Cotton Werksman Reunited With His Legendary ’15 T-Bucket

Cotton Werksman T-Bucket

Cotton Werksman has achieved a lot in the hot rod world.

  • Being one of the original founders of the National Street Rod Association is but one of Cotton’s achievements.
  • To the editors of Hot Rod magazine he was “The Barrington Wizard”, the man who knows how to hammer out 550 supercharged HP from “The Ultimate Street Flathead”.
  • According to The Rodders Journal, Cotton Werksman “has built more Ardun-powered hot rods than anyone we know.”
  • In 1971 Rod & Custom magazine introduced Cotton’s “Midwest Incredo-Roadster” tube-framed ’27 T with his own fabricated independent front and rear suspensions and 800 HP mid-engine supercharged Hemi as “Project 200 — a simple, fast, inexpensive, and completely homebuilt Roadster, designed to be driven on the street, and capable of a top speed of 200 miles per!” (Not just driven around the block, but rather to the Memphis Street Rod Nationals).

Cotton Werksman T-Buckets

But, in my T-Bucket loving eyes, the greatest Cotton Werksman achievement was his 1915 “California modified” style T-Bucket.

Cotton Werksman T-Bucket

Cotton Werksman Builds “the Wildest Street Rod in Life”

In introducing Cotton Werksman’s T in their December, 1968 issue, Rod & Custom magazine used the headline, “Originality — Craftsmanship — Roadability — no praise is too lavish for the newest and neatest streetster of the century”.

Cotton Werksman T-Bucket

And that was fact, not hype. Cotton had designed and built his own tubular space frame with a sprint car front suspension sporting Indy car disc brakes. The rear suspension was even more radical with a Cotton-built independent rear suspension based on a Frankland quickchange center section, GM parts for axles and one of the earliest uses of coil-over shocks for street rod suspension.

Cotton Werksman T-Bucket

The rare, eye-catching 276 cubic inch Ardun engine was based on a ’46 Ford flathead and with its sextet of Stromberg 97’s and accompanying internal goodies dynoed out at 300 horsepower. More than adequate for such a low-slung 1500 pound roadster.

Cotton Werksman T-Bucket

Showing no end to creativity, Cotton’s T also sported a one-of-a-kind louvered fabric top!

Cotton Werksman T-Bucket

One of the T’s most memorable and confusing elements, though, was the Chinese lettering on the fuel tank. While the letters spell out “Cotton” they were inadvertently applied in reverse by the striper.

Cotton Werksman T-Bucket

Cotton’s T had enough street cred to earn membership in the prestigious L.A. Roadsters. Quite an accomplishment for a guy in Chicago’s far suburbs.

Cotton Werksman T-Bucket

To top it all off, by having the skills to be able to do virtually all the fabrication on his T, Cotton accomplished this feat on a budget of only $1650! An astonishing low figure to get such a dramatic result even 47 years ago!

Cotton Werksman T-Bucket

Much more can be written about Cotton and this incredibly innovative T-Bucket (and its offshoots), but I’ll leave that for another day.

Cotton Werksman T

Like most hot rods back in the day, Cotton sold the T and it was sold again and pretty much lost. Over the past 25 years, though, he’s been looking for it and that’s the beauty of this story.

Cotton Werksman T

You see, Cotton celebrated his 83rd birthday this month. Coincidentally, Greg Hall, a good friend of Cotton’s, who also owns another T Cotton had a big hand in building, found and purchased Cotton’s original yellow T.

Cotton Werksman T-Bucket today

Cotton Werksman 1915 T-Bucket
The Cotton Werksman 1915 T-Bucket, built in 1966, as it exists in 2015.

As a special birthday surprise, they brought it to the shop of Cotton’s son, Matt. As Matt noted, “I was surprised that my Dad took the car out for a ride! 😉 He hopped in like a kid and tore down the street. It was a great day for all involved.”

To make it even more special, Cotton’s friends enlisted the aid of Hemi T-Bucket guy Curt Zimmerman in putting together this fun video of the occassion. Watch and enjoy as Cotton inspects it and notes the changes that had been made. Then see 83-year-old Cotton jump in the T and take it for a drive!

The Cotton Werksman tradition of hot rod engineering, style and attention to detail fortunately continues today through his son, Matt Werksman, who started building flatheads and Arduns under his father’s tutelage before he was old enough to get a driver’s license.

Cotton Werksman Matt Werksman
Cotton Werksman with son, Matt Werksman, in the T in 1969.

Matt’s Barrington, Illinois-based Fox Valley Hot Rods specializes in traditional hot rod engine parts and rebuilding as well as vehicle restorations ranging from hot rods to sports cars.

It’s a real delight to see such a historically significant T reunited with its original builder. I’m sure Cotton Werksman’s hot rod fabrications will continue to inspire generations to come.

John Morehead
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10 thoughts on “Cotton Werksman Reunited With His Legendary ’15 T-Bucket”

  1. One of the very first auto mags. I ever picked up was Pop Hot Rodding sometime in 78 with the Knaack 15T. Articule “Midnight Mover all day Groover” a Godawful title for a great car. Designed to do everything right except maybe keep you dry. A car that can turn brake and haul ass while looking good, and using what are now considered prehistoric components while sitting low as or lower than a GT40 most likely. After all these years it still gets the ideas going. Cotton’s legacy continues.

  2. That is a wonderful story with a very happy ending. I am sure that all of us that grew up working with our dad on projects in our garage can relate to this story. It is stories like this that is the foundation for our great rodding community. God Bless all the dads that worked with their children to teach them the true value of workmanship and the pride in personalizing their vehicles no matter what they may be. This is what makes America so wonderful! Thanks for sharing this story. It made my day.

  3. What a cool car! What a cool story! What a cool reunion! Gotta admit seeing Cotton take his ol’ girl for a spin kinda got to me.

    Stories like this are why this site is priceless.

    • Thanks for the nice comments, Bill 🙂 Cotton built a timelessly cool car and it’s great to see them both together. But, just as great to see Cotton’s tradition continue through the work of his son, Matt, at Fox Valley Hot Rods.

  4. This is a wonderful piece of history. I was part of a rod run in 1968 with Cotton and his out of site “T” that was incredibly engineered and put my T to shame. The Rod Run was featured in the Nov. 1968 edition of Rod & Custom magazine . My T was also pictured in the piece as I and two of my friends rode with me in my car. That caught the attention of the editor. I wish I could be reunited with my car today. This is a great tribute to Cotton. Thanks for sharing…

  5. In the 1970’s Cotton rebuilt my Dad’s Healey big Healey motor, breathing some extra life under the bonnet. Dad (Roger) had a blast with that car, racing it at Healey Club autocross events and taking us kids to the Dairy Queen. High school freshman year Dad took me on my first date to Adventureland with a cute brunette. Fifteen years later I took another hot brunette in that Healey on our first date to the Indy 500; we’ve been married 25+ years now. We still have the car and it still goes like stink when asked. It took our own kids to the Dairy Queen, us to football games, brought home live trees at Christmas (top down, freezing cold, lots of friendly honks and smiles) and my son learned to drive a stick with it. Most of the time we drive “slow cool”, but Cotton’s 40-year old motor work is hanging TOUGH and it sounds damn GOOD! I remember pictures of Cotton’s personal Healeys, he liked to clip the wings (fenders) for a custom look. Very cool.

    • Thanks so much for sharing that, Gary. I personally wasn’t aware of Cotton’s Healey work, but that gives me some insight into the sports car restoration his son, Matt, now also does at Fox Valley Hot Rods. Hope you and your family enjoy many more miles of Healey fun!


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