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1923 T-Bucket

July 2010

My T-Bucket project started with ordering a "deluxe" frame assembly and a 4 wheel disc brake kit from Speedway Motors for about $3900. The frame comes complete with the brake master cylinder and pedal, steering gear box, engine and transmission cross members, a fully assembled front axle, and a Ford 9" differential housing with axle shafts and coil over shocks. The frames are made-to-order so I've been told it will be 2 to 3 weeks before it is delivered. Nothing to do now but sit and enjoy my next few weekends off.

 

As a consumer I have a problem with false advertising. If a company is going to use an image (picture) to depict a product in their advertising, I expect to get what is in the picture. This is the problem I had with Speedway Motors. I called a week after placing my order to confirm how the frame assembly would be shipped. To save a little money on shipping I was having the assembly delivered to the warehouse at work, but I needed to know if I was going to be able to load and unload it by myself to get it home. During the conversation I asked about several of the components and was informed that some of the parts depicted on the site were not included in the "kit" I bought, like the rear axle. The only explanation I got was that the picture "may be a little misleading". DO YOU THINK?!?!?!?! There was no disclaimer (at the time) to suggest you needed to purchase additional parts to get everything in the picture (they have since added this). I was a little more than pissed off so I abruptly cancelled the order until I could figure out what to do next. The additional cost of the rear axle housing was going to be over $900, I had ordered the front and rear disc brake setup along with the frame thinking I was going to have a rolling chassis put together by the time I was ready to place my next order.

 

By the next day I had calmed down, but was disappointed enough that I knew I wasn't going to re-order the frame. I started scanning Craigslist and paid a little more attention to the

T-Buckets that were for sale. I found a couple of projects that would need to be finished (started, in some cases), then I found a running / drivable T-Bucket in my price range. It had been listed for over a month so it was possible that it was already sold, but I called anyway. To my surprise the car was still available and I drove it home a couple weeks later. I'll get into more details on it as I start to update / repair a few things. But here is what I bought:

 

 

1 "x 3" Boxed Frame and Fiberglass Body

Front and Rear Mono Leaf Springs

Titled / Registered as a 1968 "Assembled" vehicle

1957 Oldsmobile J2 "Golden Rocket" V8 Engine (371 ci) and 3 Speed Manual Transmission

Custom Headers (Capped) with auxiliary Glasspak Exhaust running under the body

I-Beam Front Axle w/custom supports

Oldsmobile Rear Axle with Open Diff (not posi)

Front Disc / Rear Drum Brakes with Rear Emergency / Parking Brakes

Steel Radiator Grill Shell

New Torque Thrust Wheels and BF Goodrich Radial T/A Tires

10 Gal Fuel Tank and Battery mounted in the Pickup Box with a Handmade Oak Cover

Handmade Oak Dash with New White-faced Autometer Gauges

 

...and authentic Oogah horn

 

For only a little more money that the parts I had ordered at Speedway I now have a drivable T-Bucket. The car needs work as the car could have been engineered better, but it was well worth the price I paid. The engine is very rare and very desirable, it was only made for 2 years and has the factory tri-carb (6 pak) setup. I have no plans to change it because it epitomizes what hotrods were all about back in the 1950's and 1960's: Using the parts you had available rather than ordering everything from a catalog. This is exactly what you would have expected to find on early hotrods, and I like "nostalgic".

 

There was no interior in the car. The seat back is nothing more than a large piece of foam with a black fabric draped over it and a towel covering the bottom. I've already changed out the chain link steering wheel for a more comfortable style. I haven't decided what the final look of the interior will be, so I may change it again later. I plan to tune the carbs and resolve a few minor issues right away, but I am going to keep the car drivable for the rest of the summer and enjoy my new project.

 

Here are a few more pictures of the car as it was purchased:

 

       
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August 2010
My first task was to fix the rear axle. I noticed a grinding noise coming from the rear wheels when I drove the car home. I took the axle apart and discovered the bearings were shot on one side. Usually this is not a big deal, just replace them and be on your way. But because of the age (and rarity) of this axle parts are harder to come by. Most of the local auto parts stores do not have the ability to think for them selves, if it's not in their catalog, the part must not exist (I even had a part number off the old bearing). This is when you need to rely on someone who has been in the parts business for a while, they know where to look for the hard-to-find parts. The local Napa store was able to locate the correct bearings and seals, so I bought enough to replace both sides. I also inspected the axle shafts for wear, luckily they are both in good shape so I won't have to worry about them for a while.

I've had time to look over the car pretty good by now and have been formulating a plan to make some changes. Most of it is aesthetic (cosmetic), trying to give the car a more aggressive stance and appearance, but some of it will be functional. I have already replaced the "chain link" steering wheel for a more comfortable style, and reshaped the gear shift lever to move it out of my way a little. Some other items I found are making me more nervous; the brake lines are not secured very well; and the wiring doesn't appear to have been planned, there are wires everywhere; and the front wheels are way off on the Camber angle. As much as I want to enjoy this car, I better think about fixing some of the safety items first.

September 2010
I decided to start breaking the car down for winter a little earlier than planned. It will be much easier to work on with everything apart. I started by disconnecting everything from the body, pulling out the steering column and removing the windshield. I used an engine crane to lift the body off the frame and set it aside for the time being. I have some plans for that later. Then I removed the engine, with the body removed I was able to lift the engine and transmission out as one unit. No use making more work than is necessary. Just like on the El Camino, it was hard knowing the money I spent on a car was now scattered around my garage, but it is a necessary evil.

The Plan: After a careful inspection I have developed a wish list of thing I want to do to this car. First and foremost, as I stated before, I need to fix the safety issues. After that I want to change the look of the car. In it's current configuration I would call this car a "traditional" style T-Bucket. The stance is a bit high and some of the parts were engineered for function without any real regard for appearance. The exhaust and axle mounts are good examples. I want it to be more of a "hot rod" style by lowering it to the ground, I'll do that with a new front axle that will drop the frame about 4" in the front, and an adjustable coilover shock setup for the rear. A new (correct) front axle will also resolve the Camber angle with the front wheels. The engine will have to be raised on the frame to maintain ground clearance, but only a few inches. I'll also fabricate a set of traditional T-Bucket headers for the engine, re-route the brake and fuel lines, clean up the wiring and chop the windshield 4 or 5 inches. Over the years this car has had things added and removed from the frame, so there are (unused) brackets all over. I'll get rid of anything I don't plan to use to help clean it up. I need to work on this in the correct order to make sure I don't create more work for myself. Then I can re-mount the steering column through the firewall to help with leg room, and install an interior (I am going to try my hand at sewing). The last thing I will need are the rear "Steam Roller" tires. The tires I have now are 9 1/2" wide, the ones I want are about 15" wide. Should be a big improvement in the look once the car is lowered to the ground a bit.

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Body Removed Preparing the Body for Storage Engine Ready to Come Out Rolling Chassis
 
I'll have to fabricate my own headers since no one makes them for this engine, but this is the style I am looking for ----> Click to enlarge image Click to enlarge image I really like the way this car was set up, I'm going to use this as a template.
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  Traditional T-Bucket Headers Hot Rod Style T-Bucket  

October 2010
I have been stripping the frame of all the old brackets, filling holes and getting ready to update the suspension. While I was at it I removed the old spring brackets and shock mounts from the rear axle as well, and cut and re-welded the rear axle hairpin brackets. This will raise the rear axle pinion angle to compensate for the lowered frame.

I called Jim at Wintec Fabrication (several times) and we discussed my options to resolve my front end problems. I ordered a new front axle with a 4" drop, a new front spring, new hairpin rods (they connect the front axle to the frame), and a mounting plate for the bottom of the spring. All together I spent $600 with shipping. I decided to replace the front axle and suspension to fix 2 issues.

1. The front wheel camber was off because the wrong axle / spindle combination was used previously.
2. I wanted to give the car a lower stance.

The new axle corrected those problems, but created a few more. I'll explain as we go.

After getting the frame cleaned up I installed the new front axle and hairpin. I cut off a small portion of the brackets Jim sent me and welded them to the frame. I'm getting pretty good at welding. I like the new lowered look, but now I have to rework the steering arms. I bolted a wooden closet rod between the steering arms so I can keep the front wheels in line while I am working on the car and to make sure I have the proper clearance. This is my first new issue: The new axle is 5" narrower and 4" lower than the old axle, now my steering cross bar travels directly through the space that my radiator needs to sit in. The easiest way to correct this is to install new arms on the spindles, it's not overly expensive but it's not the preferred steering setup as it leaves the steering linkage out in front of the axle. However there are plenty of T-Buckets on the road with this configuration so I am not too worried about it. I'll need to replace the arms though as moving the steering out front changes the geometry. Then, because the new axle is narrower than the old one, I'll have to replace the cross bar. Oh joy. I still don't know how I am going to mount the shocks, the old mounts were ugly and wouldn't work anyway so they were cut off.

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Frame Stripped Original Rear Hairpin Brackets Rear Hairpin Brackets Modified
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Rear Axle Prep New Front End Parts Front End Assembled

November 2010
Ok, now that I have a plan for the front end I decided to drop the engine in place to see how much adjustment was needed for the engine. The lowest point on the front axle is 4" off the ground. The only way to adjust this is by changing tire sizes (which I'm not going to do) so I figured this should be the lowest point on the car. The weight of the engine dropped the oil pan to 1" off the ground. Not good. I want a minimum of 4" of daylight under the pan so I started to re-fab the engine mounts. I never liked the old mounts anyway, one was broken and neither one was level to begin with. I took the mounts off and cut them apart, only keeping the parts I planned to reuse. I bought 2 solid rubber mounts for the engine from NAPA Auto Parts for $4.20, a few body washers and 2 new mounting bolts. Then I started to raise the engine in the frame to achieve the 4" clearance I wanted.

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Old Motor Mounts Setting the Engine Oil Pan Ground Clearance  - Before Planning New Motor Mounts

Raising the engine in the frame creates other problems too. The first, and for some the biggest, is interior foot room. As the engine is raised it starts to invade the interior space from below, this is why rear wheel drive cars have that hump in the floor, that's where the transmission bell housing and drive shaft runs under the car. T-Buckets are notoriously limited on interior space to begin with and every square inch is needed. Luckily my 3 speed manual trans is smaller than most (compared to a Chevy TH350 automatic), so I have a head start. But I am in another predicament in that I need all the room I can get to accommodate a clutch pedal, this is why most guys don't build these with a manual transmission. It's a trade off that you make when building one of these.

Another issue was the engine fan: With the engine raised the upper radiator hose is now in the way. I could either raise the radiator and grille shell to move them out of the way of the fan, but that would take away from the lowered stance by making the front end of the car look too tall, and it just wouldn't look right. Or I could remove the mechanical fan and install an electric one. That seemed like a better choice so I got started on my new mounts. I planned the mounts to look similar to the old ones, not too bulky but sturdy enough to support the weight. I managed to make them with scraps I had laying around from other projects. I compromised a little and set the engine with 4" of  ground clearance instead of the 4" I originally planned, but it shouldn't be a problem.

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Motor Mounts Mocked up New Motor Mounts Oil Pan Ground Clearance - After

February 2011
It's been a while since I posted anything so I figured I'd give you an update on the progress. I bought a new set of coilover shocks and brackets for the rear axel from Ron Pope at RPM. I made new upper brackets and welded them in place, and tack welded the lower brackets to the rear axle. I spent the rest of the time cleaning up the frame, welding and thinking about how I'm going to fabricate the steering, front shock brackets, windshield and headers. I found 7/8" solid aluminum round bar at a local steel shop, at $36 for 12 feet it wasn't a bad price. I'll use this to form a new windshield frame. More on that later. When I was finished I lowered the front of the frame 8" off the ground (it was about 12" before) and the rear was now at 10" (compared to 15"). The stance was now much lower and I could see this was going to look a lot better.

March 2011
I was stumped on the front shock mounts. I had 2 sets of chrome hydraulic shocks that came off the car that I wanted to use, but I had clearance issues everywhere you would normally mount them. One of the guys on the T-Bucket forum suggested a new frame would solve my problems since the wheelbase on my car was shorter than normal at 96". With a longer frame I would be able to spread things out and have more room to add shock mounts. He was right, but I couldn't justify spending $400 - $500 (or more) on a new frame after shipping. I found one online for $175, a much more affordable price, but it still had to be shipped, plus it was a kit and my welder isn't any better on thick steel than I am. I decided to try friction shocks. They are not as popular an option because they require constant adjustment to keep them working properly. Basically they have one or two discs (nylon, leather or some other type of friction material) that is sandwiched between metal plates. One plate mounts to the frame, and the other mounts to the axle. As the axle moves up and down it dampens the action of the spring to keep the wheel on the ground rather than bouncing over obstacles. I found these on eBay for $40 a set from Bob's Rat Rod & T-Bucket Parts. As it turns out, Bob lives less than a mile from my house so I saved the shipping cost by picking it up myself. Remember that frame I found online for $175? That was Bob's too. He has created a business out of making T-Bucket parts, he also makes a slick looking set of wheelie bars. I wonder...

Anyway, Bob and I started talking and he came over to check out the progress on my car. I pointed out the issues I was having with mounting some items and he agreed that a new frame was going to solve most of my problems. Now before you start thinking he was trying to make a sale, he offered to help me build a new frame if I bought the steel. It took me a full second and a half to realize this was an opportunity I should NOT pass up. We picked up all the steel we would need and had it cut to length in about an hour. This frame will be 6" longer than the old one, it will be 24" wide in front and 30" wide at the rear (the old frame was 26" wide front and rear), and the kick-up over the rear axle will be 7" high (the old one was 10"). The longer frame will allow me to move the engine an inch or two back so I have more room for an electric fan on the radiator, and I'll be able to move the body forward to get the rear kick-ups out of the interior. This way I can move my seat back so I am not so cramped while driving, T-Buckets are notorious for this.

Take a look at pictures of 1923 T-Buckets with someone sitting in the drivers seat (a 1927 has more room), on cars that have the kick-ups too far into the cab the driver looks like he could rest his chin on his knees while driving. Ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.

The new frame will also solve an issue with my gas tank. I have a 10 gallon tank that mounts on the rear "deck" which fits inside the small pickup style box on the rear of a T-Bucket. After setting the body back on the frame I noticed the tank stuck out of the pickup box so far the lid would not close. Whoever worked on this last compensated for the taller kick-ups by shimming the body several inches up on the mounts to get the tank to fit down inside the body. The whole car rode too high to begin with, this added height didn't help. With the shorter kick-ups the tank will sit down inside the body with no problems.

Then there is the front axle. I had it mounted, but I wasn't able to get the correct caster on it. Basically, you want the bottom of the front axle to slant outward about 5 - 7. This puts a preload on the axle when the car is moving forward. I set the axle with the hairpin rods, but when I bolted the spring to the front perch it was binding on the spring shackles. The front frame cross member was square, and when they welded the perch they didn't weld it at an angle, it was more or less straight. The new frame will have a round 3" diameter front cross member that we will be able to weld in at any angle we want.

Ok, I've bored you enough with all the chit chat. Next time I'll post pictures of the frame being welded and how we set the engine, axles, and body back on. In the mean time I have some research to do an upcoming modifications.

I have a feeling I'm going to miss my original May / June deadline to have this back on the road.

April 2011
There were several things wrong with this car when I bought it, most of them have already been pointed out. But there were also some things I really liked about this car, the engine was the my favorite. There is something about an open wheel, hoodless hotrod with a tri-carb setup that appeals to me, the fact that it was sitting on a fairly rare engine was a bonus. I mentioned earlier that I liked the nostalgic look, and I do, but there comes a time when practicality trumps desire. I had a few obstacles to overcome with the Oldsmobile engine; I had to fabricate some of the more visible parts like the exhaust, it was substantially larger than your average Chevy 350 when you are dealing with fitment issues; the clutch pedal crowded the floor area, and parts are getting harder to come by. I realized with the new frame being narrower in the front I was going to have to fabricate a new clutch rod. Taking all this into consideration I decided to try and sell the engine. For all the purist hotrodders out there: Don't hate me.

I was only going to gauge if there was any actual interest in the engine at first. I figured if I didn't get enough to make it worth selling I would just suck it up and do what I had to to get this engine to work with my new frame. I opened an eBay auction with a reserve price of $3500 (like I said, I wasn't sure what it was worth and I didn't want to give it away). I was surprised at how much interest there was; after 3 days I had close to 50 people watching the auction and bidding was already up to $700. I waited a couple more days until the bidding was close to $1000 and dropped the reserve to $1500. I figured $1500 was fair, I was hoping for $1800 and anything over that was icing on the cake. The final price was $2025, I was pleased (to say the least).

I took some pictures of Bob welding the frame for me. I had told him I wanted the frame to sit as low as I could get it, he suggested changing the front axle to a "spring behind" style which would lower the front end another 2". So we modified the existing front radius rod brackets, made new spring mounts, When I got it home I remounted the front and rear axles and brackets. Once again I have a rolling chassis. I used an empty engine block I had bought, but never used, to mock up the engine mounts. Then I worked on the steering box and the front shock mounts. After everything was tack welded into place I took the frame back over to Bob's and we finish welded all the brackets.

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New Rear Radius Rods Bob Welding Up The Frame Checking For Level and Square  
       
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New Spring-Behind Axle Setting The Axles In Place Grinding Off The Old Brackets Engine & Trans Mounts

May 2011
Now that the frame is welded I gave everything a coat of paint and re-mounted the front and rear axles for the last time. I used some of the money from selling the Olds engine to buy a used Chevy 350 engine. I was told it had less than 10,000 miles since it was rebuilt, but judging from the condition it was in when I got it, I wasn't convinced. I took it apart to clean and replace all the gaskets, the parts inside were in great shape and looked fairly new. I spent a few nights cleaning it up but once it was painted and the chrome was added, you never would have known it was the same engine..

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Chevy 350 Engine Frame Painted Engine & Trans Cleaned Up Body in Place

June 2011
I have spent every weekend and every night after work tweaking this and that to get the car finished. I also bought a bunch of parts and have been assembling things as they arrive. It may not seem like a lot of progress, but there are a ton of little things that need to be done. I can't count how many times I have had the body off the car, adjusted something, and put the body back on. Then repeated the process for the next item on my list. I am ready to start tackling the wiring, steering column, and dash next. Then I'll need to throw a coat of paint on the body and radiator shell, and finally the interior. Hopefully, the next time I post an update I'll have the engine running.

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Before Mounting the Body Front View Left Side View Ready For Wiring

July 2011
The steering column was easier to build than I thought, just took a little thought and a lot of help from Bob. With the steering gear box mounted to the frame, and the body in position I carefully measured and drilled a hole in the firewall for the steering column. Then we measured the length of the column from the gear box to where I wanted the steering wheel to end up. We welded a splined fitting to the lower end of a rod that will connect to the gear box, and another to the upper end for the steering wheel to connect. Then Bob had the idea to use a larger diameter pipe for the outside of the steering column. The bottom of the inner shaft is supported at the gear box, and an old nylon / rubber wheel (like you see on a small rolling table leg) was milled down to fit snugly inside the outer shaft (pipe) for the upper support. We also inserted a smaller diameter tube inside the upper support so the inner shaft fits snugly, but doesn't bind (we also greased it to help it turn smooth). The upper support needs to fit snug enough that it won't turn inside the pipe, you should have to drive it into place with a hammer and dowel of some kind. Once everything was fitting nicely we cut the lower end of the outer pipe to match the angle of the firewall inside the car, then welded a plate to secure it to the firewall. We also fabricated a bracket that secured to the bottom of the dash panel for a little extra support.

I took some time to decide what color I wanted the new car to be. My favorite colors for a car have always been Black, Burgundy Red (similar to the the color I chose for the El Camino), Gray and Silver, and Hunter Green. I decided at the beginning of this project that I was going to use a Gun Metal Gray color for the body. Since there isn't much to this body, I picked up a quart of the more expensive PPG paint and shot the body and radiator shell in one afternoon. There wasn't much bodywork to be done so this went really quick.

Once the body was painted I secured it to the frame for the last time, reconnected the steering column and started tackling the wiring. Once again I enlisted Bob's help since we has done this once or twice before. The wiring really wasn't difficult. Whoever rebuilt this car last used a Painless Wiring harness, every wire was marked where it goes, all I had to do was rout the wires and connect them. Bob ran the wires for the starter switch since that one is a little more complicated.

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Painted Loving the Look Can't Wait to Drive It!! Starting the Wiring

August 2011
The car is now drivable, and it is faaaaaast! Remember, I did nothing to this engine. It was removed from another car, cleaned up, and I dropped it between the frame rails of the T-Bucket. It has plenty of power since I'm guessing the entire car weighs less than 1500 lbs (most cars weigh over 3000 lbs). All that was left to finish was the windshield and the interior. I had bought all the material for the interior but hadn't started to sew it together yet. I knew what I wanted to do, and had a pretty good idea how to get it started, but hadn't taken the time to do it yet. I had also bought a used 20" tall chrome windshield frame on eBay. 20" was a little taller than I wanted so I cut it down to 16" and took it to a local glass company to have the glass installed. In the mean time I put an old piece of foam on the seat and covered it with a the same black cloth that came in the car so I could drive it around. Bob and I had some fun driving around town with both our t-buckets. We even managed to enter them in the Hot August Flights car show at Salem Airport, this was the same car show I attended the year before right after I picked the car up. Bob and I became good friends during this build, I'm not sure if I could have done it without him. He made me a set of wheelie bars for my T-Bucket, they were not made to be functional, but they really added to the cool factor. Below are a few pictures of the completed car.

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Finished T-Bucket Bob and I Cruising Salem Hot August Flights 2011 Wheelie Bars

Bob had been kicking around the idea of selling his T-Bucket all summer. I think he's like me, he likes to keep them while they are still projects, but once there is no work to do on them, it's time for something new. He posted the car on eBay and was able to find a buyer in Texas. In the mean time my life had taken a turn in a different direction, I was engaged to be married and took a promotion at work that allowed me to live anywhere I wanted. Bob and I had put "For sale" signs in our T-Bucket's during the car show at Salem Airport. A gentleman had talked to me about buying my car for his wife so she had a hot rod. He called me a few weeks after we spoke and stopped over to see the car again. We struck a deal and he took the car home. That was it, the car was gone. I took him to the glass company and picked up the windshield, we put it on, but I never got to drive it again.

Since then I have moved back to Wisconsin, started my new job (which requires LOTS of travel), and got married. I'll buy new tools when we have room for them, and someday I'll start a new project and this whole process will begin again. Until then I'll find something to occupy my time.

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