What Drives You: Jeff Jones’ life with a gasser

Jeff has lived and breathed the heavily sought-after Willys gasser since he was old enough to discover auto-related magazines at grocery stores while his mother shopped, so it comes as no surprise that he bought his first love, a 1936 Willys Odyssey coupe, for $75 in 1965 while he was still in junior high school.

The car was what some would call a basket case: gutted with no engine or tranny, but otherwise stock. And so began Jeff’s lifelong project: He received a 331 Hemi from a classmate and bought a 1956 Oldsmobile for the Hydra-Matic transmission, a wiring harness, and myriad switches and other small parts. The car went through several phases, including running on a Holley 950CFM three-barrel carb, originally meant for use in NASCAR, which was modified to make it street-legal for driving throughout his college years. “It was a real hack-up job and it’s amazing it stayed together,” Jeff said, “the farm implement tires weren’t the safest feature of the car, either.”

Upon graduating from college in 1972, Jeff tore down his beloved Willys and in 1980, he began rebuilding it from the ground up. Modifications included: a bored engine to 354 cid, high-performance springs, hydraulic lifters, a transmission from a 1954 Willys and front disc brakes. In 1995 the car was rebuilt again, and by that time Jeff had the funds to build it properly for reliability and safety. This second rebuild was a true frame-up restoration, which fixed the cracking hood, solidified the overall structure and added even more fun extras such as a Hilborn four-hole fresh-air hood scoop with injector and an aluminum Corvair steering gear — both items being a staple of the 1960s gassers.

“How did you do that?” is the most common question from onlookers checking out Jeff’s 1936 Willys, and the reply they receive every time is: “One bolt at a time ‘til it’s done.” Working on cars is a way for Jeff to relax, and whether a car is done in two or 20 years doesn’t matter to him. The entire experience is all about the joy of bringing a car back to life, rescuing parts from the junkyard, solving problems in the construction process and — most importantly — the memories it creates. Jeff recalls his greatest memory: the years he spent with his grandson from ages 15 through 18 restoring a 1959 Chevrolet El Camino. “Those years are some of the best memories of my life,” Jeff says.

Jeff has had many projects over the years, including a 1936 Pontiac, the 1959 Chevrolet El Camino and a 1953 Chevrolet Pickup — all with great memories and much sentimental value. But the ’36 Willys coupe was his first and only real love; he has had it for 50 years and never plans on getting rid of it. No other car could ever replace the 1936 Willys Odyssey.

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