by Joseph Alig and Stephen "Spike" Kilmer
(Excerpt from East vs. West Showdown Published in 2012)
The “gasser wars” among drag racers took many forms such as East versus West and the often bitter West versus West. The huge rivalries in the media put fans in the bleachers. (Photo Courtesy Spike Kilmer)
Joe Troilo grew up a drag-racing fan influenced by his neighbor who raced a blown Pontiac-powered ’57 Corvette on a ’34 Ford chassis. Joe eventually purchased a ’41 Willys coupe and went racing himself for several years.
As costs and class rules forced the Willys-type cars out of drag racing he decided to make the car street worthy. Willys parts were scarce even in the early seventies, so you can imagine the look on his face when he answered an ad in the newspaper that read “Willys body and parts for sale.”
That is the day he came face to face with the Stone, Woods & Cook Swindler B in all its glory. Joe felt the $1,000 asking price for a piece of history was not too much to pay. The year was 1972. The car still had the glass front end and the Martinez interior. The chassis setup included the Olds rear, ladder bars, and racing wheels, but was missing the engine and transmission.
Troilo took the car home and immediately told his racing friends about his find, but no one seemed to care. Funny cars were in and gassers were out, so he decided to show off his catch by turning the car into a street rod. Eight months later, wearing light blue paint, the original Martinez interior, and several original Willys parts, the car became a driver. It made journey after journey to several national meets. Photographers were amazed at the sight of this car driving on the highway instead of being pulled on a trailer.
Joe’s family grew and the need for a back seat arose. So the Willys had to go. A careful selection process took place to put the Stone, Woods & Cook car in the hands of someone who would appreciate everything the coupe represented. Enter close friends Mike and Peggy Wales. Mike had made several comments about buying the car and he finally got his chance in 1978. He drove the Willys for several years up and down the East Coast.
Subsequently, the car was removed from the road in the early eighties and put in storage. Mike began a reconstruction of the car in the 1990s, which saw some of the original Stone, Woods & Cook parts sold to mutual friend, Howard Radke. Howard is a long-time gasser fan and a friend of K.S. Pittman. Howard bought the chassis and the Martinez interior. He had the frame bead-blasted and epoxy-primed, then authenticated. A change in jobs for Mike put the project on hold. Meanwhile, Joe had continually tried to buy back the car but Mike was set on keeping his prized possession.
At the East Coast Street Rod Nationals in 2001, Joe approached Mike about re-doing the car as it was in the sixties. Old gassers were as popular as ever and not to bring this car back would be criminal. An agreement among Joe, Mike, and Howard was confirmed. All the original parts owned by each party would be used to rebuild the car as it was in 1962 at the Hot Rod Nationals. Joe signed up to do the labor. In January 2002, all of the parts had made their way to his garage and the restoration was completed.
There were a few drag-racing versions of the Stone, Woods & Cook gasser. The Swindler II Willys B/Gas coupe was constructed with a lightened fiberglass front end, which was allowed for 1964 in NHRA rules. Along with the exposure of being made into a Revell model kit, the Stone, Woods & Cook Willys reached unbelievable stardom. Throw into the mix grudge matches against prolific drag racers across the United States and you have the most
recognizable dragster in history.
Battles waged on the drag strip and in racing publications lured huge crowds supporting their favorite racers such as “Ohio George” Montgomery, K.S. Pittman, the Hill brothers, “Big John” Mazmanian, Jr. Thompson, and a host of other big names.
As the gasser’s popularity came to a close, Swindler B was traded to fiberglass manufacturer Cal Automotive. It changed hands again and ended up in North Carolina in 1968. Ron Ladley bought the Willys in 1969 and then it finally made its way back to Joe Troilo in 1972.
This was one case where being a street rod helped save the life of one of the most important drag cars in all of history. We have to admit: Chalk one up for the West.
Excerpt from East vs. West Showdown