One of the best ways to gauge the popularity of a classic car is whether there's an aftermarket for its body design. For example, the vintage Shelby AC Cobra, and mid-'30s Ford and Chevy body designs are still being made today by several companies that specialize in fiberglass reproductions. Similarly, the 1941 Willys Coupe is another body design that has joined the ranks of these cloned classics. A longtime favorite of drag racers, the Willys has graced the cover of many hot rod magazines. So, how did this little-known coupe make it to the classic car big leagues? It all started in the late '50s, when backyard mechanics devoted their time and energy to the creation of an intimidating-looking dragster, with plenty of horsepower to back it up. This winning combination made the recycled Willys Coupe one of the most recognized cars on race day, and the one everybody wanted to beat.
In 1918, Willys-Overland Corporation was the second largest car company in the world, right behind the Ford Motor Company. Its focus was on producing cars that provided reliable, no-frills transportation. However, the fortunes of the Willys-Overland company declined in the '20s and '30s, and it became obvious that changes to the body style were necessary. To keep up with the competition, the new 1940 and 1941 models borrowed extensively from Ford's popular body designs of the era, but still managed to maintain some individuality. The most predominant features that distinguished the Willys from the Ford were the front grill and pointed hood. To appeal to the country's patriotism, these new line of cars were called "Americars," which was particularly fitting, since World War II began in 1941. Along with other American car companies, Willys-Overland stopped automobile production in 1942 to support the war effort. Its contribution to the military was the Willys Jeep, and despite several changes of ownership over the years, the Jeep brand still exists today.
Willys Street Rods
It's difficult to find an original 1941 Willys Coupe that hasn't been significantly customized. Early hot rodders discovered that the single front seat coupes were relatively light because of the shorter wheel base, and they had good weight distribution for getting power to the track. Also, at that time, a pre-owned Willys was an inexpensive donor car for building a weekend racer. As a result, most of the Willys that survived obsolescence, found a second life in the hands of the mechanics and drivers who were addicted to speed. With each drag race win, the Willys became more popular, and car enthusiasts were inspired to build even more hot rods. Thus, success spawned more success, and the legend grew. The love affair with these special machines is still strong today, as evidenced by the steady demand for aftermarket bodies and the six figure price tag on some of the top-of- the-line builds. The winning formula seems to be: Start with a brightly-colored Willys body, add some flames, install the biggest motor you can find, rev up the motor with even more horsepower, and fit the car with super-wide rear tires that almost rub on the drive shaft. Now, that's a Willy's Hot Rod!