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Willys Dream Becomes a Reality

This story was provided by Dave Semel with photos by Mike Hacker; Story edited by Richard Fleener.

Back in the 60’s and 70’s drag racing was becoming a popular form of motor sports and Marty Hacker, like most of us, loved to drag race whenever he got a chance. At the track one car would always catch his eye, the ‘41 Willys. Today, rat rodders and drag racers alike still love the Willys. It remains a popular street rod design and arguably the most recognized and famous drag/gasser body of all time.

The image of a ‘41 Willys was stuck in Marty’s head and he knew some day he would have to have one but never could find the perfect one he was looking for.

So what would you do? You would search for one that comes close and build the look you want; so the search was on.

Marty’s son, Mike Hacker, started looking for his dad’s dream machine. While scanning , he located a Willys in Long Island, NY.  They contacted the owner to let him know they were interested but wouldn’t be able to see it until the following weekend.  As luck would have it, the following Wednesday they called the owner to schedule the inspection and found out the Willys had been sold. Disappointed, they renewed their search. Not long after, to their surprise was the very same ‘41 Willys for sale on Ebay in Cape Cod, MA.

The eBayer even used the very same pictures the original owner used! It seems the new owner’s wife was not very happy with his purchase and he was given the option: “Live in it or sell it.”  This is when some guys would say, “I am going to miss my warm bed but I love that car!”

Marty and Mike were beginning to think that just maybe this was the one!

One thing led to another and the car was acquired and delivered. Mike knew his dad had wanted a Willys for years so he decided to build him one, the way he’d always wanted it…starting with the Willys they’d just picked up from eBay.

Unfortunately, the mold used to make the body was not of the best quality. Mike was very frustrated and decided the best way to build his dad’s dream was to redo all of the fiberglass. He cut almost every seam apart and after several months had everything fitting to his satisfaction.

Today, the Willys sits on an Art Morrison tube chassis. Mike adjusted the mid section of the frame to accommodate a new straight axle.  A 454 Chevy engine bored out to 468 cubic inches with a BDS 8-71 blower was added.  A TH400 transmission with a 3600 stall converter and a Ford 9 inch rear with Moser axles and Strange center section with 4.30 gears, Detroit Locker and disc brakes finish off the power train. “It is about 550 horsepower, my friends helped me every night till 1am for four weeks to get it together” states Mike.

He feels the best part of all the hard work, and of course the most fun, is when you start seeing all the painted and buffed pieces being assembled.  It’s amazing to step back at the end of the day to see the car coming together. Mike said, “The best part was when the nose was pinned on, laid down and you were able to see how it looks… like it’s going to jump on you and eat you!”

This wasn’t Mike’s first build, did all the modifications to the body and frame but this was his first paint job… all completed in a 2 car garage.   It took 4 years of nights and weekends, 96 cases of beer and 3 ulcers, to build his father’s dream. (You wonder if it would have taken less time or more if there had been less beer involved!)

When asked if he had it to do all over again what would he do, Mike said, “I should have started from scratch on everything… but live and learn.”

Marty’s really proud of all the hard work son Mike put into this project.  The Willy’s was recently picked as 1 of 12 top cars at The Wheels of Time Street Rod Jamboree.  Coolest thing about that; it didn’t even have the interior completed yet! Mike said he was even interviewed by Sam Memmolo (the guy from Shade Tree Mechanic and Two Guys Garage) at the show.

According to Mike, the car is a nostalgic gasser, with what he calls “modern detail.”

Mike and Marty are very happy that they have completed most of the dream; and getting the interior completed will likely lead to other projects to work on in the future.  As we know, there are always some additional improvements we all would like to make on our cars.

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I grew up and lived in Iowa for a good portion of my life before moving to Southern California. After 20+ years we now live outside Nashville Tennessee. I have been into cars since I was old enough to remember. I don't have a brand loyalty although I do prefer American Muscle especially the 1969/1970 NASCAR Aero Cars. (Check out our other web site at site) As long as it has four wheels and an engine I get excited. Few men are lucky enough to be able to share their passion for cars with the woman they love. Fortunately, my wife, Katriana, is also a gear head and many of our activities revolve around the cars. We have a small collection that includes at least one car from each of the Big Three. It includes a Best of Show winner, a survivor, a driver with lots of patina and several others. Katrina prefers all original cars while I like to modify them so we have a few of each. When we aren't playing with cars we are out working with or showing our miniature donkeys. You can see more about that part of our lives at

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