A few years ago, I posted a story about an awesome Hemi T Bucket I had long admired and sometime afterwards was pleasantly surprised to hear from its owner that 40 years later both he and “Low Blow” were alive and kicking! Too often, really significant T-Bucket builds of the past end up being parted out or otherwise disappear. So, it was pretty exciting to have an opportunity to not only talk to the original builder, but also see his mind-blowing creation up-close and personal!
The “Low Blow” Hemi T Bucket is Born
By the early to mid-1970s, Scott Ellis of Fresno, California had already built a 1930 Ford Model A sedan street rod as well as a flamed ’23 T-Bucket powered by a 500 cubic inch Caddy, but still had a longing for something more in terms of hot rod transportation. At the time, Scott was also quite active along with friends like the late Pepper Snow and Ronnie White in revitalizing the legendary Fresno Pan Draggers, a club whose roots dated back to 1948.
While Scott’s big-inch Cad-powered T-Bucket was an awesome ride, just a year after completing that build Scott said that he wanted something “longer, lower and louder” for the growing rod runs at that time. What would be a better solution than a Hemi T Bucket?! And Scott wasn’t going to settle for just an early 354 or 392 version either. It had to be the new style 426 Hemi and it had to be awesome. So, when Scott heard about a somewhat ragged looking racing hydroplane with a supercharged 426 Hemi on the market he snatched it up.
The Hemi went to friend Art Whipple, whose blown Hemi building credentials included his Fuel Funny Car parnership with driver Ed “The Ace” McCulloch that produced a win at the 1971 NHRA US Nationals, and was followed up in 1972 by winning every NHRA national event through the U.S. Nationals except the Grandnational, which they didn’t attend, and the Summernationals, where they were runner-up.
Art set about rebuilding the 1966 426 Hemi with 8:1 compression and a Mark Danekas prepped 6-71 blower fed by Hilborn injectors with an Engel cam that would take it to 8000 rpm while producing 800 horsepower! Along the way, Scott picked up another Hemi to use for mocking up his new creation for which he would find an innovative use a couple years later.
Utilizing some of his carpentry skills, Scott began mocking up the frame in wood on his garage floor and realized that the B&M prepped 727 TorqueFlite transmission with a high stall 3500 rpm torque converter behind the Hemi wasn’t going to leave any room in the ’23 T cockpit, because the tranny had to pass through it to get the Hemi T Bucket as low as Scott wanted to go. So the T’s body was widened eight inches while the front section of the frame remained the same width as found on most T-Buckets.
The photo above shows how the 2×3″ rectangular steel tube frame frame tapers from following the side of the body to the angled cowl and to the narrow firewall. (By the way, if you want to learn how to taper your frame that way we recommend the Bob Hamilton Hot Rod Frame and Construction DVD at our StreetRodPlans.com site).
By placing the fiberglass T-Bucket body on top of the nice frame rails contoured to the body, Scott was able to gain close to 6 inches of much-needed interior room by having the floor flush with the bottom of the frame rails rather than being mounted on top of conventionally channeled rails. A very clever move that kept the T incredibly low and also allowed a very sinister-looking flip-top to attach to only about a foot high windshield.
Because Scott was committed to making this Hemi T Bucket “longer, lower and louder” the wheelbase was stretched to 118 inches: a foot and a half longer than that of a stock Model T, and 7 inches longer than the wheelbase of a production Hemi Dodge Dart.
Front suspension was a deeply dropped chromed early Ford I-beam axle with disc brakes to help slow down the 800 HP and some of the longest split wishbones ever seen. Of course, the deeply dropped front suspension hung from an equally tall front perch to keep it as low as possible with some room still for suspension travel. In keeping with its name, Low Blow was only inches off the pavement. After all, Scott was a member of the Pan Draggers!
The rear suspension was taken care of with a heavy duty 2.92:1 ratio rear axle and springs from a Pontiac station wagon. The T’s pickup box was filled with a custom 16 gallon fuel tank to keep the thirsty Hilborn nozzles flowing. The image above is from the 1970s.
A short time later, though, the tailgate was updated to be a bit more informative. Also in the above photo, you’ll note the flip-top is open and resting on the padded pickup box.
In this view you’ll note the padded opening for the fuel-filler as well as the hinge arrangement for the flip-top and the tiny rear window that makes the side mirror oh-so-helpful.
In keeping with the Chrysler theme, you’ll note an early Chrysler badge under the Motometer on the T grille shell, flanked by the custom fabricated headlight stands and the cool rectangular headlights that gave an updated look as well in the 70s.
In the photo above, to the left of Low Blow you can get a glimpse of the 1940 Chrysler limousine that Scott built with the other Hemi he had acquired for the original frame mockup as the tow car for trailering Low Blow to rod runs the following year. With its late model Hemi motivation the old limo would do 85 in low and according to Scott was “the perfect tow car” with plenty of room for Scott and his wife to ride in air-conditioned comfort with all the luggage and necessities needed for cross-country trips with friends.
The supercharger is right at eye level looking out the windshield and the Hilborn injectors are above the roof of Low Blow.
While I had the distinct pleasure of actually sitting in Low Blow, I was so overwhelmed that I forgot to take any photos, but with the roof down it’s pretty close and kind of dark but these pics will give you an idea of what it’s like.
I must say, though, that the body widening was a genius idea. Otherwise, you’d be resting your leg on top of the tranny. Of course, being able to literally “step in” is possible because of Scott’s thoughtful plan to taper the frame rails, not channel the body, and make the floor almost flush with the bottom of the frame rails.
And this is just the view you have looking out the windshield. Your view of the road isn’t too far removed from what it would be like in a go kart. It met Scott’s objective of being low in stellar fashion.
If you’re claustrophobic, though, you’d no doubt prefer the view without the top attached. 🙂
As further illustration of just how incredibly low Scott made Low Blow, take a look at it next to this stock Model A!
Once completed, Scott was able to join his Pan Draggers brethren on outings like this one where you see Scott admiring Ron White’s ’57 Buick with his own collection of flamed creations in the background. The sharp red T-Bucket in the foreground is Don Van Vranken’s “Vana T”, which features not only a sweet torsion bar front suspension but also a beautifully chromed Jaguar independent rear suspension which was the handiwork of Fresno’s Snow-White Limited. Which leads us to a little story about the incredible journey that was the unveiling of Low Blow at the 1977 Street Rod Nationals 2,100 miles away in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Don Van Vranken and Scott Ellis decided to make that journey and make it both fun and memorable. Don decided to drive his Vana T with his wife on board and pulling a tiny trailer that was designed to be small enough to fit through a motel room door at night.
Scott, on the other hand, decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to make the trip driving the 800 HP Low Blow, although it did get something like 8-10 MPG and had that nice 16 gallon tank. Instead, Scott and his wife trailered Low Blow behind a late model Lincoln, knowing that not only was the trip going to take them to Minnesota, but that they would also venture further North to take in the first Canadian Nationals in Winnipeg.
At the Street Rod Nationals in St. Paul, Low Blow was blowing minds. To start the blown and injected Hemi T Bucket, Scott had to squirt a shot of fuel into the butterflies and then hit a start button on the engine. The sound was earth-shattering and unique and when Scott just tweaked the throttle to do a burn out everyone was awestruck.
Commenting on his first exposure to Low Blow, one of the attendees said, “Later that night in downtown St Paul (Scott) cruised the strip. Folks were in awe. Action stopped when the car came through. It was a hit!”
Thanks to the Petersen SEMA Digitization Project, there are few never-before-seen photos from that ’77 Street Rod Nationals that help tell the story of Scott Ellis’ inspirational Low Blow T-Bucket hot rod.
Hey, they even caught the late legendary Gray Baskerville admiring and taking pics of Scott’s awesome T-Bucket.
Scott’s Low Blow made such an impression at the ’77 Nationals that it was featured on the cover of the program for the 1978 Street Rod Nationals.
When they ventured up to the Winnipeg Can-Nats it was promoted as the two-foot tall Blown Hemi T Bucket from California! They took a side trip to the Canadian Mint and people lined up to see Low Blow and television cameras were there to capture it.
On the return trip to Fresno it was cold and rainy and after Don Van Vranken did a 360° in front of a semi on a slick highway his wet, frozen wife decided she had had enough and chose to ride along with Scott and his wife the rest of the way back to Fresno. All together, it was a round trip of almost 5,000 miles.
Low Blow’s Street Rod Nationals debut not only earned it a cover shot on Hot Rod magazine, but two other Scandinavian magazines as well.
It’s likely that this European magazine exposure prompted the British hot rod builder, Pip Biddlecombe, to build his own version of Low Blow, but unflamed and with Pontiac power.
Fortunately, Scott is a hot rod builder who likes to hang onto the hot rods he’s built and today he still has his original Model A, the Caddy powered T-Bucket as well as Low Blow.
As noted, I was fortunate to be able to see Low Blow in storage and Scott was kind enough to fill me in a bit on its history and his travels.
Sure, there had been some low T-Bucket hot rods built in the past; notably by Cotton Werksman and Don Kendall. But, when Scott Ellis decided he wanted to build a blown Hemi T Bucket that was “longer, lower and louder” the concept was taken to a level never before seen and not to be forgotten.
To have preserved Low Blow for almost 40 years in the great shape it is still in today is significant and, who knows, someday you may look up to see one of the most radical T-Buckets ever built hazing the hides and leaving an indelible impression on a whole new generation of hot rodders.
If you’d like to read and see even more about Low Blow, you can check out our story from a few years ago here>.