Welcome to my T-Bucket Restoration Story
Back Story: I purchased this car in 1989 while living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It is a kit car with a custom chassis and fiberglass body. The entire car was likely purchased out of a Speedway Motors Catalog. Speedway is still very much in business and I recognize most all of the parts on this car when looking through their current catalog or web site.
According to the title, it was originally built in 1978 and titled in Tennessee. I have no idea how many owners it has had, but the young man I purchased it from titled it in North Carolina in 1988. It is styled after a 1927 Ford Model A body, but that is strictly cosmetic and nothing about the car is old. The oldest component I have found is the steering box that is out of a 1960 Corvair. The engine, transmission, transmission shifter and dashboard gauges appear to be from a 1969 Mustang. As near as I can tell, the only version of the Mustang that came with this engine was the Mach I Mustang.
About 1993 I decided to rebuild the engine and install some new gaskets as it was leaking some oil. It was not a serious leak, but bad enough that keeping the undercarriage and other components clean for going to car shows and cruise-in’s was a real chore.
As with many things I undertake, one thing led to another and all those “while I have it apart, I might as well go ahead and fix …….”, and before I knew it I had boxes of parts and all these little zip-lock bags marked with descriptions of what was inside them.
In 1994 I was let go from my then current job in a reorganization and did not have the money to continue with what I had started. In 1998 we moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, to continue my career working in corporate America and I brought this project with me.
With a bit more financial security, In 1999 I purchase a 1970 Plymouth GTX that re-directed my attention away from the T-Bucket. I did some major work including engine rebuild and re-painting the Plymouth. It was a great car to drive and I was able to but it through its paces some at Rockingham Dragway (high12’s in the quarter mile) and went to many shows and cruis-in’s over the years. But after 17 years and as I began driving it less and less, I sold it in 2017.
As time and money allowed over the years, I was able to get the T-Bucket’s body and chassis sanded down and put quite a bit of time into fixing the body as needed and getting it all in primer. I also had the engine and transmission rebuilt and purchased numerous replacement components for the restoration I would eventually be undertaking “this winter”. The winters came and went, and I would purchase some more parts or do bits and pieces of things to it, but never made any real progress.
I must say that my wife has been very patient and understanding, even though it has always been her car that was excluded from the garage. But now that I am retired and have some time to fuss with this project, I am intent on getting it put back together.
I do not plan on doing any major changes in the overall look of the T-Bucket. To me it all fits together nicely and looks like a classic T-Bucket should. That’s why I purchased it in the first place. I do plan on upgrading all major components and try to pay attention to safety. The paint color will be the big change.
The dates on the below narrative are the dates the pictures are taken. I will do something on the project most every day, so each set of pictures show progress since the prior pictures.
This first batch of pictures were taken in 1989 shortly after I purchased it (note there is no license plate on it at this point, so it was right after I brought it home that these pictures were taken).
Note the young’n in a couple of the pictures. That is my youngest son, Timothy (“TJ”). He was three years old in these pictures.
The seniors are my Mom and Dad who visited that summer.
January 12, 2020.
I started the beginning of January to clean up the garage and move things down to the shed to give me some room to work. After several trips to the dump with some of my other “collectables”, I was able to get things organized and take “inventory” of what I had and begin to make some lists of what would be needed.
The stainless steel break lines, and the aluminum gas line has been installed for some time, probably 10 years.
There also is mounted towards the rear the brake proportioning valve as I plan on putting disc brakes (also already purchased) on the front in place of the drum brakes that were there, but keep the drum brakes on the rear.
New master brake cylinder is mounted in the center of this picture, but it may look strange as the pedal arm is not connected and is swinging down towrds the floor. In later pictures you will see this mounted upright. The gold colored cylinder on the right attached to the inside of the frame rail is a line lock. This is a solenoid that will lock the brake fluid pressure to the front wheels, but allows the brakes for the rear wheels to be released. Great for doing burnouts! The blue bracket on the right is for mounting the steering box, which is controlled by the steering wheel.
The black pipe on the left is one of the supports for the “decorative” roll bar, and the angle metal attached by round rods support the fuel tank.
The “wings” on either side of the chassis stick out past the side of the body and provides a step to enter the car over the side of the body.
The fiberglass body does not have functioning doors.
Although there are lines giving impression of there being a truck lid, there is not truck and the back does not open. The hole in the body at the top of what would be the trunk is where the fuel tank fill will be. The one hole on the right is for the roll bar. Another hole was on the left, but it was damaged when I was removing the roll bar some time ago and it has been repaired, but the new hold has not been drilled yet.
This picture of the interior shows the support for the seat. It is a single bench seat and almost sits on the floor. The opening just behind the transmission hump is for the shifter.
The floor is plywood coated with fiberglass for water proofing. The fuse box will be under the seat (as before) but the scuffed fiberglass at the rear of the floor was where the battery was mounted. It will be relocated.
January 19, 2019
The new transmission floor shifter required some measuring with the engine and body in position. The shifter will have a long order time, so I bolted the engine, bell housing and transmission together, dropped it in place, and then dropped the body in place.
I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time standing around looking at things and planning in my head sequences of things that need to be done. It seems that as soon as I plan on doing something, then I realize something else should really be done first.
I’m now on a first-name basis with the guys at Wilder’s Fasteners, a local company that sells every type of nut, bolt, and washer that you could ever need. I’ve also renewed old acquaintances at the welding shop.
This is the original Ford 351 Windsor engine that was rescued by the original builder of this roadster from a “donor car” (a car, likely having severe body damage that was used for parts to build this car). I had a local shop rebuild the engine and transmission about five years ago. Extensive work on the engine increased the horsepower from the stock 300 hp to a dynamometer tested 420 hp. The engine has not run since it was broke in on the test stand.
Note that both the top and bottom front fan belt pulleys are a difference shade of blue than the engine. They have been painted with primer only, and will be blue later. The same shade of blue will be applied to the entire chassis and all components that are to be painted that mount on the chassis. The body will be some shade of white.
The chrome alternator is new and and I still need to paint the top bracket. I can’t find a chrome bracket that fits, so will look at that later. I don’t want to spend too much time on details now, otherwise I will not have anything to do on it next winter.
The distributor is an MSD electronic distributor, a great replacement for the old dual-point distributor that it replaces.
Starting with this section I will date the pictures instead of dating the section. I have found that the restoring of this car really is just a whole bunch of small sub-projects, some of which have taken a long time. Showing pictures by date will be confusing for me to keep track of and the viewer to understand. I will, therefore, group pictures by sub-project. I keep multiple projects going as often I need to set a sub-project aside as fiberglass resin or pain drys, or parts are ordered. I may work on four or five different things on any given day and bounce back and forth, so grouping the sub-projects seem to be a better way of telling the story.
Jan. 30, 2020 – Relocating the Battery was one of the first sub-projects. I started with a poster-board template.
Feb. 14, 2020 – Took the template to a local welding shop and they did a great job of fabricating the steel mount. I have rubber to protect the final chassis paint when installed. Ordered a battery tray and hold down bracket.
Feb. 3, 2020 – The drop front axle is chrome, but the portion inside the channel of the axle is very rough. It was painted gloss black when I purchased the car. Of course, not very many folks get down to look at the axle very close, but I wanted to have the portion inside the channel to be the same color as the rest of the chassis.
Feb. 3, 2020 – After masking off the polished chrome portion of the axle, I painted the channel with Rust-Oleum primer as a filler of the pits and imperfections.
Feb. 14, 2020 – After sanding the Rust-Oleum, I sprayed with epoxy primer
Feb. 14, 2020 – It took quite a bit of sanding to clean up the rear axle / differential housing, but also got that primed.
Painted the differential housing, front drop axle and differential with the finish paint. I am using a single stage PPG base coat/clear coat on the chassis and all related suspension items. I researched the casting number on the differential and found out that it is a part that Chevrolet used on most of their cars starting in 1955 through 1964. The casting number shows that it is from 1955. Thee are welding marks on both axle housing extensions so I assume it was narrowed for use on this car.
Feb. 2, 2020 – Replacing the radiator proved to be a bigger project then I expected. The radiator on the left was what came in the car. I remember having problems with overheating even just waiting at stop lights. The radiator did not have a schroud around the fan and was very small, although likely the same radiator that was in the donor car. It was pretty rough so it is likely stuffed up with corrosion. The center is the new radiator, quite a bit larger, and the chrome radiator cover is on the right. Looking at the original pictures, this is the same type of chrome frame as the original, but this new one has a bottom piece to dress up the bottom where the old cover allowed the radiator to be partially exposed.
With the radiator just sitting in place, this looks like it will be an easy install, but I found that to use the bottom piece of the cover required moving the radiator back, and it is thicker than the old one. Luckily, there was enough space to make this work, but it took a while for me to be comfortable with things. After fabricating and scrapping my first two sets of brackets, the third set held it in place and I was satisfied with the it being secure. This took about 4 or 5 weeks while working on this and other stuff along the way. I have pictures of the bracket and related work on this later.
Feb. 14, 2020 – The original radiator used a metal radiator grill (what was commonly used on a radiator cover in a house) that restricted air flow quite a bit. I decided on a thin stainless steel wire mesh, but it was very touchy about staying square. The pictures shows the mesh laying over a poster board template of the inside of the radiator cover. Note the clear adhesive chocking around the edge of the white poster board. I applied the adhesive with wax paper under the screen so it would not stick to the poster board. I then used a Dremmill tool to cut the wire and get it so it would properly fit over the radiator inside the cover. The glue also does a good job of stabilizing the screen so it does not go out of square. Luckily I purchased about four times the screen than what I needed. This as my third attempt at getting it to work right.
Feb. 28, 2020 – I have done a lot of body work on cars over the years, but except for just a couple of holes that I patched, I never did any fiberglass work, but I was excited to dive into an actual fiberglass fabrication project. After watching at least a dozen YouTube videos, I decided to jump in. I got the radiator positioned with my final set of brackets (did I mention it took me three sets of brackets to get it positioned???). This is foam board purchased at Home Debot used to insullate. I did a lot measuring to see how to align the schroud to the fan and to the core of the radiator. The fan extends below the bottom of the core, so there is a bulge at the bottom (near side in the picture). I used coarse, and then fine files to shape the foam (really was easy and fast) and then placed a thin coat of body filler over the foam (the light green material on the right side) so the fiberglass resin wouldn’t eat up the foam.
March 8, 2020 – Keep in mind the body filler will be the inside surface of the schroud. I stared layering the stranded fiberglass mat. I learned later that the stranded fiberglass I had from that hole patching project was very lightweight, so this took many layers, probably 8 to 10 in total to build up the outside surface (if I had used heavier strand fiberglass, it would have taken only half that many layers). I was learning as I went and figured if I had to start over, I did not have a big investment here, so I would just move ahead. I found that fiberglass is very forgiving, and if you make a mistake, cut it out or sand it down and lay more fiberglass over it, then move along.
March 29. 2020 – After about three weeks of work, this is getting close to where I needed it to be. The near right edge down to the plywood would be part of the schroud, but the other three sides would be up about an inch to rest of a part of the radiator shell. Note the purple foam on top is looking kind of funky. This is how the foam melted when resin was over-brushed onto it. This is the first real sanding of the surface of the schroud.
April 4, 2020 – Once the fiberglass is sanded and has overall rigid integrity, I applied several layers of body filler and did a lot of sanding. I used a battery powered oscillating multi-tool and it worked out absolutely great. I would have given up and quite if I needed to hand sand this. The schroud is now in primer with sandable primer, and I am about to start apply the glazing over the primer to get out sanding marks and fill in little imperfections.
April 10, 2020 – Here is taking the foam out of the inside. This needs to be cleaned and then sand and fill any imperfections on the inside and primer there. The inside will not be visible and painted black so it does not need to be as finished in detail as the outside.
April 16, 2020 – The next fiberglass project was the dashboard. Pictured are two pieces of foam insulation board, each 1/2″ thick, that will be used to shape the dash. The outside shape is taken off the original dash and already shapped to fit up under the cowell on the top and the left area with the notch is where the steering wheel shaft will come out from under the floor of the car.
April 16, 2020 – The polished aluminum piece with the six holes is the frame of for holding the six gauges. The two large holes are for the speedometer and tachometer, the the four small ones are for the alternator, fuel level, oil pressure and engine temperature. There are small holes for the turn signal lights and the high beam light. There will be no switches, controls, lights (except for back light of the gauges at night) or anything else on the dash. The idea is to have the aluminum piece, which is 1/4″ thick, to be recessed into the dash. Anyone can surface mount the gauges, but I wanted them set inside the dash. The top layer of foam is 1/2″ thick, so I beveled the opening down 1/4″ and then recessed the aluminum by 1/4″ back from the surface of the dash.
May 13, 2020 – I didn’t want to work with the aluminum piece exposed to the dirt and sanding, so I made a substitute wood piece work with during the forming and sanding. At this point I was using a heavier strand fiberglass. I used four layers over the foam and around the top and bottom and sides, but left the back open so I could remove the foam when finished.
Dash pictured with final glazing (pink material) doing the final sanding just before the first coast of primer.
May 13, 2020 – I came to realize that inmoving the engine back about 1/2″ to allow for the lower radiator chrome frame, mentioned above, that the air cleaner may touch the firewall. Also, bolts on top of the new carburetor, a Holly double pumper, would not allow the air filter to sit flat. I decided to make a spacer to be placed between the top of the carburetor and the bottom of the air cleaner, lifting the air cleaner 2″, and offset it 1 1/2″ towards the front. This was kind of on a whim as I was thinking after making the shroud and dashboard (both of which were not really finished yet), that I could solve any problem with some fiberglass. I cut out four circles out of the 1/2″ foam, offset each a little, and then glued them. A vent sticking up on the carb necessitated a little “vent house” on the back.
May 21, 2020 – This is the unpainted finished product. Still have some sanding, but it came out pretty nice. Although it is really solid and substantial from a structural standpoint, it weighs almost nothing.
May 21, 2020 – Here it is on the carburetor. Note the bolts on the front and back that instigated this little fabrication job. I can hear the questions now from the people at the car shows. I think maybe I can claim that it increases power by acting like a tunnel port or something. Should be fun!
May 5, 2020 – I also got the console fabricated from wood. This is two pieces, one around the shifter, and the other behind the first and against the front support of the seat.
With this picture I have the toggle switches set in place. The blue piece the switches are mount on is an aluminum sheet covered with masking tape to protect it from getting marked up while working on this. These eight toggle switches will control everything. Top Row left to right: turn signal, head lights, high beams, and horn. Bottom Row left to right: brake line lock, emergency flashers, on/run or accessories, start.
When you have a car with no windows and no roof, we don’t need no stinkin’ key! (but I do have other plans addressing security).
June 2, 2020 – With weather getting nice and polin season over, time to paint. This is painting the chassis and, on the ground on the left, is the dash and one of the oil filters (oil filters must match the color of the engine, right?). I have been using the engine lift for a lot now. This arrangement makes painting all around and under a breeze.
One of many batches of parts receiving primer coat.
6-21-20 – I had painted the transmission some 10 years ago or more, but it was really scratched up from being moved around the garage floor over the years, so I sanded it down and applied a new coat of primer.
The original windshield posts were cast aluminum, but one had been welded the result of a crack, so I picked up new posts. New holes needed to be drilled in the body and this work required additional help, so the engine hoist again came in handy. If your are wondering about the black material hanging down from the hoist arm, those are foam pipe insulation pieces used to protect my head! The need for these quickly became evident early in the project.
7-14-20 – I pulled out my little scissors lift about 6 weeks ago and have been working on the chassis since. Being able to rise & lower it is much better than working on the knees. I assembled most of the front suspension getting ready to work on the front brakes. I needed to wait on some parts, so I decided to put together the rear suspension as well.
7-14-20 – Decided some years ago to purchase a set of disc breaks for the front wheels. Over time I somehow lost some of the bolts, so needed them ordered, so more delays. Decided to move work on the rear end and rear breaks while waiting.