Bill Brothen was living in Minnesota, working as a mechanical engineer, when a friend of his called to say: “I got you a Willys, Willy,” a 1947 Willys half-ton pickup that looked like it had gone through the war and back. When Brothen saw it he said, “Take it to the salvage yard; maybe you can make back your money,” all $270
Seems that his friend Igor (nickname) had found the pickup at a farm, and the farmer told him he had used it as a ladder for getting up to the
second story of his barn. That it was a total mess is an understatement. But Brothen thought for a moment: He liked unusual things, and this would make an unusual street rod. “It certainly wouldn’t be a belly button truck (everyone has one),” he said to himself.
That began a saga of changing a battered, ugly old Willys into a sleek black street rod that Brothen, 66, now of Lake of the Pines, drives daily.
With Igor’s help, he completely upgraded the chassis, installing a Mustang II front end, power steering and brakes, and a Chevy Nova read end.
It took some time to pound out the crushed roof into something rounded. Rust had practically eaten away the cab.
“Everything was replaced or rebuilt,” says Brothen.
The Willys has a Chevy 327 engine with a 350 turbo transmission. Seats came out of a Pontiac Sunfire. The chrome work was minimal, pretty much only the front bumper. “Between the two of us, we made it into a nice vehicle.”
The final flourish was painting it in blue with a silver outline, Willy’s Willys, on the side.
Brothen has another Willys Overland (the name of the company before Chrysler bought them out) and that one is a prewar 1936 model. It’s still in pieces. He claims he has to sell his completed 1947 Willys in order to have enough money to do this job, because his wife, Pat, “won’t let me spend more money to further my sickness.”
He’s kidding, of course (he kids a lot). Pat really supports his passion for cars “because it keeps me,” says Brothen, “in the shop (and out of her hair). We’ve been married a long time.”
A Roamin Angel for four years, Brothen’s nadir of accomplishment in the car club is to put on, along with his best friend, Jack, a March event simply called Bill and Jack, a day of primarily male bonding.
The guys roam from garage to garage to check out tools, cars and the level of organization (tidy or messy) of their compatriots (can you believe that?) Their wives tour one another’s house, bonding in their own right. Brothen is asked if wives can come into the garages. “Sure, but my wife hasn’t learned how to weld yet,” he quips.
No matter, they all get together finally to eat buckets of chili ” a day well spent.
When the retired Brothen isn’t working on his older cars, he’s working on his 1957 356 Porsche Speedster, a kit car with a 2,000 cc motor in it that, he says modestly, does “well over 100, but never, never on Highway 49.”
Or, during the summer months, he could be attending Auburn cruise night, the third Friday of the month. His Willys won the award for Best Modified in September 2002. It also had the honor of spending three months in the Towe Auto Museum in Sacramento when the theme was street rods.
Now, Brothen admits, he hauls junk around in the Willys, classy junk though, as he lives in a gated community.
For more about the Roamin Angels, log on to http://www.roaminangelsinc.com
Pam Jung writes about classic cars for The Union. She welcomes suggestions of people and cars to write about and can be reached at
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