Friday, January 9, 2009

Total Performance Inc. - R.I.P.

Just learned today that Total Performance, Inc. of Wallingford, CT is no more. The early word is that most of the T-bucket product line has been acquired by Speedway Motors (shades of Mr. Roadster). Total Performance was founded in 1971 by Mickey Lauria and focused quite heavily on T-bucket components, kits and complete cars. Total claims to have sold over 3000 street rods, most of which were probably T-buckets. I'd guess that as many or more T-buckets were built using Total chassis, suspension and body components or using their very detailed T-bucket assembly manual as a guide.
Associated Press - January 21, 2009 6:25 AM ET
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A Lincoln-based manufacturer and retailer of racing products has announced that it's buying the street rod-related assets of Wallingford, Conn.-based
Total Performance, Inc.
Speedway Motors
said Tuesday that Total Performance has a line of more than 3,500 products and is best known for making fiberglass T-bucket bodies, frames and kits. A T-bucket is a hot rod based on a Ford Model T design.
Total Performance's operations will be consolidated into Speedway Motors' facilities in Lincoln.
Terms of the deal were not announced.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Brief 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.

The first published reference to a fiberglass T-Bucket body was in the 1957 issue of Hot Rod magazine in the form of an ad run by the Diablo Speed Shop.

Along came Bud Lang and Curt Hamilton, the founders of Cal Automotive, which became the first volume producer of T-Bucket and other fiberglass bodies.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

NTBA 2006 T-Bucket Nationals

Thought I had lost my pics from the 2006 National T-Bucket Alliance Nationals, which returned to lovely Mountain Home, AR. Fortunately, I recently found them. I've already posted my 2005 T-Bucket Nationals and 2008 T-Bucket Nationals pics. The 2007 T-Bucket event was held in Arizona and I was unable to attend, so no pics. The number of T-Buckets at the 2006 Mountain Home event was down from '05, but there were still plenty of nice ones, so enjoy the show.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Ted McMullen and the U.S. Speed Sport "Instant T"

Hot rodder Ted McMullen made his pioneering imprint on the T-bucket world in a short time span. Prior to 1963, T-buckets were individually designed and constructed vehicles. Starting with Grabowski and Ivo in the 50s, they were constructed from steel T-bucket bodies. Fiberglass T-buckets, although introduced in 1957, were only starting to take off in the early 60s. T-bucket frame technology ran the gamut from flimsy Model-T frames, to Model-A frames and even deuce frames, as in the case of the Johnston/Roth Tweedy Pie. Purely home brewed frames came in steel channel, round or rectangular tube variations and almost no two were the same.

That all changed with Ted McMullen's vision of a rudimentary "production" T-bucket where jig-built frames would be offered as a package with fiberglass bodies. The purchaser could either purchase standard suspension elements or add his own and the engine choice was wide open. Ted established U.S. Speed Sport in Santa Fe Springs, CA in 1963 and by August the barely one year old Popular Hot Rodding magazine covered Ted's new concept and called it an "Instant Hot Rod" a moniker that evolved into the "Instant T" name.

The Instant-T generated tremendous interest and U.S. Speed Sport sold everything from kits to complete T-buckets, but owing to that old nemesis of bad business partner situations Ted had sold and left the business by 1965 and it closed not too long afterward. You can learn more about all the details at a very nice web site set up by family members to honor Ted's accomplishments,

Ted McMullen left a tremendous T-bucket legacy. Ted was very happy to discuss and share the details of his well-engineered T-buckets and it was Ted's contribution that formed the basis for a very significant 8-part series on "How to Build a Hot Rod" by Ray Sisemore that debuted in Car Craft magazine in November, 1964 (and concluded with the July, 1965 wrap-up story, "$1399.88 Rod"). Never before, had the construction of any hot rod been covered in such detail and this series is undoubtedly responsible in large measure for the T-bucket boom that occurred in the 1960s.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Ted Brown: T-Bucket Chassis Designer Extraordinaire

Ted Brown was a young hot rodder from Minnesota who heeded the advice to "go west young man" to seek fame and fortune. Man, was he ever successful!

After arriving in Southern California, Ted had the opportunity to see Norm Grabowski's "Kookie" T-bucket at the famous Bob's Big Boy in Toluca Lake and "was totally blown away". "That car is what got me wanting to build those types of rods," Ted said recently. But first Ted went into partnership with another legendary chassis builder, Chuck Finders, and contributed to the success of many of the nationally successful A/Gas Supercharged cars of the day, including Stone Woods & Cook, K.S. Pittman, Jr. Thompson, Hamberis & Mitchell and, my personal favorite, the MGM-C & O Hydro AG/S Austin pickup.

About 10 years ago, I bought a set of the California Custom Roadsters (CCR) T-bucket chassis plans and blogged about them last year. I was particularly taken with the CCR logo image with its rakish lines and sleek top.

Not too long ago, I was looking at an old Rod & Custom from the early 70s and noticed an uncanny resemblence to the CCR image in a Ted Brown Chassis ad.

After researching my old magazines a bit more, I then made the connection. The first ads for the CCR plans, which ran in 1973, referred to "Plans & Data for building the famous Ted Brown/Bill Keifer Chassis." I then learned that Ted established CCR in 1971 with Bill Keifer as his partner; the CCR plans were Ted's unique, original design; and Ted was eventually eased out and no longer given credit for his unique frame design which was built by CCR into thousands of T-buckets and by plan set purchasers into many more thousands (estimated at 4000 T-buckets in 1977). Net result, Ted Brown is perhaps the most influential, yet totally unrecognized, T-bucket chassis designer of all time.

Today, Ted is "retired" in Bakersfield, CA and still driving his T-bucket which has racked up over 200,000 miles and has been home to a variety of engines, including Buick nailhead as well as big block and small block Chevys.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Chester Greenhalgh: T-Bucket Genius!?!

A lot of disparaging remarks have been made about Chester Greenhalgh's out-of-print T-bucket bible, but they don't hold water. It takes a true mechanical and scrounging genius to convert raw materials like old truck front axles, steel bed rails, iron water pipe, cast-off house trailer springs, furnace louvers and glass doorknobs into a safe, fun creation of beauty like a T-bucket -- and on a budget anybody can afford! Just take a look at one of his creations on the book cover above. Chet can take a $500 rolling wreck Chevy passenger car and, like the food processing industry does with a pig, use everything but the squeal.

While the California Custom Roadster plan set introduced in the early 70's was instrumental in terms of useful T-bucket build information, it was limited in that it was just a plan set. CCR's plans covered building a frame, the associated brackets and suspension elements. However, a huge information void was still left. The guy living in Podunk who'd only seen T-buckets in magazines or maybe flashing by on the highway didn't have a clue about how to run the brakes; reinforce and mount the body, bed and windshield; wire it; find a suitable radiator, driveshaft, shifter, lights and dozens of other things. And if he was able to somehow learn how to do this or farm it out it was likely to cost big bucks!

Most people had nowhere to turn for this vital T-bucket build information. Fortunately, the unassuming, ingenious, budget conscious owner of Chet's Car Craft in Naples, FL decided to employ some of those same skills he'd used to successfully build T-buckets for his family and customers and self-published the legendary "How to Build a T-Bucket Roadster for Under $3000" in 1986. The first ad I saw for this spiral-bound book was in the February, 1987 issue of "Rod Action" magazine, with the bargain introductory price of $11.95. By September, 1987 the price in the ad had risen to $14.95 and in 1988 it was up to $19.95.

Around that time, the folks at Motorbooks International struck a deal with Chet to produce a perfect bound softcover version of his work that was introduced in 1990 with a price of $14.95. Somebody in Motorbooks' marketing department decided that the appropriate cover photo for this "how to" book about building a T-bucket on the cheap would be a high dollar, Total Performance T-bucket laden with chrome and a blown Chrysler hemi -- budget, indeed!

I mention this price history because Chester's book has been long out of print. Currently, used copies available on range from $169 to $198!