THE BEAUTY OF THIS BEAST

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Contents -

Re­viv­ing the vi­brant Guggy’s Gasser.

Mas­ter fab­ri­ca­tor Rob Ida grew up in a world of hot rod shows, shop days, and week­ends at the race­track. His dad, Bob Ida, is an East Coast Drag Rac­ing Hall of Famer, a man who has lived his life a quar­ter-mile at a time since grow­ing up as a hot-rod-in­fat­u­ated teen in Brook­lyn, New York. As long as Rob can re­mem­ber, the fa­ther/son team has spent qual­ity time to­gether, tak­ing part in this amaz­ing hobby we all love so much.

“Back in 1979, my dad had a friend named Steve Mus­takas who had a re­tired ’40 Willys gasser pickup hang­ing around his garage, just wait­ing to be res­ur­rected,” Rob re­calls. “I al­ready had ‘Willys Fever’ at just 7 years old from drool­ing over my dad’s scrap­book of gassers and hot rods from the 1960s. I begged Steve to sell us the pickup, which soon be­came our first fa­ther-and-son project. It re­sulted in a 10-se­cond street brawler, and lots of great mem­o­ries. Willys hot rods have al­ways been in our lives.”

The fam­ily has since owned sev­eral ex­am­ples of the brand, in­clud­ing Bob’s freshly re­built ’40 Willys sedan trib­ute to his old 1960s race car. Rob’s first cus­tom build was a ’41 Willys pickup that he drove to high school (and used to take his wife on their first date). Rob sold the pickup years ago, but was lucky enough to re­cently re­lo­cate it, buy it back, and make it a per­ma­nent ad­di­tion to his col­lec­tion.

Lucky Pick

Rob al­ways has his eyes open look­ing for good Willys to pur­chase, ei­ther for per­sonal use or to build into a cus­tomer’s dream ride. One night he came across a ’41 coupe on an on­line auc­tion site that looked promis­ing. He talked to the seller, de­cided to make an of­fer, and with a lit­tle ne­go­ti­at­ing bought it sight un­seen.

The auc­tion photos showed the Willys to be in great shape for a car in its sev­enth decade, and when Rob saw it for the first time he was not dis­ap­pointed. “The Willys was skinned in primer, but whomever did the me­tal­work on the car did a great job,” he says.

Back­track

“It was in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion, and it was a fully steel-bod­ied car.” He no­ticed that it was on a race car chas­sis, which was no sur­prise, know­ing how pop­u­lar these cars were as dragstrip ter­rors.

The coupe had some of its race parts still with it. A chromed ’57 Olds rear was un­der­neath, a drop axle was in­stalled up front, and it also came with a com­plete set of fiber­glass doors, fend­ers, and hood. There was no pow­er­plant or trans­mis­sion with the car, but the in­te­rior had race-ready light­weight seats, a roll­bar, and some alu­minum pan­els in­stalled.

It was when Rob was load­ing the car on his trailer that the owner men­tioned it was once a racer. “This Willys was a well-known West Coast gasser, and I have a ton of vintage photos of it if you want them,” he said. Rob grabbed the whole lot of photos and brought them back to Jersey for a look-see.

Turns out this Willys was the Guggy’s Gasser, which was cam­paigned by Gil Gug­gis­berg in the late 1960s. It was one of the more vis­ually stun­ning race cars back in the day, with a full ra­tion of chromed stacks and a beau­ti­ful lace-dressed metal­lic paint job. Rob took in­ven­tory of his pur­chase and stored the Willys in his shop while he con­tem­plated his next step with the car. In the mid-1960s, Gil Gug­gis­berg was a young-gun drag racer who took a big-block Corvette straight off the as­sem­bly line and to the race­track. He im­me­di­ately turned the plas­tic Chevy into a primo race car and cam­paigned the nasty Vette in and around his Phoenix home base.

Gil’s archri­val was Johnny Loper, a suc­cess­ful racer from the area who launched Loper’s Per­for­mance Cen­ter in 1967. When Johnny started run­ning A/gas, Gil de­cided to run in the class as well. His first step was to bring on Chuck Forstie, a fam­ily friend and owner of Chuck’s Speed Cen­ter, to over­see the project.

First they had to source a suit­able start­ing point. They knew they wanted a Willys coupe and found two us­able ’41 bod­ies that they turned into one solid body and chas­sis, keep­ing the other parts as spares. From there, Gil and Chuck dis­cussed the power for the ride. “We both wanted to run a big-block Chevy with a 727 Torque­flite,” Chuck re­calls.

When it came to de­sign­ing and build­ing the race car, Chuck was “the only cook in the kitchen,” he proudly states. “No­body else was in­volved with the build, and I hand­built the axle and all the sus­pen­sion pieces by my­self.” For the next year and a half, he worked on the coupe, do­ing the chas­sis and build­ing a stout Chevro­let 427-based driv­e­train. One key in­gre­di­ent in this rod’s recipe was the all-im­por­tant B&M adapter that mated the Chevy pow­er­plant to the Chrysler trans­mis­sion.

Once the coupe was ready, it re­ceived its daz­zling paint job cour­tesy of Ed Cer­ney Jr. The stun­ning metal­lic blue skin and light gold lace paint made for an ap­peal­ing com­bi­na­tion. It was let­tered in gold leaf by Ed and raced un­der the name of Gil’s fam­ily’s chain of cof­fee shops. The Guggy’s Gasser was born!

The Hil­born-in­jected Chevy big-blocks Chuck built mo­ti­vated the gasser to con­sis­tent 10-se­cond times. Yet it was no match for Johnny Loper’s gasser, which was a steady 9-se­cond racer. Gil de­cided he needed to up­grade his en­gine choice and called none other than Ed Pink out in Van Nuys, Cal­i­for­nia. Pink supplied what Gil thought would be the an­swer to his prayers.

How­ever, things didn’t go as planned. The new Pink en­gi­neered big-block Chevy (stroked to 490-plus inches) failed on its first shake­down pass. The in­jured mill was pulled and sent back to

Re­birth

Pink’s for a tear­down. Af­ter the re­build it was re­in­stalled, and it again failed on its first pass. The mo­tor was pulled once more and sent back to Pink. On its third try, the en­gine failed just like be­fore, on its first run down the track.

All this fail­ure took its toll on Gil, both men­tally and fi­nan­cially. He de­cided to put the car aside and give up on the gasser. Later, he sold Chuck the car and its trailer. Chuck quickly built a ba­sic small-block for it and ran it a few times, just so he could sell it as a run­ning and driv­ing racer. The coupe changed hands over the years and even­tu­ally found its way to Ida’s shop. While Rob had no im­me­di­ate plans for the Guggy’s Gasser, that would soon change. On a trip to Amelia Is­land, he met Al and Ty Wester from Hil­ton Head, South Carolina. They were in the mar­ket for a new hot rod and were in­ter­ested in hav­ing a gasser built. Rob told them about the builder car in his shop that could be used as the ba­sis of their project.

Ty had writ­ten down about five pages of tech on what they wanted in their Willys build. But once Rob gave them the his­tory of the Willys, they had a change of heart. Ty called Rob and told him, “Ev­ery­thing we talked about the other day? For­get it. We have to re­store it to the way it was.”

Go­ing by the ex­ten­sive vintage shots Rob had, Ty started track­ing down hard-to-find orig­i­nal parts. Some came eas­ier than others. Some were near im­pos­si­ble. The B&M adapter plate was the tough­est of all. It took al­most a year to find the rare piece, which was fi­nally lo­cated in San Fran­cisco.

The project re­ally took off af­ter that. Ty scored some im­por­tant pieces to the pow­er­plant puzzle, in­clud­ing an orig­i­nal ’66 Corvette

block, alu­minum L88 heads, and the cor­rect L88 crank and Crower camshaft, just like the pieces used in the orig­i­nal build.

The project was built by Rob Ida Con­cepts in con­junc­tion with his dad’s Ida Au­to­mo­tive, work­ing out of the same fa­cil­ity in Mor­ganville, New Jersey. The body was taken down to its skin, where Rob found the re­pairs on the body to be done as well as he first thought, which sped the process along greatly.

The 427 mill was built and then mated to the Chrysler Torque­flite with the B&M adapter. Next, they mocked up the com­plete driv­e­train us­ing the orig­i­nal Olds rear. The shop built head­ers from scratch that mim­icked the orig­i­nals. A set of lad­der bars was also fab­ri­cated to look and fit like the ones used dur­ing its track days. Af­ter fit­ting the Hil­born in­jec­tion sys­tem, Rob got to work re-cre­at­ing the beau­ti­ful foot-tall stacks, and then had them chromed like the orig­i­nals.

Some of the in­te­rior was to­gether when the car was pur­chased, but some items needed to be sourced. The gauges, steer­ing wheel, and push-but­ton shifter were lo­cated by Ty and added to the mix. As for the seats, Rob did some­thing dif­fer­ent. Ty had re­ceived an in­ter­est­ing gift one year: a seat out of a Maserati once raced by famed driver Juan Fan­gio. Rob did his own ver­sion of the seat, which blended well with the bare-bones, all-busi­ness Willys in­te­rior.

Rob’s in-house painter laid down the House of Kolor metal­lic blue hue, and then Rob did the lace pat­terns in a gold fin­ish to recre­ate the Guggy’s in­tense paint scheme. Once it was clearcoated, it was up to mas­ter artist Alan John­son to lay down the orig­i­nal Guggy’s gold leaf call-outs on the flanks, and fin­ish the myr­iad of pin­strip­ing on the body.

Af­ter it was fin­ished, the Willys was taken to sev­eral events, where it earned high praise for its exacting du­pli­ca­tion of the orig­i­nal. Both the Westers and the Idas could not be hap­pier with the re­birth of the Willys racer.

Fu­ture plans in­clude bring­ing the Guggy’s Gasser out on the road, and even mak­ing some se­ri­ous passes at his­toric drag rac­ing events. Even though it’s a sight to be­hold, this ride will not sit idle. The Westers in­tend to waken this once sleep­ing beauty and turn her into the beast she was meant to be.

> The Gasser’s cock­pit was kept as near to orig­i­nal as pos­si­ble, per the pic­tures Rob re­ceived with the car. The roll­bar and con­trol panel were with the Willys when pur­chased. Rob fab­ri­cated the new seats based on a Maserati race seat from the 1950s. The Lexan side win­dow’s height is con­trolled by leather straps that Rob de­signed and in­stalled. The cor­rect Ste­wart-warner gauges were pro­cured for the dash to keep it as orig­i­nal as pos­si­ble, and an orig­i­nal 7,000-rpm Su­per Sun tach tracks the revs.

> Be­low: No­tice the lo­ca­tion of the Moon gas pedal. Gil Gug­gis­berg needed the le­groom in the cramped cock­pit. > Out back, Rob Ida fab­ri­cated a fuel cell with vintage rac­ing looks to han­dle ex­tra gas, in case the new own­ers want to drive it on the street. That lit­tle Moon tank up front wouldn’t get them very far!

> 1. When the Willys was orig­i­nally built, Gil told Chuck he wanted a blue hue. So they called on top gun West Coast painter Ed Cer­ney Jr. to lay down the beau­ti­ful metal­lic blue, which he ac­cented with gold lace pat­terns.

> 2. For this restora­tion, Rob Ida re-created the lace while East Coast leg­end Alan John­son tack­led the gold leaf call-outs and pin­strip­ing. The “Guggy’s” moniker was taken from the Gug­gis­berg fam­ily’s chain of cof­fee shops based in the Phoenix area. > Ty Wester sourced the cor­rect Hal­i­brand wheels for the Guggy’s re­build. The rears are 15x8 Sprints, wrapped in N.O.S. 10.00-15 M&H Race­mas­ter rub­ber, di­rect from 1968. Up front, 15x4 Hal­i­brand spin­dle mounts are shod with 155R15 Pirelli Cin­tu­rato tires. To make the Willys more street friendly, Bob Ida en­gi­neered and fab­ri­cated an adapter to in­stall front disc brakes on the coupe.

> The back slicks wrin­kle as the Guggy’s Gasser takes to the strip some­time in the late 1960s. > Be­low: Over the years a few changes were made to the coupe, in­clud­ing the in­stal­la­tion of a dropped axle. Rob Ida sourced a cor­rect straight axle, re­built the sus­pen­sion and lad­der bars, and brought back the Guggy’s orig­i­nal stance and pro­file.

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