Q: Hello Greg I am the owner of a T-Bucket hot rod and have enclosed photos. It has a 350 Chevy V8 small block, Competition Cams cam, Weiand blower, 350 Turbo automatic, 8-inch Ford rear, Centerline wheels all around, Corvair steering, Painless wiring, and front spindles from my grandfather’s 1954 Chevy sedan. My girlfriend Cindy Fenstermacher and I did all the work ourselves from a blueprint by Total Performance (now part of Speedway Motors, Lincoln, Nebraska). The headers I got from a flea market at a car show several years ago.
I enjoy your column and see it weekly in our newspaper. I would like to know your opinion of the popularity of these type of hot rods and it was fun meeting you at the Bloomsburg Nationals. I’m starting to see a few more T-Buckets at car shows with the 1932 Fords and other rods, like Rat Rods. Can you give us some of your memories and opinions on hot rods? Sincerely, Tony Karpovich, Dushore, Pa.
A: Tony thanks for the nice words and photos of your really cool T-Bucket and it was great meeting you and Cindy in person. For readers just getting acquainted with hot rods, a T-Bucket is a hot rod based on Henry Ford’s Model-T, produced from the 1915 to 1927. T-buckets utilize the body of a Model T roadster, with a small pickup "bucket" box attached resulting in the T-bucket moniker.
In my lifetime, the first hot rod I ever became aware of was driven by TV actor Edd Brynes, who played Gerald "Kookie" Kookson on the 1958 TV show 77 Sunset Strip. Kookie’s hot rod was a T-Bucket similar to yours.
From what I’ve seen the last decade, there’s a common misconception concerning the venerable “Hot Rod.” Specifically, many collector car enthusiasts feel that the hot rods from the booming 1950s and 1960s are being replaced by more modern collector vehicles, especially the muscle cars of the 1960s and early 1970s.
Although I agree that the 1964 to 1972 muscle cars are currently the most popular segment of collecting, there is renewed interest in the good old hot rods from days gone by. They are again popping up at car shows everywhere and aftermarket hot rod companies are thriving selling new parts for old hot rod applications. Further, a hot rod can be purchased or assembled for way less money than a fully restored 1968 Camaro Z28.
Personally, my first ever magazine subscription was to Hot Rod Magazine in 1958 after growing up initially in a small coal mining patch called Ranshaw, Pa. In Ranshaw, there were no hot rods driving around to see in person, so my only outlet was the weekly TV show when Kookie would made an appearance or receiving my Hot Rod magazine in the mail. Kookie was so popular on TV he even had a hit 45 record out with Connie Stevens assisting ala “Kookie, Kookie Lend Me Your Comb.” Byrnes was “Mr. Cool” on that show and his T-Bucket hot rod completed his TV personality aura. His T-Bucket was built by the late, legendary hot rodder Norm Grabowski.
Perhaps the most renowned Hollywood big screen hot rodder was John Milner (played by actor Paul LeMat) and his yellow 1932 Ford in “American Graffiti.” This 1973 coming of age production spurred renewed interest in hot rods, and to this day cars like Milner’s yellow ‘32 Deuce, be it original or replica, attract big crowds when they appear at car shows.
Today, a new class of hot rod is called the “Rat Rod,” a lower cost alternative intentionally built to look tattered. Along with the “true blue” hot rods like T-Buckets, Model A, Model B and the such, enthusiasts are having more to see than ever. As with any collector car, it’s all up to size of wallet and creativity of the builder, be it fiberglass kit or real, all-steel Deuce Coupe. Anything is acceptable in building a hot rod.
I am happy to recognize the many esteemed hot rods of past and present. I especially enjoy the grand mixture of originality that goes into these creations as all of the above mentioned hot rods showcase amazing ingenuity, just like they did in the 1950 decade.
I can’t end this feature without giving a big pat on the back to Tony and Cindy for the work they put into their outstanding T-Bucket and helping this scribe recall everything the hot rods meant and still mean to the success of our gigantic car collecting hobby.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader input on collector cars, auto nostalgia and auto racing at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org)