LS Swapped Willys Coupe With Street Performance
By Brian Brennan – Photography By John Jackson – Artwork By Eric Brockmeyer Design
Should you find yourself wandering the fairgrounds looking at Willys coupes, especially the ’41 era, you will see a recurring theme. Jacked up front ends, skinny rubber in front and monster rubber in back, protruding hood scoops, most likely a Hemi under hood, and probably a rollbar. Not so fast when looking at Doyle Thomas’ 1941 Willys. (Doyle is no stranger to hot rods and has had some very nice ones that have graced the pages of Modern Rodding in the past.) Make no mistake, this 1941 Willys represents itself well but there is an unmistakably fresh approach to a popular theme.
Doyle looked to Mike Rutter of Rutterz Rodz for input and the necessary how-to to achieve his vision. In turn they looked to Eric Brockmeyer of Eric Brockmeyer Design to give them an even “tighter” look at what they were after. First a little background on Doyle’s Willys.
This is one of those projects that’s been around for some time. While it was at Rutter’s shop since 2011, the fact is the car began its journey long before that. Bobby Alloway, of Alloway’s Hot Rod Shop, had originally started the car for himself and sold it to one of his customers to build it. It sat and then it was sold once more. It was at this point that Doyle heard of the Willys and scooped it up. At the time it was the oh-so-common “pro street-style,” although popular still “been there done that” look.
The Willys sat on a tube chassis, complete with a rollcage, hidden door hinges on suicide doors, flush-mounted taillights, no moldings, massive 15×15 rear wheels with huge tubs, and no trunk space. That wasn’t going to fly so a new look was brought to the forefront. At this point, with Brockmeyer artwork in hand, the next stop was Street Rod Garage for the chassis (Independent Front Suspension, four-bar rear, and coilovers) followed by a timely call to Team III Wheels for a set of one-off Fueler custom wheels.
As for the sheetmetal the “smooth appearance” was reversed and the body was brought back to what might be called its “original” state. The suicide doors were now “properly” hung with original hinges from the front and a great deal of the original Willys moldings and chrome was brought back to life. Willys Replacement was the source for many of the original parts and pieces. A fair amount of custom sheet metal work followed with custom running boards, interior flooring, and trunk pans were made. Original bumpers, taillights, door hinges, body moldings, door handles/strikers/latches, and hood moldings were all sourced and installed. The bodywork was handled by Johnathan Tolley of Rutterz Rodz while the Subaru color Desert Beige mixed by Axalta was sprayed on by Rutter himself. The old pro, Jim Rench, was turned to for the one-off grille insert in a concave-style rather than the traditional convex shape of an original 1941 grille. The insert then sat in front of the Steve Long custom radiator that was included. The brightwork was then handled by Dan’s Polishing.
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While there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a blown Hemi engine as the powerplant for any hot rod, we must admit that seeing this Willys LS powered is different, well sort of. MAST Motorsports supplied the LS3 engine that features all-aluminum major components, all held together by an abundant use of ARP bolts. The LS is topped with an aluminum 2×4 Holley intake manifold that holds up a pair of Holley Terminator four-barrel throttle bodies that are fed through a electric Walbro fuel pump and covered by a custom Cadillac “batwing” air cleaner from Rutterz. Making sure the proper amount of air and fuel is delivered falls to the Holley Terminator ECU while other electrical components include the MSD coil packs and Lokar LS Vintage Series spark plug wires. Other engine accessories include a GM Corvette fan, a Vintage Air Front Runner with its own alternator, power steering, and compressor. The smooth over-water pump is also part of the serpentine belt system as well as the cooling system while the dual-pass engine oil cooler is frame mounted and the battery is relocated to the trunk. The exhaust headers come by way of Holley in their Blackheart series measuring 2-1/2-inch tubes that dump into mandrel-bent 2-1/2-inch ceramic coated and covered in DEI exhaust wrap connected to stainless MagnaFlow mufflers all fabricated by Rutterz Rodz. Attached to the LS is a GM 4L80E transmission that eventually passes the power back to the Ford 9 inch rear end that houses 3.70 gears and 31-spline axles. The suspension is based on an Independent Front Suspension with Aldan coilovers, and a custom sway bar. In back the Ford 9 inch rear end is held in position by a four-bar, rear sway bar, and more coilover Aldan shocks. Braking is the always-popular Wilwood brake kit consisting of 14-inch rotors with six-piston calipers in front and four-piston calipers in back. The pedal assembly is one more custom item from Rutterz Rodz. Also seen at the quarters are the custom Team III wheels, measuring 18×8 and 20×10, covered with BFGoodrich 245/40R18s in front and 275/40R20s in back.
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Inside the custom dash is immediately spotted and filled with 1933 Ford gauges from Classic Instruments that is brought to life through the American Autowire engine harness that was positioned while at Rutterz Rodz shop. Other interior appointments include the tilt Flaming River steering column with a Billet Specialties custom steering wheel. Seating begins with the 1964 Ford T-bird bucket seats and then covered with a custom distressed leather by Paul of Paul Atkins Interiors. He also stitched the custom leather headliner, door, and kick panels.
The 1941 Willys has won many awards but at the time of this writing it was awarded the Good Guys 2023 Chevrolet Performance Retro Iron Builder of the Year Award. There’s no denying it’s easy to see why this 1941 Willys stands out. MR
Click on this issue’s cover to see the enhanced digital version of Not All Diamonds Are Created Equally.