MILDURA will “come alive” this weekend (August 26 and 27) when it plays host to the second ever Australian Willys Nationals.

Kicking off today and running until this Sunday, the event will coincide with the ‘Nostalgia Drags’ – which will be held at Mildura’s Sunset Drag Strip tomorrow night – with a display and parade to be held as part of the race event.

On Sunday, an additional public display will take place as part of the Mildura City Market in the Langtree Mall between 9am and midday.

The Nationals are being promoted, and hosted, by the Willys Downunder Club, with the Matthews family, from the Riverland, and local Mildura ‘Willys’ identity Peter Lyons doing all the work behind the scenes.

Graham and Trevor Matthews, alongside their respective children and partners, have also been Willys enthusiasts since the mid-1980s, and collectively own a number of modified Willys.

A number of awards will be presented across the weekend, including Best Overall, Outstanding Closed, Outstanding Open, Outstanding Commercial, Outstanding Original/Restored, Encouragement Award, Popular 1933-36, Popular 1937-39 and Popular 1940-41.

But what exactly are ‘Willys’? Well they tend to be an acquired taste, according to Graham.

“Those that love them are usually addicted to the not so normal shapes and styles, and the fact that they are different from the more mainstream brands,” he said.

Manufactured in America during the 1920s and 1930s, initially as Willys Knight and then Willys Overland, they were produced in Australia by Holden and TJ Richards, with the bodies made locally and the front sheet metal and rear guards imported from the US.

“Hot Rodders and drag racers in America found the Willys desirable for their needs, and so the brand became synonymous with that scene in the late 1950s through to the early ’70s,” Graham explained.

“The 1933-36 coupes and pick-ups were very popular gassers, and the 1937-42 coupes, sedans, and pick-ups were also popular with hot rodders and gasser teams.”

The first ever Australian Willys Nationals took place in 2012 in Barmera, South Australia, forming part of the Australian Street Rod Federation’s Big River Regional Street Rod Nationals.

Around 33 entrants and 20 modified Willys vehicles from all parts of Australia took part.

In 2017, the second Australian Willys Nationals will be held, however this time it will be a standalone event.

“This means all Willys owners and enthusiasts can gather with their original, restored or modified Willys and enjoy the company of others with the same interest while enjoying the shapes, colours and sounds of all things Willys,” Graham said.

This weekend’s Australian Willys Nationals is being sponsored by Golden River Holiday Park, Mildura RSL, Mildura Gateway Tavern, Shannons Insurance, Wild Willys Hot Rod, American Hemi Speed Centre, Aussie Desert Cooler, Inklink Screen Print, Willeze and LDI Kustoms.