The Larry Ryan T-Bucket Legacy
The Larry Ryan T-Bucket isn’t likely to be found in the annals of T-Bucket history. But for me it deserves a special place because it really caught my attention when it appeared in the October, 1961 issue of Rod & Custom magazine. At the time I’d already been bitten hard by the Grabowski and Ivo T-Buckets but had never seen one that looked quite like this very cool, very stubby T-Bucket built on a budget by a Kansas City teen named Larry Ryan. (NOTE: This is an updated and expanded version of a story originally posted April 5, 2010).
I love this car for numerous reasons, as you’ll discover as we examine it. Overall, in my mind, it’s one of the coolest hot rods ever built.
It was simple, but in a way complex; straightforward, yet mystifying; a T-Bucket, but unlike any I’d seen before! At the time, it was described as the result of a 2-1/2 year build project and Larry was 18 years old. That would indicate he started this T-Bucket build before his 16th birthday and it was likely inspired by the Grabowski and Ivo T-Buckets that had appeared on the covers of the April and August, respectively, 1958 issues of Car Craft magazine. Keep in mind this was a kid in the Midwest at the cutting edge of the T-Bucket era. Virtually all the T-Bucket builds then were limited to Southern California. At the time, this was the only T-Bucket hot rod in the Kansas City area. And it was uniquely different from any others built in So-Cal.
The most dramatic feature of the Larry Ryan T-Bucket build was what it didn’t have. No turtle deck like a stock Model T runabout. No abbreviated pickup box like Norm and Tommy’s T-Buckets. Not even a visible rear crossmember with a fuel tank perched on it like Marty Hollman’s T. How did young Larry come up with that truly individual look for a T roadster back then?
I was fortunate to learn that mechanical genius George Barnes contributed significantly to this bucket’s build around 1959-61. According to George, Larry started with the front and back of a steel T touring body, just as Tommy Ivo and Norm Grabowski did, and the late legendary customizer Ray Farhner was to join the two pieces together for him.
Keep in mind that it was only in 1959 that Buzz Pitzen built the world’s first fiberglass body T-Bucket roadster. And just in 1960 did Cal Automotive introduce their fiberglass T-Bucket bodies, the first ones to become commercially successful. Things were just beginning.
Well, Ray Farhner kept getting delayed doing the job with the steel body and when Larry learned that a boat shop in the area was building fiberglass T-bucket bodies he bought one for this build. According to George Barnes, the mold for the body was pulled from a steel Model T body but only two bodies were ever produced from that mold.
With his fiberglass body in hand my theory is that Larry may have also been influenced to some extent by the groundbreaking Ed “Big Daddy” Roth Excaliber/Excalibur/Outlaw that was unleashed on the hot rodding world on the cover of the January, 1960 issue of Car Craft.
Coincidentally, by then Roth had begun showing the Outlaw in the Midwest and in 1960 it’s roof blew off while towing through Kansas. Like Roth’s Outlaw, the Larry Ryan T-Bucket was a rakish, short wheelbase concoction with no turtle deck, pickup bed, or fuel tank hanging out back as was typical with other T-buckets of the time.
Roth’s Outlaw had a very short wheelbase for the time of 90 inches. Larry shrunk the wheelbase on his narrowed and shortened Model A frame to a mere 88 inches! By comparison, the wheelbase on Norm’s “Kookie” T was 96 inches.
And if you’re curious how Larry and George modified that Model A frame, the above well-illustrated model was provided by George Barnes himself to show what they had done to achieve their dramatic result.
In addition, Larry’s strikingly different home-brewed windshield frame is very similar to the early Dodge version used by Roth and was scratch built due to difficulty finding such parts in the Midwest and may also have been the most cost-effective windshield frame available. In the photo above you’ll also note the dropped tie rod that’s a unique identifying feature of the Larry Ryan T-Bucket.
Larry’s interior may have also reflected a couple of other Roth influences: a near vertical steering column with a contemporary dished wheel as in the Outlaw and a super-long shifter as in virtually all of Roth’s monster shirts. The steering wheel, by the way, looks like one of the boat steering wheels that were popular then, being sold mostly through mail order by Honest Charley.
That shifter was attached to a 1939 Ford transmission, the same vintage used by Grabowski and Ivo, and also feeding into an early Ford banjo rear end like the others as well.
While Norm chose a ’52 Caddy V8 to power his soon to be famous Kookie T, Larry chose the next best thing in the GM family, an Olds of the same vintage. He also ran three individual header pipes somewhat similar to what Norm did but instead ran them all the way to the back of the T under the rear axle for another distinctly cool look.
Like Norm again, Larry also chose a rare Horne four deuce intake, but instead of mounting four Stromberg 97’s like Norm he went with a quartet of Holley 94’s. Upping the compression to 11:1 and choosing an Isky E-4 cam meant those whitewall slicks weren’t for show, but go as Larry’s lightweight T is said to have turned the quarter mile with an enviable for the day 12 second E.T. at 109 mph. (There’s also some question whether those engine mods and performance claims might have been the result of the magazine contributor’s “artistic license” to make a more interesting feature).
After the T was completed Larry and George made the rounds of the KC drive-ins and with it being the first T-Bucket in the area and people already being sensitized to Norm’s Kookie T through the 77 Sunset Strip TV series they drew a crowd everywhere.
Later, Larry Ryan got a job in Oklahoma City and since the T-Bucket was his only car he drove it the 350 miles there. Fuel stops were frequent, however, due to the small, hidden fuel tank (more about that later) and at just about every gas station stop along the way people congregated around the T with questions and to take photographs.
Larry Ryan T-Bucket, Phase 2
The car was subsequently sold to a man named Tom Sebbun who then sold it to the aforementioned customizer, Ray Farhner, who was also a car show promoter. Ray added some further very nice enhancements.
Larry had originally painted the car a Candy Titian Red, much like Tommy Ivo’s T. (By the way, Titian Red was a mid ’50s Buick color, kind of a brownish-orange shade of red. But when Ivo built his T-Bucket automotive candy painting had not yet been mastered). Ray Farhner upped the ante with the Larry Ryan T-Bucket by going with 20 coats of Candy Apple Red.
He also replaced the conservative white tuck and roll Naugahyde Larry used with chrome-buttoned, diamond-tufted black Naugahyde. And in case you’re wondering where the fuel tank is take a gander at the center of the seat back and you’ll see the chrome fuel filler cap. Yep, the fuel tank was a custom fabrication neatly hidden behind the seat. The above view also captures the neat chromed exhaust running under the banjo rear axle.
When Ray owned the T it was featured in the July, 1962 issue of Custom Craft magazine and featured a removable top with a white vinyl exterior.
In true showman fashion and just as he had done on his famous Blue Angel/Eclipse ’32 Ford RPU the interior of the top was also dramatically upholstered in matching chrome-buttoned, diamond-tufted black Naugahyde. Larry had simply painted the suspension components with rattle can white. But, Ray chromed the 3-inch-dropped Model A front axle and ’38 Ford hydraulic brakes which were better mated to the front chrome steel wheels than the arrangement Larry had with the chromed reversed which exposed the brake drums a bit much.
The T-Bucket in its Ray Farhner form was also featured on the cover of Custom Rodder magazine in 1962.
The pic below is from Farhner’s February, 1962, Rod & Custom Show in Memphis, with airbrushed t-shirt prodigy Tom Davison hunched over the wheel of the bucket loaded down with Tom’s monster shirts. I understand Farhner used the car as a door prize at his shows and gave it away multiple times, buying it back from each winner to start the process all over again. While Rod & Custom called it the “shorT” and Custom Craft referred to it as the “Rickshaw” (no doubt because of the top), it was known as the “X-Tee Bumble Bee”. In the Kansas City, MO area when Larry had it, it was known as “The Tee” in large part because it was the only one around.
In its Ray Farhner livery, and from the earlier photo shoot, the T-Bucket also enjoyed a brief feature in the February, 1964 issue of Popular Hot Rodding magazine.
The magazine caption read:
Noted rod builder Ray Farhner utilized a fiberglass T replica ’23 body in this show-stopping knockout. An Olds provides the oomph, output going aft through a minimum-length driveshaft to Merc rearend.
Larry Ryan T-Bucket, Phase 3
The car was then sold to a friend of Farhner’s named Red Hersey and was subsequently purchased by “Speedy” Bill Smith of Speedway Motors in Lincoln, Nebraska. Ironically, it was widely used by Speedy Bill to promote the Speedway T-bucket bodies and frames, although it had no Speedway content.
Any aftermarket parts it contained came from the former Arrow Speed Shop in Kansas City. Take a look at the pic below of Bill sitting in the T-bucket with the unmistakable profile of the first picture in this post.
In its Speedway Motors incarnation, the Larry Ryan T-Bucket had been given a blue/white fogged panel paint job, white frame and undercarriage paint, a more massive later model steering wheel, the wide whitewalls turned inward and the tall shifter disappeared.
Larry Ryan T-Bucket, Phase 4
Sometime around 2003, original co-builder George Barnes encountered the then current owner of the car, which had been painted metalflake green and according to that owner was to be redone to its original state since parts had been preserved from what had been changed.
Aside from a good bit of rust and neglect, it looks like the T had another steering wheel change, some funky looking air cleaners added, the piecrust slicks replaced, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say it must have been on a static display because it looks like a block has been placed between the front spring perch and axle. And I don’t see the small tractor headlights that Larry Ryan originally used, but it looks like a couple of giant brass headlights have been tossed into the interior. But still, pretty complete and note that the photo above is from George’s reunion (remember, he was the co-builder) with the Larry Ryan T-Bucket in 2003.
Fast forward almost ten years (pun intended) and you’ll note from the photos above and below that not much had changed with the Larry Ryan T-Bucket other than taking the junk out of the interior and pushing it out of the shed.
The story goes that the shed owner acquired the T back in the mid 1980s. I recently spoke to the owner to get an update on what’s happened to the Larry Ryan T-Bucket in the six years since these two pics appeared. After all, this is a distinctively different T-Bucket with some great history and would certainly command much attention today if brought back to its glory days status. I was really glad to learn that the car is now disassembled, the frame has been sandblasted and questionable welds are being redone. In addition, the Olds engine had to be replaced since someone had used just straight water for coolant and the block and heads cracked. Fortunately, another Olds was found for replacement. As the restoration progresses we’ll try to keep you updated.
I love this car for numerous reasons:
- The short 88″ wheelbase.
- The just-a-bucket look (no turtle deck, pickup box, or fuel tank).
- The individual exhaust headers (exiting under rear axle).
- The overall look — it’s just cool!
Overall, in my mind, it’s one of the neatest T-Bucket hot rods ever built. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to see it returned to its original form. To have been built by a Midwestern teenager in the late ’50s it’s something special. And if someone is planning on building a T-Bucket that will be quite different in appearance maybe this will serve as inspiration.
For more info on this nifty T be sure to also read co-builder George Barnes’ comments that follow and feel free to add your own. 🙂