greatest team of the era.
Joburg West resident David Blumberg has always been a fan of the Willys name and after building quite a few cars for himself and others, he went looking for his dream car. He found the car in fair condition and immediately made a plan to make it his next project.
The body looked fairly straight, until he found the body putty, which was when the “fun” started. The whole rear of the car looked like someone had attacked it with a ball-peen hammer and David had to remake just about the entire rear end of the car. Lots of welding, hammering and grinding later, the car looks better than when it came out of the showroom. The body style is exactly like it was when it was released; like David says, you don’t mess with perfection.
All he did was paint it candy apple red, not the metallic dark red that people call candy red, but the real old-school candy with the silver base coat. Doing a paint job like that is a dying art, and the only thing more difficult than getting a smooth finish is touching it up. Under the skin is a different story. There is hardly any ’41 Willys that remains stock.
The engine is the first to go and in this case it was replaced by a Chevy Lumina 5.7 litre V8 imported from the States. It fills the engine bay completely but looks like it was grown there. Nothing looks botched or made to fit and it almost appears factory made.
This Lumina engine is different from the SA versions in that the only electrical equipment is the electronic ignition. It’s a carburettor-fed beast making horsepower the old-fashioned way. No computer boxes and mile long wiring harnesses that could go wrong – exactly what you want in an old-school car.
The power is transferred to the narrowed Ford 9” diff through the original Lumina gearbox, a 6-speed beast designed to handle the power. The suspension is old-school as well but a bit older than the engine. A 1970s Jag XJ6 donated its suspension in pursuit of the perfect stance.
In front the Jag suspension was sectioned by 100mm in order to tuck the wheels in the arches, thereby eliminating the old problem of the tyres sticking out past the fenders and hampering the stance. The chassis itself is the original Willys but it was Pro-Streeted and boxed to handle the extra weight and power the mighty V8 brings with it.
Looking inside the boot you will immediately see there is a huge intrusion on each side. David tubbed the rear wheel arches in order to use the perfect wheels. American Racing Torq Thrust rims were imported from the States and look perfect on the rod. The rear rims were widened and a set of Mickey Thompson 10×28/15 tyres were imported, giving the car a dragster feel while still being perfectly usable on public roads. Sometimes the cars you want to see the most disappoint you, but in this case it is even more stunning up-close than it is driving past. The workmanship is amazing and the build was well thought out before a single cut was made. This is one of those cars I would love to own, but unfortunately never will. David loves this car too much to sell it and you can see it in the detail he put into it.