Thrilling Ride! Ron Ernsberger’s ’36 Willys 77
Ron Ernsberger has been into old Gassers and hot rods since he was a kid. Naturally, a few styles of cars come to mind when you combine those two interests – ’55 Chevys and early-’40s Willys coupes in particular. More elusive – and more desirable to some – are the earlier Willys like this ’36 Model 77 pickup.
Ron was fortunate to come up with the pickup and enlisted Brian Limberg and his expert metalworking team at Tin Man’s Garage near Chicago for the build. “He brought us the engine, vintage magnesium wheels, and what was left of a Willys 77 truck and said he wanted something special,” Brian says.
The truck’s sheet metal remains were pretty rough. “Very little was salvageable – the cowl, doors, parts of front fenders, and hood,” Brian says. “Most of it was scrapped and we started with a clean slate.” The result was an eight-year, 12,000-hour build where most of the truck was scratch built, allowing the team to sweat every detail and craft every inch to a show-quality level – enough to win the Al Slonaker Award at the 2020 Grand National Roadster Show.
The foundation was a scratch-built chrome moly tube chassis with a custom front axle riding on parallel leaf springs and a ladder bar rear suspension with AFCO coil-overs suspending the Dana 70 rearend. The 16×4-inch spindle-mount magnesium Halibrand front wheels are matched by 16×12-inch eight-lug versions in the rear, with skinny Firestones up front and Hurst cheater slicks in back.
The engine Ron acquired for the project was equally distinctive – a 498c.i. Hemi-head Arias V6, one of only five known to exist. Missile Engineered Racing Components assembled the engine using a Hilborn injection system converted to EFI and custom stainless zoomie headers. A triple-disc Quarter Master clutch connects it to a Tremec TKO five-speed.
The body panels are all either heavily reworked or built completely from scratch, including the redesigned cab and scratch-made bed. It’s difficult to describe the craftsmanship in words – you really need to see it to appreciate it. Adam Krause at The Refinery handled the final bodywork and sprayed the PPG Ferrari Rosso Mugello paint.
The cabin is elegant in is race-inspired simplicity, with a copper-painted roll cage matching the chassis, Classic Instruments in a reworked dash, custom shifter, and diamond-stitched leather by Schober’s Custom Hot Rod Interiors over the bench seat and side panels.
“The truck is built like a race car with show-car standards for fabrication, fit, and finish,” Brian says. “Solid-mounted engine, no front brakes, narrow wheelbase, triple-disc clutch. It’s like having two on-and-off switches – clutch is on/off, throttle is on/off. It wants to GO!”
Sounds like a thrilling ride!
Photos by John Jackson