Willett Specials Chicago
Street Rod Builder: July 2001

Harry’s Hand-Built Special: An All Steel, Viper-Powered ‘32

The 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 1970’s, 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. There’s not much Willett hasn’t 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, he’s 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 today’s super highways. Does a Viper with a 6-speed and a 2.43:1 final drive pucker your shorts? Oh, yeah, Willett’s ’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 execution?

The 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. There’s 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.

We’ve told you a lot, but not all of Willett’s buildup tricks. The rest will be coming to you shortly. Willett’s ’32 was conceived to be a driver, so he and his wife, Cheryl, are thinking about attending the 2002 L.A. Roadsters Father’s Day event, and then motoring over to Buckarroo Headquarters, by driving west from suburban Chicago, suntan lotion and all.