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Vintage Big-Block Gasser: 1936 Willys Pickup

Last week we covered this 1956 Chevrolet Gasser that is a nicely prepared car but appears to have been built more for street use than actual drag racing. Today, we have a 1936 Willys Model 77 pickup, that is referenced as a ’60s-’70s survivor from actual drag strip “Gasser Wars”. Known as the “Fertile Turtle” (I’m not touching that one!), it is located in Solana Beach, California and is available, here on eBay for a current bid of $15,350, reserve not yet met.

As previously referenced, besides tri-five Chevies, Willys had a pretty commanding presence in the gasser class at drag strips all over America. This example was supposedly built by Chuck Finders who was a very famous builder responsible for some of the biggest names in the Gasser competition. The seller is clear that he does not know this car’s origins with certainty and he asks for assistance from anyone that may know something about its history. The seller further adds, “I AM NOT claiming that it is so please do your own research and make your own decision. I have no way of verifying it since unfortunately Mr. Finders passed away in 2009“. Sitting in indoor storage, in southern California for 35 years, this Willys is now looking for a new home.

The seller opens his listing with, “This is a real deal steel-bodied and chopped Willys Gasser.” That said, he later advises that the rear fenders and front, tilt-up clip, are fiberglass. It supposedly looks today as it did in the ’60s. The long indoor snooze has offered protection from the hands of time as this Willys still shows very well. The cargo bed appears to be constructed of non-coated steel and it’s not revealing any surface rust. It’s a similar situation underneath, there is a bit of surface corrosion in places but nothing remarkable or beyond what happens when something sits for a long time in a non-hermetically sealed environment. Speaking of the underside, the listing goes into a bit of detail describing this Willys’ racing modifications. The fiberglass and bronze finish (and notable lettering) check out pretty well, there are small signs of dings and scratches but nothing that is attention-getting.

Power today, is provided by a 396 CI V8 engine that is not original to this Willys’ drag strip era. The seller states that the original motor was a small-block and the “rat” motor was installed during this car’s period of 1980’s isolation. He adds that this car has never been raced in this configuration. The engine does start and runs but the brakes are non-operable – he will effect a repair. Interesting to spy is the old, original style, canister oil filter, Chevrolet stopped using those for the ’68 model year. The transmission today is a Turbo-Hydramatic 400 automatic – it replaces the original Powerglide which one has to imagine was modified into a racing version. As with the earlier referenced ’56 Chevy gasser, it would seem that this Willys was converted to street use with what looks more like a modified production engine than it does a strictly strip-use powerplant. Of note, the differential is from a ’57 Oldsmobile; I recall reading that was the axle of choice for heavy-duty applications back in the day.

The interior, with all of the sheet aluminum, does project a dragster vibe – it looks somewhat like the cab of a ’50s bread delivery step van. Again, unlike the ’56 Chevy, there is a roll cage of sorts in place though it is not showing a side diagonal support. Perhaps that feature wasn’t required years ago? I was going to originally state that there appeared to be no tachometer, a rather critical item for drag strip use, but there is one perched upon the header of the cage. As for street use, if that’s the now intended purpose of this dragster, the interior environment seems to be one where you would want to limit your time of occupancy.

I’m finding an awful lot of, “Yeah, it’s nice but what do I do with it?” examples and that’s OK, it certainly adds to the old car variety but it is a pertinent question nevertheless. And I wouldn’t know what to do with this Willys. I suppose it could be reconfigured for vintage racing or just keep it as it is for the local car show. Any suggestions?


  1. Frank

    If there was good documentation, It might be worth the price, but otherwise, It dosen’t justify the ask.
    Needs work to be a cruiser, also would need an overdrive trans as it probably has a 4 or 5 series gear in the axle.

    • stu

      This is just a hobby truck, way too much money…

  2. EPO3

    Should have kept the power glide

    Like 1
  3. Howard A Member

    Yeah, what would you do with it? With tracks closing left and right ( I read Atlanta dragstrip is for sale and others to follow) it’s relatively useless. It’s altered so much from original, and won’t meet todays safety requirements, it’s kind of stuck in limbo. Funny, these were so popular in drag racing and 2 wheel pullers, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a stock one. Cool find if nostalgia alone is worth 5 figures, by all means go for it.

  4. James

    For the folks that think its to much money. Guessing you’ve never bought or owned a Willys…. This isn’t a personal attack just stating a fact. Old race car an trucks are hot right now even more so if its a Willys. I wouldn’t take under $75k for mine

  5. JP

    Keep it and go nostalgic racing. You don’t need a roll bar till 11.49 or quicker. If you put a roll bar in it you can go 11.00. Roll cage isn’t needed till 10.99 or 135mph or faster.

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