January 29, 2023


Still car-crazy after all these years

Old skull Willys Gasser

Old skull Willys Gasser

Old-Skool Willys Gasser | 1967 Detroit Autorama

This Willys coupe appeared at the 1967 Detroit Autorama, looking like a throwback to more colorful drag racing era.
Old School Willys Gasser
This Willys coupe appeared at the 1967 Detroit Autorama, looking like a throwback to an earlier time. Tom Bonner photo (Instamatic 126)

I’ll wind up the 1967 Detroit Autorama series with a throwback.

Even in 1967, this little Willys gasser seemed to have come from another era. It would have looked right at home at the 1959 Nationals held at Detroit Dragway.

While Willys gassers were still popular in ’67, this one appears to be all steel. Instead of the typical flip-forward front-clip, the car has the stock opening hood. This Willys is so stock that there is still a factory rear-view mirror inside the windshield.

Yet the front wheels look like they are actual magnesium, and there is definitely an injected V-8 under the hood. Note how the headers exit underneath the front fenders.

Judging from the collection of trophies, the car enjoyed a successful career as a gasser. There is a plaque that reads “Thank You Sad Sacks, for Your Help.” I assume the Sad Sacks must have been a local car club, although I can’t say for sure.

The big number 499 on the door is a true throwback to an earlier era. Big numbers are still required on circle track cars, like NASCAR ands ARCA, as the officials use the numbers to determine how many laps each car has run and in what order they were running in the case of a caution. Today, electronic sensors do much of the tally work, but back in ’67, the scoring was done strictly by eye.

Originally drag racers had similar numbers, but eventually everyone figured out there was no need for huge numbers like the circle track cars used. All that was needed was a small competition number that the tower could use to identify the cars on the starting line. The track crew used the same number to hand out ET-Slips on the return road. In 1967, the cars either had small numbers painted on the roof pillar, or used shoe polish to place a temporary number on the windshield.

No so this Willys gasser. It proudly carried its number on the door in foot-high letters. A throwback, alright, but a great looking throwback at that.

Tom Bonner