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Aug 31 2012

Beautiful Noise: Al Nosse’s 1933 Willys 77 Coupe

Cracklin’ Rosie get on board, we’re gonna ride till there ain’t no more to go…

In the fall of 1970, Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” topped the Billboard Hot 100. That same year, lifetime racer and rodder Al Nosse packed up and headed for California, amping up to produce a smash hit of his own.

The Kracklin’ Rose, Al’s over-the-top 1933 Willys coupe, grabs you like your favorite rock anthem: nitro-powered from start to finish; an instant hit that leaves no room for subtlety. With its classic bodywork layered over a new wave chassis, and a healthy dose of heavy metal under the hood, this 77 was born to be wild.

Reeled in by the west coast’s flourishing drag racing scene, the Cleveland, OH native—accompanied by his wife, Kathy, and brother, Don—shared the spotlight with SoCal’s emerging super group of racers and builders: Wild Willie Borsch, Lil’ John Buttera, Schultz and Glenn, Doug “Cookie” Cook, “Big John” Mazmanian, and plenty more.

Following a decade of Top Fuel competition among drag racing’s rock stars, Al picked up the Willys (in pieces) from a fellow racer who’d intended to put it on drag strip duty. But having built and raced several Willys in the past, Al had a bigger venue in mind.

“When I do something, it’s first class all the way,” Al said. “Like when I was racing nitro cars, I was racing to be number one. I approached the Rose the same way—I wanted it to be among the best in the country.”

His sights set at the top, Al started this incredible build at the bottom, calling on master hot rod builder and personal friend John Buttera to play lead on the chassis and suspension.

Over the next three years, the duo fabricated a two-inch by three-inch polished steel tube frame and a state-of-the-art independent suspension system, featuring handmade billet aluminum A-arms at all four corners paired with Aldan Eagle coil-overs. But the real star is the cantilevered setup in front—an engineering marvel found in exotic race cars, not 80-year-old street rods.

“Lil’ John Buttera probably threw away more good ideas than I’ve had my entire life,” Al said, describing the chassis. “Back then we didn’t have a CNC machine that we could just punch a bunch of numbers into—he’d build something and if it didn’t work, he’d scrap it and start over ’til it did. He was truly a master of his own realm.”

The final cut is a masterwork of metal work, so when it came time to top the prettiest and most advanced rails ever slid under a Willys, Al called up Lee Carpenter—an old school street rod builder known for having a way with sheet metal—for two very skilled helping hands.

In contrast to its underpinnings, the Rose’s Candy Red coating plays a classic tune. And that’s a big compliment to the quality of the work, because under the chopped top, there isn’t a panel that hasn’t been remastered: up front, Lee welded the original bi-fold hood into a single piece and reinforced it with billet framework, flowing seamlessly into the aggressive, hand-fabricated black chrome grille. Around the outside, suicide doors paired with widened fenders and running boards make for one heck of an entrance.

Without a doubt, top billing goes to the monster lurking under the hood. Drawing once again on his SoCal connections, Al lifted this nitro-guzzling nightmare from ’70s top fueler “The California Rattler” and left the assembly and installation to gasser great Doug “Cookie” Cook. “I was told by at least a hundred people that it’d never work, but this engine speaks for itself,” Al said. “It’s the ultimate.”

Even in a car cherished by racers for its accommodating engine compartment, it’s a packed house under this Willys’ hood. To make room for the impossibly huge Hemi, the firewall was pushed well into the passenger compartment and a generous skylight was punched in the hood to clear the Enderle mechanical fuel injection and intake scoop. With the Mooneyham 12-71 blower adding gobs of air to a street-friendly 30-percent nitro mixture, Al’s ultimate engine dynos a very unfriendly 3,000 horsepower—this rose has thorns!

A five-speed ZF transaxle taken from a 1974 Pantera and a custom RAM triple-plate clutch wrangle all that horsepower, turning the one-off Billet Specialties polished aluminum wheels (17-inch x 9-inch rear/16-inch x 7-inch front) and melting the Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires when Al blips the throttle.

“See all these goose bumps?” Al said, motioning to his arm. “That’s exactly what it’s like driving this car.”

After heading back to Ohio with the family, Al completed the Kracklin’ Rose in 2008 (A full 28 years after he began!), where it became a chart topper on the Midwest show circuit, netting 14 Best of Show awards at ISCA-judged events, including two class championships. Never one to shy away from friendly competition, Al and the Rose are now headed back to the golden coast, ready to line up the world’s classiest nitro racer against some of the scene’s finest show cars.

You got the way to make me happy. You and me, we go in style, Cracklin’ Rose…

 

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“Once you’ve gone nitro, you’ll never be happy with gas again,” says Al. Keeping true to his word, the top fuel veteran devoted every square inch under the hood to nitro-burning cubic inches. Transplanted from ’70s top fuel car, The California Rattler, this 520-cid Keith Black nitro block still boasts all of the hardware that made it a 1/4-mile menace at the track: a Mooneyham 12-71 blower, Enderle mechanical fuel injection, Dart aluminum racing heads, Venolia pistons, a Velasco billet steel stroker crank, dual Mallory Super Mag IV magnetos—and it still (mostly) fits!

The top fuel monster stuffed under the hood isn’t the Rose’s only shout-out to Al’s drag racing roots. The Willys’ PPG Candy Red paint job, offset by a hand-applied 24k gold leaf stripe, pays tribute to NHRA Hall of Fame inductee “Big John” Mazmanian. It’s a trademark color combo that Big John sported on almost all of his legendary racers and hints at what makes this dragster in street rod’s clothing really move.

Over 28 years of restoring, reshaping, and rebuilding, the all-steel Kracklin’ Rose never lost its classic look. Under its original hood ornament sits a custom grille complete with stainless steel slats finished in dark chrome. Like the rest of this amazing ride, it was designed to be a more aggressive version of the original.

With the 3,000 hp party going on up front, it’s all business in the back. Hidden between the seats and trunk, Al and his brother Don found just enough room to squeeze in the car’s alternator and a complete air conditioning system. How many other nitro racers will keep you frosty while you’re making lightning-fast quarter-mile passes at the track?

A softened and narrowed version of the Willys’ spare tire carrier leaves a lasting final impression. It’s the handiwork of first-rate fabricator Lee Carpenter, famous among street rod builders for his brilliant body mods. His custom touches can be found from the chopped top all the way down to the extra-wide fenders and running boards.

Sitting on a stout wheelbase of just 107", Al had to be extra careful when it came time to choose a set of wheels. “Big wheels just aren’t my style,” says Al. Unable to track down those “just right” rollers, he had the folks at Billet Specialties cut him a custom set. These one-of-a-kind beauties measure just 16 inches in front and 17 inches in back, but appear much larger, thanks to the low ride height and diminutive overall dimensions of the vehicle.

“Sitting in the driver’s seat, you know it’s not a dragster, but close your eyes and it’s every bit a dragster as the nitro cars I used to race,” says Al. However, we suggest you keep them open long enough to check out the ultra-plush Muirhead leather seats, cool carbon fiber details, Stewart Warner Wings series gauges, and one-off Boyd Coddington steering wheel. And no, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you—the Kracklin’ Rose has four pedals (all custom machined by Lee Carpenter). The far right serves as a dead pedal, keeping your foot a safe distance away from the throttle for when you’re not quite ready to say goodbye to the Goodyears.

 

FAST SPECS

Al, Kathy, and Don Nosse
1933 Willys 77 Coupe
Euclid, OH

Chassis

Frame: Custom-fabricated 2-inch x 3-inch polished steel tubing

Suspension: Custom-fabricated billet aluminum independent A-arms, Aldan Eagle coil-overs, cantilevered front

Brakes: JFZ 4-piston calipers with Strange slotted 10-inch rotors (inboard rear)

Wheels and Tires: Custom Billet Specialties polished aluminum wheels (15-inch x 7-inch front, 17-inch x 9-inch rear), Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires (185/60R15 front, 255/60R17 rear)

Chassis Fabrication By: Lil’ John Buttera, Al Nosse, Don Nosse

Engine and Transmission

Engine Type: Keith Black Stage 5 polished aluminum nitro block

Induction: Enderle mechanical fuel injection, Mooneyham 1271 supercharger

Ignition: Mallory Promaster coilMallory Super Mag IV dual magnetosMallory Pro Wire ignition wires

Exhaust: Custom-bent 2 ½-inch polished stainless headers into straight pipes with quad tips

Transmission: 1974 Pantera five-speed transaxle with 4.22 ring and pinion, custom billet aluminum bellhousing, custom RAM triple-disc clutch and flywheel

Other Items: Dart aluminum cylinder headsDart dual-plug valve covers

Engine Assembly By: Doug “Cookie” Cook, Al Nosse

Body

Modifications: Chopped roof (2-inch front/3-inch rear), welded hood, custom grille shell with black chrome slats, widened fenders and running boards (1 ½-inch), narrowed spare tire carrier

Paint Color: PPG Candy Red, 24k gold leaf stripe by Canton Sign Co.

Body Work By: Lee Carpenter, Al Nosse, Don Nosse.

Interior 

Modifications: Stewart Warner Wings gauges, carbon fiber dashboard and console trim, custom billet Boyd Coddington steering wheel, custom billet pedals, shortened Pantera shifter

Upholstery: Muirhead leather seating surfaces and door panels, Mercedes-Benz carpet

Upholstery By: Portage Trim, Ravenna, OH

Awards

2008 Cleveland Autorama, Gold Cup

2008 NHRA Hot Rod Reunion, Best of the Best; Bowling Green, KY

2008 MAC Tools U.S. Nationals, Bob Daniels Award of Excellence; Indianapolis, IN

2009 Cincinnati Autorama, Squire Cup

2009 International Show Car Association, Class Champion (Altered Street Coupe)

2010 Cincinnati Autorama, Best Home Built Car

2010 Arthritis Foundation Classic Auto Show & Cruise-In, Arthritis Foundation Award; Columbus, OH

2010 International Show Car Association, Class Champion (Altered Street Coupe)

Special Thanks

My wife Kathy, my brother Don, Fred Bear, Eileen Daniels, Dave Hales, Barry Meguiar, Gary Clausen, Lee Carpenter, Amy Hoffman, Goodyear Tires, Nick at VP Racing Fuels, Glenn Rasch at Lonestar Hydrografx

Photography By: Studio Martone

Art Direction By: Barbara Williamson-Dungey

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