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An Austin gets its powers back...
By Brian Lohnes
Photos by/courtesy of Jim Oddy, John Cassiol and Brian Wood

John Cassiol is a gasser guy. More specifically, John is a gasser guy from the northern reaches of New York State, and he’s a guy who appreciates history.

You see, fine reader, back in the days of dinosaurs, cave men, and the 24-inch crank centerline rule, there was a man who came from Northern New York and took on some of the biggest names in the gasser biz. That man was Jim Oddy and the car he once drove to greatness now rests in the loving hands of John Cassiol.

Jim Oddy’s blown Austin gasser in action back in “the day.”

It all started for John back when he was a little kid, “The guy who lived next to us when I was growing up had a gasser-style Willys and I was really fascinated by it when I was a kid. I saw an Austin when I was about 8 years old and I knew I wanted to own something like that when I got older.”

That childhood fascination had turned John into a gas-o-holic by the time he was old enough to explore his mechanical roots.

In the mid-1990s John had a pretty wicked street legal Austin. The car had the gasser look, but had a modern tube chassis underneath it. Sadly, this car met a pretty weird ending. John said, “My buddy built the tube chassis Austin. It was a great car and we loved to drive it.”

Two words here, people - fateful decision. “One of my friends wanted to drive the car and I said ok. Unfortunately, we got into a real freak accident. It was not my friend’s fault but the car was a complete loss; it was all bent and broken.”



 

A shot from 1969.

This accident is what spurred John’s quest for the Oddy Austin. “It was back in 1998 that I had heard the car was still around. I managed to locate it in Montreal, the only problem is that I can’t speak French and the guy who had it couldn’t speak much English. I did finally manage to find out that the car was sold to someone in Burlington. I figured it was Burlington, New York, so I started putting ads in the paper and looking for the car.

“It turned out that a guy in Burlington, Vermont had the car, but had sold it to another guy in Long Island, NY, who I also eventually tracked down. I found out that the car, which had been made into a street rod back in 1973, had spent time in Rochester, Toronto, Montreal, Vermont and Long Island.

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“When I called the guy in Long Island, he said that the car was not for sale,” mused Cassiol. You have to love the way John thinks, though. “I sent the guy pictures of my smashed up Austin to try and get some sympathy. It worked, and he agreed to sell me the car. The next problem was getting it home. My little Ranger pickup truck was not going to make the ride, so my buddy Jeff agreed to tow the car home for me.”

It took them about twenty hours down and back with the car to get home. John describes the car when he first saw it, “The thing had these awful motorcycle fenders on it, a steel nose, lightning bolts and Tweedy birds instead of the original interior, no roll cage and about nine layers of paint on it. But I knew it was the car.”

A long ago race at Niagara.

Being the astute journalist type that I am, I immediately asked, ‘how did you know’? Elementary, my dear Watson, as John described, “There were a couple of things. This car has a special cut-out in the trunk where the parachute was recessed into. Because of that hole, there would not be a trunk handle. Also, this car is not chopped like any other Austin I had ever seen. The way the chop is and the proportion of it is just right. Everything about the car is just right, and that’s how I knew it was the right car when I saw it.”

So Jeff and John dragged the mistreated legend back home. John checked in with his wife who was assuming that he would be getting some sleep after the long ride. John thought about it and then headed for the garage, “I couldn’t stand those motorcycle fenders, I had to get them off right then or I would not have been able to sleep.” Remember people, there is a fine line between hobby and mental illness.

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One of the first phone calls John made was to Jim Oddy to have him get a look at the car to verify its authenticity. Oddy recognized the car from 50 feet, even with all of the changes that had befallen it over the nearly 30 years since he had last seen it. It was during that meeting that John asked Jim if it would be ok that he restored the car to its exact form as Jim had raced it in the 1960’s.

John said, “I know that sometimes people may be wary to put their names on something if it is not true to the original. I told Jim that I was going to do a real good job on the car and he would be happy with the final product.” His goal is to get the car back to its pure roots. “Someone cut out the cage and stripped out the entire original interior. I have been getting those pieces back. The car had Fiat seats in it originally and I just located some in Ohio. I was going to have to get them from Germany and I don’t want to think how much that would cost.”

The tell-tale cut-out for the parachute was one of the major clues to it being Oddy’s original car.

One of the highlights in John’s resurrection of the Austin was uncovering the parachute hole, or as they called it, “Al Capone’s vault”. Acting on a hunch, John went at the trunk lid with the grinder where the hole should have been. Sure enough, he ground through a thin patch and hit pay dirt, the original trunk lid was still on the car. Another original part of the car was the glass. John was pretty amazed that the original glass was in the car and in awesome shape.

John has pretty deep roots in the gasser world. He pals around with the likes of Big John Mazmanian, Barb Hamilton, Jr. Thompson, and of course, Jim Oddy. Through these great resources and throngs of local fans who have fond memories of the car John has a wealth of knowledge to steer him along the path of restoration. “So many people get the “deer in the headlights” look when they see the car. They are just like, “woah” and then they smile and look the thing all over. Since the restoration is not done, I let people who really want to, sit in the car. They love that. I really love showing the car. I am not a real hoity toity guy and I can appreciate what these people see in the car. It is just awesome to show this car.”

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Motorvation is currently provided by a Ray Barton wedge engine, obviously not the blown Hemi that should be in there. But John has that covered. He has gathered up a 392 Hemi, a vintage torque-flite transmission and even the original minin radiator that Jim Oddy ran in the car. By the way, John IS taking the motor to Oddy’s to be built. Fitting.

Another identifying factor on the Oddy Anglia was the unique way the top had been chopped.

The car is not fully restored yet, but John is working on that, “I’m just a regular Joe and this is a pretty expensive process. I am taking my time and doing everything slowly. We got so much good feedback from when we showed the car at the Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It is lettered now, but the car is in primer. People absolutely love it though. A lot of people have many memories of this car and they all look it over really close. There are some people I have to especially thank for that Kentucky trip. I need to give special thanks to “The brothers”; they know who they are and we would not have made it if it were not for them. They are great people and that meant a lot to me.”

John is also a Gasser club freak; he is a member of the East Coast Gasser Club, and the Gasser Gang of Western NY. The NY club hosts the Willys Home Run, a gasser gathering par excellence.

John notes that the car is not really intended to be raced. There may be a few wild moments every once in a while when the car burns rubber, but this piece of history is designed to be a show piece. “I have so much invested in the car, and I don’t mean just money. So many people love this car that I could never let anything happen to it.”

John is looking forward to the car getting a beautiful coat of Sapphire Mist paint, bringing it one step closer to its original state. Cassiol wanted to thank ace body guy, Pat Snyder, who was responsible for all the body work done to the car. He also wanted to thank his wife, who puts up with this obsession, his buddy Jeff for dragging the car home and of course all his gasser pals and Jim Oddy for all the knowledge and support he has given over the course of the project.

Proud owner John Cassiol and the historic Austin Gasser he saved from obscurity.
Cassiol recently found a pair of period correct Fiat seats, bringing the restoration one step closer to completion.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Oddy and John Cassiol.
The car with its original and current owners.


 

 

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