I first published this story about the Alexander Brothers Ridler Award winning T-Bucket 44 years after it won that very prestigious award. I had just seen it at a Chicago custom car show and was quite impressed. I’m updating it with some additional historic photos, information and commentary.
I’ll start with the added commentary. Today, the prospect of winning the Ridler Award at the Detroit Autorama with a T-Bucket seems very unlikely. Winning it with a T-Bucket built from someone else’s “kit” seems utterly impossible! But, you have to consider the circumstances back in 1969.
To start, the Alexander Brothers were local favorites in terms of the Detroit Autorama. Their shop on Schoolcraft Road had already turned out two other Ridler Award winners: the Venturian in 1965 and the Deora in 1967.
You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think being a local favorite has influence on such big name custom car awards as the Ridler and AMBR. Which brings us to another influential factor of the Top Banana T-Bucket becoming the Alexander Brothers Ridler third win.
Sure, they could have built a T-Bucket from scratch, but why do that when Andy Brizio was already building both turnkey and kit beautiful T-Buckets with his Instant-Ts. In fact, by 1969 Andy had already twice entered his personal Instant T in the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster competition in Oakland.
The third time was a charm for Andy when he did a complete makeover that included stunning paint by AMBR winner himself, Art Himsl.
Another factor playing into the Alexander Brothers Ridler 1969 win was that T roadsters were on a hot streak in the show car world, starting with George Barris’ Twister T winning AMBR in 1962 and some sort of T bodied or T body inspired roadster winning it every year on up through 1971.
But the primary factor in the Alexander Brothers Ridler capture was that they built an incredibly tasteful, impeccably constructed show car for the times that had man on the street appeal. Which leads us to me seeing it 44 years later.
In January, 2013 we announced the upcoming “Tee Party” at the 2013 Chicago World of Wheels and we’re happy to bring you 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.
Larry Alexander had 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. Supposedly, the third Alexander Brothers Ridler winner was built at night after regular work hours.
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).
The following year, the Alexander Brothers Ridler winner appeared in a For Sale ad in the back of the February, 1970 issue of Hot Rod magazine. I find it interesting the ad made no mention of the car winning the prestigious Ridler award.
The ad stated the car was “worth $6500” and that’s a pretty fair statement because a new base Corvette back then was about $5200. In the same edition of Hot Rod Steve Kirby’s bobtail T-Bucket with Rochester FI Chevy power and Jaguar rear end, painted a similar yellow was noted as representing a $6200 investment for the Mountain View, CA San Jose Roadsters member. So, a selling price of $4200 for the Alexander Brothers Ridler winner was a steal in my book.
At the 2013 show, the Alexander Brothers Ridler winner was owned by John Safro of Hartland, Wisconsin.
Of course, the Top Banana displays the 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 often 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 rear end arrangement used by Brizio on his Instant-Ts 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.
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.
I’m sure the Alexander Brothers Top Banana T-Bucket is still around in pretty much the same condition and I must say that I’m envious of its current owner. Fad T? Forget it! If done right, a T-Bucket’s styling is truly timeless.