Street Rod Builder: July 2001
Harrys Hand-Built Special: An All Steel, Viper-Powered 32
name Harry Willett is synonymous with cool street rods. Begin
a Chicago-area native, he goes back to the beginning of NSRA as well as
ISCA. In the 1970s, he scratch-built a 23 Ford roadster called
Disco T, which went on to be an ISCA high-point record holder.
H e was voted ISCA Car Builder of the Year twice and ISCA
Mid America Producer of the Year once. Theres not much Willett
hasnt done, seen or been around in Rodville.
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, hes had many nice rides, but he never had the
time to b build something really serious.
So, his gig was a 32 Ford roaster-but different. Way different.
Something out of the norm. Being a 50s-era kind of guy, Willett
decided to base the 32 on some of the Ak Miller-type early sports
cars, the ones in road racing 50 years ago. But the difference would be
that the 32 would have 2001 technology throughout, the kind needed
to drive todays super highways. Does a Viper with a 6-speed and
a 2.43:1 final drive pucker your shorts? Oh, yeah, Willetts 32
would be called Hot Rod Special just as so many 50s
racers called them.
Willetts car would feature a custom, one-off, hand-built mild steel frame with
a 116-inch wheelbase. The photos ought to tell the tale, because the forethought
that has gone into this car is worth pointing out. There would be a tubular
frame throughout as well as a hanging clutch and brake pedal, a tucked-away
full heater system and a Tilton triple master cylinder. The front and rear
suspension are independent, and the car features removable cockpit flooring
set into the framerails, with one-off folding bucket seats and hidden
compartments underneath. There is also a rollbar and cage, channeled body
taper, minimal interior period-style paint and knock-off wheels, minimal
exposed polishing or plating, a removable tunnal and floor, a double firewall
and flooring and removable body panels. How's that for forethought and
body will soon feature an upper cowl with 3.5 inches added and side cowl
panels with 2 inches added. The sectioned door frames are 3 inches longer
than stock, and the wheel housings were raised 2-3/4 inches. Theres
much more, including hand-fabricated body parts with inner wheel housings,
4-inch longer hood and side panels, rocker panels and doorsills, dash
instrument pod and panels, deck hinges and structural supports, inner
and outer firewall, and a complete compartment, trunk floor and panels,
headrest, rear roll pan, folding seats, seat tracks, interior panels,
grille insert, windshield and body mounts.
The powerplant is the aforementioned V-10 Viper, a ruel-injected, 488ci,
8.0-liter mill that produces 460 hp on 9.6: 1 compression with a pair
of 64mm throttle body air meters and the twin cats.
Weve told you a lot, but not all of Willetts buildup tricks. The rest
will be coming to you shortly. Willetts 32 was conceived to
be a driver, so he and his wife, Cheryl, are thinking about attending
the 2002 L.A. Roadsters Fathers Day event, and then motoring over
to Buckarroo Headquarters, by driving west from suburban Chicago, suntan
lotion and all.