Erv Campbell T-Bucket Then and Now

While checking out all the cool T-Buckets at the 2017 T-Bucket Nationals in Carson City, Nevada I did a double take when I came upon this yellow Pontiac-powered T. Taking in that rare for a T-Bucket engine, the steel ex-touring body and the unique pickup bed treatment, my degenerating brain cells thought, “wow, this looks like the Erv Campbell T-Bucket from the ’60s — but something’s different”.

Erv Campbell T-Bucket

On closer inspection, the owner had been kind enough to place a story board in the T with a copy of the original March, 1965 Hot Rod Magazine feature on the Erv Campbell T-Bucket.

Erv Campbell T-Bucket

Some 50+ years ago it was a stunning shade of Fire Orange. And it really caught my attention because it just didn’t look like all the other T-Buckets I’d seen back then. Spend a few seconds staring at the Eric Rickman photo above and you’ll probably have the same realization.

What I’m talking about is the rear of the T-Bucket body, how it’s squared off and fits almost flush with the pickup bed, which itself rests on what appears to be a fascia panel on the frame that aligns with the bed and the body.

Erv Campbell T-Bucket

That’s a very different look from the legendary Grabowski and Ivo T-Buckets that were such a strong influence on 1960s T-Bucket builds.

It’s just one more example of the fact there are thousands of ways to build a T-Bucket to give it that unique, personal touch.

Before we get into the details of the Erv Campbell T-Bucket, since I saw it at their Nationals I wanted to mention you really should join the National T-Bucket Alliance if you’re not already a member. The T-Bucket Nationals is just one of many, many events they host around the country. Membership will be the best $35 you spend. It even includes a T-shirt and renewals are only $25 — plus, you don’t pay anything extra for an awesome event like the T-Bucket Nationals. (Note: NTBA and are not related or affiliated in any way. I’m just a long-time member and truly believe that anyone into T-Buckets will benefit greatly from being a member).

Thanks to the Petersen SEMA Digitization Project, there are many never-before-seen photos that help tell the story of this inspirational T-Bucket hot rod. Although the feature on the Erv Campbell T-Bucket was published in 1965, the photos were taken by the late, great Eric Rickman in 1963. With publishing cycle times back then and the plethora of material available this is not an unusual situation.

That story board the owner, Charlie Schopper, had placed in the seat of the T had an interesting story about how he came about the car.

During Hot August Nights 2001, two guys from Oregon trailered this 1922 Ford T-Bucket Pontiac-powered roadster to Reno. Their intention was to sell the car to settle a debt. They stopped by my business to unload the car, as they were friends with an employee of mine. The car ran poorly, had no reserve gear, boiled over in a short amount of time and needed a lot of TLC. They mentioned it had been in Hot Rod magazine back in the 1960’s, but had no proof of this. The price for the car was $10,000. I was interested up to this point but NO WAY was the car worth that amount in the condition it was in.

Four days later, they came by and asked if I was still interested. The only offer was $5000 and the car would go to Japan. I purchased the car that day. On the story of the car being in Hot Rod magazine and knowing the car was originally registered in 1962, I started purchasing old Hot Rod magazines. Finally, after buying many years, I found it in March 1965, pages 70 and 71.

The only changes to the car:
Original Pontiac TriPower installed
Rebuilt 1956 Pontiac transmission
Lokar shifter with Moon shifter knob
Generator was replaced with an alternator

Aside from the color change and that not so subtle steering wheel, fortunately not much has changed on the Erv Campbell T-Bucket in 50 years.

Speaking of color change, in the February, 1965 issue of Rod & Custom magazine Erv’s T-Bucket is shown in a beautiful metallic blue as the push car for the Walker & Geary AA/Fuel Altered.

It then appeared in its Hot Rod magazine feature one month later in what appeared to be red. But remember that the Hot Rod photos were taken in 1963, so it was probably changed from “what appeared to be” red to blue. Confusing? Maybe, but also consider there were two separate and different issues of Rod & Custom magazine for February, 1965.

But Erv’s very sharp T also appeared in the February, 1964 edition of Popular Hot Rodding magazine with another color shot of the car. The “unusual” color was described as Iridescent Fire Orange, as applied by Grand Prix Auto Body.

I don’t know about you, but I kinda’ prefer the metallic blue, which was referred to as 20 coats of lacquer in a tint known as “Dykem blue” inspired by the Prussian blue machinists layout fluid.

Like most others of the day, the Erv Campbell T-Bucket was based on a Model A frame of 1930 vintage and set up with a 96 inch wheelbase, which today most would consider pretty short.

But back in the day most T-Buckets were built with an under 100 inch wheelbase. For comparison, the Nelson and Martin pioneering Dragmaster Mark 1 dragster frame was also set up with a 96 inch wheelbase, which was the same wheelbase Norm Grabowski built his Kookie T on.

Erv Campbell T-Bucket

One of the unique features of this T is the tiny rear window in the beautifully constructed top that employs the very traditional looking wood bows. The top was built by Bob Tharp, who also did the upholstery.

I didn’t think I had ever seen such a small rear window opening on an early roadster top until just recently Terry W. Weaver posted an old photo of his grandmother sitting on a roadster. From the shape of that turtle deck, though, it looks more like a Dodge than a Ford roadster she was seated on. Whether that was the original top or an aftermarket special I don’t know, but it was at least cool to see that some of the cars back then had such a small window opening.

Erv Campbell T-Bucket

The top was built to be easily collapsed and this T looks great either way, top up or down.

The 347 cubic inch, 1957 Pontiac engine in the Erv Campbell T-Bucket was pretty unconventional motivation even in the early 1960s and, therefore, one of its unique features. Even at its stock 252 horsepower rating, in a lightweight T-Bucket and coupled to a 1956 Pontiac Super HydraMatic transmission it made for a pretty exciting ride.

Erv Campbell T-Bucket

With that Poncho dressed up with a pair of finned no-name valve covers and chrome air cleaner for the 4-barrel carb and other chromed accessories it was an impressive engine. But what really set it off were the custom-built 4-into-1 exhaust headers finished in what was standard for the day, high-temp metalized white coating. The smooth curves they took to clear the chromed split wishbones and drag link gave them a very unique and dramatic look.

The extensive chassis chrome, by the way, was done through J&E Speed Center.

According to Erv Campbell the headers were the hardest part of building this T-Bucket. The rest was easy because this was the sixth rod that Erv had built.

Fast forward half a century and the engine sports the same valve covers but with extended T-Bar style wing nuts added. The modern yellow silicone molded spark plug wires have become the center of attention to the extent that you almost overlook the nice addition of the very traditional Pontiac “Tri-Power” option that was available back then with the three deuces adding some 20+ horsepower.

Erv Campbell T-Bucket

It’s interesting to note that the exhaust headers look almost identical to the original up to the collector that appears to have been replaced with a flanged one and chrome turnouts added. Of course, the white exhaust coating is no longer there.

What really knocked me out when I first saw the Erv Campbell T-Bucket was its interior. I’m a huge fan of diamond tufted upholstery that was very popular in T-Buckets and other street rods of the 60s and 70s. And when you use it on the floor too, instead of carpet, you’ve got my vote!

Erv Campbell T-Bucket

I mean, what’s not to love here. The full complement of Stewart-Warner gauges, including the 160 mph speedo centered in the dash and the vintage Sun tach mounted on the chromed steering column connected to that cool 3-spoke steering wheel. Speaking of chrome, check out those door hinges. You’ll also note the short shifting handle to control the 1956 Pontiac Super HydraMatic transmission.

Alas, not much of what I loved about the interior 50 years ago remains today. Although that’s not so unusual in the street rod world where interiors can be subject to wear and changing fads. In this case a steering wheel that’s the real party crasher, even though it’s connected to a quick disconnect for easy entry and exit. The beautiful button tufted vinyl has been replaced by the ’70s street rod mohair look and a tall shifter added along with emergency brake handle.

Erv Campbell T-Bucket

While most of the S-W gauges were preserved it looks like the speedo was replaced by one from Moon and the Sun tach was replaced with a more modern unit. And what’s that covering the floor? Just plain old carpet. Drat!

But it looks like the black button tufted vinyl may have survived on the pickup bed cover.

It’s immediately obvious that Erv Campbell was an accomplished hot rod builder when you look at his T-Bucket head on. The grille shell aligns perfectly with the cowl and the rest is symmetry in motion.

Up front, Erv went with the traditional 1937 Ford V8-60 style tubular axle and mated it to ’48 Ford spindles with no front brakes, which was also relatively common for Southern California T-Buckets in the early 1960s.

Of course everything was very nicely chromed, including the T grille shell. Erv went with a 1958 Ford truck steering box and those cool spindle-mount Americans are shod with 4.00 x 15 Pirelli tires.

Fortunately, things have remained pretty much the same, including the Motometer on the grille shell.

The windshield stay rods that were popularized by the Grabowski T remain along with the cast headlight stands that were almost standard equipment in the day.

Another notably unique Erv Campbell feature is the use of a square tube, rather than round rube, drag link, possibly for greater stiffness. You’ll also note the lower cowl notched out for the body to be channeled the depth of the 1930 Model A frame rails.

Erv Campbell T-Bucket

The shortened Model A pickup bed of Erv Campbell’s T-Bucket contains a fuel tank and battery, along with room for the Model A rear crossmember and spring.

Erv Campbell T-Bucket

And a lot glitters around back, from the tailgate hinges, carriage lamp, Model A spring and 1955 Pontiac rear axle with 3.55 gears.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the exhaust headers connect to a pair of tailpipes with mufflers and the exhaust exists above and on either side of the rear differential.

The chrome is still there, although it looks like the carriage lamp may have been replaced with an unchromed one.

One of the more dramatic elements of the Erv Campbell T-Bucket in its original state is the deep offset highly polished American mags that sported 9.00 x 16 M&H Racemaster slicks.

But that beautiful wheel and tire combo has been replaced. However, if you didn’t know what the original looked like the more contemporary replacement would look just fine. The chromed split wishbones attached to the rear end are still there, though.

Munsters Erv Campbell T-Bucket

Many of you classic TV fans have seen the Erv Campbell T-Bucket but maybe didn’t realize it. “Rock-a-Bye Munster” was the 4th episode of The Munsters TV show. It aired on October 15, 1964 and Lily Munster visits a used car lot to buy a birthday gift for the love of her life, Herman Munster.

Lily liked the Erv Campbell T-Bucket, which was bargain priced, but was also taken with an antique hearse. That $795 price would have been a heck of a deal even back then, considering Erv estimated he had $3000 cash and 5000 hours invested in his T-Bucket.

Pointing to the T-Bucket, she said “I want the front end of this car put on the back end of that car. Take them to the custom body shop and tell them it’s a rush job.”

Such was the birth of the Munster Koach, at least on TV. The real story is widely misunderstood and we’ll leave it for now for another day.

It was easy for the Erv Campbell T-Bucket to be cast in a television show, because its beauty was evident and the subtle pinstriping by Ron York really accented the car’s lines.

It was built to be not only beautiful with its striking fire orange paint finish, but also versatile with its sharp looking collapsible white top.

Top up or down, it look equally great and was able to capture its share of show awards as Erv and wife Rae proudly display. Remember that Erv invested 5000 hours of his own time in the T’s construction and it shows.

For a 50+ year survivor I’d say that Erv Campbell’s T-Bucket has held up rather well. When one considers that decades ago hot rods were considered relatively low value and of little historic significance. Changes were common and something like a custom paint finish from the 1960s didn’t have the life expectancy of today’s. So such changes are natural and not to be criticized. They can always be put back to original appearance, depending on a current owner’s desires.

John Morehead
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8 thoughts on “Erv Campbell T-Bucket Then and Now”

  1. They say a photo is worth a thousand words making this article an encyclopedia of words. Great photos.
    I did not see it in the article but a lot of early buckets used the front end of a T touring and I wonder if this was the case.
    Beautiful T but aren’t they all!

    • Thanks Bill, Yep, I did mention that Erv’s T-Bucket was a “steel ex-touring body” like those used by Grabowski and Ivo. It’s a distinctive look because the body reveal goes straight back and the curved back of the body is bounded by the cut off touring sides. This photo of a touring body that someone turned into a piece of furniture illustrates that particular look without any distraction.
      T-Bucket Model T touring body
      Thanks again for your nice comment, John

  2. Notching the cowl on T-Bucket bodies to clear the Model A frame was quite commonplace in the 50s. If you really want the that 50s look try that today and you’d have a truly distinctive rod.

  3. That,s my wife (Ilona) walking behind in the last pic…we were there (from Fla, ) in our ’23 Mr. Bonez ……

  4. That show was held in my home town where I grew up and I recognize Millers Park where it was held even though I haven’t been back in 50 years. The flathead Dodge bucket I helped build in 1955 (pictured in my book) saw a lot of miles in that town, I wonder if it still exists.


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