Fiberglass T Bucket Body History

Fiberglass T Bucket Body Curt Hamilton Cal Automotive
40 Pounds of Fiberglass T Bucket Body, Held Aloft by Curt Hamilton of Cal Automotive

The first fiberglass T Bucket body

After completing a recent post on whether or not you would want to consider building your own fiberglass T Bucket body, I realized that many more recent followers here may not be aware of the real history of the fiberglass T Bucket Body. We take the fiberglass T Bucket body for granted. It seems like they’ve always been around, in abundance and economically priced: the ideal starting point for an exciting, budget hot rod.

It’s now time to make the history of the fiberglass T-Bucket body complete. Primary credit must go to esteemed journalist and photographer Bud Lang, whose work was published in close to 500 major magazines and books in a career spanning over four decades. In January, 1974, Bud was almost singularly responsible for the editorial content of that month’s issue of Rod & Custom magazine, which contained some thirteen stories related to T-buckets.

One of those stories was a “T-Body Buyers Guide”, which covered not only what to look for in a fiberglass T bucket body, but also a history of the non-metallic bucket. Probably no person was better qualified to write this story than Bud, simply because while he was the second fiberglass ’23 bucket builder he was actually the first volume builder of ‘glass bucket bodies.

Diablo Speed Shop’s Fiberglass T Bucket Body

The first recorded account of the availability of a fiberglass T bucket body was in the August, 1957 issue of Hot Rod magazine in a small ad placed by the Diablo Speed Shop in Northern California. In addition to their highlighted deuce grille shells, there was the “also available” mention of their “Fiberglass T-Buckets” for $149.50.

Diablo Speed Shop Aug 1957 fiberglass t bucket body
First fiberglass T Bucket body ad appeared in August, 1957 issue of HOT ROD magazine

Around that time, Bud was working for Petersen Publications doing photography for Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Car Craft and Custom Cars when he encountered his first fiberglass T-bucket in the form of the sharp roadster owned and built by Buzz Pitzen. It turns out Buzz had wanted a fiberglass T-bucket and purchased one of maybe a couple built by Diablo Speed Shop, which evidently went out of business shortly thereafter.

Buzz Pitzen World's First Fiberglass T Bucket Body Hot Rod
World’s First Fiberglass T Bucket Body Hot Rod Built By Buzz Pitzen

Buzz’s bucket was a beautiful car, but not without a lot of work on his part, because the Diablo body mold separated at the doors and was rough, to say the least. Buzz and his bucket made the June 1962 cover of Hot Rod. (You can learn more in our post on “The World’s First Fiberglass T-Bucket Hot Rod: Buzz Pitzen ‘s ‘Glass Image’ — Part I“).

The car was so distinctively dramatic that it was also featured on the cover of Hot Rod Yearbook No. 2. (Buzz Pitzen’s love of great looking cars continues and, coincidentally, one of his prized vehicles, a 1930 Buick boat-tail speedster his grandson, Jordan, helped restore, was showcased in the Concours D’Elegance at the 15th annual Muckenthaler Motor Car Show).

Cal Automotive’s Fiberglass T Bucket Body

So, three years after Diablo’s T-bucket intro Bud Lang and his partner Curt Hamilton shelled out $25 to rent a steel ’23 T roadster body and had legendary painter and customizer Dean Jeffries clear up any imperfections in the then almost 40 year old skin, along with whacking off the unsightly rear “horns” on the body and substituting a nice rolled pan, which became the standard look for virtually all fiberglass T-bucket bodies thereafter.

With the Jeffries’ cherried body, which still had to be returned to its original owner after its use, Bud and Curt hired the equally legendary Nat Reeder, “The Glass Man” to produce their first body mold at his Fiberglass Auto Body on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Nat had earned his reputation as the country’s premier Corvette fiberglass repair and custom body panel molder. It has been said that Dean Jeffries was the Rembrandt of painting and Nat Reeder was the Rodin of fiberglass structure. Bud Lang and Curt Hamilton had chosen wisely for what would become their budding business venture.

Nat Reeder fiberglass body man
Nat “The Glass Man” Reeder

That body mold became the foundation for Cal Automotive, Bud and Curt’s company that offered the first mass production T-bucket body. Initially, their bodies were grabbed up by drag racers who were in a constant quest to improve E.T.’s through weight reduction.

Cal Automotive fiberglass T Bucket body

Fortunately, they are still with us and I am forever grateful to Bud Lang and Curt Hamilton for their help in this T-Bucket history and for the more extensive Cal Automotive history.

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10 thoughts on “Fiberglass T Bucket Body History”

  1. My T Bucket was built in the 1960’s from the Dick Scritchfield Article in Hot Rod/Car Craft. The Body is actually from Florida. Someone purchased a Cal Automotive body and decided to repop bodies from it. They forgot to support dash area, thus it sags under windshield. I can stick my fingers in gap, up to knuckles. At one point I had the builder/cloner’s name, not now. No Matter. I still love the car. I bought in in 1985. I am the 4th owner. 350 Chevy, Getrag HM290 5 speed with LONG shifter, 57 Ford 9 inch, Fabbed straight axle using ’63 Econoline King Pins & Spindles. Some times Holley single 4 barrel, sometimes 3 deuces.

    Reply
    • You’ve got some cool ingredients in your T, Rick, and I really like the Corvair coil spring Scritchfield plans. The sagging cowl is not an uncommon problem and I had it as well on a body that had been sitting unsupported for a number of years. Fortunately, Bob Hamilton of our StreetRod 101 DVDs showed me how to fix it.
      Here’s the sagging cowl I started with. It had been sagging before I cut the firewall out.
      sagging cowl T-Bucket body
      Bob explained that the simple fix is to lay a piece of angle iron across the cowl and then make a cut in the center of the cowl.
      Drill some holes for 1/4-20 bolts and then straighten the sagging section up with the bolts and fiberglass in the gap.
      fix sagging T-Bucket cowl
      Once done, you’ve got a perfectly flat cowl with no gap under the center of the windshield.
      Thanks again , Rick.

      Reply
  2. John – Thanks for the nice write up about Curt Hamilton. I worked in Curt’s shop for a while back in the 80’s and learned a heck of a lot from him. I still laugh out loud when I think of ‘Reiner’ the landlord coming in and yelling at Curt with that thick German accent. Curt is a true legend and it was great to hear he is still at it. I went on to work with other legends like Dick Guldstrand before settling in at Walt Disney Imagineering where my career really took off. These many years later I’m still a motorhead and now collect vintage motorcycles and micro-cars.
    Thanks for the memories and THANKS to Curt for the lessons I learned and took years to really appreciate.

    Reply
  3. This “little” site is just great! I can not put into words what it means to see the very people that were writing those “how to” articles that were so fundamental to my youth, still “RODDIN AT RANDOM” here today! We have lost so many…… I graduated HS in 1975, grew up blocks from Dean Moon’s place……. And today I am building yet another hot rod,
    Mine! and I’m using a Never Mounted Genuine “Cal-Automotive” Body! Yes sir, Still Gel Coat, Never painted!! You can still read the “Cal-Auto” Tag Glassed into the Body! Is there any way to date this body?? KEEP IT UP!! GOD BLESS OLD RODDERS!

    Reply
  4. So great to hear from you, Bud. I’m a long-time admirer of your work and honored to have you take the time to comment on my little post. How cool that the first T-Bucket body you sold probably went into the most famous T-Bucket drag racer of all time! Those days truly seem magical now. I hope to continue to add more content of this nature, recognizing the people like you and Curt who made great contributions to our hobby. All the best.

    Reply
  5. Just found your website, and want to thank you for all the attention. Curt and I met while in the Navy, stationed at Whidbey Island, WA., back in 1956, Later, after discharge, we both returned to SoCal. I soon joined Car Craft Magazine, and Curt began freelancing. We soon rented that “T” bucket, and after we got our first mold, began making bodies. The first one ever was purchased by “Wild Willy” Borsch, who went on to set all sorts of 1/4 mile records, driving with one hand, as old timers will recall.

    Reply
  6. I stopped in to see Kurt last Monday on the way home from the Dragfest event at Bakersfield. Prior to the March Meet Curt helped me and my partner Dan Horan Sr with some welding as we finished up the last few small jobs on our nostalgia top fuel car . Kurt had not seen the car completed and we made a point of stopping at his shop which is just a few blocks away from where we keep the car in Van Nuys when it is on the West Coast so that he could see the finished product.
    As Chris noted in his e-mail, hanging out with Curt and hearing the great stories is a blast.

    Roo Man

    Reply
  7. Great to hear from you Chris and also great to hear that Curt is still going strong in the hot rod world. Will look forward with much interest and enthusiasm to hearing more from him about how he was one of the major influences in the “golden era” of the T-Bucket!

    Reply
  8. Hello John, I just received your email- Ill get with my dad (Curt Hamilton) and have him contact you. He is still working everyday building chassis and jaguar rear ends for buckets, 32’s 34’s etc. etc. He gets the most satisfaction out of telling stories about the “glory” days. I appreciate your documentation and Ill get cracking on rounding up some pics to send. He still has most if not all of the original Cal Auto molds, and they still have bodies being pulled from them!!! Once again Thank you and I will make sure he reads your blog.
    -Chris Hamilton

    Reply

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