Having a dream hot rod is one thing, but having a fun, practical hot rod you built yourself for almost nothing and drive the snot out of is another thing altogether. Brad Masterson accomplished that when he wanted to reduce the cost of his daily commute and make it less boring. Brad’s solution took an unconventional approach, partly because it was cheap and partly because it was different yet practical. Politically correct, maybe it ain’t. But, man this 4 cylinder T-Bucket hot rod is cheap, fast and fun. In spades!
First off, Brad Masterson is the last guy you’d think of building and driving a 4 cylinder, fiberglass body T-Bucket hot rod. He’s a traditional customs guy through and through, with a capital K as in Masterson Kustom Automobiles, his shop in Lynwood, California.
As Brad says, they “specialize in traditional kustom stylings of the 1950’s done by our forefathers in this very shop. We don’t use fancy machinery or laser technology but the tools that the original builders used to create some of the greatest kustom cars ever produced. This shop is rich in history and is the closest feeling you will get to owning an original Barris kustom car.”
Brad’s commitment to the Kustoms legacy is further evidenced by the fact that his shop resides in the same building that was occupied by Barris Kustoms from 1950 to 1961, along with custom painting legend, the late Dean Jeffries.
Growing up, Brad’s dad was the hot rodder in the family while Brad was always drawn to the fascinating and creative world of custom car building. Not flashy show rods, but Kustoms like those built by the Barris, the Alexander brothers, Gene Winfield, Bill Hines and other masters of the metalworking arts.
Before building the T-Bucket that’s the subject of this story, Brad did have some T-Bucket experience. After opening his own shop Brad had an opportunity to pick up a survivor T-Bucket that had been a show car back in the day with its distinctive panel paint and button tuft interior. With his love of traditional rods and customs Brad grabbed it.
He bought it off e-Bay as a diversion after tragically losing a loved one.
Brad found the T to be great fun and it was enjoyed as well by his mother and grandfather.
But, that was short-lived because the T’s polished vintage Halibrand quickchange caught the eye of someone building an authentic traditional rod that had to have that rare “Culver City” version and was willing to pay a nice premium to Brad over what he’d bought the T-Bucket for just to get it. Which leads us to Brad’s inspired T build.
Brad’s shop in Lynwood was a 30+ mile commute each way from his home and with L.A. traffic being what it is traffic jams and gasoline fill-ups were killing him. So he put a plan in place to cure the situation. On a visit to see his friend, Von Franco, for $200 he bought an old fiberglass T-Bucket body that had been wasting away in his yard along with a cast off Model A rear crossmember and a 1927 T windshield frame.
Brad took those parts to his grandparent’s farm near Sacramento and built the chassis on the floor of their quonset hut outbuilding. Of course, every farmer has a welder and tools.
Up front, Brad used a Model A axle with hydraulic brakes and steel wheels from a 40’s era Ford. The rear end is from a ’49-’51 era Merc custom and of unknown ratio. Which brings us to motorvation. Remember that Brad was looking for fuel economy as well as fun.
At a wrecking yard Brad found a trashed 1985 Nissan motorhome (like the one pictured above) that only had 29,000 miles on the odometer. And you might be thinking, why??
It turns out that to lug that traveling camper, Nissan used their 2.4 liter, NAP Z engine, which when sold in California has two spark plugs per cylinder. It also came with a 5-speed manual transmission and a heavy duty clutch. Plus, it’s relatively easy to find speed equipment like headers for that particular engine. All that for $1000. For a very dependable, peppy, not far from new engine and 5-speed tranny to boot!
So much for unconventional thinking. You can bet that an engine designed to haul around a 4400 lb. vehicle while getting 20+ MPG on the highway should do pretty well in a T-Bucket weighing two-thirds less!
The T-Bucket body got a quick coat of available yellow and the radiator was pulled from a ’61 or ’62 Chevy C10, sectioned to fit the T fiberglass shell, and brazed back together.
The radiator was mounted the same distance from the engine fan as the stock one was in the motorhome.
And it was all put together from junk parts in about a week and Brad dressed up the engine with some red paint, a chrome air cleaner and his own comical renderings on the valve cover. But before you jump to conclusions on political correctness, keep in mind a couple of things. The first is that Brad’s a traditional customs guy with respect for it’s roots and the guys who pioneered traditional customs. Such as:
Customs pioneers like the late Bob Hirohata whose chopped Mercury was built by the Barris Brothers and known as “the most famous custom of the classic era”. Of Japanese-American ancestry, Bob took things lightly as in his photo sentiment of “Rots of Ruck” to photographer Andy Southard, Jr.
And the second point to be made that no Japanophobia exists is that after the T-Bucket was completed Brad was accompanied on a cross-country trip to the Kustom Kemps of America Leadsled Spectacular in Salina, Kansas by two visiting Japanese hot rod enthusiasts, Toschi and Tad, who had already spent days in Brad’s shop helping prepare the vehicles.
You gotta’ admit that with an unconventional engine like an inline four-banger that it lends itself to some distinctively different approaches. But how does it perform?
But before Brad mounted the windshield, lights and other extras he just had to take this little 4 cylinder T-Bucket out for a “test drive”. And what a test! Brad had a friend along for the ride and after he decided to put his foot in it his friend pointed down to the speedometer reading 135 MPH. And it was still pulling in 5th gear!
That surprising performance motivated Brad to produce this custom 5-speed shift knob.
And along the way Brad also created his own custom window decal.
So Brad accomplished his performance goal for the 4 cylinder T-Bucket, but what about his idea of a fuel saving commuter car?
According to Brad, when the project was completed what consumed 13 gallons in his old commuter car now only consumed 5 gallons in the 4 cylinder T-Bucket. But was it more than just a commuter car?
Brad’s next test of his 4 cylinder T-Bucket was the aforementioned 1500 mile journey to the KKOA event in Salina, Kansas.
That journey went without incident and it so happened that there was a drag racing event at the same time and the little 4 cylinder T-Bucket attracted its share of attention.
And with only slight urging Brad decided to see how his T would fare in competition on the strip.
The drag race was flagged by famous customizer and friend Gene Winfield, and the video clip above shows the little T did well.
The return to Southern California went smoothly for Brad’s 4 cylinder T-Bucket: 3000+ total miles and no mechanical difficulties.
As you’ve no doubt noticed, we owe a debt of gratitude to Olav Kvipt for the really great looking photos accompanying this story. If the name sounds familiar it’s because he and his brother Sondre Kvipt are behind the awesome Kustomrama site. Olav left Norway to study automotive science and mechanics in Southern California and Brad Masterson served as kind of his host while he was here. And in addition to making the KKOA journey with Brad, Toschi, Tad and others Olav honed his skills in Brad’s shop. There’s an amusing story about Olav and Brad’s T-Bucket.
For his first day of college, Brad let Olav drive the T-Bucket to school and he parked it in the automotive tech department, per the above photo. Olav was kind of bummed about his assigned curriculum, which was heavy on everything but automotive. Walking back to the T after class, an automotive instructor ran out to Olav, excited that he was the first student in decades to drive a hot rod to school. They chatted and when the instructor saw Olav’s class schedule he said it was B.S. and went to the Dean’s office and had the requirements changed for this new student who’d come “all the way from the North Pole” to study automotive technology.
Brad’s little 4 cylinder T-Bucket was a huge temptation on the streets and Brad recalls his first ticket simply identifying it as “yellow hot rod”. And the above video shows that at times the men in blue were amused by it, too.
But what’s really heart-warming is that one of Brad’s mentors, Bill Hines, enjoyed the T-Bucket just as much at the age of 93 as evidenced by the above video.
Of course, Brad’s 4 cylinder T-Bucket attracted attention wherever it went and he would even put it on display at some car shows.
You can also imagine street rod owners with investments of $75-150K being somewhat dismayed by the attention captured by this ratty little T-Bucket “valued at … almost …$3000”.
As a professional customizer, Brad noted that one of the really cool features of a T-Bucket hot rod is the “ease of color change”. After all, there’s just not that much there.
The body Brad bought from Von Franco was rough to start and was developing some cracks so when Brad found another for $300 he picked it up and replaced the yellow body with a red one.
After driving the red 4 cylinder T-Bucket for a while, Brad decided to make the easy color switch again to dark blue.
I really love this T-Bucket because what Brad created is the epitome of hot rod fun in a distinctively different way. It’s got performance as well as economy, was done on a real low-buck budget and the payoff is more bang for the buck in terms of fun than one could ever hope for.
[thrive_text_block color=”blue” headline=””] In case you may think the performance of Brad Masterson’s 4 cylinder T-Bucket is a fluke or exaggeration, similar 4-cylinder T-Bucket performance was well-documented over three decades ago. In 1984, Pat Ganahl published a “performance test” in Hot Rod magazine of Paul Hattrup‘s Pinto-powered T-Bucket. The little 2000cc (122 cu.in.) powered T turned the quarter mile in 13.71 seconds, compared to 14.02 for Paul’s ’69 Plymouth GTX 440 Six-Pak! In his review, Pat said “this roadster accelerates like a drag car, stops like a sports car, and sticks to the road like a Formula car.” Just goes to show there’s more than one way to build a T-Bucket.[/thrive_text_block]
TBucketPlans.com originated in 2005 as a personal blog extolling the virtues of T-Buckets. In 2009 I blogged about Chester Greenhalgh, the "how to" genius who wrote the legendary, out-of-print “How to Build a T-Bucket Roadster for Under $3000”. That led to a friendship with Chester and our partnership in marketing the updated eBook version of his T-Bucket building bible. The T-Bucket fire burns stronger and stronger.
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