1967 Willys Show Rod sporting a 392 HEMI

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1967 Willys Show Rod sporting a 392 HEMI

Post by scottm » Sat Sep 29, 2012 6:49 pm


1967 Willys Show Rod - Jade Jewel
http://www.hotrod.com/featuredvehicles/ ... ade_jewel/
In August, the air in New Jersey is as hot and thick as a dirty-water dog sauna, but that's never stopped the boys of the Dead Man's Curve club (DeadMansCurveCarClub.com) from throwing their annual summer shindig on the 40-acre Hot Rod Farm, a tract owned by Radir Wheel (RadirWheels.com) proprietor and Gasser guru Richie Conklin. The members of the DMC are a band of hot rod brethren and street-freak rod builders--guys who like their rides traditional, their horsepower on the abundant side, and many of whom like the noses of their iron steeds pointed skyward. Conklin is a founding member, and the garage on his property is a den of diabolical distortions. Rides come in stock only to leave as if they were cast in metal from a circus-mirror stencil--all stretched, lifted, and sprung into proper Gasser proportions.

It's the perfect stage for the show in which well-lubricated attendees line the entrance way, sacked out in front of their favorite street machines and eagerly anticipating the surge of new arrivals to fill the eclectic mix of participant's rides. Rat rods sat next to Boyd-like chariots, while mega-muscle cars lounge with workaday farm rods, all of them in a fight for attention only one car will win. All eyes are on this jade-hued jewel. It's the '40 Willys coupe owned and built by Dead Man's Crew member Mario Colasuonno.

Mario had been looking for a Willys to build ever since the late '90s, and he came to receive the project '40 coupe indirectly through Conklin. After spotting an ad for the dormant car at the Hershey Swap Meet in 1999, Conklin took the name and number of the owner and stuffed it in his wallet, then forgot to tell good friend Mario about his discovery for a week. Once he handed over the info, a fervent Mario raced to contact the owner, Jerry Haney.

When Mario first saw the Americar, it was sitting in the midst of an 88-acre farm in Maryland, still wearing some of hardware from race days long passed: Racemaster slicks, Plexiglas windows, and a four-piece 'glass race nose. A steel decklid and rear fenders were still present on the shell. It was believed to be one of two original KS Pittman '40 coupes, though this was never proven. The whole inside was gutted: no firewall, floors, sill plates, trunk floor, or wheeltubs. It was hollow ride--a Jell-O car--cored and battered but still cool. Exactly what Mario wanted. It came with a much-needed '40 sedan parts car.

Mario had a good idea of his mission from the start: To build a custom gasser like a '60s show car. The Nov. '67 issue of HOT ROD, featuring Gary Burgin's '42 Gasser, inspired him to dream up the ultimate street freak Willys. Through Gasser magazine, Mario met Bruce Caswell, a skilled fabricator and Willys salutatorian. Bruce took the spineless coupe into his New Hampshire shop and gave it some backbone. He laid down new floors and wheelhouses, then installed the stock firewall out of the donor sedan. This brought the coupe to the cusp of born-on-date specs, and one of Bruce's own '41 'glass tilt noses made it onto the rejuvenated coupe for the trip home.

Back in Jersey, Mario decided that a blown 392 Hemi would sit between the 'rails, so some metal messaging was needed. Assisted by good friend and fellow DMC-er Mike "Hickey" Thompson, Mike cut out 10 inches of stock firewall, then compound-curved in another 2 inches, recessing the wall deeper into the cowl.

Hickey also made the custom ladder bars, the brackets that hold a Mario-designed back bumper, and a center-frame section with 38 holes, all drilled and sleeved. The front axle is an original-issue '40 Willy's, custom-drilled to perfection by Mario. Out of Idaho came a complete '54 Olds chromed rear straight from Bo Huff's Olds Custom of the same vintage. The rollbar was salvaged from a shoebox Nova and modified to fit. This Willy's runs on vintage 15x31?2 Fentons up front, while big 15x10 Halibrands, shod with meaty MT Radir 10.00 slicks, put the power to the pavement out back.

Inspired by Gary Burgin's Gasser, Mario decided that a custom shade of candy-apple green would cover the Willys. In 2008, while attending Lead East, he met Rob Pilone of Dynamic Body Works in Roxbury, New Jersey--the man who would eventually smooth the bumps and lay down the House of Kolor BC-02 basecoat with five coats of custom-blended kandy and five coats of clear. The schizophrenic new skin behaves in accordance to different lighting situations, each scenario giving the green hue a mind of its own.

Next up was the drivetrain. The '58 392ci Chrysler Hemi was located and built from the bottom up by DMC buddy "English" Rich Greene, while Mario himself handled the GMC 6-71 blower and twin Edelbrock carbs. Friend Larry "Fatscos" Fisher built the three-speed 727 TorqueFlite with a Lokar shifter. The headers were custom built by S&S Headers with the help of Mike Nordahl of Willy's Replacement Parts WillysReplacementParts.com, who also supplied some of the hard-to-find parts. Mario's brainstorm came to fruition with those trash-can header collectors.

The extensive chrome and polish was done by Jeff Ackerman of USA Wheels in Fairfield, New Jersey, and the interior work was done by Roger Wagner in Wharton, who's been stitching seams in homemade rods since the '60s. All the panels were made from scratch, then button-stitched together. The white-and-green metalflake trim brings the exterior and interior hues into a rhapsody of color. Mario added the set of 13 interior gauges, while Nick Herino installed the E-Z wiring harness, sending all the wires through the frame for a spotless look.

The last 35 years of Mario's life have been spent building street-freak, cartoony, wild rides and custom rods with mucho attitude for himself and for his comrades; it's been an all-out obsession of his since childhood. They say that, over time, owners start to resemble their favorite pets, and vice versa. Sometimes we think the same pertains to hot rods and their master builders. Just like his main ride, Mario is stout, brash and bold. Then again, he's definitely not green--especially when it comes to crafting street-freak gems like this jewel right here.
I'm not a huge Willys fan, but this one looks pretty good. I dig the color. :)
Scott Moseman
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