We simply cannot get enough of this one-of-a-kind, V-6 Hemi-powered 1936 Willys pickup that took home one of the biggest awards in the hot rod hobby. It’s easy to see why: Just look at it. The judges of the 2020 Grand National Roadster Show back in January thought so much of Ron and Vicki Ernsberger’s Ferrari red Willys Model 77 that they honored it with the coveted Al Slonaker Memorial Award. A few weeks later, the Willys was also on display at the Detroit Autorama, drawing eyeballs away from the Ridler Award contenders parked around it.
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Builder Brian Limberg and the fabricators at The Tin Man’s Garage in Sycamore, Illinois, built the wild Willys truck from very little raw material. It had started its life as a humble mail delivery truck then subsequent owners made unsuccessful attempts at remaking it into a street rod. Then The Thin Man’s Garage got a hold of the ’36 Willys, where it underwent an amazing 8-year transformation from undistinguished work truck to exalted trophy winner.
This special set of photos were taken in part by photographer Robert McGaffin at a photo shoot when the Willys was almost finished but still in bare metal. Limberg also sent us illustrator Jimmy Smith’s concept drawings, which were used to visualize and design the pickup. He also shared some cool behind-the-scenes photos of the Willys along the entire course of the build. The earliest photo shows the Willys, battered and rusty, when it first showed up at The Tin Man’s Garage. In the latest photo, the Willys is on display at the Grand National Roadster Show, barely visible behind Ron Ernsberger, Limberg, the rest of the TMG crew, and the sweet, sweet fruit of their nearly decade long labor—the gigantic billet trophy presented to winner of the 2020 Slonaker Award. What a ride!
The Willys in its finally-finished form shot by photographer Jimmy Cliff, soaking in Rosso Mugello deep red paint, with spindle-mount Halibrand mags wheels with skinny Firestone front tires and rear Hurst cheater slicks.
The Willys as a worn out civil service veteran, and still in its right hand-drive configuration from its life as a U.S. Post Office mail delivery truck. This raw material provided the inspiration, if not much else, for what would become a phenomenal show truck.
The Tin Man’s wrenches were just warming up when Jimmy Smith came up with his concept illlustrations for the project. The Gasser graphics and a few other details were altered as the project progressed, but for the most part, the envisioned Willys is very close to the real thing.
Building The 1936 Willys Pickup Slonaker Winner
Body & Paint
- 1936 Willys Pickup cab
- Scratchbuilt 16-gauge steel
- One-piece hood top
- Scratchbuilt rear fenders
- Factory front fenders, narrowed and reshaped to blend into the custom chin piece
- Custom grille
- Original headlight lenses with machined rings
- 1937 Ford taillights
- Factory door handles
- Oversized rear push bar
- PPG Rosso Mugello Ferrari Red paint
- Painted at The Refinery by Adam Krause in Manteno, Illinois
- Glass from Glass Guy, Chicago, IL
- Moon tank
- Chrome by Advanced Plating, Nashville, TN
1936 Willys Pickup Chassis
- Chromoly full round tube frame and cage
- Cage-integrated custom steering set-up with Steer Clear system
- AFCO double adjustable front coilovers
- Bilstein rear shocks
- Dana 70 full-floater rear end, 4.11:1 gears
- 41-inch rear ladder bars
- Custom front and rear antiroll bars
- Wilwood 11-inch rear brakes with dual Dyna Pro 4-piston calipers, dual Wilwood master cylinders and proportioning valve
- No front brakes
- Rock Valley fuel tank
Limberg told us that only a small percentage of the original sheetmetal was salvageable, and what was used was reworked to create a more modern, elegant design. The factory frame was scrapped entirely and a custom chromoly full round-tube chassis was built at Tin Man’s Garage.
1936 Willys Pickup Wheels & Tires
- Halibrand Magnesium wheels, 16×4 and 16×12
- Firestone front tires 5.60×16, Hurst slicks 12.00×16
1936 Willys Pickup Engine & Transmission
- Arias V-6 Hemi, 496ci, machined and assembled by Missile Engineered Racing Components
- Holley XFI fuel injection
- Hilborn mechanical injection intake manifold modified for EFI
- Custom headers for Tin Man’s Garage
- Meziere water pump
- C&R Racing radiator
- Spal electric fan
- Jones Racing radiator
- Tremec TKO 5-speed transmission
The truck’s aluminum 498ci Arias V-6 Hemi is one of five ever built by Nick Arias Jr. Machined and assembled by Missile Engineered Racing Components, it runs an original Hilborn mechanical injection intake updated for electronic fuel injection. Those six pistons pound out 800 horsepower.
1936 Willys Pickup Interior
- Original dash, modified
- Custom switches and CNC machined knobs
- Classic Instruments Hot Rod series gauges
- American Autowire wiring system
- Schroeder Interior Sprint steering wheel
- Custom bench seat by Schober’s Custom Hot Rod Interiors
- Diamond-stitch leather upholstery
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