The World’s First Fiberglass T-Bucket Hot Rod: Buzz Pitzen’s “Glass Image” – Part I

It’s time to update my original two-part story done over ten years ago about Buzz Pitzen building “the world’s first fiberglass T-Bucket hot rod” back in 1959. You’ll find a lot of added new details and photos that will give you even more perspective on this monumental T-Bucket.

first fiberglass t-bucket Buzz Pitzen

In my 2013 post about The Real History of the Fiberglass T-Bucket Body, it was noted that the first fiberglass T-Bucket roadster was built by hot rodder Buzz Pitzen. The story of how Buzz came to purchase that first fiberglass T-Bucket body is a fascinating look at why over 60 years ago someone would use a fiberglass body.

first fiberglass t-bucket Buzz Pitzen

I’ll let Buzz tell the story: “Early in 1959 at the age of 24 I had just sold my fully restored and rodded 1929 flathead roadster to a young fireman, John Rassmussen. John lived in Westchester a nearby town. Soon after he bought the car, John was contacted by Hot Rod Mag and it was featured on the cover and centerfold of the March 1959 issue. This was a beautiful car and I always regretted having to sell it but I had a young Family and needed to get into my first house. It all worked well. John was a great custodian of my car and gave it the best of care. John went on to do some serious drag racing driving my roadster everywhere.” (Note: The Hot Rod article said John Rasmussen “lavished” $3000 on the roadster, which was a significant sum then. Basically, though, the only change John made after purchasing this beauty from Buzz was to add the Moon Disc wheel covers).
Buzz Pitzen John Rasmussen Model A
“Anyway, with a new two car garage to work in, my long past desire to build a T-Bucket got underway. Back in the 50’s finding a ’23 T roadster bucket was impossible. They were out there somewhere, but without Hemming’s and the Internet, forget it — only the luckiest hot rodders had one and they were not going to part with it. As you attested in your blog article about how Bud Lang and Curt Hamilton had to rent, not buy, a T body for Dean Jeffries to clean up to make their first body plug, these baby’s were scarce.” (Note: This is the perspective from Buzz, in rust-free Southern California).
Buzz Pitzen Fiberglass T-Bucket Trading Card
“So not to be daunted and with Corvette’s new fiberglass bodies coming on strong the only thing to do is build my own body out of what else, aluminum! I wanted a fiberglass body but with nothing on the market I opted for aluminum. After several weeks of body buck fabrication, which was a real struggle since I did not have a real body to work with, I became very frustrated. I was not happy with the way things were going.”
Specs for Puzz Pitzen Fiberglass T-Bucket
“One evening when I was reading my newly arrived Hot Rod Mag and I saw it. I could have missed it but I didn’t. In very, very small print, Diablo Speed Shop in Walnut Creek, California advertised a Fiberglass T-Bucket body for $149.00.”

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

“The next day I got them on the phone. My order was placed, payment and shipping were arranged, and my aluminum body Idea was scrubbed.”
Buzz Pitzen T-Bucket
“The body arrived as agreed. It was primed in black primer. I soon saw why. A quick look and I could see I was in for some serious effort to work out the imperfections. The body seam was centered at the doors and slightly concave. The fiberglass layup was anemic and the whole body was in need of some major fiberglass reinforcement. However, I did not see anything I could not correct so the work began. Actually, I was so glad to have a fiberglass body to start with I could not wait to get started, and that is exactly what I did.”

first fiberglass t-bucket Buzz Pitzen

“The project took about a year. I was no stranger to hard work, as they say determination is just a matter of voltage. The actual fabrication is a story of its own. As you know, there were no Cal Automotive or Speedway catalogs around so the car was pretty much handmade. The crossmembers, radius rods, pickup bed, windshield, top bows, headers, intake manifold, you get the idea. But you have to love to do precise work, to do it well. Even at 24, I had spent a lifetime working with my hands. It was something I loved to do. I knew exactly what I wanted. My goal was clear: I wanted to build a T-Bucket that would make the cover of the most famous car magazine in the world, Hot Rod Magazine. HRM didn’t know it at the time but I did.”

first fiberglass t-bucket Buzz Pitzen

“The only thing to hold me back was a very slim budget, but what I had going for me was a lot of drive and good hand skills. Hand skills I learned from a 50 year Chevrolet mechanic, my dad.”

(At this point I want to thank prolific hot rod photographer and editor, the late Bud Lang, himself a T-Bucket luminary, for reminding me that Buzz’s T-Bucket first appeared on the cover of the December 1960 Car Craft Magazine and was featured as the “Classy Glass T” in a two-page spread photographed and authored by Bud. It is incredible to note in Bud’s coverage of Buzz’s T-Bucket that the construction cost  was $1250 — further proof of Buzz’s construction skills).

Buzz Pitzen T-Bucket Car Craft December 1960

(Bud Lang first became aware of Buzz’s great looking T-Bucket at the Long Beach Renegades’ Rod & Custom Motorama and included it in his show coverage in the November, 1960 Car Craft).

Buzz Pitzen T-Bucket Car Craft November 1960

(In the same December, 1960 issue in which it was featured, Bud Lang also included a photo of Buzz’s T-Bucket in his coverage of the Los Angeles Roadster Club’s first annual roadster show at the Hollywood Bowl).

Buzz Pitzen T-Bucket LA Roadsters show 1960
Buzz Pitzen’s “Glass Image” T-Bucket at L.A. Roadsters show, 1960

(Buzz and his T appeared in Car Craft again in the June 1961 issue noting it was runner up in the Roadster Pickup class at the Winternationals Car Show).Buzz Pitzen T-Bucket 1961 Winternationals

“The next year I achieved my goal when after a photo session with photographer Eric Rickman my T-Bucket made the cover of the June, 1962 edition of Hot Rod magazine.”

Buzz Pitzen T-Bucket Hot Rod June 1962

“My little fiberglass T-Bucket was featured in the centerfold as the ‘Glass Image’. I always loved the name ‘Glass Image’. I’m not sure if Eric Rickman (photographer) came up with it or someone else on the Hot Rod Magazine staff. It was perfect for my T Roadster. Anyway, 50 years late, Kudos to HRM.”
Buzz Pitzen T-Bucket Hot Rod Yearbook 2
“Later, the car made the cover of the 2nd Annual Hot Rod Magazine yearbook. Mission accomplished. I sold the car to a young businessman and I cannot remember who he was. He paid cash and drove away.”

That’s the quick story of how Buzz’s fiberglass T-Bucket came about. We’ve got all the details about how it was actually built and loads of inspiring pictures in Part II – The World’s First Fiberglass T-Bucket.

Thanks to the Petersen SEMA Digitization Project, here are a few never-before-seen photos from 1961 that help tell the story of Buzz Pitzen’s first fiberglass T-Bucket hot rod. You’ll note that these are before the chromed individual headers were added and which are included in the Eric Rickman 1962 photo session for Hot Rod magazine.

Buzz was on a roll and in July, 1962 his T-Bucket also was featured in Popular Hot Rodding magazine in their “Top Rods in the USA” section.
First Fiberglass T-Bucket Built by Buzz Pitzen
Ironically, a picture of Buzz’s bucket was used in 1964 to promote the fiberglass T-Bucket bodies, frames and accessories of another company, Roadster Engineering, which was Bud Lang’s new business after leaving Cal Automotive. Bud had photographed Buzz’s T for its feature in the December, 1960 issue of Car Craft magazine.

The T-Bucket industry and T-Bucket hot rodders owe a huge debt of gratitude to Buzz Pitzen. Because Buzz was a skilled craftsman and meticulous builder with strong attention to detail the world’s first fiberglass T-Bucket was awarded the most coveted car magazine cover of the day. Thanks to his efforts, the world saw that a fiberglass T-Bucket could be made to be beautiful and functional, while rivaling the steel original in integrity of lines and excelling in terms of value. Thanks Buzz!

Buzz Pitzen

After selling his T, Buzz continued actively enjoying the car hobby. Recently, Buzz said, “I was at a car event with my Speedster when a guy asked me if I would ever sell the car? I answered no. I explained, there was a time when I built neat cars and had to sell them but now I can build ’em and keep ’em. To my surprise I got courteous applause from the crowd that had gathered to check out my car. I now have 6 cars that I fully restored or built. I’m looking for a ’54 Chevy truck to put a Hemi in.”

Buzz Pitzen

For a real treat, you can learn the nuts and bolts of how Buzz fabricated his historic Hot Rod Magazine fiberglass T-Bucket cover car in Part II>

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23 thoughts on “The World’s First Fiberglass T-Bucket Hot Rod: Buzz Pitzen’s “Glass Image” – Part I”

  1. I remember when “wrap yer ass in fiberglass,” was the battle cry.

    Closely followed by ” If it ain’t steel, It ain’t real.

    and the debate was on..

    Reply
  2. Buzz, sure was a leader in the field of T fibreglass body’s, he also was a perfectionist in his approach to detail. Plenty of people can build cars / t buckets / rods but few can Finnish them off, a real skill, congratulations Buzz.
    In Australia we have a healthy hot rod car industry and is growing ,specially in the warmer states. The cost of kits and bits and pieces is extremely costly and precludes many people entry into the T Bucket world. Here in Australia, vehicles are right hand drive, should one be imported to Australia the engineering is extremely tuff.
    I’ve looked at various kits , but I’m more interested in buying a complete bucket, relocating the pedals, steering box and linkages. Perhaps someone reading this can help, I would appreciate it greatly.
    Ian Wallace

    Reply
    • Thanks Ian, You’re so right that it’s much tougher getting a T-Bucket on the road in Australia. However, Australia is probably second only to New Zealand (yeah, not something you like to hear) in terms of T-Bucket hot rod popularity. Here’s hoping someone will offer something helpful your way. Thanks again, John

      Reply
  3. Oddly enough, you can still buy fiberglass bodies pretty cheap. The last time I was at Trader’s Village in Grand Prairie, TX, they were selling T bucket bodies for $275. That’s been a couple of years ago, now. The dealer there had all kinds of fiberglass parts, all made, almost certainly, in Mexico and brought into Texas.

    Reply
    • Unfortunately, back in the day T-Buckets and other hot rods were sold cheap and often with each owner typically adding his own touches. This is truly one of those “lost hot rods” and it would be great if someone really did know what happened to it. But, I’m not holding my breath. 😉

      Reply
  4. I always admire people who just “do it”! I am somewhat mechanically inclined and perhaps could build such a body but my inner self asks me “what if I screw up?” Therefore I am leery of starting something. I drive a vintage pickup truck and although I do most of the work myself that “thought” still lingers before I start anything. Yet when I do it successfully I think that wasn’t too hard. T buckets are to me the backbone of rodding right after the jalopies (now called rat rods) of my youth. As always I would love to build one but what if I “screw up”? Always enjoy the articles John. Thanks.

    Reply
  5. Hi John. Great story about an all time cool, classic, T Bucket. I remember the photos and articles about it well from back then. Buzz said that his fiberglass body cost $149. $149.00 in 1960 had the same buying power as $1,198.72 in 2016. Annual inflation over this period was 3.79%.

    I started making the plaster plug, fiberglass mold, and fiberglass body for The Uncertain-T In March of 1960. I was 17 at the time, and in my final semester of high school in the 12th grade. Buzz wrote that the body needed a lot of work and reinforcing. I spent a lot of time preparing the plug for the mold, knowing that the better the plug and mold were, the better the fiberglass body would turn out. It sure was worth all the preparation work!

    Hot rodders often refer to it as a “T bucket”. Even though it sort of fits into the same category, it’s really a coupe. When people ask what year Model T it is, since I finished it in December 1964 and started showing it in January 1965, I like to call it a “1965 Scott Model T” 🙂

    Thank you for this, and all the other articles you publish here on your excellent website, John!

    All The Best!

    Steve

    Reply
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  7. Needless to say, I am flabbergasted by all the “nice” things said about my past life. Yes, Curt Hamilton and I are “car nuts” in the first degree. Guess you might say we were pioneers, but so were/are many of the people we worked with. Karl Krumme, in particular, once worked for George Barris, sanding cars, etc., then left as a young kid to go off on his own. Thanks for all the work you have performed to give us old geezers some “good ink.” Bud

    Reply

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