Willys in Wait – Lon and Mary Clouse’s ’41 Willys Took its Time to Find the Right Combination
If you hang on to a project car long enough, you’d like to think that the right build plan for that car will reveal itself to you. Sometimes it takes finding the right builder to help develop that plan and make it a reality.
Lon and Mary Clouse know what we’re talking about. They bought this ’41 Willys way back in the ’80s with dreams of building a cool street rod. Those dreams started to materialize in the early-’90s when they worked with a builder to get the project started. The car was heading down a pro street path with a tubbed rearend, full roll cage, suicide-style doors, and other tricks of the era when Lon and Mary decided that it was not the right look or fit for them. They pulled the car from the shop, set it aside, and decided to wait to complete the build.
Throughout this time, Lon was regularly attending car shows and rod runs, often with his friend Ed Pettus and Ed’s son, Eddie. Young Eddie caught a severe case of the hot rod bug and got involved in car building, eventually opening his own shop, Eddie’s Rod & Custom, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. After seeing some of the successful builds Eddie and his team have turned out, Lon and Mary decided he might be the right build partner for their Willys project.
The longtime friends put their collective heads together to determine what direction to take the Willys. Big power was one goal – Lon had already built a B&M-blown small block Chevy that was waiting in his garage – but the Clouses really wanted more of a road-ready street rod instead of a temperamental pro streeter or Gasser. The right build plan slowly started to reveal itself.
Eddie and his team at the shop made a smart call by ordering up a custom frame from Art Morrison to get the project started. This provided a great-handling independent front suspension with JRi coil-over shocks and rack-and-pinion steering, plus a four-link rear suspension for the 9-inch rearend with 3.55:1 gears. The 20×10-inch Rocket Racing wheels – paired with 18×8-inch fronts and Pirelli rubber – are plenty fat, but still very streetable. Wilwood disc brakes were added to bring things to a safe halt.
Lon had been diligent about keeping blown small block properly stored, lubricated, and rotated, so it didn’t take much to get it prepped for installation. The biggest change was topping the supercharger with a Holley Sniper throttle body EFI setup – something that improved the drivability and street manners considerably. They also used Cerakote tungsten finishes on major parts for a distinctive look, and then backed the engine with a 4L80E transmission. A custom radiator with Spal fans keeps things cool, while the crew at Eddie’s Rod & Custom built a custom stainless exhaust system with Magnaflow mufflers.
The coupe body required a good share of attention, but thankfully Lon had been collecting some of the necessary parts and Eddie’s team is well versed in fabricating pieces that were unavailable or necessary to add a custom touch. The Eddie’s Rod & Custom crew rebuilt the door jambs and inner structure to return the doors to conventional front-hinge operation and used flared sedan rockers to finish off the lower body. They also built a custom firewall and floor panels, plus wheel tubs and a tail pan. Once all the metalwork was complete, they mixed up a custom era-appropriate green hue using BASF materials to cover it all up. It’s complemented with polished and plated NOS trim.
The custom metalwork carried over inside, where the custom dash gained an extended lower panel for the switches and a recessed area for the Classic Instruments gauges. A Billet Specialties wheel was used on the Ididit column, and a B&M shifter added a bit of race attitude. Schober’s Custom Hot Rod Interiors got the nod for upholstery work and did a fantastic job stitching the black leather upholstery over bucket seats and custom door panels and fitting tasteful square-weave carpet on the floor. Satin paint on the interior surfaces lends a classy finishing touch.
The finished coupe represents a great balance of all the qualities Lon and Mary wanted. It’s got big power yet is refined enough to drive on the street or highway. It has fat rear tires and a low stance, but a chassis that’s great at handling corners. It has a comfortable cabin. And it retains the classic Willys character that so many race-influenced builds seem to lose. This winning combination of elements and precision build quality not only earned the Willys the Goodguys Feature Pick in Raleigh, but also the GM Retro Iron award, making Eddie’s Rod & Custom a finalist for Chevrolet Performance Builder of the Year. For Lon and Mary Clouse, waiting for the right plan and the right builder was the right decision, and rewarded them with a cool and distinctive Willys coupe perfectly suited to their tastes.
Photos by Damon Lee