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.


Bree said...

Thanks for the awesome article! I am one of Ted's grand daughters and I helped build the web site you referenced above. How did you know Ted? Did you ever get to meet him?

Again thanks for the link!


Chris said...

I'd like to offer my thanks for this article as well. I am one of Ted's Grandsons and bumped into your blog while Google searching for pictures of Gary Gabelich's "The Blue Flame".

John said...

Hi Bree and Chris,
And thanks for the compliments, but I created this blog to thank your grandfather and others like him who basically did some cool, clever car things almost half a century ago that have inspired others and leave a lasting, positive impression today.

Unfortunately, I never met Ted. I'm 60 years old and remember the original Popular Hot Rod article on his work. As a teen, that article made it clear that a T-bucket was something that was possible for a mere mortal to build. Up until then, my mind had been overwhelmed with T-bucket images as being a fascinating conglomeration of an engine, a body, steel and chrome that had somehow been fashioned into an eye-catching shape by some mechanical "Merlin" who possessed powers beyond those of mortal man. Ted's contributions gave me the key to unlock that magical world.

I'm only now building my own T-bucket, after being delayed by school, family and career. To guide me, I have the complete Car Craft T-bucket series based on Ted's work along with the "Hot Rod Chassis Construction" paperback. I finally got to see Ted's "Instant T" when I visited the Petersen museum -- thanks to your family's efforts to restore and preserve this piece of hot rod history. You've created an excellent web site to honor your grandfather. Thanks to his creative contributions and your efforts, I'm sure the Ted McMullen legacy will live on and inspire a whole new generation of hot rodders.