We recently were included on the CC list of an e-mail from hot rod and custom car builder Zane Cullen. Zane is the owner of Cotati Speed Shop in Santa Rosa, California, and, until recently, was the owner of the Mura Brothers 1941 Willys pickup. This cool old Gasser has a ton of history. The Mura brothers, Nick and George, took a year to build the Willys A/Gas supercharged pickup back in 1963. Legendary painter Joe Bailon created the distinctive paint scheme--pearl white fogged into orange pearl lacquer, and Gil Britto added the black naugahyde pleated upholstery. The truck also featured a hand-formed polished aluminum bed (waaay ahead of its time) with steel rear fenders and a tilt fiberglass front end.
Nick and George debuted the truck at the Oakland Roadster Show in January 1964, and went on to win 21 outstanding sweepstakes awards throughout the year. In January 1965, the Willys went back to the Oakland Roadster Show with some changes and won America's Most Beautiful Competition Vehicle. In addition to being a show winner during those years, it was a cover and feature vehicle in the September 1964 issue of Rod & Custom. The truck also appeared in Hot Rod Magazine's Oakland coverage (May 1964 issue) and as a feature in Popular Hot Rodding Magazine (May 1965 issue). On top of all that, the truck was actually drag raced! Zane doesn't know a lot of the race history, except that the Mura Brothers raced it as Fremont. The Bacciocco brothers bought it and continued to race it.
This legendary hot rod was built and has always resided in Northern California. It was also acknowledged in the book 50 Years of Rod & Custom by Thom Taylor.
Zane's intention when buying the truck was to restore it back to its September 1964 Rod & Custom Magazine condition. "This truck restored would be an excellent addition for a collector who appreciates Gassers, Willys, or Northern California hot rod history. There has been talk that in the near future, Gassers and/or Willys Gassers will make it onto the grass at Pebble Beach; this truck would be a prime candidate for such an event."
Unfortunately, he has the same problem as most hot rodders-too much stuff. It was time to "lighten the load" and sell some stuff. Fortunately, it didn't take long for him to fiind the right buyer. The Willys now belongs to Michael Lightbourn from El Paso, Texas. You may remember that Michael was the guy who saved the Ed Roth Orbitron from an ignoble death on the streets of Juarez, Mexico, in 2007. Michael told us that he will pick up the truck at the LA Roadster Show in Pomona later this month and transport it back to Texas, and that he has already started preparing for buildup. He has been working with David Shuten (who oversaw the Orbitron's amazing restoration) to help restore the Willys. Right now, they are just getting started collecting parts, a job made easier by the fact that the so much of the truck is intact. "In my opinion, the items that would be difficult to replicate are all there," Zane said.
The B&M Hydro transmission is still in place. So is the suspension and chromed Oldsmobile rearend. Britto's interior is still in place. The aluminum bed and the bed cover are still there. Zane told us that the fiberglass tilt front end is new, but was hand-laid by the same person who built the original front end. The '63 Plymouth 426 Max Wedge engine (bored to 467ci) that powered the truck in 1963 is gone, but is possible to replicate with speed equipment still available.
With so much of the Mura Brothers Willys intact, Michael is optimistic about having the Gasser pickup restored in time for another appearance at the Grand National Roadster Show in January 2010. After that, who knows. More shows? Some exhibition passes at the nostalgia drags. We'll find out.