Re­liv­ing his youth, an eighth-mile at a time.

TRIB­UTE. In the early 1960s, Del Wiesner and Dean Seev­ers were a cou­ple of guys from Love­land, Colorado, who built a ’33 Willys to drag race. It wasn’t long be­fore they and another part­ner, fel­low Love­land racer Harold Owens, found them­selves in the thick of the Gasser Wars.

The trio spent sev­eral years on the cir­cuit, tow­ing their Olds-pow­ered coupe all over the coun­try to race the likes of Doug Cook, K.S. Pittman, Bones Balogh, Ge­orge Mont­gomery, and other war­riors of the era. Some week­ends were spent match rac­ing at lo­cal events, oth­ers put them in the na­tional spot­light with fel­low A/GS com­peti­tors in the NHRA. At their peak, e.t.’s were in the low 10s with trap speeds over 140 mph. In 1964, car­ry­ing 400 pounds of bal­last to com­pete in B/mod­i­fied Gas, the Seev­ers/ Wiesner/owens Willys held the AHRA record at 136 mph.

Fifty-plus years later, the Seev­ers/wiesner/owens A/gas Su­per­charged ’33 Willys is still pleas­ing the crowds, al­beit in an up­dated ver­sion. “Peo­ple re­ally love see­ing the car. That’s what keeps me go­ing,” Del says. “They love it be­cause it has an Olds Rocket en­gine in it. That’s not some­thing you see all the time, much less the orig­i­nal owner and driver in it.”

Asked about rac­ing to­day, Del says, “I do still love it, but I look at it dif­fer­ent now. I’ve been in some bad wrecks. I about wrecked this thing at a nos­tal­gia event a year or so ago. I’d hate to wreck it now, so late in life. And I made a prom­ise to my wife that I wouldn’t drive it so fast. So rather than run­ning 8 sec­onds at 155,

I’m con­tent to go 115 in the eighth at 5.70, which is what it will run on a good track. That’s plenty of thrill for this old feller.”

Del will be 80 on his next birth­day.


Dean Seev­ers had a “wild” ’39 Chevy coupe with a blown Olds mo­tor that he drove on the street and raced at the drags as the 1960s dawned. Dean, Del, and Harold Owens were found­ing mem­bers of the lo­cal hot rod club, the Love­land Ze­phyrs, and part of a group of guys who raced in NHRA Di­vi­sion 5.

When they built the Willys, Dean and Del put in it a ’57 Olds mill with a 4-71 su­per­charger backed by a B&M Hy­dro. The Willys hit the track in 1962, run­ning “around 120 in the 11s,” Del says.

“We won a lot of tro­phies at all the tracks in Di­vi­sion 5.”

Harold mus­tered out of the Air Force a year later, and he wanted to join the team. He had an en­gine he wanted to build. “It was his baby mo­tor, a ’49 Olds Rocket at 303 cu­bic inches,” says Del. When it was done, it dis­placed 308 inches and was fed by a 6-71 blower and Scott fuel in­jec­tion. The “itty-bitty en­gine” put the Willys into B/gas Su­per­charged.

“We went out to Pomona rac­ing some of the big­gest names in the coun­try,” Del says of their trip to the 1963 Win­ter­na­tion­als. The three friends from Love­land ran “131 miles per hour at 10.75, and we didn’t have to apol­o­gize to any­one for any­thing.”

What they did have to do, though, was be quicker. Doug Cook, run­ning 10.60s, beat them in Pomona.

So in the win­ter of 1963, the Willys went on a diet. The steel front end was re­placed with a liftoff fiber­glass nose. The fac­tory doors with their glass win­dows were pitched in fa­vor of fiber­glass doors with Plex­i­glas. Out, too, was the baby Olds. In went a 324-inch Olds mo­tor bored and stroked to 396 ci. Lighter and more pow­er­ful, and with a new Dean Kennedy Hy­dro, the Willys showed “a dra­matic im­prove­ment in e.t.,” re­mem­bers Del. Times dropped to the low 10s, and speeds in­creased to 140-145 mph.

The Willys’ ap­pear­ance in 1964, with the Seev­ers/wiesner/owens let­ter­ing and the as­signed num­ber 239, was the tem­plate for the trib­ute Willys, as that was the last year the trio raced as a team.

“Dean de­cided he wanted to build one of those Mark Wil­liams drag­sters, and he wanted to put his Olds in the drag­ster,” Del says. “So he went his sep­a­rate way. That left Harold and me to run the Willys.”

By 1966, Del had moved on, too. He and Harold built a “su­per light” ’23 T road­ster with an Olds ca­pa­ble of send­ing the car to 150-plus top-end speeds. But the car “nearly killed” him in a bad ac­ci­dent that ended his rac­ing days.

“I still have the scars,” he says.


Scars, and mem­o­ries, too. “I had two won­der­ful part­ners in this car back in the day. In 1964, we did the en­tire NHRA Di­vi­sion 5, in the points chase right up to the end. We ran ev­ery event: Omaha, Min­neapo­lis, Great Bend, Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide, Green Val­ley Race­way in Texas, Amar­illo, plus the Win­ter­na­tion­als in Pomona and the U.S. Na­tion­als in In­di­anapo­lis. It wasn’t un­usual for us to be in L.A., then Min­neapo­lis, then Texas. We flat-towed this car all over the coun­try un­til we fi­nally got a trailer.”

Decades later, “I couldn’t shake the thrill the race car had given me. Even though I had quit rac­ing long ago, I al­ways loved the Willys gassers. Once you get that in your blood, it’s hard to let go. It

was the most ex­cit­ing time of my life, so I de­cided to re­build a part of history.”

He con­sid­ered another go-around with the orig­i­nal car. “I found the orig­i­nal ’33. Some­one had con­verted it to a street ma­chine with a Chevro­let en­gine. I called, but once they found out about the history of their car, they de­cided they didn’t want to sell it.”

He opted in­stead to build a Willys from scratch, with a fab­ri­cated chas­sis and cage, a fiber­glass re­pop body, and the help of a young car builder named Bobby An­der­son, who runs Sleds Cus­toms in Apache Junction, Colorado. Bobby mod­i­fied the frame for the Willys us­ing 2x4 rec­tan­gu­lar tub­ing, and mounted a straight front axle from Speedway Mo­tors and a Ford 9-inch rearend. Within the 10-point pol­ished cage are alu­minum seats Bobby fab­ri­cated af­ter the fiber­glass rac­ing seats Del bought for the pro­ject “were thrown in the junk pile,” Del says.

They weren’t the only pieces that didn’t pass muster. Much of the fiber­glass Willys body Del bought was ei­ther “too heavy or poorly done,” so Bobby fash­ioned a rear deck­lid, dash­board, floors, fend­er­wells, and other parts from alu­minum.

The en­gine had to be an Oldsmo­bile. “I have a num­ber of blocks,” Del says, pre­fer­ring those out of a ’62 Starfire. “The 394inch Olds mo­tors were made from 1959 to 1964, and the blocks from the ’62 Starfire have a unique con­fig­u­ra­tion com­pared to the other en­gines. They have a wider main bear­ing boss, so you could run a heav­ier-duty main bear­ing. It’s the strong­est 394 Olds block.”

Del built two dif­fer­ent en­gine com­bi­na­tions for the Willys. One has a stock crank with steel bil­let Crower rods and 8:1 com­pres­sion pis­tons. The other, his “quick­est en­gine,” has 9:1 com­pres­sion and alu­minum rods. “I went to the alu­minum rods so I could use a pinned rod bear­ing to keep the rod bear­ings in place. The steel rods had a ten­dency to tear the tangs off the ends of the rod caps. Pinned bear­ings elim­i­nated that prob­lem, but it means a trick crank sit­u­a­tion. The crank is un­der­size 300-thou­sandths—that’s a lot—then re­sized to use Chevro­let main bear­ings. That’s a unique sit­u­a­tion for an Olds to have that.”

As Gasser Wars vet­er­ans, Del and Howard were used to be­ing courted by camshaft mak­ers. “Sev­eral com­pa­nies gave us camshafts back then.” Jack En­gle ground cams for the SWO Willys, and 50 years later, Del again went to Jack, even af­ter the cam maker had re­tired, for grinds for the trib­ute car. But with two en­gines in play, Del also uses a bil­let Isky 505-C roller cam in his other en­gine.

“I like both cams,” he says. “Both those man­u­fac­tur­ers treated us re­ally well. The En­gle def­i­nitely has more lift. It’s a more mod­ern camshaft. The 505-C is like it was ground in 1960. I bought a pair of them un­used at the Bak­ers­field swap meet. It has 100-thou­sandths less lift than the En­gle, but I can make the car run just as hard for the first 300 to 400 feet as with the big cam. That’s what I do with the car, run hard out of the hole to give them the show.

“Peo­ple come out to see cars drive up to the start­ing line and carry the front end for 100 feet. That’s the show, right there. I don’t run the car at top speed any more. These aren’t real sta­ble at 150-plus.”

With some con­ces­sions to NHRA reg­u­la­tions, Del worked to keep the out­side of the en­gine “look­ing like it was run­ning the old stuff, nos­tal­gia stuff.” Feed­ing the fire is a vin­tage Hil­born two-port fuel-in­jec­tion sys­tem “that’s prob­a­bly from the early 1960s,” says Del. Ig­nit­ing the fire is a Joe Hunt Ver­tex mag­neto.

The head­ers, too, with their dis­tinc­tive wrap­around col­lec­tors, were built by Bobby to mimic the pipes on the SWO Willys. “At the time it was a con­ve­nient way to pull the tubes to­gether, and it looked neat on the weed burn­ers,” Del ex­plains.

Another car­ry­over from the orig­i­nal Willys is the trib­ute car’s shifter, which is on the col­umn. “We al­ways ran a col­umn shifter on them, even though ev­ery­one else had it on the floor. In the old days we’d run a Pow­er­glide shifter, a ’53 or ’54 col­umn shifter, but you can’t race one of those any­more since there’s no re­verse lock­out on them.”

Del ad­mits it “took a lot of work” to graft the B&M ratchet shifter onto the col­umn. “It was a lot harder than putting it on the floor. Ev­ery­thing is hand­built around the shifter.”

In the 1960s, the B&M Hy­dro was the trans­mis­sion of choice for the SWO Willys as well as many of the other gasser teams. It wasn’t Del’s fa­vorite, though. “I’m not a Hy­dra­matic guy. We ran them back in the day, be­cause that was the trans­mis­sion to race. Ev­ery­one ran them un­til peo­ple started us­ing the Chrysler Torque­flites. But we had a lot of trou­ble with the Hy­dros. We lost races be­cause of trans­mis­sion prob­lems.”

The trib­ute Willys, too, started with a Hy­dra­matic, but Harold Owens had another idea. “Harold was run­ning a Hughes Per­for­mance Pow­er­glide in his drag­ster, and he rec­om­mended it. So I went with it. It matched up to the early Oldsmo­bile and works slick.”

Both of Del’s for­mer part­ners are still around. “Dean Seev­ers, the top en­gine man and driver, is very ill, but Dean and Harold Owens are my big­gest sup­port­ers of the car. When I started, I was the go­pher guy, the pol­ish guy. I painted the orig­i­nal A/gas Su­per­charged car and kept it look­ing great. But then I started driv­ing in mid-1964, so I got to run Doug Cook a num­ber of times, Bones, K.S. Pittman, Chuck Fin­ders, and the big-name rac­ers.”

Re-creat­ing the Willys that meant so much to him took a full five years. “It was a chal­lenge, largely be­cause all the parts we needed are now con­sid­ered an­tiques.” But with Bobby An­der­son’s help, Del now en­joys run­ning and show­ing his trib­ute Willys for “all the past drivers, own­ers, and fans who truly loved these kinds of cars.”

> Com­par­ing the trib­ute ( above) to this photo Bob D’olivo took at the 1964 Win­ter­na­tion­als il­lus­trates how closely Del repli­cated his old Willys. Dean Seev­ers was driv­ing here; Del drove at the 1964 NHRA Na­tion­als and wheeled the car from then on.

> Dean and Del’s Willys in 1962, when a ’57 Olds en­gine earned them “a lot of tro­phies” in NHRA’S Di­vi­sion 5.

> Dean Seev­ers poses with his hot ’39 Chevy in the early 1960s. Olds pow­ered, it ran hard at the strip.


> At the 1963 Win­ter­na­tion­als, the Seev­ers/wiesner Willys beat the Mal­li­coat Bros. ’41 Willys in the first round of B/GS, but lost to Doug Cook in the next. They were us­ing Harold Owens’ “baby” Olds mill.


> Del re­mem­bers this round of the 1964 Win­ter­nats well. Dean went up against Bones Balogh driv­ing Big John Maz­ma­nian’s Willys. “We were out on Bones by three car lengths when we broke a rocker arm. We ran a 10.34, but Bones ran the first 9.99, at 151 miles per hour, in su­per­charged class history and beat us in the lights.”

> The Willys went through ma­jor changes be­fore the 1964 sea­son. That’s Del lift­ing off the car’s new fiber­glass nose in the pits at Pomona, and the lit­tle mo­tor was re­placed by a 396-inch Olds. Del called the im­prove­ments to the car’s per­for­mance “dra­matic.”

> Dean left the team af­ter the 1964 sea­son, so the SWO Willys be­came the Wiesner/owens car in 1965. Here Del is rac­ing at Mickey Thomp­son’s in­vi­ta­tional 200 MPH meet in Fon­tana. “We drew K.S. Pittman in the first round and got beat, but we were al­lowed to grudge race the other A/GS cars the rest of the evening be­tween rounds of Top Fuel and A/GS. Our top time was a 10 flat e.t. at 146.69 miles per hour.”

> More of Bobby’s hand­i­work is found in­side the Willys, where he fash­ioned the floors, the seats, the dash­board, the cage, and more.

> The tough­est part of the in­te­rior build was get­ting the B&M ratchet shifter up on the steer­ing col­umn, Del says. The ea­gle-eyed among you will spot two tachome­ters in the car, an orig­i­nal Sun tach in the dash and a new Auto Me­ter tach on the col­umn. Del wanted “some­thing big­ger” than the Sun tach for rac­ing. Plus, “I never had much luck get­ting a Sun tach to work with a mag­neto.”

> “I got to know Marv Rifchin, from M&H Tire, late in life. I didn’t know him from the 1960s, but I got to know him later. He was such a gen­tle­man, so that’s what I have on the car. That’s all I’ll run be­cause of that.”

> “Bobby [An­der­son, right] did the paint­ing on car. He does it all, the lit­tle sh*t. I knew him when he was just 4 years old. Peo­ple ask, ‘Who did the work?’ That young guy, he did it. He does it all.”

> “Some­times the front end is off the ground, some­times it’s rub­bing against the wall. I never know which di­rec­tion it’s go­ing to go, but the crowd loves it.”

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