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.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
1938 Willys pickup
Former owner Bob Hutson built the custom 2x3-inch, .120-inch wall, rectangular-tube frame, which Jim fitted with a 4.11:1-geared Currie 9-inch rearend attached with custom ladder bars and Aldan coilover shocks. Up front, a chrome '32 Plymouth axle was mounted ahead of a Model A leaf spring, with custom radius rods keeping it in line. Chevy spindles ('49-54 vintage) swing on the axle's ends, and mount 10-inch disc brakes from Stainless Steel Brakes Corporation. A Dodge Omni rack-and-pinion assembly points the way.
Larry's Performance in Montebello did the machine work on the '76-vintage 454 (now displacing 468 ci), and Mike Nordahl at Willys Replacement Parts in Alta Loma assembled it using Speed Pro 8:1 pistons, a custom-grind cam, and COMP roller rockers. The Weiand intake is topped with a 6-71 Mooneyham blower fed by dual Edelbrock carbs. Squeak Bell at the Kiwi Konnection built the muffled zoomie-style headers, and Toy Shop Transmission beefed up the TH400 transmission. Cooling is handled by a Stewart Components water pump and twin 13-inch SPAL fans mounted on a custom aluminum radiator built by Canada's Billy Kydd.
Wheels & Tires
E/T Classic Five wheels are a great race-flavored choice, and measure 15x4 inches in front, and 15x12 inches in back. They're wrapped in Hoosier 165/R15 and 31x16.50 tires.
Body & Paint
The pickup body takes on a whole new look without fenders, and appears even more radical now that the hood has been stretched 10 inches and engineered to flip forward.Adjure motorcycle headlights flank the shark-nosed grille, and a custom aluminum fuel tank-built by Ogawa Enterprises in Corona-resides in the cowl area. The cab now features a roll-down rear window, and wears side-view mirrors from Vision Concepts. The abbreviated, custom-built bed has wheeltubs, a ventilated tailgate to help the radiator breathe, and Juliano's LED taillights. Extreme Automotive in Corona performed the bodywork and sprayed the DuPont Viper Red paint, while Rodney Bowser at Independent Detail rubbed it out. Imperial Custom Plating in Fresno did the chrome.
The comfy cabin is fitted with custom door panels and Miata bucket seats, all covered in gray leather and velour by Jerry and Brian at Custom Works in Bakersfield. The Fiero tilt column is topped with a LeCarra wheel, Auto Meter instruments fill the dash, and the floor is fitted with Mercedes carpet and a B&M shifter.