Rod & Custom Feature Car
1940 Willys Gasser Coupe
"Big John" Mazmanian. Stone, Woods & Cook. K.S. Pittman. These are all names synonymous with the infamous Gasser Wars of the 1960s. For those of you up on your Gasser history, however, the list of names—of both drivers and cars—goes way beyond that. But those three aforementioned, like many other unnamed, all have direct ties to one particular vehicle: the venerable Willys coupe.
Just like the Deuce is with hot rodding, Willys of both 1930s and 1940s vintage go hand-in-hand with early drag racing. One such landmark coupe that ran at the top of the B/Gas ranks during the latter part of the 1960s, Fred Teixeira's candy apple red 1940 not only has a storied past, it managed to survive the post-apocalyptic Gasser Wars, and thanks to its current owner, Dave Clark, lives on to continue telling its glorious story.
"I wanted to save an important piece of history," Dave recalls. "I tracked down the Willys after talking to Fred Teixeira about his 1962 Corvette Gasser. I had previously discovered 'The Halfbreed' Vette Gasser in a barn, and it had been painted similar to Fred's Corvette. In conversation, he told me who he'd sold the Willys' body to and the adventure began..."
Dave Clark's quest would literally open the doors of history—the doors of a trailer on the Teixeira ranch, that is. "After buying the Willys body I searched through a storage trailer on Fred's ranch property and found that he had kept all the original pieces that were run on the car—all four magnesium wheels, the Don Long front axle, custom grille and rocker moldings, and the one-of-a-kind copper engine plumbing. In addition, Fred told me who'd bought the original Keith Black 426 Hemi and B&M Clutchfire transmission, and I was able to acquire both of them for the restoration. They'd kept virtually every part that came off the car as they updated it over the five years it was raced."
The historical treasure trove came not only in the form of parts, but crucial facts, as well. "Fred's dad, George, was good friends with Keith Black. They had him build the small-block Chevy that originally ran in the car from 1964 to 1965. After seeing one of the new 426 Hemis run at Pomona, they knew they'd never be competitive with their SBC and had no choice but to step up their engine program."
Dave continues, "Keith Black was involved with the Chrysler engine program in 1966 and arranged for the Teixeiras to get a factory Hemi for the Willys. Fred claims it cost $1,800 back then, and each team had to record every run and surrender all timing slips and awards that their cars received."
The history lesson goes on. "After winning the Winternationals in 1966, the decision was made to lighten the front of the car. Crew chief Dean See pulled the iron heads off in the pits after the finals and gave them to Dick Landy, who inherited the Chrysler Hemi program for 1967. He provided a set of his reworked A990 factory aluminum heads, as well as his tuning expertise and the support of nearly 20 Chrysler engineers all working on the factory team.
"After racing the Willys for the next several years and winning his fourth Winternationals in a row in 1969, Teixeira was told that the car would no longer be legal for B/Gas the following season in 1970. A decision was made to re-body the car with a 1962 Corvette shell using the Willys chassis." (Incidentally, Fred went on to win the Winternationals from 1970 to 1973—eight straight years in either B/Gas or C/Eliminator class.)
The Willys' body was put in storage in Fred's barn until 1989, when the ranch was eventually sold. It then spent the next 15 years in his garage before Fred sold it—three years later, in 2008, Dave Clark saved the 1940 from a street rod makeover. Believe it or not, it only took Dave six months to put the Teixeira Willys back to its rightful "restored" state, just as you see it here!