Steve & Cindy Underwood's 1941 Willys Coupe
(from Volume 13, Issue 147)

As auto enthusiasts we inevitably wind up loving a very wide variety of cars and trucks, but there is also no denying that certain makes, models and years have more of a natural “Wow” factor inherent to them as you wander through a car show. This can be different for each individual, but many classic cars have a very universal appeal that everyone tends to like. Their lines just seem to flow gracefully in stock form, and when given a little tweaking sometimes they just get even better as hot rods. A good example would be Steve and Cindy Underwood’s Brooksville, Florida based 1941 Willys Coupe. The original designers at Willys did a good job back in 1941, but in the many decades since then street rodders and drag racers have been using it as a palate to showcase their individuality - and at the same time bringing out the car’s alter ego of a mean and nasty hot rod.

Steve Underwood told us he has roots in both street rodding and drag racing, having built a Super Comp Altered in the past. He was exposed to drag racing and hot rods by the influence of his older brother Russ Underwood, and the desire grew even more intense once Steve had the opportunity to race with his brother’s help. Since those days on the track he has turned his interest to the street, and in the past Steve and his friend, James Yohn, have built two 1934 Chevy Sedans, and before that it was a 1952 Chevy Pickup and a 1931 Ford Coupe.

Steve told us that the exciting start of his 1941 Willys Coupe project was the car being unloaded off the trailer with wooden mock-up wheels. He couldn’t wait to start gathering the “necessities” to build the Willys of his dreams! For the car’s construction Steve turned to his friend James Yohn and his two sons. Every night after working a full time job James and his sons (future street rodders, of course) would find their way into the garage to work on the Willys. The boys could not wait to fire the engine and light up the tires, but patience was also part of the learning process as the project took two years to complete.

At the heart of the car is an Outlaw Stage II frame, which has a Mustang II style front end by Fat Man, and an Air Ride Technology system to get that great ground-hugging look when parked, yet be able to raise up to a safe driving height when it is time to hit the road (figuratively, not literally). An Outlaw Performance fiberglass body sits atop the frame, and now features one piece taillights molded into the body.

Steve’s daughter, Krista, had a hand in picking what is arguably the most attention getting thing about the car....the color scheme. It consists of PPG black on the bottom, wild and vibrant House Of Kolors green up top, and a tasteful gray graphic to divide the two, with all the paint and body work being performed by Tommy Lewis of Tommy’s Elite Rides in Brooksville. Add in a set of Billet Specialties rims and that low Air Ride stance, and you have one sinister looking Willys from the outside.

On the inside things are more civil, thanks to the black leather upholstery with suede inserts, an Ididit tilt steering column, Total Performance gauges, and a neat center console design that “bridges” the gap from the dash to between the seats with a curved open air space underneath.
Under the hood you’ll find a potent 502 Chevy Ramjet engine by Street & Performance, which has been treated to tons of polished and plated parts to please the eye. Power is routed rearward by a 700R4 overdrive automatic, and ultimately winds up at the 4-link located 9 inch Ford rear end fitted with 3.50:1 gears.

In going to car shows since its completion, their Willys has drawn admiration along the way, resulting in awards like the Peak Antifreeze “Definition Of Kool”, the Super Chevy “Award Of Excellent Workmanship”, and PPG’s “Outstanding Use Of Color”. Steve and Cindy Underwood enjoy street rodding together, have met many great people, and have gained new friends along the way. That seems to be a universal sentiment among enthusiasts, that the people you meet along the way are what really count. CN