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"Gangrene" '36 Willys Sedan by The Tin Man's Garage

10/24/2022
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It's not a hot rod, gasser, or street rod. It's a little bit of them all, blended seamlessly by a ton of creativity and flawless craftsmanship.

To understand this incredible, genre-bending Willys, it’s important to understand a few things about its creator. Brian Limberg is an outrageously talented and clever craftsman. A glance at his Instagram (tin_mans_garage) will show a behind the scenes look at the work happening in his Sycamore, IL shop, The Tin Man’s Garage. These guys can shape anything out of metal, and Brian leads the way with an uncompromising attention to detail and commitment to craftsmanship. Even a short conversation with Brian will leave you with the impression that this guy is very serious about what he does.

Here's Brian and the Willys in his shop, next to the power hammer and planishing hammers that make the magic.

If you recognize Brian’s name, it may be because of his big win at the GNRS a couple years ago. Brian and crew went home with the 2020 Slonaker award for an outrageous ’36 Willys for owner Ron Ernsberger. Wait, isn’t that what we’re looking at here? In fact, Ron commissioned Brian and Co. to build a couple Willys projects, and this sedan is the second one. Ron is a bit of a Willys nut, already having several of varying years in his collection.

The sedan is also very different than the righteous, red pickup that took home the gold in Pomona. While that one featured an injected, 498-inch Arias Hemi V6 (yes, you read that right) and was detailed to the 9’s, the sedan was meant to be a bit more sedate. This one is meant to be a driver that blurs the lines between old-school hot rod, gasser, and modern elegant street rod.

Profile shots can make or break a car. This one is just right. The perfect rake is made even better by the mag Halibrands and slicks.
We dare you to find us a car that doesn't look good on these wheels.

Starting with the chassis, the Tin Man’s Garage crew wanted to have a big rake with big and little rubber. The stock frame was fixtured up and “back halved” about a framerail width to clear the 10” slicks. The 9” housing is located by a Speedway Motors 42” Rear Ladder Bar kit. Afco shocks hold up the rear and a Currie drum brake kit puts a stop to it. In keeping with the Willys gasser tradition, the front features a parallel leaf-spring straight axle. But instead of a sky-high gasser stance, this Willys is in the weeds thanks to a custom 8” dropped tube axle. To make it all drive and handle the way it’s supposed to, strut bars were added to the top back side of the axle to add stability at speed. A Speedway Motors Vega box connects to an Ididit column and Wilwood discs are actuated by a Speedway Motors 90-degree Under Dash Pedal Assembly. It rolls on vintage magnesium Halibrands, which are indisputably always the right choice on a Willys. They’re also a must for Ron’s cars, and the wheels were one of the first things that he delivered to the shop for the project.

Though small in displacement, baby Hemis are actually pretty hard to fit into an early car. This one fits perfectly thanks to some clever packaging.

Anyone familiar with the name Mazmanian knows that there’s something magical about a Hemi in a Willys. This one is a 241 Red Ram backed by a 727 Torque-Flite and topped with an Offy 3-deuce intake and Demon carbs. The cool finned valve covers and air cleaners were vapor blasted, which means they retain the look of fresh cast aluminum without all the fingerprints and water spots. It all fits in front of the stock firewall thanks to a remote water pump and custom radiator.

The grille insert was custom made from stainless. Like the original, but better.

There’s no shortage of Tin Man’s Garage-trademark metal shaping on this project. The floors and wheel tubs were built from scratch, and the stock spare tire cover was molded to the body and modified so the center cap is actually the fuel fill. Clever. According to Brian, the proportions of the top were “terrible” from the factory. “The roof was really flat in the center and bulbous in the rear,” so they fabricated an entirely new roof skin that has a much lower profile, almost as if the whole roof was “pancaked.” The roof mods brought the roof profile down considerably, so all that was necessary to get that right-on hot rod chop was a 1” cut to the front A-pillars. Once all the metalwork was sorted out, a custom green was cooked up to look right on a 30's car with some 60's vibes built in the 2020's. The bodywork was completed and that "just right" green color sprayed by J. Miller Restorations in Forreston, IL.

How do you make a 4-door cool? Make it as trick as this one.

One of the car’s neatest tricks is hidden until the doors are opened. Did you catch it from the pictures? There’s no B-pillar. It’s built into the rear door, allowing undisturbed access to the cabin and adding a touch of that classic elegance to the hot rod Willys. It’s all actuated by modified original mechanisms and includes a safety button that only allows the back doors to open when the fronts are already open.

The custom seats were wrapped in off-white leather and fitted over German square weave carpet.

Brian grew up around hot rods. His dad, Mike, spent his career working for various shops and hot rod parts manufacturers, so Brian was immersed in car culture at an early age. Like most of us, that meant models and car magazines. Through Mike and the magazines, Brian watched lots of hot rod trends come and go. That means when he builds a car, he has a deep well of context to draw from. There’s nothing accidental on any of Brian’s cars. Take the interior in this Willys for example. Like the rest of the car, it’s an elegant blend of hot rod right and street rod nice done by Customs by Vos in Griffin, IN. But look up…that long, one-piece headliner is covered in flowers. At a glance, that might seem crazy, but Brian wanted something different as a nod to concours restorations of full classics like Duesenbergs and Packards. Often these bespoke cars had little easter eggs of individuality sewn into their otherwise stately character. Brian wanted to inject a bit of that personality into the Willys, and so we have a Hemi-powered Willys sedan with flowers on the roof. Perfect.

Classic Instruments gauges were custom built for this car and provide the perfect deco-era look for this classy hot rod. The waterfall in the center was custom made to tie it all together.
Cool.

Some cars are a one-liner. It’s clear at a glance that it’s a hot rod, gasser, muscle car, and so on. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But there are a few that seamlessly blend a few seemingly disparate influences and periods of hot rod history into one package. This Willys is one of those cars, and the longer you look, them more clever details you notice. It will be in the Speedway Motors booth at the 2022 SEMA show, and your author can’t wait to spend a week looking it over and getting lost in the finer points of this slick sedan!

Visible in this shot is the clever fuel filler and Speedway motors mini '50 Pontiac taillights.

Photography by John Jackson

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