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Automobile Gallery Joins the Bucket Brigade


Words: John Gunnell

The Automobile Gallery ( of Green Bay, Wis., has joined the “Bucket Brigade” with a fiberglass-bodied Ford T-Bucket hot rod - and the car even came with a matching trailer.

Until the Volkswagen Beetle took the title in the 1970s, the Ford Model T was the car that had the largest production total in automotive history. Model Ts were hot-rodded and customized from the 1920s on, but the T-bucket was specifically created and named by Norm Grabowski in the 1950s.

Grabowski’s car was named Lightning Bug, but became best known as the Kookie Kar after being redesigned by Grabowski to appear in the TV show “77 Sunset Strip.” Onscreen, it was driven by 77 Sunset Strip character Gerald "Kookie" Kookson. The exposure it gained led to numerous copies being built.

A genuine T-bucket has the two-seater body of a Model T turtle deck roadster or roadster pickup truck (with or without the turtle deck or small pickup box). The bucket-shaped body shell gives the cars their name. A Model T-style radiator is usually fitted. Windshields, if used, are vertical glass like the original Model T.

Today, T-buckets remain popular. They generally feature an engine (usually a V-8) which is enormous for the size and weight of the car, along with tough drivetrains to handle the power and large rear tires to apply power to the road. The front wheels are usually much narrower and are often motorcycle wheels.

Since the last Model Ts were built in 1927, most modern T-buckets use replica fiberglass bodies. By the 1950s, original steel Model T bodies that had not been completely worn out were becoming increasingly rare, and the first fiberglass bodies were built around 1957. They were introduced by the short-lived Diablo Speed Shop in Northern California. Of the two or three Diablo bodies built, one purchased by Southern California hot rod builder Buzz Pitzen became the world's first fiberglass T-bucket.

Most T-buckets are built purely for street or show use, and the big engines are more for show than for function. Although the body shell is original in appearance, engines of a wide variety of makes are commonly used. The small-block Chevy V-8, as used in this car, is a common choice since it is relatively small, light, easy to obtain and to improve, and performs well.

Like many T-buckets, the one at The Automobile Gallery was given a modern serial number. In fact, the car is titled as a 1986 model, indicating the year it was first titled. It is a fiberglass bodied car and has a matching clamshell style trailer.

Powering the car is a 350-cid small-block Chevy V-8 with overhead valves and a 4.00 x 3.48 bore and stroke. The engine is good for around 175 hp and 275 lbs.-ft. of torque. It has an Edelbrock intake, Mickey Thompson valve covers, headers and a chrome air cleaner. Other features of the car include traction bars, a footprint style gas pedal, a black vinyl fabric top, fiberglass clamshell fenders, a black vinyl pickup box cover, chrome headlight buckets, chrome styled wheels and a steering wheel with drilled billet spokes.