The FREE T Bucket plans
This wiki page was created to design and distribute free plans for building a T Bucket. It grew out of this discussion on the Hotrodders Bulletin Board: Creating New T Bucket Plans. Please feel free to add to and edit this article.
 Planning your build
Before you even START to plan the build of the vehicle, make sure you know EXACTLY what you need to do in order to register your vehicle in your state/county/town/country. Many people have had to do expensive changes to their street rod because they ignored this step until the vehicle was "ready to drive". See How to title a hot rod.
- Get catalogs from businesses. Even if you plan to do a low $ build with few new parts, having a wide range of catalogs to browse through can help make decisions easier.
- Read the monthly rodding magazines that feature Ts, and browse the web for what others have done. Expose yourself to a wide variety of designs.
- Go to local car shows and talk to any/all of the T Bucket owners who are there. Most will be happy to give to a ride that will not leave you a jabbering ninny shaking on the pavement when you return. Others will scare the bejesus out of you and that will be the end of this project. The heaviest of these little cars weighs in at about 2200 pounds or so, most are under 2000, some as light as 15-1600. Damn near ANY engine: 4, 6,or 8 will make happy speed in that light a platform. Plus, smaller engines weigh less anyway.
- If you have no building skills, take a welding class at the local community college for starters. You'll have tools and equipment to buy and rent as needed. You'll also need space, and more space, and more space. Although many nice cars are built under carports or in one-car garages, it is nice to have a fairly empty 2-car garage. You figure out how to tell Mama she'll have to park the Escalade in the drive for about 2 years!
- Now that you have some basic knowledge under your belt, decide what style T you want to build:
- "Classic" '23-'25 or '26-'27 roadster pickup.
- '23-'25 or '26-'27 track car with hood, nose and turtle deck.
- '23-'25 or '26-'27 "lakester" bucket with exposed fuel tank on naked frame rails in the back, and there are others.
REMEMBER: MOCK IT UP! Build your first frame effort from 2X4 lumber and nuts & bolts. Set it up on jack stands with your body on board and your front end assembly, engine/trans and rear end underneath. Take your time. Don't start cutting steel until you've got a real feel for what you're trying to accomplish. Be honest with yourself and build your T Bucket to perform to your satisfaction.
The classic high horsepower, low rear end gears, steam roller rear tires and spoked front wheels are great for shows and an instant rush when you step on it, but may not be the ticket if you want to drive more than a few miles in comfort and get good gas mileage. Many builders are opting for four wheel disk brakes, fuel injection, moderate size tires, hydraulic shocks on the front suspension, 4-speed overdrive transmissions, etc. All of these features are a personal preference, and since there's no right or wrong way, build it your way.
You can down load Youngsters T-bucket plans from a link in the "Parts companies" below.
Where you have essentially two body groups: '23-'25 and '26-'27, frame designs are all over the map. Many early Buckets were built on modified stock Model T or Model A frames. Others were built on early Chevy rails, or even channel iron frames. The "modern" T is usually sitting on a 2x3 or 2x4, 0.120-0.180 wall thickness, rectangular box tubing frame with a 2.5-3" tubular front cross member.
Some frame makers make their frames one width front to back like a stock T frame, others have a frame that tapers from the rear to the front similar to a Model A frame. And others have other ideas.
For mounting stuff to the frame you can use 3/8" nuts welded for a flat surface; the tubing wall is too thin for mounting anything substantial. Try to find un-plated nuts. To remove the cad or zinc plate you can buff them. Muriatic acid is supposed to remove it after soaking for a few hours. You can use your Unibit to make a tapered hole just smaller than the nut hex size. Then, use a long bolt and screw the nut on the end. Tap the nut into the hole and square it up, carefully weld the nut to the tubing, let it cool, remove the bolt, clean out the thread with a tap, grind smooth if required.
 Front suspension
 Front axle choices
Early Ford I-beam axles:
- '28-'31 Model A passenger car & pickup
- '32-'36 passenger car & pickup
- '37-'41 passenger car & pickup
- '42-'48 passenger car
- '42-'47 pickup
Early Dodge/Plymouth tubular axles:
- '33-'39 Dodge
- '33 & '35-'39 Plymouth
Early Ford tubular axles:
- '37-'40 V8-60 only
Any other factory I-beam axle from:
- Chevy/GMC or Ford pickups
- '60s Ford & Chevy/GMC vans
- Early Chevy cars '36-'40
- Early Chevy/GMC pickups '36-'55
Many makers (Speedway Motors, Total Performance, and others) usually sold and described as dropped axle in 4"-5"-6" drops and made to accommodate '37-'48 Ford passenger car and '37-'47 Ford pickup spindles, or '61-'66 Ford Econoline van spindles, or '49-'54 Chevrolet passenger car spindles.
 New manufactured axles
- Super Bell tubular axle
- Magnum dropped I-beam
- Super Bell dropped I-beam
 Opinion on coils & shocks
Don't do it on the front of your car!! DON'T DO IT!! No matter that Car Craft did this on their project car. Ugly is ugly and almost nothing is uglier that those nasty towers on the front of the frame and coil springs and cups on the axle and shocks running up the middle. No chrome, no paint, nothing can hide this mistake, so just don't do it. There are too many other options that at least look good.
 Coil overs
If done right, this is a clean, attractive, good riding suspension for the front of any roadster. If done wrong, it can be ugly, it can be nasty looking, and it can be rough riding. Only drawback is expense. Most manufacturers will allow you to return springs if they are too stiff for a softer set...one time.
 Transverse leaf spring (buggy spring)
Based on the '28-'34 Ford suspension, this is the old classic (if there is any such thing). Most important thing is to make sure your spring is mounted under tension as the original Ford design requires. The spring must be spread to mount the shackles to the perches. Be sure if you are using a '28-'31 or '32-'34 front spring to have the perches at the proper width and have the correct shackles for the spring you have. '32-'34 springs have a larger spring eye than '28-'31 A's do.
The original springs are 10-12 leaf units. Unless you are running a big block or early heavy engine, you'll be best served if you experiment with the number of leaves in the front spring. Keep the main leaf and number 2, removing the odd number springs (3, 5, 7, 9, etc.) to reach your best number. YES, it is a pain in the neck to remove, dismantle, remove leaves, reassemble and reinstall the spring, but it works. Try starting with a six leaf spring, main, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 to begin with. That could save you a few steps.
What you are looking for when finished is a front end which deflects when you put your foot on the spring perch and push down. NOT a situation where you have to stand on the perch and jump up and down to get movement. Always use tubular shocks, old name airplane shocks, not friction shocks, IF you really plan on driving your car.
 1/4 elliptical
 Rear suspension
 Coil springs & shocks
Again, an attractive and simple setup to install. Experimentation with spring rates may be required. Cost is the most prohibitive feature of this choice. This is the most popular modern T suspension setup for the rear suspension.
 Transverse leaf spring (buggy spring)
Based on the early Ford suspension, this is the "classic" bucket suspension. T springs (the most desirable being the very early taper-leaf units) and Model A springs (the most desirable being the roadster springs) are often called "high arch" springs, you know why.
Again, to have the best buggy setup the spring should be mounted under tension as the original Ford design. The rear perches, whether mounted on top, to the front, or to the rear of the rear axle should be 49.5" apart for a Model A spring and 48.5" apart for a Model T spring.
As with the front springs, you'll probably end up with a 5-7 leaf spring rather than the 10-14 leaf assembly you start with.
 1/4 elliptical
This section needs to be changed out of first-person narrative.
I just put 1/4 elliptical springs (kind of) on My 1922 T Speedster. I needed to lower the rear and didn't want to Z the frame since this car was an authentic old racer. The springs were free from a swap meet at the end of the day and the guy didn't know what they came off of. I think they were probably overload springs for a pickup. They are S shaped, and look like half of a stock T or A rear spring. I used some 4x4 angle iron for an L-shaped bracket and added gussets for strength. I drilled holes in the frame to mount them to the outside of the frame rails. I have a Moore rear-mounted drive line aux trans that uses the modified torque tube and modified rear stock radius rods. With this set up I used the shackles that came with the springs and made new brackets that I welded to hang under the rear axle housing. The first time out was last year's local 4th of July parade and there was a lot of rear side sway motion on rough spots in the road or the railroad tracks so I have since added a panhard bar. I have seen a few 1/4 ellipticals on the front of T buckets that looked good. There is limited space at the rear of a T body, some of the T Lakesters rear 1/4 elliptical springs look good and fit well in the chassis.
You can build your own hairpins from 7/8" DOM (drawn over mandrel) steel tubing. If you have a blower or lots of horsepower you will want to use 1 inch DOM tubing. You can use a Harbor Freight pipe bender to bend the tubing. You have to cut the pieces longer than finished length to work in that style bender. Cut the end that has to be tapped 1 inch longer than the finished dimension, weld a small piece of scrap in that 1 inch area to grip in the vise so you won't get teeth marks on the finished piece. Use a large right angle drill and start with the bit that will just remove a little bit of material then keep changing bits until you get to the size required for the tap. Then, drill out that extra one inch with the bit size to match the OD of your tap. ONLY GO ONE INCH DEEP. This will allow you to start the tap in straight and get good threads. Then you can cut off that extra inch, and redrill with the correct size for the tap, finish tapping to the new length and have good straight threads.
When drilling or tapping use plenty of tapping fluid or thread cutting oil; you can use a tubing notcher that you bolt to a steel table top and tack a piece of scrap angle iron so you can clamp the tubing at the right angle to cut the ends.
 Axle centering devices
 Panhard bar
If you use coils on the rear you will need a panhard bar from the frame rail to the opposite side to the rear axle. the longer the better and should be as close to level as possible.
There is usually not enough room for a Watt's linkage in a T bucket.
 Engine/transmission cross members
The engine is an active part of the T bucket frame though a "universal" tubular cross member is usually used with the correct rubber mounts for the engine to the tubular member. The transmission mount can be either a "universal" tubular cross member as well or a built up, custom made piece. The transmission is bolted to the cross member via a rubber mount similar to the engine. Use of solidly bolted engine-transmission components is discouraged for a street driven car as the vibrations will tend to loosen fasteners and be physically uncomfortable on longer rides.
Tubular cross members can be sourced from:
- Speedway Motors
- Total Performance
- JC Whitney
The simplicity of a T-Bucket, a Total Performance car in particular can allow you to move the engine forward. A SB Ford with a C4 transmission will almost certainly require at least a 4" forward movement as the overall length of the combination put the transmission tailshaft within ~4-5" of an 8" differential yoke. This additional 4" will allow for an ~9" driveshaft. The usual Chevy 350/350 combination will benefit from a 3-4 inch forward movement by allowing use of an HEI ignition. The only drawback is that you cannot use the manufacturer's driveshaft, and a new one will need to be built. Another benefit of a 4" forward moving is that the engine compartment looks "balanced" - that is, the engine isn't jammed against the firewall. The will entail moving the radiator forward a bit as well.
 Steering assembly
The two things any car has to do for safety and survival are STEER and STOP.
Use the currently available Corvair or Vega boxes, Speedway sells brand new Corvair reversed boxes that are safe and ready to go. They also have the Vega box for cross steering.
It is recommended that conventional tie rod ends be used on the steering drag link from the box to the steering arm as well as the tie rod rather then the clevises often supplied by some vendors. Tie rod ends are specially built for this kind of service and are extremely strong while the clevises have been known to bend, split or bolts break. Also, Speedway can supply tie rod/drag link lengths to your requirements in either raw steel or chrome plated.
If you are using some suppliers' spindle assemblies you may have to ream the existing bolt hole for proper tie rod assembly. These reamers can be purchased from Speedway.
A word of note here - Total Performance makes probably the most long lived and most popular T-bucket, but there is one significant design flaw that they continue to produce. The sleeve that connects the steering box (Corvair) to the steering shaft is extremely weak and can split. This sleeve has two milled slots and is in a shear failure mode with the rolled drive pin. The steering column sleeve should be discarded and a u-joint substituted. You can either mill flats on the supplied shaft and use a DD u-joint, have splines cut on the shaft and uses a splined joint or (though not recommended) use a racing style (TIG/MIG) weld on u-joint. This failure has been corrected by Total Performance in their newer kits; the sleeve has been replaced with a u-joint though it is a weld on.
 Bracing and mounting the body
For cleanest and simplest body mounting, weld your mounting tabs inside the frame rails at the side part of the cowl, a simple straight 1X2" full cross member at the back edge of the "door" edge bead, and the last about halfway from the "door" bead to the back of the bucket. If you have chosen to not have the frame rails sticking inside the cabin with you at the back, weld a tab to the top of the kickup and form it to meet the back wall and install a bolt on each side to stabilize the back wall on these tab mounts.
Your 3/4-1" marine plywood floor should rest directly on the frame rails on a layer of body to frame webbing or similar material to eliminate any squeaks from movement. Use minimum 3/8 bolts/nuts and large thick flat washers along with lock washers to secure your body down to the frame. After your first 50-100 miles of riding, check all fasteners for tightness. There you are, simple, secure, and solid.
A well made '23-'25 T roadster body will not need any wooden bracing in the bucket itself unless having an opening door on the passenger side. It is important to reinforce the upper rail around the cabin. Do this before you have the floor installed as it is easier if the body is upside down. Measure your body and see how symmetrical it is. This can be done with a nice piece of 1/2" rebar formed to fit closely under the rail from the dashboard around the perimeter of the body and back to the dashboard. It is easier to do this in 2 pieces and then weld them together. Once you have a good fit mix a nice of your favorite filler and lay down a bed of it to nestle the rebar (de-rusted, epoxy-primed, and painted of course) in. Once the filler has set up, go ahead and make up some more and completely enclose the bar in a cocoon of filler all the way around. Now the upper rail of your body is solid and it is time to install the floor and fit the body to the frame.
You'll want a nice 5/8-3/4" piece of plywood cut to fit the firewall of your roadster on the inside. This gives you a nice solid mounting surface for your electrics (fuse box, relays, etc.) and accelerator pedal.
You may want to run a stringer of wood just inside the lower rocker panel where the body drops over the frame as a stiffener.
 Hinge fabrication
Original T door hinges work best if you can find a set at a swap meet.
 Latch installation
T bodies are not that strong and the doors should not be slammed. Hold the handle in the open position when closing the door, then a gentle push and release the handle.
 Using original/repo seat parts
For crying out loud, don't make up any form of foam block seat cushion or anything like it. The only thing that gives you a good, if not great, seat is a NEW Model T seat cushion spring assembly. These are made by 2 companies, Car-Line Mfg. in Beaumont TX and Snyder's Antique Auto Parts in New Springfield OH. You can buy them from many suppliers of Model T parts but these are the 2 manufacturers.
Mount the spring assembly to a 5/8-3/4" plywood base with 3-5 3" holes cut into the board. The upholstery design is up to you. The holes allow displaced air from your weight on the seat to escape without blowing up the upholstery.
Determine the height of your seat riser board at the front of the cushion by mocking up the cushion assembly in the body. You'll want about a 4-6" board for the proper slope of the seat from front to back. You may put a short block or two under the back as well if it fits your purpose.
You might consider buying a stock T seat back rest spring too. This will give you a nice surface for your back to rest on. Don't forget to add a lumbar roll to the lower part of any upholstery you use, or have a nice upholstery matching lumbar pillow made for your driving comfort.
The coil spring seat assembly in your car and a working suspension on your car will give you as close to that "Cadillac" ride as you can get with a short wheelbase light car like the T and make those long trips to rod runs not only enjoyable but desirable.
Oh yeah, about seat inserts, those fiberglass inner wall and seat and floor moulded pieces that drop in and "save you time and money". DON'T DO IT! Unless you are the guy whose butt was used to determine the size and shape of that piece, it will be a mistake. These are usually moulded with a division between the seat depressions. This is because they need those ribs for structural strength, but YOU don't need 'em because space in a bucket is at a premium.
 Modifying other seats to fit
One of the most popular seats used from other sources in T buckets is the short bench seat from the rear of Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth mini-vans(T&C, Explorer, and Voyager). The size is OK and the frame work can be trimmed and modified to get the job done. These can be bought cheaply at a junkyard and you may even find one with leather upholstery.
There isn't much else out there except school bus seats which must be shortened as well.
The little T doesn't lend itself well to bucket seats as most readily available ones are too wide for the T body.
But if you look at some small car bucket seats, you can find some very narrow units. Chevy Beretta seats are narrow enough, and very comfortable. Cutting down the frame bottom will get the seat almost flush with the floor.
Remember that you do not want to sit too high in the bucket. Some seats are so overly padded that the driver's butt is just below the top line of the bucket. It can look like you're falling out and is also very uncomfortable trying it stay in going around corners! The lower your seating position, the better. It will give you more protection in the body and more room around your feet and legs. It will also keep your head below the windshield!
 Pedal assemblies
One of the most overlooked aspects of building a T Bucket is seating position and location of controls. Many a T Bucket builder has spent many years and many dollars building their dream machine only to have it sit in the garage because it is too uncomfortable to drive. Try not to limit yourself because you just happen to have a certain steering box or seat. These cars have a pretty small cockpit and there's not much room for controls. If you're going to have a traditional style bucket with the steering column though the floor, be very careful that you have plenty of room for your knees and you'll be able to operate the gas and brake pedals. The best way is to mock up everything and make sure your final setup will work for you, especially if you are taller than 5'-8" or so. One trick is to locate the gas pedal over the transmission hump. This allows you to stretch out your right leg a bit and be more comfortable.
This is Reason #2 for buying the body and deck or bed before you begin work on a frame for your car. Mock up everything in wood, cardboard, etc. before making the final cuts and welds and assemblies. You won't regret it.
 Shifter assemblies
Most T Buckets have automatic transmissions for a reason -- there is not a lot of room for the clutch and shifter assemblies. It can be done, but you will have to make special provisions for it. Generally, a cable operated shifter is preferred with an automatic as it's easier to locate.
 Parts companies
- Brassworks Polished T Bucket Radiators (Paso Robles, CA)
- Total Performance (Wallingford, CT) Total Performance is now part of Speedway Motors
- Spirit Industries (Mountain Home, AR)
- Speedway Motors (Lincoln, NE)
- Car-Line Mfg. (Beaumont TX)
- Snyder's Antique Auto Parts (New Springfield OH)
- Rod 'n Race Fiberglass (Berkeley Springs, WV)
- EZ-T-Bucket (Kodak,TN)
- The Youngster Free T-bucket frame plans
Images to be sorted into position later: http://www.rodandpiston.com/picview.asp?id=show/cruisindowns06&n=16
This article includes excerpts from a soon-to-be released book on T-Buckets, authored by Pasadenahotrod.