Notable hot rods come from all areas of the automotive industry. So far, we’ve looked at one that made its name in the movies, as well as one that found its road to fame on the dry lake beds and salt flats of the western United States. This month, we’re moving to the drag strip for yet another Hot Rod You Should Know! You guessed it – we’re talking about the Stone, Woods & Cook 1941 Willys gasser known as Swindler!
The Stone, Woods & Cook Willys was actually a succession of cars built for the trials of the drag strip. As the story goes, Timothy Woods, who moved from Alabama to Southern California and started a successful construction company, became acquainted with Fred Stone after hiring him as the acting manager for his company. Sharing a passion for the growing sport of drag racing, the two put their heads together and came up with the first Swindler car – a blown Studebaker that would be driven by K.S. Pittman. Unfortunately, that car was wrecked in a towing accident and did not last long, but the mishap made room for the famed 1941 Willys commissioned by Stone and Woods.
Having replaced the wrecked Studebaker with the 1941 Willys, Stone and Woods (who had his son Leonard’s name put on the car) powered the new race car with a blown, bored and stroked 448ci Oldsmobile V8. Still driven by Pittman, the new car was dubbed Swindler II.
A New Beginning, 1961
Before the 1961 Indy Nationals, Pittman split from the Stone and Woods team, along with crew chief John Edwards to create their own race team, which made way for Doug “Cookie” Cook to take Pittman’s place. A seasoned driver, Cook was a great fit for the team, having immersed himself in the hot rodding scene at an early age before going on to pilot a handful of race cars, including his famed 1937 supercharged Chevy coupe and a Willys for Howard Johansen, owner of Howard’s Cams. Unfortunately, the 1961 Nationals proved to be another blow for the Stone and Woods team, as they lost three engines during qualifying which cost them a chance to even compete in the main race. Swindler II was sent home on a tow truck and suffered the same fate as the original Swindler car, and was severely damaged in an accident.
Swindler II was replaced with another 1941 Willys. Once again, painted in the team’s iconic blue and white paint scheme, the car was fitted with a 467ci Oldsmobile V8. It was with this Willys that Stone, Woods & Cook gained most of their notoriety.
In 1962, with the rebuilt Swindler II Willys, Stone, Woods & Cook took on what turned out to be the team’s first really good season. Competing in many Nationals events, including the new car’s debut at Winternationals, where the car won, the team set the A/Gas class record with a 10.25-second pass at 140.84 mph that year. In addition to their Nationals appearances, the S-W-C team also raced in many A/Gas match races, pairing themselves against rival A/Gas teams for big money.
In 1963, the NHRA changed the weight break for the A/Gas class, prompting the Stone, Woods & Cook team to build a new, lighter-weight Willys for the 1964 season. Despite competing against cars built to take advantage of new weight break, Swindler II held its own the remainder of the 1963 season, winning its class once again at the Mickey Thompson event just prior to the Winternationals.
Swindler II continued on under the Stone, Woods & Cook banner in 1964, moving down to the B/Gas class to make room for the new S-W-C Willys. Between 1962 and 1964, the team also dappled with a third car — a 1933 Willys dubbed Dark Horse, which didn’t stick around very long.
Making its debut in April 1964, the new lighter-weight Willys, informally referred to as Black Widow because of its black paint scheme (the car was later resprayed blue with gold lettering and dubbed Swindler A), was fitted with a fiberglass front end as well as various other lightweight components to make the most out of the new rules. Similar to its now overweight older sister, the new Willys made use of another blown Olds engine, only this time it was a 467ci Olds. Still, the car weighed nearly 1,000 pounds less than Swindler II.
After just barely beating the Big John Mazmanian Willys driven by “Bones” Balough at the 1964 Winternationals, Swindler A was upgraded with a blown He engine. Swindler II, which was now known as Swindler B, was also upgraded with a blown Hemi. The car’s shell was later traded to Tex Collins of Cal Automotive for fiberglass Mustang parts.
An Unexpected Save
Swindler A raced through the 1965 season before wrecking on the track in 1966. A new Swindler A was built and raced in the A/Gas class until 1967, at which time the “Gasser Wars” were coming to an end and the musclecar era was erupting. Moving along with the trends, Stone, Woods & Cook built a ’66 Mustang dubbed Dark Horse 2, of which they took the blown Hemi engine, hydro transmission, and the wheels and tires from the freshly-built Swindler A and put them on the car. The last Swindler A was retired and given to Mike Cook, Doug Cook’s then 14-year-old son, who persuaded his dad to give him the car rather than let it go to the crusher. How’s that for saving a piece of amazing racing history without knowing it at the time?
The Stone, Woods & Cook 1941 Willys race cars are some of the most well-known gassers to date, and its team helped lead the way in the “Gasser Wars.” Not only did they break records (and egos) on the track, they also broke down some pretty hefty racial barriers as well, as the first interracial team in competitive drag racing.
Now fully restored to classic Swindler II and Swindler A race liveries, both of the last Stone, Woods & Cook 1941 Willys gassers live on and can be seen at car shows and events from time to time, along with a number of S-W-C clone cars emulating one (some) of the most well-known and well-respected gassers in automotive and racing history!