In January, we announced the upcoming “Tee Party” at the 2013 Chicago World of Wheels and now we’re happy to bring you the first of our reports on the T-Buckets that were featured. There’s no better way to kick off this coverage than with the Grand Dame of the party, Larry Alexander‘s 1969 Ridler Award Winning T-Bucket: “Top Banana”.
To be honest, I didn’t immediately recognize this car and went about ogling it because it had that aura of an older build and was very striking with its candy yellow over white pearl paint finish, tasteful black pinstriping and lots of chrome. Then I saw the “Alexander Bros” nameplate on the cowl.
Holy smokes! There it was — the third Ridler award winning car built by the legendary Detroit-area customizers, the Alexander Brothers, and looking none the worse for wear 44 years after winning that coveted award in 1969, which could be considered the heyday of T-Bucket popularity.
Legend has it that this was the last car built while the Alexander Bros. worked together and it was entered in the 1969 Detroit Autorama at Cobo Hall by the late Larry Alexander, who left the Alexander Bros. customizing business in 1968 to go to work building prototypes for Ford Motor Co. before the business closed in 1969 to make way for freeway expansion and brother Mike Alexander went to work at American Sunroof.
The car’s name, “Top Banana”, was indicative of not only its bright yellow color but also was a premonition of its status in the hot rod show car world. (The above pic appears more pumpkin than banana because it’s somebody’s colorized version of a black and white original).
Now owned by John Safro of Hartland, Wisconsin, the Top Banana shows a strong Andy Brizio “Instant T” influence, with the combination chrome headlight bar and shock mount arrangement in front of the T grille shell. The Alexander’s, though, chose a more pleasing (at least to me) approach of smaller headlights, rather than the big, bugeye-like T lights, and they also didn’t use cowl lamps as Brizio did.
The Goodyear “Wide Oval” front tires were in keeping with what was new and hot at the time and are mounted on classic American Mags.
I think one of the really cool features of this T-Bucket is the false floor in the pickup bed, with the fuel tank below it. Something you don’t see, probably because you’d have pretty limited tank capacity, but it’s certainly a unique look with the wood floor insert.
The beautiful black interior by Fred Madley of Novi, Michigan is also highlighted by use of one of the then very popular Grant wood-trimmed steering wheels and you can also view the floor shifter for the C4 Ford automatic transmission. The beautifully sweeping custom-fabricated headers are another unique touch as well as the chrome header bracing attached to the frame that appears to have been designed to serve double-duty as a foot step for entering and exiting the T.
The coil sprung 1957 Chevy rear end if fully chromed from brake backing plate to backing plate as well as panhard bar. It’s interesting to note this is also the same rear end arrangement used by Brizio on his Instant-Ts and was quite popular then because it offered a much better ride that the T or A transverse leaf spring arrangement.
The sharp little T is powered by a 1968 Ford 289 engine with dual quads and was likely supplied by the factory in light of the Alexander Bros. doing quite a bit of work for Ford, as well as the other big auto companies.
The chromed T grille shell puts forth a much sharper show-car image than brass and the Alexander’s have used nicely chromed versions of the 1923-25 tall windshield stanchions, which offer a smoother appearance than the stubby 1915 style.
The full complement of gauges is surrounded by a nice wood insert which matches the steering wheel.
The Mustang shifter was likely another “special deal” from Ford to actuate the Ford C4 automatic transmission. Back in the late 60’s Ford was quite active in donating motors to recognized show car builders to better market their products to the throngs who attended the shows. A small price to pay when a car is in multiple shows throughout the country each drawing upwards of 50,000 attendees.
Supposedly, the Alexanders used an Andy’s Instant-T fiberglass body, which would have likely been built by Steve Archer. Overall, with the beautiful yellow paint and perfect black pinstriping and accents to go along with the black interior this is a very tasteful car and it’s easy to see now why it won the Ridler award in ’69 in light of the build perfection the Alexanders accomplished.
Above are a couple of snapshots from back in the day, as noted by the yellow having turned to orange with time.
For an even better look at the Top Banana, here’s a little video I shot at the show.
And if you’re as big of a fan of the Alexander Brothers’ “Top Banana” T-Bucket as I am, then feast your eyes of these photos from when it was on the Mecum auction block back in 2012.