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Street rods gave me the Willys

So Larry McLendon built a Willys nostalgia gasser for the reunion wars

Story and photos by Dale Wilson [12/8/05]

hen one thinks of the old “gasser” days of class drag racing, one car make automatically comes to mind --- the Willys econo coupes, sedans and pickups of the 1930s and ‘40s. They’re so popular today that you can buy a complete car, in fiberglass, plus related “hard” parts like trim, insignias and whole grills. Street rodders love ‘em.


So does machinist Larry McLendon of Summerfield, Florida. He had an original one in the 1980s, all steel, that he turned into a racecar, complete with small-block Chevy for power and a chrome straight-axle front end. That one is gone, but now McLendon wheels a ‘glass copy of a ’41 coupe that sits high and mighty on a straight axle front end and jacked up ladder bar rear --- just like the old days --- and runs well into the 9’s on the quarter-mile, thanks to a blown, injected small-block that fairly rumbles with power.

He credits a trip to the 2003 NHRA Wally Parks Motorsports Museum Reunion at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, with its buildup. “I built a flathead dragster (115-inch wheelbase, an injected, alky-fired flattie with a Vette four-speed and even a hand brake) for the reunion, and I had fun,” he says. “But I noticed all these ‘Geezer Gassers’ up there racing, so I thought I’d build one for myself.” The basic car was the easy part, says McLendon, who lives but five miles from “Big Daddy” Don Garlits’ Museum of Drag Racing, part of which was constructed by his late father, Mac. He already owned a Pro Street/Footbrake ’41 Willys built by friend Doug Thompson of South Carolina, who had put it together with all good pieces (Funny Car cage, 9-inch Ford rear, Mustang II front end, B&M shifter) for his son Chris to run as a Footbraker.  McLendon wanted to do the same, plus drive it to rod runs here and yon.

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