You may have seen this wheelstanding T-Bucket before. The photo has been widely circulated to dispel the myth that you can’t get a T-Bucket to hook up traction-wise and because it’s sporting full street equipment and also because if you look closely you’ll notice a cigarette nonchalantly hanging from the lip of the T’s builder and driver, Frank Mazi, as he launches on a business-as-usual mid-10-second run at his local drag strip, before driving it back home.
But this T was a family affair and wife Linda Mazi regularly took her turn getting the wheels up and competing with the guys after leaving the Powder Puff contingent way behind.
This incredible T-Bucket was built by Frank Mazi, starting back in 1969, and shows that it’s possible to build a T-Bucket in a home garage, that can not only be used for family cruising, but also look good enough to be entered in the occasional show. Of course, that’s not all. Frank and Linda’s little home-built T was a wheelstanding, crowd-pleasing 10 second quarter mile terror that was put together on a working-man’s budget and looked good enough to earn a feature in a national magazine. Frank Mazi tells the story:
“I married Linda in 1965. The first of three daughter’s was expected in January of ’66. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment: $80 a month rent. I owned a ’57 Chevy convertible with a ’64 327 f.i. engine equipped with tri-power induction, 4-speed and 4:11 rear end. It was black with a white Carson top and red and white rolled and pleated interior. It had fiberglass front fenders and hood, with no front bumper. Linda hated that car! She could not come back from the grocery store without dumping bags on floor and breaking the eggs.”
“So, life is a compromise. I sold the ’57 for $500 and bought a ’65 Chevy with 327 and powerglide. Used the remaining $300 plus savings for the $800 down payment on a house. We did not want to raise a family in an apartment. The house was on a dirt road, with gravel drive, and no garage, on 1/3 acre: $17,900 at 4% interest for a mortgage payment of $152 a month. I was scraping out a living as an HVAC tech, making $2.80 per hour. We moved into our house the 23rd of December, 1965. Dawn Marie was born January 6, 1966; one of the three greatest moments in my life. Tammy and Wendy are the other two daughters. One and a half years and many side job’s later, I’d saved up $3,000 to build a two-car garage and a cement driveway. Tammy Lynn arrived March 11, 1967. Our family was growing, and spending more time at home was necessary, rather than being at someone else’s garage.”
“I was starting to accumulate tools and had a workspace in the garage, with a 220 Amp welder, Sear’s vise, bench grinder, and a homemade air compressor made up of various parts like scrounged motor and reservoirs made from empty freon jugs. I made extra money from tune-ups, clutch changes, oil changes, etc. My car ramps were made from 2′ X 12′ wood scrounged from jobsites. My homemade creeper used caster wheels from a dumpster.”
“During the Winter of 1968 I spent several months working on engine swaps and building my friend Norm’s ’27 T steel roadster: pickup body, turtle deck, 327, 4-spd, 4:11, metallic blue paint. Late in April, 1969, I thrashed several days to finish Norm’s roadster, only to have ignition problems scratch a late Saturday night finish. Norman had some family get together the following day. So, I asked him if I got the car running could I take it for a ride on Sunday. ‘No problem,’ said Norm … and the stage is set. (Linda still had no use for hot rods and related time spent on them!) Sunday was an exceptional spring day for N.E. Ohio, 75 degrees, S.W. breeze, the roadster was tuned up and ready to go by 10:00 A.M. I convinced Linda to drop the girls at grandma’s and go for a nice leisurely cruise in the roadster … and cruise we did. 250 miles later and returning home by 10:30 P.M. was a turning point for Linda’s attitude. ;-)”
“For my birthday May 9, 1969, we located a ’23 T-bucket body with shorty bed, frame was 3″ pipe perimeter box style, with an approximately 18” rectangular rear kickup, and ’57 Olds/Pontiac type rear end drum-to-drum. There was a Straight Way tube front axle, with H&H disc brakes, and a ’56 Ford steering box. The body must have been previous street rod material, because the door was cut out to open on the passenger side, a bench seat with seat back support in black naugahyde was installed, it had an open dash, no windshield, and green metalflake paint. There were two large holes in the pickup bed for Ford tail lights. It was a basket case of parts. What a score for only $350.00. The previous owner was going to build a racer with a hemi, lost interest and put it up for sale minus engine and tranny. I loaded all these pieces into my work van and took them home with the frame rails sticking out the back door.”
“The Summer of ’69 was spent piecing together the ’23 T-Bucket … made spring perch from 1/4″ scrap steel plate, same for steering box, wishbone mounts and rear end mount’s. Junkyard leaf springs were cut down to quarter elliptic for rear suspension, initially used four leafs then reduced to three to enhance ride. Front spring for Straight Way axle was originally six leaf for a hemi and reduced to four leaf. By August, we had a rolling chassis with motor mounts for small block Chevy, a T-10 4-speed tranny and bell housing, home made drive shaft, a radiator from a Jeep almost fit the T grille shell, and master cylinder and clutch assembly came from a junkyard ’62 Chevy truck.”
“The working door was glassed in solid, and much sanding done to get rid of the awful green metalflake. Also closed the tail light holes … my first experience with fiberglass work was not very inspiring (improper prep work, too much resin, not enough fiberglass mat), and I dreaded the sticking mess. Two quarts of white enamel cost about $12.00. Painted the body in refrigerator white.”
“Borrowed a 327 from my friend Ernest (Lee) Firebaugh, a dual quad intake with a pair of WCFB 500 CFM carbs came from Norman (Norm) Milavec. Initial runs were made on the street from September, sans front shocks, with windshield made from 3/4” electrical conduit and plexiglass with tall T posts from Speedway. We made many short cruises that month which set the table for the now famous phrase, ‘let’s take it to the drags to see what it will do in the quarter mile.'”
“Lee was as enthusiastic as I was because he owned the motor. We drove the T to Thompson Drag Raceway in early October 1969. It was a nice Fall day, sunny about 60 degrees. AHRA rules put the T in A/Altered in street trim! Removed windshield, lowered tire pressure to 10 lbs. on 10 inch wide Safeway grooved recap slick’s 28″ tall. Rear gear was 4:10. Made it to the finals to race against ’33 Willys injected big block Chevy from Mickey Hart’s stable of race cars. Heads-up race did not look too even, but the race gods smiled on us, as they broke a lifter during the pass, we got the trophy and had some good times afterword. That first outing, we ran a stellar 12.40 e.t.at 119 mph.”
“In 1970 Wendy joined the family in May and we were now getting into the routine of fall street cruising. The three girls, Linda, and myself had to be a sight to other drivers. Each one of us bundled in sweat shirts, hats and gloves. Dawn and Tammy would devilishly antagonize other cruisers to stoplight drags. (I don’t think anyone in their right mind would be able to get away with this nowadays, probably get locked up for child abuse or endangerment.) 😯 ”
“The winter of ’70-’71 brought more changes to the T-Bucket. Upped compression with 12.5:1 pistons, added a Walker radiator (the Jeep radiator was O.K. until temp’s got above 85 degrees and then the motor would run hot: 210-220 degrees), Crower flat tappet cam (.590 lift, 310 duration), roller rockers, windage baffles in oil pan, Edelbrock Tunnel Ram manifold with 2 Holley 600 vacuum secondary carbs, capacitive discharge ignition; rear tires for street were Firestone 12×28.5 slicks, at race track switched to M&H’s softer compound. The Firestones on the street required 3 mile warmup run to get maximum hookup.”
“And new paint was added. At this period of time Rod mags were featuring many cars with exotic paint schemes and I was intrigued with the candy colors over white basecoats, and flowing ribbon designs that really popped. Thought I should try this. 😆 From January through May, four different schemes were tried; nothing looked right. Linda put in a lot of effort sanding off bad designs, finalized the Aztec gold candy over silver white base, with black cobwebbing in random stencil, three coats of clear and sanded smooth, and ten more clear coats for finish.”
“The homemade headers didn’t look right anymore, so Sanderson roadster pipes with slip-in baffles were purchased (a big expense; approx. $300.00 back then 🙄 ). Swap meet chromed side lanterns finished the look we were after. With a t-bone gauge added to the radiator shell.”
“Cruising and racing was a mix of issues: motor tune-up was a little radical for street, less low end torque gave Linda fits at stop lights, fixed that with a 50 lb. flywheel and for that change required a higher starting line launch rpm at the drags which produced wheelstands that created problems with the 600 cfm carbs, so those were changed for race dates to the 660 cfm Holley’s. This combination produced e.t.s of mid-10’s @ 125-128 mph.”
“Linda would consistently run 10.80s @125 mph. So it became a big hassle for Thompson to deal with the other Powder Puff contestants, females that didn’t feel it was fair to have to race against her with street cars. The officials were stuck in the middle and finally relented to allow Linda to drive in regular competition, which started all the grudge racing antics of the local racers again … many more hours of laughing, and side bets.” (Note: I find this even more impressive because I understand that Linda Mazi was 5’2″, ‘with 4″ of that hair’ and barely 100 lbs.)
[contentbox width=”550″ borderwidth=”1″ borderstyle=”none” bordercolor=”000000″ dropshadow=”0″ backgroundcolor=”F5F5F5″ radius=”0″]Let me put Frank and Linda’s performance in their home-built T-Bucket into perspective. The first NHRA national event to host a Pro Stock competition was the 1970 Winternationals. Bill Jenkins’ low e.t. of the meet was a 9.98 in his big block 427 Camaro. The Mazi’s budget-built small block was hauling![/contentbox]
“The wheelstands had to be controlled because the higher the launch above 6000 rpm, the higher the front end would go. So I made a set of wheelie bars from one main leaf spring attached to steel cabinet castors which worked very well. The next few years followed the same path. 1972 we drove the T to the Detroit Street Rod convention. In 1973 we went to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where we met and were photographed by Dick Mendonca for a feature in ROD ACTION magazine. The urge to go faster had settled in, and we knew the roadster was not the vehicle to do it in. Put it up for sale late summer ’73. A lot of tire kickers but no buyers priced at $3,500.00. The T-Bucket was then disassembled and sold off in pieces. Could not afford to keep it with new racer coming. I wound up with more money from the piece’s than the whole car would have brought.”
I find Frank’s story of his T fascinating and what becomes apparent to me in terms of getting the T to hook up so well was the quarter-elliptic rear springs with a lower support bar pivoting below each spring mount. When you couple that with the tall rear gear, M&H slicks, heavy flywheel and 6000+ rpm launches it’s up-up-and-away. You may also have noted that Frank was running almost 130 mph at the end of the quarter and used no windshield support rods. I understand that on the inside of the body, he had glassed in supporting steel plates for the windshield posts and never found a need for further support. When it came to handling, according to Frank, the T was “very well-mannered, like a big go-kart.” But that all changed with his next car for the strip.
Aptly named “God of Hellfire”, Frank’s car that replaced the T was a strip-only blown hemi-powered BB/Altered Opel. It became quite famous for its performance and the thrilling show it put on, because as Frank described it “The car has two positions: out of shape and about to get out of shape.” To get to know the car and the Mazi racing family better, I highly recommend you read the two-part National Dragster story, “Altered States -or- How I Spent My Summer Vacation” by Phil Burgess. It’s one of the best drag racing stories you’ll read. Dawn Mazi, by the way followed her family’s drag racing passion and is an accomplished drag racing photographer as well as clothing designer with her popular Drag Strip Girl line of women’s, youth, and toddler apparel and accessories.
If there’s any doubt about what a versatile performer this little T-Bucket was, consider any of the above May 1972 wheels-up photos from Thompson Drag Raceway and then look at the picture below taken by Street Rodder magazine where it was a center of attention after making a 350 mile round trip to the 3rd Annual Street Rod Nationals in Detroit just two months later.
From there, Frank and Linda ventured to the 1973 Street Rod Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and again caught the eye of Street Rodder magazine editors not only for the terrific T, but also Linda Turned heads with her new “Street is Neat” shorts.
So, what more could you ask for in a T-Bucket?
It was used for family cruising, was entered in car shows, was featured in a national magazine, could be driven to the strip and hold its own against just about anything it came up against, and it provided endless hours of family fun — oh yeah, all that on a modest working man’s budget.