by Cole Coonce


The men and women gathered in a semi-circle around the half-finished Winged Express, alternately laughing and listening in reverent silence to the yarns spun by Mousie. Marcellus was “in the house,” as they say, working the room with the grace and panache of Swifty Lazar at Spago on Oscar night. He regaled his minions with the story of when Willie flipped and rolled the altered at Martin, Michigan in ‘70, one of the few times the machine got away from him. Marcellus and the crew arrived at the scene to find Borsch had become rabid with fear and anxiety. Willie was wailing and bellowing, “I’m blind, I’m blind,” only to be answered by roars of laughter from his crew. After all the howling had subsided, Mousey patiently explained to Willie that he could not see because his head was wrapped and intertwined in the parachute.

Marcellus then launched into another anecdote about Borsch, and in the meanwhile I started chatting up nostalgia Top Fuel scenester Tom Hunnicutt. Hunnicutt asked me if I had said, “Hello to Willie?” I told Tom I went over and tipped my hat to the newly restored Winged Express but no, Willie Borsch was dead, what do you mean did I go over and say hello to him? Hunnicutt then asked me to examine more closely the “trophy” sitting in the driver’s seat of the Winged Express. I walked back over and looked more discriminately at the cockpit of the roadster. That was no trophy—it was an urn… containing the ashes of William Bowen Borsch. He had come home.

…Yes, even in death, the exploits of “Wild Willie” continue to be stranger than fiction. But it was his displays of bravado and fearlessness on Planet Earth for which he will be most remembered. Consider the time he banged the car off the guardrail, crossed the centerline, bounced off the other guardrail, crossed the centerline again (to get back into his own lane), and caught and passed the guy he was racing. The fact that he denied to Mousie that he was driving the altered with one hand—Marcellus had to show Borsch photographs of him in action to prove it. Or the night at Lions Drag Strip when Willie stabbed the throttle and the entire machine leaped into the air, it landed, Willie whapped it again, she became airborne once more, it came down facing the guardrail, Willie punched the throttle anyway, straightened ‘er out and consummated the run. The crowd went apeshit.


(Originally published in Super Stock & Drag Illustrated)




  1. Hey, good to see NR back, of sorts. I still have people ask me what the NR on my car stands for. I tell them “not really.”

    Any chance of seeing those photos of Garlits from Indy that you ran called the Dead Sea Scrolls?


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