Iowahawk’s Top Ten T-Buckets

Back in 2008, I came across a really interesting top ten list of T-Buckets, T roadsters or T hot rods, depending on your preference or definition. I thought whoever blogged it was very perceptive and reflected solid knowledge of T history in the hot rod world.

Iowahawk
Iowahawk

The author went by the handle, Iowahawk and his blog was wide-ranging in its content with a strong political focus.

That same year, journalist, author and commentator, Michelle Malkin, thanked and congratulated Iowahawk for “five fabulous years of the most superlative satire in the blogosphere!”

The Iowahawk blog has transformed over time to the social media Tweets of self-described Karma’s janitor, David Burge, on Twitter as @iowahawkblog, with over 143,000 enthusiastic followers who enjoy a steady stream of candidly unique and humorous insights on most things happening in the world today.

I’ve always enjoyed this Top Ten T list and find myself coming back to it from time to time. Iowahawk himself was kind enough to grant permission to repost it here for the benefit and enjoyment of all T-Bucket enthusiasts and fans. The following was originally published in October, 2008 on the Iowahawk blog.

Flivverous, a Top Ten of Tin Lizzies

October 1 marked the 100th anniversary of the first Model T to roll off the Ford assembly line, and there’s not much left to be said about the car that created the world as we know it. Between 1908 and 1927, Ford made over 15,000,000 T’s, a sales record that would stand for over 50 years (eventually eclipsed by the VW Beetle), and at one time accounted for nearly half of all cars sold in the world. The sheer volume of Ts mean that they’ll never be collectible in the sense of a Bugatti 1-of-4 muscle car.

But nothing stokes the automotive brain center like seeing one of these splendid sturdy old contraptions putter to life — like this pair I spotted in an Iowa parking lot last summer (a ’25 Touring and a ’15 Depot Hack).

The Model T became an icon almost as soon a it rolled off the assembly line, giving the language terms like “jalopy” and “flivver” and “Tin Lizzy.”

Archie Comics Model T

Buyers quickly discovered that contrary to Henry Ford’s fanatical any-color-as-long-as-it’s-black standardization, they could easily be customized. Among the first to do so were high school and college kids, who festooned them for campus antics — a rage exemplified by Archie’s sputtering red cartoon Touring, and the Flying Flubber Flivver that Fred MacMurray piloted above Medfield College in 1961’s “The Absent Minded Professor.”

Absent Minded Professor Model T

During the Dustbowl days of the Great Depression, migrating Okies kitted them out as pack mules for the long trek to California.

Grapes of Wrath Model T

T’s also proved a rich vein of iron for hot rodders, one of which used to belong to me — the “Gusano Roto,” a cutdownsteel ’23 T Touring built by Orange County hot rod whiz Rudy Rodriguez.

Gusano Roto t-bucket

With a healthy 300 hp 350 SBC to push around 1500 pounds, it left its share of rubber vapor trails.

T-Bucket Gusano Roto

I sure miss this little screamer, now somewhere in Canada.

With the advent of the T Centennial, I put a little thought into coming up with my list of the greatest Model Ts of all time. It was a little difficult to winnow down 15,000,000 to 10, but here goes.

Iowahawk’s Top 10 Ts:

10. The Black Widow. This highly channeled flathead-powered ’27 T roadster still looks incredible, 54 years after it rolled out of the Fresno garage of bulder Walter Olson.

Black Widow T-Bucket

9. The Ray Anderegg “Goldenrod.” Anderegg built this roadster by whacking the top off a ’26 Phonebooth coupe in 1955 and squirting it with Pagan Gold paint. The original is long gone, but our friend Von Franco built a perfect clone — all the way down to the insanely rare 1956 Disneyland Hot Rod Parade dash plaque — a few years back. It now belongs to another pal, Continental Club owner  Steve Wertheimer.

Ray Anderegg GoldenRod T-Bucket

8. The Munster Koach. Built by Barris Kustoms for the TV series, spliced together from 3 separate Ts, with a motor topped with 10(!) chromed Strombergs. Sublimely ridiculous, the ne plus ultra of wild 60’s TV cars.

Munster Koach T

7. Roy Aldrich Roadster. From the sublimely ridiculous to the just plain sublime: Roy “Multi” Aldrich began building this T in the early ’30s, long before the term “hot rod” existed. Every modification — lowered axles, removed fenders, Buffalo wires, Riley multi-lift head, laid back windshield — was done with one thing in mind: speed. It was already an old-timer when this photo was taken at Bonneville in 1952.

Roy Multi Aldrich T-Bucket roadster

6. Steve Scott’s “Uncertain T“. This Nailhead-powered slanted phonebooth coupe caused a sensation when it debuted at the Oakland Roadster Show, and became a popular plastic model kit. Unseen for over 30 years, rumor has it that the car is still in pristine condition hiding in a California garage.

Steve Scott Uncertain T

5. Blackie Gejeian’s “Shish-Kebab.” Blackie’s little ’26 RPU tied with the Anderegg Goldenrod for America’s Most Beautiful Roadster in 1955, and he was so proud of the detailed chrome undercarriage that he would drain the fluids, pull off the right side hubcaps, and push it upright on its side so admirers could have a close look.

Blackie Gejeian Shish-Kebab t-bucket roadster

4.  Ed Iskenderian’s ’24. Legendary cam grinder Isky started building his turtledeck roadster in 1939 — making his own one-off overhead exhaust valve conversion heads — and it remains almost unchanged today. It’s on display at the NHRA museum in Pomona.

Ed Iskenderian T-Bucket roadster

3. Tommy Ivo’s T. Teen TV star Tommy Ivo stuffed his T RPU with a injected Buick Nailhead and topped it with a jaunty cloth top featuring an outhouse-inspired half moon cutout. But it wasn’t just a street cruiser; Ivo ran it hard on the dragstrip, hitting the 11’s at 120 mph in street trim. It was Ivo’s entree in a drag racing career as a Top Fuel champion.

TV Tommy Ivo T-Bucket

2. Duffy Livingstone’s Eliminator. Car buffs know the Ford GT40 as “the Ferrari Killer,” but the original Ford to hold that title was this humble little roadster. Livingstone — best known as the inventor of the Go Kart — stuck an early T bucket on Essex rails and stuffed in a 283 SBC punched out to 302″. At the L.A. Examiner’s 1959 Grand Prix in Pomona this garage built cheapie stomped a field of high tech, high dollar Ferraris and Maseratis and became a legend. It now belongs to legendary automotive writer Brock Yates who wrote a very good book about it.

Duffy Livingstone Eliminator T-Bucket

1. The Lightning Bug / Kookie T.  SoCal teen Norm Grabowski began building his T roadster in 1955 and in its original incarnation (The Lightning Bug) it caught the eye of TV producers. He added a four deuce to the Cadillac motor and a wild flame job, and it was cast as the car of beatnik-lingo valet Edd “Kookie” Byrnes on the TV series 77 Sunset Strip. This is the car that launched the T-bucket craze, as well as Grabowski’s long career as a character actor (usually playing good natured oafs named “Moose” or “Bronko”). In 1959 it appeared on the cover of Life magazine, under the lights at Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake, with Norm wolfing down dinner.  A classic image of Americana.

Norm Grabowski Kookie T-Bucket

Unfortunately the original car has gone through several owners and has been repainted and hacked and “updated” beyond recognition. But once again Von Franco came to the rescue, building two perfect clones of both Grabowski versions of the car.  In fact there is great new documentary by our friend Evel at Mad Fabricators that tells the story. Highly recommended for that hot rod freak on your gift list!

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2 thoughts on “Iowahawk’s Top Ten T-Buckets”

  1. Going back to the fifties, I’ve run across several Ford bodied, Ford suspended, ford powered Fords . Built on Essex rails.
    Why are so many of best Tees in the early days built on these Plymouth parts ?

    Are we missing something?

    Reply
    • Good question, David. Basically, the Essex frames were more rugged than the typical Model T or A frame and in fact Essex did quite a good job touting their benefits in their advertising.
      Hudson Essex frame
      Not only were they made from larger steel channel, but it was also thicker. However, one big attraction was the rear “kick” that was integral to the frame because Essex used parallel semi-elliptical leaf springs for their rear suspension. It was a quick and easy way to lower a hot rod versus the Model A chassis transverse spring by just mounting the transverse under the kick. You’re right that many smart hot rodders used the Essex frames. A couple of notable example are Ed Iskenderian’s famous T roadster as well as the flathead T-Bucket built by our own Chester Greenhalgh. Thanks again for asking.

      Reply

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