When I first saw the Terry Brown T-Bucket on the cover of Street Rodder magazine in 1975 I was mesmerized! The opposed coil front suspension, the bug eye headlights, the tall-T top, the weedburner headers, the independent rear suspension and monstrously wide rear tires were sensory overload. My euphoria turned to frustration, though, as I flipped through the magazine and realized there was no feature on the awesome cover car! Just a single, small black and white in the coverage of the first Street Rod Nationals South was all the more that could be seen of this terrific T.
That disappointment 40 years ago left me with a lingering quest to learn more about the Terry Brown T-Bucket. It’s a great story how it all came about with incredible connections to the overall development of the T-Bucket and Fad-T phenomenon. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to discuss it with Terry over the years and I’m happy to be able to share it with you now.
The Terry Brown T-Bucket
The Mooresville, North Carolina we know today as “Race City USA”, the home to more than 60 NASCAR teams and racing businesses, as well as a variety of other professional athletes was quite different when Terry Brown grew up there. Then, Mooresville was just a small mill town on Lake Norman about 30 miles north of Charlotte. Terry’s T fascination began with his father, Gene Brown, who worked third shift in a cotton mill and on weekends was a dirt track racer.
In 1954 Gene thought it would be fun to go drag racing and he bought a Model T roadster body for $2. Back then, Gene would drive to Charlotte once a month to pick up the latest issue of Hot Rod magazine since it wasn’t popular enough to be carried on small town news stands then. He’d taken a liking to some of the California T roadsters he’d seen in the magazine that had been built for dry lakes racing. Gene also acquired a vintage sprint car chassis to go under the T body. He even built a track nose for it like those he’d seen on the T’s in Hot Rod.
In building his T, Gene planned to power it with a GMC 6-cylinder because of its relatively large cubic inch displacement and strong torque. However, a very unfortunate incident changed his plans. In 1955, two local girls were killed in a tragic accident in the new Corvette they were driving. Gene was able to buy the new 265 cubic inch Corvette V8 engine from the local scrap yard and his T plans broadened from just drag racing the Jimmy 6 to building a T for street and strip.
As a youngster, Terry helped his father build the early T-Bucket that was titled in 1957 and hit the streets in Mooresville with a ’37 Ford tube axle up front and a three deuce manifold with Rochester carbs. This was likely one of the first small block Chevy powered T-Buckets ever built. It became an almost daily driver that Terry’s dad would often use to take him to school.
Terry’s dad had a 4-71 blower he had picked up and Terry bought a Cragar manifold, rebranded as “Andy’s” from Andy Brizio of Champion Speed Shop and Andy’s Instant T fame in Northern California. They got the blower installed on the Corvette engine in the T-Bucket but couldn’t get it to start and ran the battery down. So, they hooked up a tow bar to the T which by that time had already taken in a good bit of unburned gasoline. After towing it up to speed and hitting the ignition the blower pressure enhanced backfire was tremendous and they never did find the dip stick and oil filler cap that were launched with incredible velocity. Gene Brown still owns the original T-Bucket.
Hooked on hot rods, Terry learned there was a car club in Charlotte and there he met Chuck Mack, who had also built a T. He also met Allen Young in Huntersville who had built a ’27 T roadster pickup and one day in 1972 when Terry was out on a ride with Allen in his T he asked Terry if he was going to the “Rod Run” in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Terry didn’t know what a rod run was and asked his dad. At the time, Terry had just graduated high school and was working full-time at a local auto parts store where he’d worked part-time while in school. Gene Brown also thought it would be fun to attend, so he and Terry headed 200+ miles west to Gatlinburg and the Mid-South Street Rod Roundup, which at the time was the largest rod run in the area.
Terry Brown T-Bucket Inspiration
Shortly after arriving in Gatlinburg, Terry saw a long-haired young man at a stoplight on Main Street in a strikingly different T-Bucket taking a drink from a one-gallon Coleman thermos and just had to get him to pull over to learn more about this T-Bucket that was so different from anything Terry had ever seen. He turned out to be Ted LeDane who you may have read about in our story about his accompanying Danny Eichstedt and the Leg Show T-Bucket from California to Memphis.
Terry was fascinated by Ted’s T-Bucket with its sectioned 1915 T body, opposed coil front suspension, deep dish steering wheel and Jaguar independent rear suspension with 14″ wide tires.
Ted was glad to give Terry a brief introduction to his aluminum 215 cu. in. Buick powered shiny black T-Bucket with it’s Martinez interior, which had been finished since he had journeyed cross-country in 1971 along with Danny Eichstedt‘s Leg Show T-Bucket to the Street Rod Nationals in Memphis. He was nice enough to offer to spend more time with Terry to answer his many questions about the T if they’d come out the next day to his motel room in Sevierville, where the going rate was $7 a day compared to $10-12 in Gatlinburg.
The next day, Ted was a gracious and helpful host to Terry and Gene: even taking Terry for a ride in his T-Bucket while Gene snapped a pic for posterity. Terry was full of questions for Ted and eventually asked him if he’d be interested in selling his T-Bucket. While it wasn’t something Ted was planning, he thought about it and told Terry that since Danny Eichstedt was then asking $6500 for his “Leg Show” T-Bucket that he should get at least $2800 for his. This didn’t connect with Terry at the time because he was unaware of Danny’s “Leg Show” that had appeared on the cover of Rod & Custom the year before. Although he’d saved up some money, Terry didn’t have enough at the time and also at that time $2800 was a hefty price for a T-Bucket.
So Terry got the phone numbers for J&J Chassis in Cerritos, California, who had built the opposed coil front suspension/Jag rear suspension chassis for Ted. J&J Chassis was owned by brothers Roger and Larry Jongerius and among its employees back then were Dan Woods, Richard Graves and Boyd Coddington. Ted also gave him the phone number for Cal Automotive, which by that time was owned by Tex Collins and making 1915 T-Bucket bodies.
At the time, Terry was making $125 a week at the local auto parts store. After returning home and acquiring a copy of the J&J catalog, he called J&J Chassis and asked for a quotation on a chassis like Ted LeDane’s with opposed coil front suspension. However, when it came to the rear suspension Terry made an interesting choice. Jaguar independent rear suspensions may have been fine for guys in California where there were lots of Jags on the road, but they were pretty scarce in North Carolina and that made the Jag IRS choice a risky and possibly more expensive one. Terry had noted in the J&J catalog, though, that they had a new kit for adapting a Corvette independent rear suspension to a hot rod chassis by replacing the transverse leaf spring with coil over shocks and adding nicely designed control arms. Terry requested that option as well as one of the radical J&J deep dish steering wheels. The price tag for the complete setup back then was $960. Sounds like a huge bargain today, but back then it compared to a down and dirty basic T-Bucket frame and body package that others sold for $200-300. It came from California via Eastern Airlines and the shipping was $90: a hefty price to pay back when a round trip airline ticket to L.A. cost $125!
Terry also called Cal Automotive and ordered up one of their 1915 T-Bucket bodies. By then, Terry had dug up a copy of the January, 1971 issue of Rod & Custom and was mightily impressed with how sharp and sleek the sectioned 1915 T-Bucket body was that had been created by Danny Eichstedt for his Leg Show T-Bucket.
Terry took delivery of the Cal Automotive fiberglass body via Flying Tigers in November, 1972, right before Thanksgiving and didn’t waste any time sectioning it. At the time he and his Dad knew nothing about working with fiberglass and in terms of sectioning the body Terry had no idea how Ted and Danny had done theirs, so he decided that they would just saw out a 4 inch section below the beltline of the body.
By the Spring of 1973, Terry also picked up a Corvette independent rear suspension from a local junkyard to mate to the nice J&J kit that came with his chassis. But, Terry didn’t particularly like how the Corvette disc brakes hung out at the end of the halfshafts and Don Mills, a skilled machinist showed him how it was possible to bring the brakes inboard. At the time, though, Don was losing his sight and couldn’t do the machining himself, but with Terry setting the dials and giving verbal feedback they accomplished the job.
But, the stock Corvette calipers were also unsightly and Terry started looking for more presentable lightweight calipers that would be more suitable looking and also perform. At that year’s Indianapolis 500, race car driver Swede Savage, who had led from laps 43-54, had a horrific crash on lap 58 and succumbed to his injuries 33 days later. Terry learned that the large, lightweight Airheart disc brake calipers from the car were part of a salvage sale and he bought them to use on his T-Bucket. It’s likely that the Terry Brown T-Bucket was the first car ever to feature a Corvette IRS with inboard disc brakes.
Around this time, Terry got a call from Danny Eichstedt. He’d come to know Danny through Ted LeDane, and Danny called offering to sell him the Leg Show T-Bucket for $5,000 rather than the $6,500 original asking price. Terry was very interested but didn’t have enough cash and started making inquiries to see if he might be able to sell his unfinished T-Bucket. A few days later, though, Danny called Terry back to say that he hoped Terry hadn’t been able to sell his T-Bucket project because someone suddently showed up in response to his ads in Rod & Custom and immediately purchased the Leg Show and that it was now on its way back with the new owner to the Midwest.
As Terry continued building his T-Bucket he realized it was going to be pretty unique and special and started to take note of what others who were big in the show car world were doing. At the time, the first “100 Point” ISCA (International Show Car Association) winner was a T-Bucket named “The Ambusher” which had been built by Jim Grant in Riverside, CA in the late 1960s. It was then sold to San Diego Chargers running back, Jim Allison, and was later acquired by James Moore, who worked for Coca-Cola, but not the same James Moore who was president of Coke. The Ambusher featured flawless chrome plating in abundance, including the frame as well as chromed floor panels. It was done by Lemon Grove Plating in National City, CA. Terry liked what he saw and when he learned more about Lemon Grove Plating he learned that the owner was a collector of vintage Juke Boxes.
Long story, short: Terry got all of his chrome plating done in trade for a vintage Wurlitzer. The Terry Brown T-Bucket was notable for not only its beautifully chromed chassis components, but everything on the engine, except the block, had been chrome plated: heads, intake manifold, carburetor, etc.
Up front, Terry chose Hallcraft’s wire wheels and back then the wheels and tires were a $169 investment. Terry’s octagonal fuel tank that rode above the Corvette rear was fabricated by metalworking artist, Steve Davis, who would go on to be part of Dan Woods’ Contemporary Carriage Works for a while.
For painting his T, Terry turned to Arvil “Shep” Shepherd in Winston-Salem, who was quite active in the street rod scene and operated Shep’s Custom Painting. The interior upholstery was hand diamond tucked by a lady in the North Carolina furniture industry who worked for Junior Carswell in Hickory, North Carolina. The upholstery was done after Shep applied the paint and originally there was no mural on the cowl of the Terry Brown T-Bucket. However, during the upholstery work a couple of misguided, pneumatically propelled staples pierced the cowl and the mural was deployed as a convenient way to cover up the Candy Tangerine paint mishaps.
The Terry Brown T-Bucket build was finished in August of 1974 and Terry drove it to Gatlinburg to the same rod run where he’d been inspired by Ted LeDane’s T-Bucket two years before. It didn’t have a top yet and had “only” 20 inch wide rear tires because the 15×14 Ansen wheels were the widest he could get in 1974. By the way, Terry’s T-Bucket was not built to be trailered. Once completed it was his everyday driver that got him to work and back at the auto parts store.
In the Winter of 1974 Terry attended a car show in Charlotte where he saw Harry Willett‘s “Chicago Fire” T-Bucket. It had monstrous 20 inch wide, three-spoke rims made by a little-known company in the street rod world named Essence. Evidently, their primary focus was knock-off rims for Indy cars and these wheels featured a steel rim with a cast center. Terry promptly ordered a pair ($200 for both) that he fitted with 20 inch wide Firestone Indy tires.
Through his contacts with Danny Eichstedt, Terry had expressed how much he liked the top on the Leg Show and was surprised to learn that Danny had fabricated it himself by going to the local technical school to use their equipment to bend the long, sweeping top bows. When Terry was ready to add a top to his T, Danny was nice enough to go back to the local school to make another set of top bows for Terry. They had to be cut in half, though, to be able to be shipped cross country and Terry then bonded them back together.
So with new top and super-wide wheels and tires Terry drove up to the 1975 Street Rod Nationals South in Winston-Salem and was shocked by how much attention his two-year, home-built T-Bucket project garnered. In addition to the attention from other attendees, the Terry Brown T-Bucket was photographed by Steve Reyes for Popular Hot Rodding, Brian Brennan for Rod Action, Pat Ganahl for Street Rodder and, I believe, Cec Draney for Street Scene. It’s interesting to note that for the Street Rodder cover photo at the top of this story Pat Ganahl was riding in the back of Terry’s father’s pickup truck and shouting direction to Terry to capture the photo.
As Brian Brennan noted in his coverage in the August, 1975 Rod Action magazine:
“This fellow, Terry Brown, was everything a street rodder should be. Builds his own car with the help of friends, works constantly to save the necessary money needed and in the end isn’t the least bit snobbish about what he has.”
Brian Brennan added:
“What really impressed me was the politeness with which he handled all the sudden fame. Needless to say, all the magazines were after him constantly taking pictures every day. All of us were forever bothering him to come over here just one more time for a few extra pictures. This went on for three days and believe me to take the constant nagging of the magazine photographers he was voted by us as an alright guy. To Terry and his family we know why this car is something just a little extra special and meaningful to him.”
At the Street Rod Nationals South, Terry was impressed to see the big 40 foot Mr. Roadster trailer displaying the many T and other hot rod related parts offered by Jay Ohrberg‘s company. Jay was equally impressed by the Terry Brown T-Bucket and offered to buy it. When Terry said he wasn’t interested in selling it, Jay responded, “Well, if you won’t sell it to me then will you go to work for me?”
The following Monday, Terry gave notice to the Mooresville auto parts store and on Wednesday took his first ride in an airplane to the Mr. Roadster headquarters in North Hollywood, where he would work and accompany the Mr. Roadster trailer to street rod shows around the country. They had Terry’s T trailered to California. In time, Terry’s Fad T became known to many as the Mr. Roadster T and, in fact, after Mr. Roadster was sold to Speedway Motors some years later the Terry Brown T-Bucket appeared in Speedway magazine ads.
In August, 1975, Terry ventured West to the 6th Street Rod Nationals in Memphis, where he had an opportunity to meet Danny Eichstedt in person, along with Don Kendall and other notable T-Bucket builders.
At the 1976 Street Machine Nationals in Tulsa, car show entrepreneur Bob Larivee offered Terry $16,000 for his T-Bucket. Terry estimates that at the time he had about $5-6,000 invested in the Fad T but was still enjoying it and just didn’t want to sell.
As a bit of a perfectionist, Terry didn’t like what he saw when Brian Brennan’s feature on his T-Bucket appeared in Rod Action magazine. The above side view just didn’t sit right with Terry (no pun intended) in terms of how the rear kickup looked. So, he cut out the rear kickup and crossmember and fashioned a new one that kicked up over the Jag rear end within the crossmember, rather than before it and which gave the car a more pleasing, lower look.
At the time, Terry also made another nice change by adapting a J&J quickchange cover that was cast for the Jaguar rear end so that it fit nicely on his Corvette rear.
One day, Steve Reyes, who had photographed the Terry Brown T-Bucket for Popular Hot Rodding magazine, called to ask him if he’d be willing to let a photo of his T be printed on a Roach T-Shirt that would be sold in all Sears stores. Back then, the mass market was starting to capitalize on youth culture and T-Shirts featuring the Terry Brown T-Bucket with the phrase “Take it to the Street” were being worn by kids around the country. Terry got $200 and a case of T-shirts and was glad to see the interest spread in his T-Bucket.
Terry’s T-Bucket had already gained even further national attention beyond its various magazine spreads by becoming the cover car for the widely distributed Mr. Roadster catalog (and would later be featured in Speedway Motors ads after they acquired Mr. Roadster).
The Terry Brown T-Bucket has also been immortalized in the extensive Rick Wilson Custom Car Art collection. (In fact, you can get an 11″x17″ print of the Terry Brown T-Bucket on thick 80-lb art stock from Rick for just $1! He also does custom ride renderings for only $50.)
Terry then wanted to do another T-Bucket, but with a Jaguar rear end this time and had Richard Graves bend a nice double bend axle to use with an opposed coil front suspension and 1915 T-Bucket body. That T was sold in 1978 and was destroyed when its new owner was trailering it to the Columbus Nationals.
After that, Terry built a third T-Bucket. This time, it had the J&J Corvette IRS setup and was painted bright red. That T is still around, although quite a few changes have been made that have changed its character from Terry’s original inception.
Along the way, Terry and his dad helped his brother, Bob Brown, build a rather spectacular 1927 T roadster that was featured in a color spread in the February, 1981 issue of Rod Action magazine, again photographed by Brian Brennan.
That T also featured a stunning J&J Chassis ‘Vette IRS that was worked over by the Brown family.
After enjoying his original T-Bucket for over a decade, in 1985 Terry finally accepted an offer for a bit less than what Bob Larrivee had made almost ten years before. The T-Bucket then changed hands two or three times and is believed to have been eventually purchased by an overseas buyer.
Terry kept busy over the years building a company that made street rod components and eventually selling it. More recently, though, as a gesture of thanks to his father Gene, who is now 86 and helped him get started with his lifelong love of hot rods Terry built a very nice Model A roadster street rod for him.
And Terry Brown’s Fad T fires still burn, as evidenced by his current low-slung T-Bucket project.
Now being built is another 1915 T-Bucket with opposed coil front suspension and independent rear suspension.
This Terry Brown T-Bucket, however, is a mere 41 inches from the ground to the top of the windshield.
In my opinion, the Terry Brown T-Bucket set the bar for 70s Fad T’s and continues as the standard of excellence. What’s truly fascinating is that such a widely recognized T-Bucket can be done by a home builder who has a vision, is willing to develop the necessary skills along the way, and has a commitment to completing a street rod that stands the test of time.
Since this post was originally published, we’re happy to be able to add a few more great pics of Terry Brown and his terrific T from the 1975 Street Rod Nationals, thanks to the Petersen Photo Archives.
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