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Resurrection Complete: Historic Willys Gasser Saved from the Crusher

by Dave on November 23, 2011

Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, must surely have been shaking his head when Jim Tipper, looking over the post-rollover remains of his Willys gasser, decided to resurrect the car. A lesser man would’ve hauled her off to the crusher. Little did Jim know it would be 25 years before the legendary car once again hit the asphalt.

The Brasher & Cummings Willys was a well-known veteran of California`s Gasser Wars. Nicknamed “BC” (and adorned with a cartoon of the comic strip caveman), the car spent nearly thirty years on the drag strip.

Like all veteran gassers, the Willys underwent constant modification in order to remain competitive. Visually the car sported a number of different front ends, ran a variety of engines, changed colors numerous times and, in 1967, was treated to a Tony Del Rio top chop. Legend has it that Pat Stewart loaned BC a 392 Hemi and a couple of passes were made — on nitro. The car’s home was the Fremont Drag Strip where it held several A and B/Gas track records; at one time it was an NHRA National Record Holder.

Built and campaigned in the early 60’s by Bill Brasher and Cotton Cummings, BC was stock bodied, painted yellow, and ran a small block 301 Chevy with six two’s. By 1967 Gassers had become wildly popular and BC was in the thick of it. Brasher and Cummings installed a blown, big block Chevy and had Tom Chamblis modify the chassis and cage.  Rule changes in ‘67 allowed top chops and Del Rio did the honors.  He also resprayed the car a number of times, eventually in what would become its signature color: Purple Pearl.

The constant modifications kept BC extremely competitive in A/GS and at some point, Terry Rose joined the team. With him came a blown and injected 392 Chrysler Hemi. Rose’s name was added to the door and, according to Cummings, BC ran its best time ever: 8.36 ET at 168 MPH. Fast, handsome, and a crowd favorite, BC garnered a number of sponsors including Vic Hubbard, who put the Willys on the cover of his 1970 catalog.

Racing fans can be fickle, and by the early 1970’s the new Funny Cars had run the beloved Gassers off the track. BC was retired, sold, and passed through the hands of a number of owners. The car was bracket raced for a brief period and eventually ended up at Ken Carter’s Corvette Store in Livermore. Carter modified it for the street, then traded it to his brother Stan. The car finally came to rest in Carter’s back yard, where it sat for years.

In 1981 Don Dunham, also from Livermore, swapped a ’40 pickup to the third Carter brother, Dave, for a pile of Hemi parts. Included in the stash were the Rich Guasco “Pure Hell” valve covers. During the transaction, Dave mentioned an old Willys gasser stored in his brother’s yard. Dunham met Dave’s brother in a bar and purchased BC for $2500. He restored BC as a hybrid street rod/gasser, repainted the car red, bolted on the “Pure Hell” valve covers and renamed her “Flirtin’ With Disaster.” Ironically, the name would be a harbinger of things to come.

Dunham made a few passes, attended some car shows, and in 1984 put the car up for sale. Enter Jim Tipper. Nostalgia drag racing was coming into its own and Jim’s intent was to restore the gasser and bring it back to Fremont where so many of its memories had been made. Jim returned BC to fighting form and the car became a regular at NorCal NDRA events.

On occasion, Test Days were held at Baylands and on a sunny, dry Saturday in 1987 Jim was making a pass when, at half track, the rear wheels locked up.  BC lurched violently to the right, then flipped through the air several times and rolled.  The car was totaled.

Jim towed the remains back to his shop in San Leandro and let BC sit for a year.  He wasn’t about to give up on the car, but he was running a business, managing a small ranch, and raising a family. The restoration would take a Herculean effort, but it also had to fit comfortably into his life. It would be a labor of love, and there was no reason to rush.

Jim delivered the mangled body to metal man Guy Ruchonnet who miraculously massaged it back to perfection. Seabright Hot Rod’s Gary Evans teamed with Jim and Frank Schonig to turn the twisted chassis into a well-mannered, streetable foundation. Ron Covell wheeled the aluminum top insert and Jack Hagemenn Jr., along with Gary and Jim, fabricated the car’s numerous aluminum panels.

The Retic Brothers went through the car’s original ‘57 Hemi and Shucks Transmissions freshened up its 727 Torqueflite transmission. The rear end is a fully-chromed Olds with Buick brakes and is located by Watts links with coil-overs. The front end features spindle-mounts, custom machined for disc brakes. Steve Silva shot the House of Kolor Passion Pearl paint and the seats were upholstered by Howdy Ledbetter. The artwork, graphics, gold leaf, lace and pinstripes were all expertly recreated by Dale Oftedal.

BC may have retired from racing, but the veteran gasser now lives on as one helluva ground-pounding street car. Jim’s plans are to display BC along with a trove of historic memorabilia at the upcoming Grand National Roadster Show in January. The car is also for sale, contact Jim at 925-399-5867 for details.

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