There isn’t much in this world that’s cooler than a good gasser — that ‘nosebleed’ stance, with a leaf-sprung front end and classic ‘big and littles’ combo is enough to extract an anxious reaction from even the most cynical of drag racers. A gasser, done right, means business, and you’d better know it.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a car person or not, a gasser gets your attention. And that was most definitely the case at Repco Beach Hop 16 — wherever Chris Berkhan’s wild ’40 Willys coupe went, necks snapped, eyes popped, and phone cameras came out of hiding.
The thing about Chris’s Willys is that it is a real-deal race car — a legit drag weapon from years gone by. It has spent 23 years under his ownership, and, prior to that, Chris says that it was owned by the legendary Garth Hogan — aged just 14 at the time — and then raced by Rob Campbell, of New Zealand Hot Rod Magazine fame.
The bodywork certainly tells us as much; this is a car that has been around the block, and then some. However, it is all steel — no fibreglass here — and looks extraordinarily menacing finished in high-build primer grey. Since Chris has owned it, the build has been ongoing, and the reason it looks so legit is because it is. The Willys has been built — or should that be rebuilt? — the way drag racers would have built a gasser back in the day — scrounging for second-hand go-fast bits at swap meets, in the classifieds, or wherever else a bargain was to be found.
Those bucket seats are genuine Shelby Cobra seats, Chris tells us, which he purchased because the Shelby’s owner considered them too uncomfortable and had them swapped out for aftermarket buckets — his loss! Likewise, the Moon half-sweep tacho, flaked steering wheel, and Rat Fink shift knob are all vintage goodness, and don’t even ask about the godawful carpet! That’s there for a reason as well …
The proper gasser stance is brought about by an obligatory leaf-sprung straight front axle, with a Ford nine-inch diff beneath the aft end. The transmission is a four-speed Super T-10, because every gasser deserves a proper gearbox, but the real party is beneath that steel bonnet.
Yeah, it’s got a …
Hemi! The 354ci elephant is a vintage rear-distributor example, topped with a vintage Hot Heads single plane intake manifold and a pair of 600cfm Holley four-barrels with vacuum secondaries.
Power plants don’t get much cooler than that, though it certainly helps that the car–engine combo goes so well together. Yeah, it’s rough as guts and ugly as hell, but that doesn’t matter in the least — you’ll struggle to find a car with half as much character anywhere.
One of our favourite cars at Repco Beach Hop 16, without question!