Goodguys 2023 Chevrolet Performance GM Retro Iron Builder of the Year – Rutterz Rods!
Congratulations to Mike Rutter for winning the Goodguys 2023 Chevrolet Performance GM Retro Iron Builder of the Year title with an LS3-powered 1941 Willys built by Rutterz Rodz! We’ll see you and the vehicle in Scottsdale, Arizona November 17-19, 2023 at the 26th Speedway Motors Southwest Nationals!
When a hot rod builder and a car owner have developed a long-term working relationship, each subsequent build tends to go a little more smoothly. The builder and his team have learned what the customer likes, so they can often move forward more quickly without asking questions and waiting on decisions. And the car owner has learned what to expect in terms of time, progress, and cost.
Doyle and Karen Thomas have developed that type of relationship with Mike Rutter and his crew at Rutterz Rodz in Bristol, Tennessee. They’ve built a steady stream of cool award-winning rides together through the years, so they know what to expect from each other and how to deliver great-looking and great-running hot rods. This ’41 Willys is the latest example.
The project began with an original steel Willys coupe that a previous owner had started to build into a smooth pro street-style street rod. It had typical ’90s touches like hidden hinges, suicide doors, and shaved trim. That’s not really the look Doyle and Karen were after, so Mike had to go hunting for hard-to-find items like original hinges, moldings, and other trim to bring the body back to a more vintage appearance. They did incorporate some more refined mods like a side-hinged hood, custom running boards and rear pan, and a custom grille insert from Jim Rench. The sheet metal was eventually bathed in Axalta Desert Beige paint.
Underneath, the Rutterz team used a Street Rod Garage chassis with a coil-over independent front suspension and a four-bar rear suspending the 9-inch rearend. Wilwood disc brakes found their way on all four corners behind custom gold-coated 18×8- and 20×10-inch ETIII wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich tires.
Even though the look is more street rod than race car, Doyle and Karen still wanted big power. They got it with a Mast Motorsports LS3 fed by Holley dual quad-style fuel injection and producing 500hp. It’s dressed up with a custom Cadillac-style bat-wing air cleaner, finned valve covers, and a Vintage Air Front Runner system, and is backed by a 4L80E transmission.
Inside, Paul Atkins worked his magic using distressed brown leather upholstery on ’64 Thunderbird bucket seat, with matching custom luggage built to fit the trunk. The modified dash was fitted with Classic Instruments gauges in an engine-turned panel. A Billet Specialties wheel tops the Flaming River column and Vintage Air keeps everything cool.
The ’41 Willys turned out just the way Doyle, Karen, and Mike wanted. It’s refined and understated, with just the right amount of hot rod attitude. It’s exactly the sort of hot rod you’d expect from a well-established builder/owner partnership.
Photos by John Jackson