Willett Specials Chicago
Hot Rod Showworld: 1977 Annual Spring Editon

The International Championship Auto Shows: The Winner!

Another roadster build for the street turned show car. But, don't ever say it won't run! I think the tire marks are still on the floor of the Los Angeles Convention Center from two years ago. Harry Willett drove his car around the floor twice to show that it was completely functional. He mentioned the possiblity of taking to the Street Rod Nationalionals in Tulsa this year.

For years, Willett has owned a terrific repair, paint and custom shop that built cars for many, including Buick Motor Division, plus sports legends Bo Jackson and the late Walter Payton. He recently sold his business to become semi-retired and accomplish a few things for himself. For the last two decades, he’s had many nice rides, but he never had the time to b build something really serious.

Harry took eighteen months to build the original car back in 1972. Dubbed the "Phoenix" the little roadster from Chicago did all right for itself in every show entered. Harry says that the people invloved are "Super" people. Due to some damage to the car and some damage to his wallett, the car did not complete the show circuit. However, it still finished high in the standings. Armed with an education and a lot of talent and even more help from family and friends, the roadster entered Harry's worksohp again. With a facelift, new paint, some more trick engineering, and some more chrome, it rolled out in the personality of "Chicago Fire" ready to set the world on fire.

Closing the 74-75 season, A. J. Capella, with a radically customized Corvette set a new points record smashing the old record by 29 points. Right behind him was Lonnnie Gilbertson, and Harry was 17 points behind Lonnie! That's a close race. By this time, Harry had decided to take things serious, and go after the Championship. After all he's had two years of practice by now, right? So, back into the garage for some more tinkering.

Soon, the Chicago show was on top of him and still the car was not finished. Wednesday morning just prior to the show, after spending two weeks around the clock of never turning out the lights, the car was still not finished. The engine had not been started for the second time, the brakes had no fluid nor had they been checked for leaks, etc., the nose piece was off, and the interior had not been installed, plus the display lights had not been wired. Everyone including Harry's Dad had a job to do and they were diong it as fast as they could, but time was running out. Harry knew that Lonnie was going to be in Chicago and if no other contender showed, then Lonnie was sure to get a record show. Nothing left to do but enter it unfinished and hope for at least a couple of awards that would prevent Lonnie from taking a clean sweep. As it turned out that's exactly what happened, so back home again to finish the car. Three weeks later he was headed for Atlanta for what he thought would be another confrontation with Lonnie's "Portland T". Thies time he was prepared to see which car would be judged best. However, the "car against car" battle never ensued. Both cars made fantastic efforts and by the seasons close Harry led the entire championship by a mere 31 points.

When asked how it felt to win, after three years of struggling, Harry said, "It's a bit depressing." When I checked, he replied "It's exciting and exhiliarating, too!" But it's the feeling that the race is now over, what else is there but the race itself?"

Harry won the race by setting a new points record with 1,068 points and was awarded the American Motors Pacer from Hot Rod Magazine. We'll see more of "mr. Nice Guy" next year, for he plans on featuring his car in as many shows as possible. I think possibly that he would feel just a bit lonesome if he didn't participate in those "old car shows" in some way. Maybe he'll build another car soon, let's hope so. For myself, we can use all the Harry Willetts there are in the world building cars. A great guy, with a loving family, that has a real talent for putting together a winner.