It never fails. As soon as you start building a rod or custom-particularly an unusual make or model-you become a magnet for similar vehicles. They suddenly seem to come out of the woodwork. This is not necessarily a bad thing, although it can be difficult to resist buying all those needy new projects that pop up.
Jim Olsen knows the drill. The Bakersfield, California, resident had just spent six years building a '38 Willys sedan street rod when fellow Willys enthusiast Bob Hutson approached him about buying a '38 Willys pickup project. Bob has owned another '38 Willys truck for more than 40 years (check out the August 1990 issue of Rod & Custom to see the feature), and had planned to build this one for drag racing before offering it to Jim. "He kept after me because he really liked what I had done with my sedan and wanted the pickup finished right," Jim says. Jim ultimately relented, in part to scratch a decades-old itch: "I always wanted a car with a blower motor."
A blown mill was just the beginning of Jim's vision. "I had an idea of what I wanted to do; getting there was another story," he says. That's probably an understatement, because what ultimately emerged was a radical, fenderless ride with a channeled body, stretched hood, and bed-mounted radiator to cool a huffed big-block Chevy.
Bob had already kick-started the project by building a 2x3-inch rectangular-tube frame, to which Jim added a Currie rearend attached with custom ladder bars and Aldan coilovers. The chrome-plated '32 Plymouth front axle was suspended suicide style on a Model A spring, creating a 118-inch wheelbase. By using Chevy spindles, Jim was able to bolt Stainless Steel Brakes discs behind the Hoosier-wrapped E/T wheels.
The truck's exaggerated, cartoon-like demeanor came about partly by design, and partly by necessity. Mounting the gas tank in the cowl shoved the engine forward, which in turn necessitated stretching the hood 10 inches. The long, beak-like nose contrasts sharply with the truck's abbreviated bed, which is barely big enough to contain the wheeltubs and radiator.
Jim says one of the biggest challenges was piecing together a cooling system to make sure the bed-mounted radiator would properly cool the 6-71- blown, 468ci Chevy mill. He credits a NASCAR-style Stewart water pump, two 13-inch high-output SPAL fans, and a custom aluminum radiator built by Billy Kydd for keeping the 7-plus gallons of water cool.
Despite its race-flavored attitude, the pickup received detailing befitting a much more pussyfooted ride. Extreme Automotive smoothed the sheetmetal and laid down a rich DuPont Viper Red finish. Likewise, the cab was finished using leather-and-velour-covered Miata seats, Auto Meter gauges, and a LeCarra wheel atop the Fiero tilt column.
Like so many Willys vehicles, the pickup has a quarter-mile pedigree: It was raced in the late '60s out of Las Vegas under the name Facetious. Thanks to Jim, it now enjoys a more relaxed life on the street, while still carrying enough underhood heat to relive its dragstrip glory days whenever Jim wants.