This '33 Willys-the Red Baron-was piloted by Pete Hill during the height of the Gasser wars in the late-'60s. In its prime, it raced against "Big John" Mazmanian, Stone, Woods and Cook, Shores and Hess, Jack Coonrod, and the top Gasser teams of its day. Today, Ken Kull of Pipersville, Pennsylvania, is taking the reincarnated Red Baron on its last passes, racing in the Nostalgia Gasser series. Soon, it will be permanently parked, but in the meantime it's rekindling memories of a bygone era of drag racing.
"It was Jack Coonrod who told me about the car," Ken says. "I had always loved the Gassers, and my dad, George, and I were looking for a car with a history. We went up to Wisconsin to see it. It had been stored indoors, but it was no time capsule. It was pretty scuzzy, but it was a great candidate for a restoration because a lot of the one-off pieces were there. It had the Don Long cast aluminum hubs and axle and the original ladder/coil suspension. It was an unbelievable survivor."
To make sure he got the restoration as true as possible, Ken went straight to the source. He contacted Chuck Finders, who, in 1967, built the chassis in less than two weeks for Pete and Bill Hill to go racing. Chuck was more than happy to lend his advice.
When the Hill brothers originally got the car, they had been running one of John Mazmanian's old '40 Willys coupes. In fact, the Red Baron still has one of Mazmanian's old steering wheels on it. Mr. Gasket's Joe Hrudka gave them the car that would become the Red Baron in exchange for running the Mr. Gasket logo on it. Chuck and the Hills quickly went to work. They already had a blown, injected 426 Hemi semi-prepared. So, with the midnight oil burning, Chuck chopped the top, fashioned the chassis, and, in just 11 days, got her ready to run in the King of Kings A/GS meet.
"Chuck is a legend as a chassis builder, but a lot of people don't recognize him as such," Ken says. "It seems like he's had his hands in every famous Gasser and [later on] some Funny Cars. When I got to talk with him, he had gotten out of cars and was driving a truck cross-country. But now he's building Willys' again. He came to my house and built the chassis for the '33 Willys pickup I am currently building, the Red Baron II."
Ken says the Red Baron II is ready to take its predecessor's place and eclipse what it has done. "I set out to build the fastest true nostalgia Gasser in the world," he says. "I haven't seen anything period-correct that will run in the 8s, but this will." Ken has recently added JE Pistons as a sponsor for the pickup, and you can see it June 6-8 at Thompson (Ohio) Drag Raceway and at Chryslers at Carlisle in July.
That '67 King of Kings meet began a short but successful Gasser career for the Hill brothers and their Red Baron. They sold the car in 1969 (the original ad is pictured here) in order to follow the Funny Car route, and it was retired to the garage shortly after, but not before it had set the Orange County Invitational record of 163.63 mph on gas in 1968 and earned the title of "World's Fastest Willys."