Southern California Car Show T-Buckets

I’m fortunate because I travel all over in my day job (yep, this website is just a part-time labor of love). Wherever it takes me, if timing and weather are in sync, I’ll stay over the weekend to take in car shows, cruises or related T-Bucket and hot rod events. I enjoy seeing the many different ways that someone can build a T-Bucket. This post is about a recent Southern California car show T-Buckets weekend experience that left me wondering:

Where are all those Southern California Car Show T-Buckets?

Southern California Car Show T-Buckets

After a few days working in Southern California where does a T-Bucket hot rod fan head on Friday night? Bob’s Big Boy, of course. Because, figuratively speaking, that Toluca Lake neighborhood drive-in is where this whole T-Bucket phenomenon began in the mid-1950s.

Bob’s is where Tommy Ivo first saw Norm Grabowski‘s seminal T-Bucket and decided to build his own, in which he would later also cruise Bob’s.

Norm Grabowski T-Bucket Bob's Big Boy LIFE magazine
Original photo caption read: A DREAM BOAT for hot-rodders is a chromed roadster like this one belonging to Norm Grabowsky of Sunland, Calif. The car, a Ford with a Cadillac engine, took him $8,000 and five years to build. He and many hot-rodders spend a lot of time at drive-ins where they can satisfy their hunger and show off their creations.

Bob’s was the site for the famous LIFE magazine photo shoot that brought Norm’s T-Bucket to a huge portion of the U.S. population. In 1957, LIFE magazine had a circulation of around 7 million and some 28 million readers, compared to HOT ROD magazine’s circulation back then of only about a half-million. You can bet that photo session at Bob’s inspired a whole generation of T-Bucket hot rod fans, who may never have picked up a copy of HOT ROD magazine before. Contrary to popular belief, the photo of Norm at Bob’s didn’t appear on the cover, but on an inside right-hand page in giant (by today’s magazine standards) 10″x14″ size. I can tell you that my grandparents’ issue quickly disappeared, with that photo becoming a poster on my bedroom wall.

LIFE Magazine  April 29, 1957

To give you an idea of how mind-blowing an image Norm’s T-Bucket was for the time, the coupe on the actual cover of the magazine is what represented a hot rod to the vast majority of the population. By the way, Norm’s T didn’t receive its widespread television exposure until the next year when 77 Sunset Strip debuted. The photo at Bob’s no doubt helped influence the casting of Norm’s T-Bucket for that series.

Fortunately, after all these years hot rods still cruise Bob’s on Friday nights for the Bob’s Classic Car Show from 4-10 p.m. And you’ll see everything there: hot rods, rat rods, street rods, street machines, muscle cars, sports cars, exotics, antiques and if you’re lucky a T-Bucket.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Bobs Big Boy Romano

And with its spring-over-dropped-I-beam axle and drum brakes this particular T-Bucket had a nice nostalgic look.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Bobs Big Boy Romano

The chromed front and rear split wishbones certainly enhanced the impression that this T-Bucket’s original build may have dated back to the 1960s.

Of course, there are later touches which may indicate it’s been updated over time, but I wasn’t able to track down the owner to learn more about it.

Although I enjoyed seeing it, I was a bit disappointed this was the only T-Bucket I saw either parked or cruising Bob’s on this particular night. Call me crazy, but wouldn’t one of the most significant spots in T-Bucket history make a logical location for regular Southern California T-Bucket meet-ups?

Undeterred, though, on Saturday morning I headed to San Bernardino for the Annual Rendezvous Back to Route 66 Car Show, which is said to draw some 1000 cars. I knew I’d see some T-Buckets there!

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Patrick Hayes

Sure enough, after covering a few blocks of downtown San Bernardino I discovered Patrick Hayes’ “Rat Fink”-themed T-Bucket from Loma Linda, CA. Judging by some of the build details like the split rear wishbones this is likely another earlier-era T-Bucket build, with some nice creative touches like the practical size wood pickup bed.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Patrick Hayes

Patrick’s nice woodwork even extended to a combo rear bumper/step for accessing the pickup box.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Patrick Hayes

Checking out the interior, it looked like he’d been able to use an early GM console to house his shifter and hand brake.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Patrick Hayes

The front end of Patrick’s T-Bucket featured a deeply dropped I-beam and some skeletal ornamentation in keeping with the Rat Fink theme. Overall, a nicely individualized T-Bucket that looks like it sees its share of cruising time in sunny Southern California.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Tom Raney

A few more blocks over (the show is on the streets of downtown) I spied the sharp, low-slung T-Bucket of Tom Raney from Grand Terrace, CA.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Tom Raney

What caught my immediate attention was what appears to be the radiator overflow tank mounted horizontally behind the front crossmember rather than vertically behind the radiator.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Tom Raney

In checking out the chassis on Tom’s T with its long radius rods and other elements it appears as though it was built following the California Custom Roadsters T-Bucket Chassis Plans. However, as any creative T-Bucket builder is inclined to do there are a few changes or adaptations.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Tom Raney

For example, Tom’s T has the steering arms and tie rod ahead of the front axle kind of like on a typical Total Performance T-Bucket chassis while a typical CCR chassis has them behind the front axle. This is all in the realm of personal preference and parts availability, such as steering arms. Or in Tom’s case it may have been that it was felt that it would be too crowded to have the tie rod behind the axle with the tube shocks and overflow tank.

NOTE: Whenever the subject of steering arms ahead of a straight front axle comes up some people want to weigh in with their Ackermann thoughts. In perfect Ackermann steering geometry the pivot points of the steering arms and kingpins lie on a straight line to the center of the rear axle. You can see a nice illustration and more about that in an earlier post where Bob Hamilton covers bending steering arms.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Tom Raney

You’ll also note the rear radius rods on Tom’s T differ a bit from the CCR plans style in that they angle up a bit.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Tom Raney

That’s likely because it looks like Tom’s T has a pretty flat, as opposed to high arch, rear spring in order to have a lower overall stance.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Tom Raney

Overall, this is a very sharp looking T-Bucket and a good example of what can be done when you compare and contrast different T-Bucket plans.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Tim Lair

Continuing to view the sights of San Bernardino, I came across Tim Lair’s T-Bucket from Rialto, CA which is no doubt a somewhat newer build with its four-bar front suspension.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Tim Lair

The front of Tim’s T had plenty of chrome and polish and I was drawn to his unique mounting of his front friction shocks to the spring shackles.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Tim Lair

Being a member of the “Over the Hill Gang” it was only fitting for Tim to have a “Grumpy” theme for his T. It was hard to get photos of Tim’s T without people being gathered around admiring it, a phenomenon common to just about all T-Bucket owners at shows.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Tim Lair

The interior of Tim’s T was very nicely done and the Maltese Cross rear window, which matched the taillights and mirrors made that easy to capture.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Tim Lair

Now the show in San Bernardino runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and I got there about mid-way since I had a morning appointment, but only 3 T-Buckets out of roughly a thousand cars! Well, at least my weekend wasn’t over.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Galpin Car Show

On Sunday I set out for Van Nuys and the 7th Annual Galpin Car Show, heralded as one of the biggest shows in the San Fernando Valley, expecting nearly 1000 vehicles as well. After parking and taking a shuttle bus to the show (yes, it’s that big, but also a bit complicated because it’s laid out over several blocks of the giant auto dealership) one of the first cars I laid eyes upon was this blue beauty of an extended body T-Bucket.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Galpin Car Show

Unfortunately, there was no entry info posted on this T and I didn’t see anyone that appeared to be the owner. Judging by the sensor running from the collector pipe I’m left to assume that there might be an EFI setup feeding the low-profile supercharger atop the Chevy smallblock engine.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Galpin Car Show

It very well could be a CCR long T body because the pickup bed with its smooth lines and license plate recess is the companion piece to that body.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Galpin Car Show

The interior of this T with it’s seat divider/console treatment was reminiscent of the old Bird T-Bucket interior inserts but taken to a much higher level.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Galpin Car Show

But I must say that with the four-bar front suspension and triangular rear radius rods it wasn’t possible for me to be able to identify who the chassis builder may have been. Sorry I missed the owner.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Galpin Car Show Bill Maropulis

My eyes really lit up when I moved about 20 feet away and I was able to take in the stunning LS engined T-Bucket of drag racing and engine building legend Bill Maropulis.

Southern California Car Shows T-Buckets Galpin Car Show Bill Maropulis

Wouldn’t you know it. A three deuce-fed NASCAR West LS2 engine in a lightweight T-Bucket hot rod is just the almost daily driver for a three time NHRA Competition Eliminator World Champion.

Bill’s T is gorgeous and its performance is second to none. I won’t go into any more detail now because a feature and more is in the offing. But for now, if you’d like to know more about Bill and his T and see some beautiful photography of it check out this great story at Fuel Curve.

And that was it as far as T-Buckets at the Galpin Car Show. It would have been a real letdown day if I had not stopped into the Galpin Auto Sports Museum where it is easy for anyone to get a nice T-Bucket fix, and my earlier story covers that.

So, Where are They?

You would think that being the geographic birthplace of T-Bucket hot rods that you’d find many of them after all these years at California car shows and cruises. But that’s just not the case. I’ve heard comments from Southern California friends and acquaintances along the lines of “I don’t think T-Buckets are very popular anymore”. And that’s the only place I’ve heard that. I’ll be doing another story shortly that disproves that theory, and another after that specifically about California T-Buckets. So, stay tuned.

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11 thoughts on “Southern California Car Show T-Buckets”

  1. Hi john I live in San Diego and have 23 t bucket that’s all I’ll say about it but I call her the beast or wicked which of the west depending on the day if it’s cold she’s just a beast warm days she’s quiet till I hit the gas then all just wicked I. Would like to send you a pic

    Reply
  2. Not too many up here in the Pacific Northwest although I have seen the odd one. I did see a “bucket” at a show and I know the car’s history but its not a Ford. Its a 23 (I think) Chev. Nicely done up with a flathead V8, steel wheels with dog dish caps and 59 Buick brake drums on the front. Has a Ford T rad shell and the owner has grafted a fiberglass short bed onto the body. Looks great. But again as I am well over 6 feet tall it would be a scary ride for me. Always fear hanging my arms out and getting run over by the rear tires. Even so I love T-buckets and one day might make one just to satisfy the urge.

    Reply
  3. great article.. is there a page for identifying different t-bucket body builders ? Mine has a Ford logo on the rear, 2 working doors and a recessed license plate area on the passenger side of the box.. also, how can I send a photo?

    Reply
    • Thanks for asking, Larry. It would be hard to identify T-Bucket body builders because there were so many of them over the years and it was not unusual for a start-up builder to pull a mold from another builder’s body and that other builder may have pulled his body from an original Model T or more likely another T-Bucket body builder. So you had the copy of a copy of a copy situation with some that complicates things. Of course, some builders had distinctive bodies that had identifiable features like cowl detail, dashboard, etc. I received the photo of yours which was sent to john at tbucketplans.com and I’d say it’s very likely a Total Performance T-Bucket judging by what I see of the chassis in terms of radius rods, drag link angle, etc. It’s also quite likely that someone modified the body with the two opening doors and the asymmetrical license plate/tail light treatment.I like it!Larry Fort T-Bucket

      Reply
  4. Hi again John, I’m 75 today and won’t be building any more T-Buckets but my current project is adapting the Jeep/Golf cart featured in my ‘Rat Rod’ book to an S 10 frame with the V-6 engine. I hope I live to finish it. I’ll be building hot rods until they bury me and the T-Bucket is and always will be my favorite. I’ve managed to survive 3 years of Vietnam service, an exploded appendices, and wild Mexican bullets, so wish me luck.

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  5. Thanks John for your comments on the way I built my floors for the T-Buckets. I still don’t like to see the frame under a T-Bucket . Bob has great skills in his building techniques but isn’t handicapped with a lack of money which has inspired all my of my books. I wrote my books for the ‘Beer Budget’ group of enthusiasts who want to build a rod but lack the finances to do it. Chester Greenhalgh

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  6. Thoughts from Amarillo, Texas! I built two since 1986 here in the High Plains. Now I’ve got a “32 Ford 5 window coupe highboy. I built a couple in Norcal where I grew up in the 1960’s. Got into trucks before the I left for the service. Amarillo probably has a dozen or so T-Buckets and one only sees them at car shows. I use my “32 basically as a occasional driver due to the weather conditions and those aren’t conducive to T-Buckets. My last “T” and I were driving west on I-40, inside lane, with the top up when the wind literally picked up my “T” and deposited it on the shoulder of the road. Quitely folded it down and sneaked home. That’s most likely why the guys don’t drive them all the time. I still love them and have plans to build another for my grandson. They are the cheapest and easiest way to get into hot rodding I know of. By the way, the coupe gets driven cross country to all the NSRA shows as did my last T-bucket.

    Reply
  7. Great article, but even here in Northern California (Sacramento) there are very few T-buckets, maybe a handful including mine. Got my first ride in a T-bucket back in the 70’s at the age of 14, it only took me 40 years to finally have one. From the ground up it was hand built with a custom frame, etc. It’s been on the road now for two years and I love driving it, it has definitely been a labor of love!

    Reply
    • Thanks for adding your perspective, John. I’d have to agree that the population of T-Buckets in Northern California is way less than in the sunny South. As to your T-Bucket, I’d say it was well worth the wait — it looks great! I’ve taken the liberty of including a pic. It looks just right is all aspects and I love how the red components perfectly accent the flat black. John Shank T-Bucket

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