T-Bucket 100th Birthday!

Let the controversy begin. Sure, some T-Buckets are based on 1915 Model T Ford bodies while others may use as late as 1927 Ford roadster bodies, but popular belief and history identify the hot rod we love as a 1923 T-Bucket. Here’s why January 1, 2023 marks the T-Bucket 100th birthday.

1923 Ford Model T “Runabout”

Some may say the Model T Ford of 1923 isn’t remotely like the T-Bucket of today, or the past 70 years for that matter. That’s true, but it’s still the T-Bucket 100th birthday. That makes no sense, you say …

Norm Grabowski Kookie Car T-Bucket Life Magazine April 29 1957
Norm Grabowski, the “father” of the T-Bucket

Well, actor Kirk Douglas was 103 years old when he passed three years ago. And after a distinguished acting career he looked nothing like the cute infant his parents brought into this world in 1916. In fact he didn’t become a professional actor until after his 24th birthday. And it’s worth noting he was not born Kirk Douglas. His birth name was Issur Danielovitch. But upon his passing the headlines referred to “Kirk Douglas, Hollywood Icon”. The same logic applies to celebrating the T-Bucket 100th birthday.

t-bucket 100th birthday gow job Model T
“Gow job” Model T

From the beginning, because they were so cheap, durable and easy to work on the Model T Ford was the first real hot rod. And hot rodders immediately began exercising their creativity to improve the Model T’s performance, as well as appearance.

The 1923 Ames “Racer Body” for Model T Fords.

In fact, some of the earliest custom bodies that were produced to allow an average guy to turn his Model T into a high performance racer were produced in my home town. One more hot rod evolution of the Model T toward the T-Bucket 100th birthday we celebrate in 2023.

But fifty bucks back then was still a lot, so grass roots hot rodders took what they could afford and gradually made changes that improved performance and appearance.

t-bucket 100th birthday John Athan Ed Iskenderian T-Bucket roadster
John Athan’s T roadster (top) that was sold to his buddy Ed Iskenderian.

As an example, in the 1930s young John Athan (who later built the “Elvis” Model A roadster that was featured in the movie, “Loving You”) sold the four banger Model T roadster he built to his friend Ed Iskenderian.

T-Bucket 100th birthday Isky roadster
The “Isky” roadster, built in the late 1930’s was a major influence on T-Buckets to follow

You can bet that Norm Grabowski and Tommy Ivo were heavily influenced in their T-Bucket build by the stylish Isky roadster built a couple decades before. For more on the Isky roadster and his pioneering cam grinding I highly recommend “Isky: Ed Isky Iskenderian and the History of Hot Rodding” by Matt Stone.

I could go on, and will another day, but for now let’s celebrate the T-Bucket 100th birthday!

John Morehead
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17 thoughts on “T-Bucket 100th Birthday!”

  1. Great article! I’m a first time custom car owner and I’m beyond proud to have the honor of owning a ’23 T-Bucket. This is my first summer with it and I’m having so much fun putting around and attending car shows with it! I love that there’s so many different styles and flavors of T’s and that my first summer with it is the 100 year birthday!
    I can’t even say how lucky I feel to find resources like this website and even John’s Podcast is just plain fun to listen to. I’d love to attach a picture of my little T here because I’m so proud of her. She’s far from perfect, but I’m beyond thrilled to have her.
    Thanks for your work and passion John!

  2. 37 years after Henry Ford made the 1st 23T, Cal Auto Motive made it’s 1st production fibreglass body, thats 63 years ago! Time flys, i’m 87 now.

  3. John,
    A big Thank you!!! for all your hard work bringing “us” great articles, plans, and dvd’s. They have helped me with my builds over the years.
    I look forward to every new email!!

    Kurt Kallmeyer

  4. Hi John, I don’t know if my father would qualify as a Model T Hotrodder, but he lived in North Queensland Australia and at one time owned about a dozen model T’s. He bought them from local dairy farmers who had used them to drive their milking machines by attaching a belt to a back wheel without the tire. When the farms got the power connected the T’s became redundant. He converted the original wooden spoked wheels to steel and reduced the diameter of the rims to fit the tires that were available at the time. He cut the bodies down to make a tray back. He changed the carburetor and the exhaust to go make them go better, but I don’t recall what he said he did.
    Years ago, I found what was said to be the fastest T in Queensland, it had a recorded top speed of 75 mph, the old owner wouldn’t sell it as he was using it to drive a large saw to cut firewood.
    I wish they made cars like the T’s today, no computers and other junk!!

    • That’s cool, Geoff. Yep, they were the original hot rods and were pretty easy to strip down and modify for performance. As for the milking machine application, Model T’s were used for lots of work on the farm. Even known as the 20th Century Farm Horse. Model T Ford the 20th Century Farm Horse

  5. Love the story John. My cousin use to go out on the old board road from Yuma west and haul back old model A’s and It’s.
    Thanks again for the story

  6. I live in Sunland Ca where Norm lived and we saw him all the time, his dad had an Egg Ranch Store where most folks bought their eggs, his dad was also a bookie so more than egg money was exchanged. Also my step father was a movie agent who represented Tommy Ivo so my stepdad ask Tommy to bring his “T” over and take me for a ride which Tommy did. I was “T” bucket crazy from then on, still am. There was one more kid at my highschool that built a “T” bucket with a 54 Merc engine and Ivo proportions but it was black primer his name wasAlex (Sandy) Miller and we saw his “T” every day at school. Very lucky to live in So Cal Sunland and see all the great “T”s. I’m 81 now and still nuts for “T”s.

  7. The 23 T is and will always be the original King of hot rods for all the reasons that have already been stated. They have been built in every style for 100 years and are still being built today by hundreds of hot rodders all over the world. They are built from dirt cheep to ultra high dollar and rat to chrome big show winners and drivers to trailer queens. They are instantly recognized as a hot rod in any style past stock and are all about fun to drive and look at. They can be simple or complicated to the moon as the builder wishes and generally are in financial reach in some form to most everyone. They are a great first rod for some and can translate to a great last rod for others. Pretty much everyone likes them in some way or other and more then less hot rodders have or have had one or more of them. Happy 100th Birthday 23T bucket. As long as there are hot rods you will be there.


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