Art Tardiville's T-Bucket Chassis American Austin Bantam Coupe

Art’s T-Bucket Chassis American Austin Bantam Coupe

The versatile T-Bucket chassis can be used with a wide variety of hot rod bodies that are not Model T based. Notable examples are the Model A as well as the diminutive Austin Bantam roadster and the American Austin Bantam Coupe. One notable example is the cool Chevy-powered American Austin Bantam Coupe built by Art Tardiville in Northern California.

Art Tardiville American Austin Bantam Coupe T-Bucket Chassis

In case you’re not familiar with this particular body style, the American Austin Car Company was founded in 1929, and produced cars under a licensing agreement with the British Austin Motor Company from 1930 through 1934, when it filed for bankruptcy.

American Austin Bantam Coupe

The American Austin Bantam Coupe was marketed as America’s first economy car and the ideal second car, which in itself was a strange concept at the beginning of the Great Depression.

American Austin Bantam Coupe

Buster Keaton in American Austin Bantam Coupe

The Austin was 16-inches narrower and 28-inches shorter than any other American automobile. With its 75 inch wheelbase, it was so small, in fact, that it became a prop in comedy movies of the era. It was put to use by stars like Buster Keaton in the photo above, as well as Laurel and Hardy in the clip below.

Its equally tiny 45 cubic inch, 15 horsepower engine was guaranteed to get 40 miles per gallon of gasoline.

American Austin Bantam Coupe

American Austin Bantam Coupe in the Nethercutt Museum

Austin’s ads claimed that the Bantam coupe would run 1000 miles for $7.40 (gas, oil and tires), while the cost for the same distance with a full size car was $25.20. But with its list price of $445 being almost the same as for a Ford Model A, few people were willing to pay that for the economy and cramped quarters. Only about 20,000 American Austin Bantam coupes were ever produced.

Gabby Bleeker American Austin Bantam fuel coupe

 

Thirty years later, hot rodders like Chicagoan Gabby Bleeker recognized the light weight and compactness of the American Austin Bantam coupe. Gabby’s was one of the most successful fuel altereds of the 1960s.

American Austin Bantam competition coupe

They also were popular choices in the Competition Coupe classes, where the abbreviated body was draped over a dragster chassis.

Art Tardiville American Austin Bantam Coupe T-Bucket Chassis

Which brings us to retired pipe fitter/welder Art Tardiville finding a rather complete 1932 American Austin Bantam coupe on eBay.

Art Tardiville 1932 American Austin Bantam coupe

Having seen a street rodded Bantam coupe as a youngster in the Oakland area, Art had kept his eyes open for one but with so few produced and the remainder scrapped or converted to drag car bodies they were as scarce as the proverbial hens’ teeth. Once he got the Bantam home his first order of business was to separate the body from the frame.

Art Tardiville American Austin Bantam Coupe Chassis

For a car whose payload limit (passengers and luggage) was only 500 pounds that skimpy, short chassis just would not do for what he had planned.

Art Tardiville American Austin Bantam Coupe T-Bucket Chassis

So after assigning the old chassis to the scrap pile Art did some basic mocking up and concluded that a T-Bucket chassis would do the job.

Art Tardiville American Austin Bantam Coupe T-Bucket Chassis

When it came to building the T-Bucket chassis for his Bantam coupe Art relied on his many years experience as a welding professional. And he also took advantage of the opportunity to compare and contrast T-Bucket plans in order to put together the chassis that he felt best suited his objectives.

Art Tardiville American Austin Bantam Coupe T-Bucket Chassis

It might be observed that using a rectangular front crossmember, rather than the more conventional tubing, was similar to Chester Greenhalgh’s T-Bucket plans.

t-bucket-chassis-art-tardiville-american-austin-bantam-coupe

Art didn’t skimp on crossmembers, and at the rear of the chassis he fashioned one that served double duty as a rear nerf bar as well as location for a trailer hitch.

t-bucket-chassis-art-tardiville-american-austin-bantam-coupe

Along the way, the ’32 Bantam body was also getting whipped into shape.

Art Tardiville American Austin Bantam Coupe T-Bucket Chassis

And a lot of late nights were spent in Art’s garage that shared space with his two-wheel hobby.

T-Bucket chassis Art Tardiville American Austin Bantam coupe

The custom chassis Art built was a thing of beauty, with it’s front suspension following that laid out in the CCR T-Bucket chassis plans. Art used other inspiration as well for his very nicely executed rear coil-over-shocks with 4 bar links.

T-Bucket chassis Art Tardiville American Austin Bantam coupe

With the chassis complete, it was well-prepared to handle the 420+ horsepower of the Summit 383 stroker motor and dual quad tunnel ram intake.

T-Bucket chassis Art Tardiville Austin Bantam coupe

The small block feeds into a TH350 with TCI torque converter, controlled by a B&M pro ratchet shifter and feeding into a Ford 9 inch rear with 4.11 gears.

Art Tardiville American Austin Bantam Coupe T-Bucket Chassis

In the light of day, it all came together to Art’s liking.

Art Tardiville American Austin Bantam Coupe T-Bucket Chassis

The Bantam body was nicely channeled over the T chassis and Art decided to fabricate a visor to make the Austin’s roof line less abrupt and to enhance its now sinister look.

Art Tardiville American Austin Bantam Coupe T-Bucket Chassis

After completing the interior with fiberglass buckets and Stewart Warner gauges, Art’s T-Bucket chassis based Bantam coupe is a true one-of-a-kind on the street.

Art Tardiville American Austin Bantam Coupe T-Bucket Chassis

Hats off to Art for pursuing his dream and fulfilling it so nicely with a hot rod that so aptly demonstrates the versatility of the T-Bucket chassis.

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John Morehead

Founder at TBucketPlans.com
T-Bucket fanatic since 1957 when my 8 year old eyes became glued to a full page LIFE magazine photo of Norm Grabowski in the wildest hot rod I had ever seen! I later discovered the fascinating T-Buckets of TV Tommy Ivo, Marty Hollmann, Bob Johnston and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s T-Bucket inspired Outlaw. I was hooked for life on T-Bucket hot rods!

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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