Editor's note: While the T-bucket has become the iconic cornerstone of the kit, street rod, and hot rod worlds, today it still doesn't garner the recognition it deserves (much like today's kit industry). Mickey Lauria, owner of Total Performance in Wallingford, Connecticut, knows this all too well, as he has been in the T-body-building industry longer than nearly anybody else still in business. With decades of experience under his belt, he can easily answer "how" a T-bucket is built, but here he enlightens us on the "why."
To paraphrase a clich: God must have loved the T-bucket because he made so many of them. Obviously, I'm having a little laugh at the expense of the Fad-T owners, but it's a laugh derived from knowing full well how much fun those T-bucket owners are having driving the most popular of all hot rods: the fenderless, hood-free '23 T roadster.
We can generally thank the efforts of Norm Grabowski and even Tommy Ivo for influencing the development and ultimate growth of the T-bucket street rod. However, other factors that have occurred since then have kept the movement progressing.
The T-bucket continues to reign because the little roadster is the cheapest, simplest, freest, most visually exciting conveyance still open to the hot rodder. No doubt about it, the T-bucket can be scratchbuilt from just about anything, as long as it carries a facsimile of the Ford body manufactured prior to 1926. Other than that, we have seen Fad-Ts with or without minuscule beds, or even turtle decks channeled over any type of framerail, fitted with any number of different powerplants supported by a gaggle of suspension assemblies, and painted any and all colors. The sky is the limit when it comes to wheel and tire combinations and, with a host of bolt-on doodads, it's the lowest of low-dollar forms (for about $5 a pound!).
The cost of constructing a T-bucket is generally conceded to be the main reason for its continued popularity. It's almost impossible to build any other rod for less than $10,000 and get the performance, appearance, and experience that is afforded a bucket.
Generally, a rodder can pick up a kit-built package for around $4,000 and add a spare V-8, brakes, rearend parts, steel wheels with used tires from a swap meet, a seat insert and carpeting, a radiator, fiberglass grille shell, headlights, used gauges, a steering wheel, and a set of headers with an initial investment of well under 10 big ones.
However, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, so says the law of nature. Consequently, for every low-bucks bucket, there is a tire-frying, candy-coated, frame-twisting, chrome-plated, full-boogie hot rod. Those who have both the desire and the financial capabilities can indulge themselves in a bucket enterprise of the first magnitude, which makes building a T-bucket so attractive. No way can the potential builder be limited in his thinking.
The bucket isn't just a rod, it's a four-wheeled form of free expression. We've seen buckets armed with enough horsepower to qualify them for the fuel-altered show. We've also seen them running anything from a Riley-equipped four-barrel to a Weber-carb'd late Hemi. Chassis construction runs the gamut. You'll find chrome-plated chassis, simple square tube rails, even shortened Model A chassis. Suspension also offers the innovative T-bucket owner everything from a self-fabricated, fully independent system to the traditionalist type I-beam and quick-change rear.
Yet nothing, but nothing, can equal the Fad-T when it comes to bolt-ons. Like it or not, bolt for bolt, the bucket provides add-on artists with more opportunities for doing it themselves than any other rod form, from handbuilt radiators to triple twist "bulb" horns. If it's brass, it's class! When it comes to the plater's touch, what else shines like a chrome-laden bucket?
Let's face it. There are no fenders to hide the polish, no hood to cover the glitter, no rearend overhang to interfere with the chromatic display of a fully plated independent rear. Only a T-bucket offers the builder such a display piece to show off his talents, and only a fool wouldn't take advantage of the unlimited opportunities. The very fact that it has no fenders, no hood, no windows, minor muffling, a vibrating exterior, and few (if any) of the creature comforts a Detroit dandy possesses makes the T-bucket just about the most visually exciting car known to man or beast.
Cost, creativity, and ego are merely part of the bucket trip. What sets this apart from all the others is the pleasure of knowing you've got something that says, "Go to the devil." It's a hot rod with no holds barred, no virginal metal to deflower, no new/old stock syndrome to get in the way of pure, unadulterated "right on" fabricating and creativity. Anything goes as long as it meets all the equipment requirements and safety inspections.
The bucket has been called many things, including a "bellybutton" car, because everybody has or had one. You've got to start somewhere, and a bucket is one heckuva place to begin, and just like the bellybutton, no two are alike!
So remember, the next time someone is tempted to belittle a T-bucket, gently remind them they are picking on the apple pie, motherhood, and the American flag of street rodding. We're talking about a type of hot rod that was here before you got here and will be here long after you and N.O.S. cars have gone and turned to dust.