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The recent California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield not only brought together a mouth-watering mix of nostalgic dragsters but an equally high standard of street rods. DRCReview was privileged to have met Paul and Judy Bath at the event, who had made a 2000 mile pilgrimage from Minneapolis with their immaculate gasser-style ’41 Willys coupe.
The car has been in the Bath family for the past 20 years, but due to life and changing commitments, sat in the garage as a collection of components until the past four to five years.
It was purchased as a driveable street rod, but apart from the highly desirable steel body, was nothing like Paul wanted, and so, over the years, it has slowly evolved to Paul’s master plan of recreating the archetypal street-driven gasser.
“I met John Mazmanian and the Stoke Woods Cook team in the 1960s and promised myself that one day I’d have a car like that. It’s taken me a lifetime to get there,” chuckled Paul, “but it was well worth the wait.”
Once stripped down to bare components, it was discovered that the all-steel body was in outstanding shape – the front wings in particular had an appearance of being factory fresh. There was little rust – just along on the bottom of the doors - but that was easy to repair. With the exception of the body, everything else has been custom made or hand-crafted and that includes the frame, suspension, axles – virtually everything.
The car came with a running Ford 390 when Paul bought it, but added, “this car needed a 57 Chrysler Hemi - so that’s what it’s got!” Continuing the competition theme, the 392 Hemi has been rebuilt by Alan Cheater from Minneapolis –a former C Gas National Champion winner from 1964. It’s been fully balanced and sports 10.5 compression pistons, an Isky cam, Hot Heads intake and a four-barrel carb to keep it streetable.
The rest of this perfect ride includes a matching 4-speed manual Hemi transmission hooked up to a Ford 9 inch rear with 3.73 gears. The rear axle has been narrowed and is equipped with ET mags and M&H tyres. The front is classic gasser style with raised leaf springs, a straight axle with skinny ET mags and matching tyres, augmented by header collectors protruding under the wheel arches in classic race style, but feeding gases through a hidden streetable exhaust system.
The race ready appearance continues on the inside too with aluminium door panelling, fibreglass racing bucket seats, Lexan windows and a 10-point roll cage. Setting the whole lot off in the California sunshine is flawless candy red paintwork and incredible attention to detail.
As for performance, Paul recently had the opportunity to take the car down the strip at Bowling Green, Kentucky where the Willys proved to be a major trophy winner – “it was one hell of a ride!”
Paul and Judy Bath
Story & photos: Andy Kirk